Gay Men Creating Families Through Surrogacy
villageq.com by Deborah Goldstein on November 17, 2014
On Sunday, November 2nd, Men Having Babies hosted its 10th annual workshop in New York City in an effort to bring together prospective parents, service providers, and experts on the subject of surrogacy. I spoke with a number of participants and attendees who agreed that surrogacy is becoming a more accessible and normative option for gay men looking to start families. Still, surrogacy in the United States presents the kind of obstacles Odysseus faced on his return to Ithaca after the fall of Troy. Men Having Babies tries to take the Sirens and Cyclops out of the equation by hosting these surrogacy workshops, which prove to be an oasis of information and resources. The gods were definitely with everyone that day, providing a safer passage on rocky seas.
“We started 15 years ago. It was literally just a handful of men at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center who really wanted to gather as much information as we could,” explained Anthony Brown, Chairman of the board at Men Having Babies. “We invited service providers in and basically anybody who could answer the questions that we had. We did it in the form of monthly workshops which we still have the 2nd Wednesday of every month, 6:30-8PM here at the JCC (in New York City), and people can also go online at menhavingbabies.org to events, workshops for information on the whole schedule.”
While surrogacy provides an option for infertile straight couples, Men Having Babies structures panels and break-out sessions specifically for gay men. The speakers at the conference dealt with many of the issues gay men face on their surrogacy journey. Costs are very high. Surrogacy laws and LGBT discrimination laws vary from state to state and can be prohibitive. Surrogacy is unregulated, which means that participants are vulnerable to unethical practices. Fortunately, the prospective parents at Men Having Babies workshop benefit from the knowledge and experience of those who have gone down this path previously and were able to speak to the issues at hand.
THE PRICE TAG
Adding up the cost of egg donors, surrogates, agency fees, legal costs, and trips to visit surrogates, a couple could face a bill close to $150,000, not to mention the emotional costs that accompany the process. Finding the right surrogate and negotiating the kind of relationship a couple wants to have with her can be tricky not to mention the reality of failed transfers or failed pregnancies.
International surrogacy is much less expensive at about one-third of the cost of domestic surrogacy. However, while the financial stresses may be alleviated, some agencies may not act as ethically as others, exploiting poor women for their own economic gain. It is important for prospective parents to do their homework in sourcing agencies who work with surrogates who are financially stable.
I spoke with Ralph, a New Jersey father of three via two different surrogates in the United States. He said, “Neither of our surrogates needed the money. They were solidly middle class. They wanted to do it, and that was important to us. In general, the better agencies wouldn’t allow a woman to come into the program if it was a life and death situation for her.”
Men Having Babies, which is a nonprofit organization, recognized the economic barrier of surrogacy and started a financial relief service, Gay Parent Assistance Program (GPAP). Funding comes from surrogacy agencies that contribute to the GPAP program. Those agencies then receive discounts on the fees to participate in Men Having Babies events. Agencies benefit from partnering with Men Having Babies seminars in major markets such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Brussels.
THE WILD WEST AND NO SHERIFF IN TOWN
A major obstacle for egg donors, surrogates, and gay men is that surrogacy is unregulated in the United States. There is no licensing body, and there are no requirements requiring agencies to know anything about the law or psychology or insurance or anything else that may support or protect parties from embarking on this journey. Because surrogacy laws are handled at the state level, there is no opportunity for the federal government to enforce laws to protect surrogates and hopeful parents. Recommendations and track records are important factors when shopping for providers.
Egg donors and surrogates face a significant amount of risk if they do not have sufficient support. There are no requirements to educate women about the physical tolls that result from donating eggs and carrying babies. Ralph echoed the opinion of many dads at the workshop when he said, “It shouldn’t be easy for young women to donate a zillion times and risk their health and fertility.”
Unfortunately, for some surrogacy agencies, money is more important than providing would-be parents with a family. Attendant and hopeful father Doron said, “I have dealt with a few agencies, some better than others. This is an industry. It’s a business. There are good people and bad people, and I landed with some bad people.”
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