The dream of settling down and starting a family is natural for many couples, as well as single adults, regardless of age, sex, or orientation. But when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and making a baby, same-sex couples need to look outside their bedrooms to make it happen.
While adoption remains the most popular option for single adults and same-sex couples, more and more of the latter are turning to surrogacy.
Mary Murphey, Program Director of The Surrogacy Center of Madison, Wisconsin, says, “Increasingly, surrogacy is becoming a more viable option for pursuing the dream of parenthood—especially for same-sex men who have a harder time adopting because of the prejudice they face.”
This prejudice comes from adoption agencies, as well as birth mothers.
International adoptions, although highly visible when pursued by celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Madonna, closely rival the expense of surrogacy.
“Given the similar costs,” Murphey notes, “there is more control when you are dealing with your own genetic material.”
One of the biggest misconceptions of surrogacy is the assumption that a surrogate’s egg is used.
“In our business,” Murphey explains, “we only work with gestational surrogates, which means that the embryo has to come from the intended parents or from donor gametes.”
While the road to adoption is strewn with added obstacles for gay and lesbian couples, surrogacy can open the door to a method that has a well-documented success rate of more than 80 percent, and that rate jumps even higher when a donor egg is used. But success on a scientific level is only one piece of the puzzle.
Murphey relates that the psychological health of everyone involved is essential: “We mandate that clients—both intended parents and our carriers—be seen by a licensed psychologist who specializes in third party reproduction issues.”
As with the psychological aspect, navigating the legal aspect of surrogacy is unfamiliar territory for intended parents. However, there’s absolutely no reason to go through it alone.
Steven H. Snyder, an attorney based in Maple Grove who has been practicing surrogacy law in Minnesota for 20 years, provides services through his law firm’s affiliated agency, International Assisted Reproduction Center. In addition to his lobbying for fertility rights at the State Capitol, Snyder serves as Advocacy Director of RESOLVE of Minnesota, a nonprofit organization that promotes infertility education, support, and advocacy.
The expense of going through an agency, which may seem overwhelming at first glance, goes toward the cost of services and fees intended parents would incur with or without the agency.
According to Snyder, “Parents need an advocate on their own behalf. To the intended parents, one of the cons of using an agency is the cost. However, the cost is often misunderstood. For example, the cost of reviewing the surrogate’s insurance coverage is included in the agency fee.”
The cost of screening a surrogate and escrowing a surrogate’s fee also are included.
While going through an agency is the best option, some couples may be tempted to turn to the Internet to find a surrogate.
“Matching online is fraught with danger,” Snyder warns. “I firmly believe that using a surrogate found online maximizes the likelihood that something is going to go wrong. You accept risks that you don’t even know about.”
While surrogates provided by agencies typically are prescreened and prequalified, Synder adds that potential surrogates who promote themselves independently are more likely to fail screening if they haven’t already: “Many of them are [online] because they don’t meet the qualifications.”
These qualifications include a clean criminal background check, a complete psychological evaluation, and adequate insurance coverage. An ideal surrogate would be a woman who has been a surrogate at least once before.
“A lot of [these] attributes are becoming harder and harder to find,” Snyder comments.
While it may be possible to find a suitable independent surrogate, it’s never a good idea for intended parents to go through surrogacy without an intermediary. A surrogate may suggest that because she has done it before, she can guide couples through the process.
But Synder insists, “Parents need an advocate on their own behalf.”
Each state has its own surrogacy laws or lack thereof. In Wisconsin, where The Surrogacy Center is located, the intended parents are the de facto ones.
“Both [their] names appear on the birth certificate, even if the parents happen to be two dads,” Murphey points out.
In Minnesota, no statutory law regulates surrogacy. Intended parents and their attorneys currently rely on a hodgepodge of other statutes to determine parentage. The child has to be adopted formally. The adoption alone can cost between $10,000 and $15,000.
Senator Linda Higgins (Democrat-Minneapolis), who is the chief Minnesota Senate author of a bill that would change all that, states, “[This bill] would eliminate the adoption process. It would make the parentage issues surrounding female infertility the same as male infertility.”
State Representative Kathy Tingelstad (Republican-Andover), who first brought surrogacy law to the attention of Higgins, introduced a similar bill in the Minnesota House four years ago.
Tingelstad remarks, “We say in our law that the surrogate shouldn’t be an egg donor. That way, they haven’t contributed to the genetic makeup of the child.”
This bill also minimizes the psychological strain and attachment dilemmas that could befall a surrogate. It protects the interests of all parties, while ensuring a smoother process.
The Senate approved the legislation 42 to 25, and it now will go to the House.
The odds of going through a successful surrogacy, despite all the ways it could go wrong, heavily favor intended parents. It’s a part of human nature to fixate on worst-case scenarios, but the truth is that surrogacy agreements almost always end up with intended parents realizing their dream of a bouncing bundle of joy.