For same-sex couples, surrogacy offers a chance to build a family
By Rhonda Alexander
Advances in technology have made it possible for same-sex couples to realize their dream of building their families in much the same way as heterosexual couples—with their own genetic material.
Increasingly, the option they choose is surrogacy. Gestational surrogacy—using the egg or sperm of a prospective parent or donor and implanting it in a surrogate who is not a biological contributor of the egg—is becoming more of an option, not just for straight couples but for same-sex couples as well.
Surrogacy has experienced a surge of popularity since its inception in 1978, after the advent of in vitro fertilization. New reproductive technology, the loosening of restrictive laws governing surrogacy and an increase in families interested in surrogacy all play a role.
“It’s more successful now, and there are more reasons to do it,” says Helen Kim, MD, director of the In Vitro Fertilization Program and associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Chicago Medicine (UCM).
One of those reasons relates to more restrictive adoption laws, both domestically and internationally. Adoption restrictions and availability have tightened considerably, especially for single men and those who reveal their sexual orientation as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
“U.S. federal law does not prohibit LGBT U.S. citizens or same-sex couples from being adoptive parents. However, some foreign countries do not permit LGBT individuals or same-sex couples to adopt. This is also true of some U.S. states,” says the U.S. Department of State.
Currently, 22 states plus the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to adopt through the process of second-parent adoption or co-parent adoption, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization dedicated to defending the equal rights of the LGBT community.
“Co-parent adoption is an adoption that gives the nonbiological parent full, equal rights to the child in Illinois,” says Nidhi Desai, an attorney at Ballard, Desai & Miller, an Illinois firm that specializes in adoption and reproductive technology law. With co-parent adoption, she says, the second parent has the same rights as the bio-parent. This alleviates the legal uncertainty that was prominent 10 to 15 years ago, before adoption and surrogacy laws were firmly established—especially in Illinois.
Co-parent adoption may be a viable solution, but gestational surrogacy reduces the legal hoops same-sex couples have to jump through.
“In the U. S., some states have specific laws governing surrogacy, while other states are silent on the issue. As the laws governing surrogacy are evolving every day, it is vital that anyone considering a surrogacy contract consult with an attorney who maintains an active practice in this growing field,” says Nadia A. Margherio, family-law attorney with a specialty in assisted reproductive technology at Sodoma Law, P.C. in Charlotte, N.C.
After Illinois passed the Gestational Surrogacy Act in 2005, the state became much more surrogacy friendly. Although the act does not mention LGBT couples, there is also no indication that they would be prohibited from qualifying.
With so many roadblocks for same-sex couples who wish to have a family, surrogacy—even with its share of challenges—has become a more viable option. Surrogacy gives same-sex couples more options without having to hide their orientation, says parent Flavio Arana.
“It was our perception and understanding that gay couples, at the time [when] we had considered adoption (around 2000), had a more difficult time being accepted by adoption agencies as potential candidates,” Arana says, about the prospect of adopting a child with his partner Matt Kippenhan. “For us, it wasn’t really something we wanted to hide or be deceitful about.”
When Arana and Kippenhan first thought about surrogacy, Illinois laws were rigorous.
The couple saved diligently for 10 years and avoided the then-rigid laws of Illinois’ surrogacy process by opting to use the help of Growing Generations, a California-based agency that caters to same-sex couples, for their first child. After nine cycles—which can include fertility shots, egg retrieval and implantation of embryos after fertilization—and a hefty dose of anxiety, Arana and Kippenhan finally became parents to an adorable little boy.
“Everything about him [their first child, Kaiyen]—how he smelled, how he looked, how he cried—mesmerized us then and still does today,” beams Arana.
For Arana and Kippenhan, the results were definitely worth the anguish, the disappointments and the extreme highs and lows that accompany such an undertaking. Agencies, such as Growing Generations, that cater to providing surrogates for same-sex couples, take pride in helping couples like Arana and Kippenhan build their families.
“Our focus is on the gay community,” says Kim Bergman, PhD, co-owner of Growing Generations. “It [gay parenting] wasn’t accepted… I just knew that [the LGBT community] wasn’t being served—we felt like we could do it, so we did,” she says.
By the time Arana and Kippenhan decided to have a second child, the surrogacy laws in Illinois had changed, and the process was much easier. They found an agency, The Center for Egg Options (CEO), in Northbrook—essentially in their backyard. This kept them from having to travel back and forth to the West Coast, as had been the case with their initial experience.
Surrogacy, however, is mostly enjoyed by those who have extensive insurance coverage and those who can afford to cover out-of-pocket costs in the six-figure range.
“Costs for [just] the surrogate [carrier] can range between $50,000 and $100,000, which is separate from the procedure,” says Angeline Beltsos, MD, medical director at Fertility Centers of Illinois (FCI)—Highland Park IVF and co-managing partner of FCI.
When all of the expenses are calculated—such as injections of fertility drugs, an egg donor (if one is used), cycles of IVF to implant fertilized embryos, costs for prenatal care, legal representation, missed work, babysitting, the delivery, and up to two months of postnatal care for the carrier—the process can top well over $100,000, and this is generally for one attempt.
Arana and Kippenhan defrayed some costs. Since they had frozen embryos, they didn’t have to pay for every expense repeatedly, such as fertilization and retrieval of eggs. Still, the $350,000 price tag attached to realizing their dream is a privilege that isn’t granted to everyone, but programs are available to help.
The National Infertility Association maintains a website, resolve.org, that compiles infertility-financing programs. With some finance programs, loans are available, and “some of [the programs] will actually refund [some or all of] your money if the procedure isn’t successful,” Beltsos says. There are also programs that dispense grant money that doesn’t have to be repaid.
“When I think about how much we spent during the process, my stomach churns a little,” Kippenhan says, “but then I think about the little bundles we have, and I’d do it again in a second.”
From the Surrogate’s Perspective
Matt Kippenhan and Flavio Arana, and their sons. Photo by Laura Pollack
“You think there’s no one good in the world and then you meet these people and they’re like angels sent down,” says Matt Kippenhan when asked about his experience using surrogates to carry his and his partner Flavio Arana’s two sons.
Not every woman who has a viable uterus can be a surrogate. It’s not for the faint of heart. According to Tina, twice a surrogate who also works
as the managing director of The Surrogacy Experience, a candidate is thoroughly screened to ensure she is physically and mentally ready to take on the responsibilities. There are also criminal and medical screenings to provide the intended parents additional comfort.
Once all of the appropriate screenings have been conducted, the last test, and possibly the most important one, is the meeting with the family she will carry for. Chemistry between the surrogate and the family is a must for the process to move forward.
Kippenhan says their surrogate told them to, “Think of me as your first babysitter.”
Crystal, a surrogate who has worked with Growing Generations, says she felt more urgency to help same-sex couples.
“It’s a unique position to be in—having to sell yourself to someone else as a good parent,” she says of potential parents looking for a woman—essentially a stranger—to carry their baby.
Normally, making the decision to build a family is a private and very personal decision—a DIY project, if you will. Gestational surrogacy effectively throws away the rulebook.
When all goes according to plan, it’s like the stars are in alignment, everyone is happy and all is right with the world. Conversely, the challenges that come with being the carrier means you will be the first to get news about a family that doesn’t really belong to you.
“It’s hard to be the person who gets the bad news first about someone else’s family,” says Crystal.
“You could say that I really bring my work home with me,” Tina says. “I am always a bit sad to see it end because I miss working with the parents.”
“These women have a higher calling. They truly cared about helping us build our family,” says Kippenhan.