My husband and I began our family via surrogate. It was an amazing but complicated journey, which resulted in two wonderful children — our daughter who is four years old and our son who is two years old.
Starting a family via surrogacy is a big decision, and there is quite a bit to navigate in the process, including the emotional readiness, costs, the laws, and support. Here’s what we learned and how we navigated:
1. Emotional Readiness
Becoming a parent is life changing, and it’s important to understand how it will impact your lifestyle. Before we had children, we traveled, dined out at restaurants, and would spontaneously leave on weekend getaways. We knew things would change with kids—but we thought we might be able to maintain some of our previous lifestyle. Ha! Not so much. Yes, we go out on occasion, but it’s nowhere near the same lifestyle we had before kids. Know that your focus will no longer be on you—it’s all about the kids. You and your partner need to be aligned and clear on these changes up front.
2. Financial Cost
Surrogacy is expensive and will require a significant financial commitment. You will not only have the cost of surrogacy itself but also the ongoing cost of raising a family. You may be required to pay for some, or all, of the insurance coverage for the surrogacy - so, budget planning is necessary. I highly recommend having an insurance expert; in our case the law firm also handled this.
3. Support System
You will need to gather a team of highly skilled experts to help you navigate the surrogacy process and the laws in your location, including:
- Surrogacy Agency
- Donor Agency
- Law Firm who specializes in IVF / surrogacy
Research and meet with each of the agencies; they are critical members of your birthing journey. Surrogacy can be very complicated, with a tremendous amount of legal paperwork. So, choosing highly experienced agencies and being comfortable with each is extremely important. You might start by deciding on the surrogacy agency first and then asking their recommendations for law firms and donor agencies to add to your research.
Once you decide on the agencies, they will guide you through the process and costs involved. The process for us was quite elaborate; we were vetted to ensure we were emotionally, physically, and financially ready to start the journey. Once we were determined fit to be parents, we signed contracts with the surrogacy agency. Your chosen law firm will help with that paperwork.
4. Choosing a Donor
Before choosing the surrogate, you will identify potential egg donors with the donor agency. On our journey we were able to view the various donors open to donating eggs to a gay couple. We picked a few we liked, and then my husband and I were presented to the donors via our online profile. If the donor feels comfortable with the match, she gives her approval. This unlocks the next level of information, which is very extensive. It includes all the information on the donor’s health, education, occupation, lifestyle, whether she has donated previously, whether it was successful, how many eggs she produced, etc. It also provides information on her own family, and all health issues, education, etc. I joke with my family that if anyone looked at our health and genetics to determine to be with me, they would run for their lives.
If everyone agrees, first up are legal documents. Then the donor goes to the IVF client for screening and testing to ensure that everything is physically fine to proceed. If approved, the donor begins prepping for cycling (having eggs produced). This includes the donor taking medications to optimize her fertility, etc.
5. Choosing a Surrogate
Simultaneously, you will begin the selection process for a surrogate. The process for vetting is quite robust. Our surrogates were required to have previously birthed their own children without pregnancy complications. There are psychologically evaluations done on the surrogate and her partner (if she has one), financial evaluations, health evaluations, etc. There is also a screening to check whether the surrogate is a match for the intended parents in terms of personality, and regarding their views on selective reduction. If these factors match, the intended parents are presented to the surrogate for approval, and if she accepts; everyone progresses to legal documents.
Calendars are synced for the donor and surrogate, so that when the eggs are ready, the surrogate will be ready too. The surrogate takes considerable medications to prepare her body to receive an embryo. The process is truly amazing.
6. Creating Embryos
On the day of fertilization, you go to the IVF clinic where your donor’s eggs were retrieved earlier that day. We did not see our donor; most donors prefer not to form a relationship with the intended parents or child. We then made our individual contributions. Your doctor will combine the eggs and sperm to create embryos. Those embryos are left to grow for a couple of days and are rated A, B, C, as to the healthiest options. They will let you know how many of the A’s are males or females.
Additional PGT (preimplantation genetic testing) is available for the eggs if desired, which I strongly recommend. They will shave off a cell from the embryos, which does not cause any damage to the embryo. From that they can identify a host of genetic or chromosomal abnormalities.
7. The IVF
On the day of insemination, you will meet the surrogate and her partner at the IVF clinic for the big day. Everything is discreet, no exposed body areas. A nurse may perform an ultrasound so you can see the moment of insemination. The doctor has a small syringe with a thin tube attached, and within a minute of asking your names to ensure the right egg is being used, the surrogate is impregnated with the selected egg (male or female). It happens very quickly—one of the few things in the entire process that does.
8. The Next Nine Months
We were assigned a social worker earlier in the process to guide us and the surrogate through our journey together. Depending on where you live in relation to your surrogate you may join her for the obstetrician appointments. These appointments are fairly quick, and they offer a way to be part of the process and establish a stronger connection to your growing baby. Meeting the doctor also gives you the opportunity to discuss the experience and what to expect at the delivery. This can help things go smoothly at the hospital on the day of the birth.
It’s important to stay in regular contact with your surrogate: texting, calling, sharing pictures, or visiting. Keep in mind that the surrogate is giving you an incredible gift. Surrogates are angels; they do what they do out of incredible generosity and love. I have such admirations and respect for them, and you should too.
9. The Birth
Being gay, it helps to do a hospital visit with your surrogate before showing up for the birth. Most hospitals don’t necessarily expect gay men to be the parents. Let the staff know that the expecting mother is delivering your baby via surrogacy. Your surrogate should confirm you are approved to be in the delivery room and have admittance to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) if needed. You also will want to arrange that once the baby is born, he or she is handed to you first, if preferred. The inclination is going to be to hand the baby to the birthing surrogate. Also, if you want to cut the umbilical cord, that should be clarified before birth.
Most delivering mothers make a birth plan that specifies everything she wants to occur during delivery. You, as the intended parent, should do the same, syncing it with your surrogate. Procedures go on autopilot during a birth, and if something is unclear, it will not happen. Provide a copy of the plan to the doctor and nursing staff prior to delivery. Also, just like an expectant mother, you should have your bags packed and ready to go.
Have your paperwork in order. During your hospital visit you should drop by the birth registration desk to inquire about their process. Your lawyer will have specific paperwork and instructions for you to supply the hospital on the day of delivery, regarding the birth certificate, etc.
You will want to make hotel arrangements for yourself nearby and inquire with the hospital whether they have a room available for you to stay in with the baby once he or she is born.
Most of all, enjoy—this is an incredible moment.
About the author
Stephen Gross is an award-winning designer who has received numerous honors for his work in advertising, branding, and retail. He is author of The Simplest Baby Book in the World. His creative vision and design talent has impacted some of the most creative and innovative companies in the world, including Estee Lauder, The Walt Disney Company, Warner Brothers, Universal, Fox, Nickelodeon, Hasbro, Mattel, Lionsgate, and A+E, among many others. From his experience as a creative executive for Disney and Mattel, Stephen has acquired a sensibility that understands what parents want for their children and learned how to talk to them in words, visuals, and graphics in an easy, compelling way. He lives with his husband, Vincent, in Los Angeles with their two adorable children, who are now ages two and three.
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