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Gay Parenting Information Sources Growing
By Leigh Ann Woodruff, February 19, 2012
Gay prospective parents face a host of questions — logistical, legal, practical and emotional — when exploring the options of in vitro fertilization (IVF), egg donation, sperm donation and surrogacy. As European interest in American fertility clinic options grows, new and different questions arise.
The Practical Concerns of Americans
In America, gay prospective parents' questions and concerns run to more practical considerations, according to Michael Doyle, M.D., medical director of Connecticut Fertility Associates. Rarely do they have have concerns about international law, going through customs or a baby being taken away at the airport. In addition, many of the emotional considerations have been dealt with.
"The LGBT community that accesses these services are living very out and proudly and are usually in communities that are supportive," Dr. Doyle says. "They've usually processed 'what is it going to be like to be a gay parent,' 'how is my kid going to be accepted'? I think the issues are much different. They're more focused on cost and efficiency and effectiveness. They're not grappling with being a pioneer. They usually have much more practical concerns: 'Can we use a shared cycle?' Their questions tend to be those kind of medical things."
Ron Poole-Dayan, coordinator of the Men Having Babies Network, says the American issues are reflected American seminars for gay prospective parents. "In the USA, some people — although a minority — still attempt to find a traditional surrogate and not always use the help of a full service agency," he says. "Therefore our seminars cover traditional and independent surrogacy arrangements in addition to gestational surrogacy."
Dr. Doyle says that 50 percent of the egg donation surrogacy cycles performed at Connecticut Fertility are international. He'll be answering many questions about international surrogacy and egg donation this April at the "Men Having Babies Surrogacy Seminar and Expo," a four-day conference in Barcelona, Spain. Organized by the Network of European LGBT Family Associations (NELFA), the program is based on similar New York seminars that he has been involved with over the past seven years.
"In Europe, the focus is on the various ethical, cultural, legal and even logistical travel kinds of issues, because people from other countries have to navigate those things in a way that's a little bit different," Dr. Doyle explains. "We've set up contacts in multiple cities in Europe and around the world where doctors in those home countries can do screening tests — and even monitoring if it's an intended parent using her own eggs — so that it really scales down the number of weeks or days that people need to be away from home."
Attitudes about surrogacy in Europe vary from country to country. "Certain countries are remarkably negative and restrictive about surrogacy as a concept — about surrogacy on any level for any reason," he says. "Any cultural bias, lack of information or fear — these conferences are very important around the world because you need to open people's eyes about the fact that these are win-win-win situations. The surrogates are highly screened and safely cared for and approach this with minimal risk for themselves. And, in fact, they are highly motivated and highly empowered by the surrogacy journey."
Local laws restrict or forbid surrogacy in almost all European countries, according to Ron Poole-Dayan, coordinator of the Men Having Babies Network. "Gay prospective parents in Europe have to deal with critical social norms: how their surrogacy will be perceived by their family and community, and attaining full legal recognition to their children," he says. "Indeed, within the gay community there are still rifts along these lines, where in some countries LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) associations split due to their views about the ethics of surrogacy. In some countries like Sweden or France men are much more likely to be "in the closet" about being surrogacy parents than being gay parents. However there is a constant and visible shift toward more openness."
Become Knowledgeable about Options
As a father of 11-year-old twins, Poole-Dayan says he and his partner had no idea where to start on the intended parent journey 12 years ago. They used a tip from friends who were in the process. "While today there are many more clinics and agencies eager to help gay men, the multiple options and ocean of information may actually make the process more overwhelming," he says. "The Men Having Babies network and the Men Having Babies seminars go a long way to help gay men in New York — and now also in Europe — to be introduced to the reputable clinics and agencies that have been helping our community for a while, and to get a good introduction to the subject from experts and peers."
Finding a fertility clinic experienced and proficient in serving the wide range of gay prospective parents, nationally and internationally, is important. "it goes to the culture of your practice and how your team operates, how you communicate and how your consent forms read," says Dr. Doyle.
In addition, it's important to learn about all of your options, such as gender selection, embryo freezing, shared cycles; shared risks; or cycles where you put in embryos from two different dads, maximizing the opportunity to have twins — one from each dad.
Gay men often face challenges based on their specific needs for a surrogate pregnancy, Dr. Doyle says. While lesbians often choose to do reciprocal IVF — where one woman donates the egg and the other woman carries the child — which gives both women a medical connection, gay men often want twins so that each one will be the genetic father of one child. This means the prospective fathers need to choose a young egg donor that will produce many eggs.
"If they don't get twins, they want to have enough embryos from each dad so if they get a single pregnancy the first time, they can go back into the frozen embryos of the second dad and not just have one or two, because if that doesn't work, it's possible the egg donor is not available any more," Dr. Doyle says.
"These issues are identifiable at the very beginning and very much affect which egg donor you should even be looking at. It just goes back to educating people on what their options are."