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Same Sex Conception Primer

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by Rachel Lehmann-Haupt, Nov. 24, 2009

On a recent episode of ABC’s hit show Brothers and Sisters, married gay couple Kevin and Scotty decide to have a baby. They make an informal agreement with their close friend Michelle who agrees to be their surrogate and carry a child created from donor eggs and a mix of their sperm. But as the relationship and pregnancy becomes a reality, problems start to arise.

In the 11th hour, the relationship between Michelle and the couple falls apart because what began as a favor out of friendship actually became more complicated, which is the truth when a gay couple decides to start a biological family.

“They’re dealing with a lot of complicated emotional, legal and medical issues,” says Dr. David Tourgeman, a reproductive endocrinologist with HRC Fertility in Los Angeles. Dr. Tourgeman specializes in walking gay couples through the beginning steps of starting their family. “The bottom line is that the more complicated but legally safer routes are also the most expensive routes,” he stresses.

Because of the delicacy of these issues, the first step, he says, is to establish that the couple is in a stable relationship “There used to be a more stringent assessment for parenthood, but now it’s not quite as strict,” he says. “We’ll ask whether they are domestic partners or married, but at the end of the day we just want to know that the couple is in a solid emotional relationship.”

When a lesbian couple ends up at his office, he explains, it is generally because they’ve either been unsuccessful with artificial insemination or it’s because they’ve chosen a more complicated route. This usually means that both women want to be involved, and one woman will become an egg donor to the other who will then carry the embryos created with donor sperm.

“We stimulate and retrieve the eggs from the egg donor of the relationship, and at the same time we put the carrier on estrogen so that her uterus is synced and prepared to take the embryos,” says Dr. Tourgemen. “It’s not that different from an IVF cycle with donor eggs, but it just happens to be between a couple in love.”

In the case of two gay men, the situation is a bit more complicated - and even more expensive - for the obvious reason that there is no egg or womb between them. There are two routes that couples generally choose, explains Tourgeman. The first is a traditional surrogate who gets pregnant with her own eggs and either one or a mix of each man’s sperm. “This is the most complex legal situation and in many ways the least desirable because she is not only carrying the baby, but it’s also half of her genetics so there could be problems with custody,” he says.

Dr. Tourgemen doesn’t recommend that his patients take this route, but rather that they create embryos with donor eggs that belong to them, and then hire a surrogate to carry the embryos created with a mix of the couple’s sperm. It’s the safest route from a legal perspective, but can cost between $10 thousand and $20 thousand for the eggs and between $50 thousand and $100 thousand for the surrogate. “Despite the cost, this is a better situation because the embryos actually belong to the couple.” he says.

So if you and your same sex partner are looking to build your family, you've got even more issues to consider than heterosexual couples do. It’s recommended that you talk with an attorney who specializes in third-party reproduction, and who has knowledge and experience working with same sex couples. You'll want to have your eyes wide open as you begin to make your baby.

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt ( is a journalist and the author of In Her Own Sweet Time: Unexpected Adventures in Finding Love, Commitment and Motherhood (Basic Books, 2009).