West Coast conference aims to put surrogacy within reach of gay dads

When Doug Rigg and Bill Markevitch talk about their journey to fatherhood, they’re speaking literally. Before the Honolulu-based couple became fathers, they covered tens of thousands of miles. It all started with a flyer they found at Joey’s Café in West Hollywood.

“The flyer said ‘Surrogacy in India,’” said Rigg. “We started reading about how gay couples can go to India to work with a fertility clinic in Mumbai. The costs were quoted as being considerably less than in the U.S., which was a huge barrier for us previously when we considered it.”

But after crossing oceans and two failed attempts in India, it became clear that fatherhood through surrogacy could be a complicated, frustrating and, yes, an expensive undertaking. They eventually found a surrogate mother on the East Coast, and last year welcomed their daughter Cristina Lei into their family.

“I think I’ve always wanted to have kids,” said Rigg. “I’m the youngest of five kids, and have more than a dozen nieces and nephews, so the desire to be a dad was in me from a young age. I just didn’t know how to go about it.”

Rigg will be one of a number of gay men who became fathers through surrogacy speaking at the upcoming West Coast Surrogacy Seminar and Gay Parenting Expo, May 5 at the L.A. Gay and Lesbian Center’s Village at Ed Gould Plaza. The event is produced by the non-profit organization Men Having Babies (MHB), which has organized similar conferences in New York, Barcelona, Paris and Tel Aviv.
Men Having Babies evolved out of a program that ran since 2005 at the New York LGBT Center. “We’re hoping to demystify the process and fill an information vacuum encountered by gay men hoping to become biological parents,” said Ron Poole-Dayan, the organization’s executive director. “We provide information to assist would-be parents in the process; raise awareness about the potential benefits of surrogacy to both intended fathers and surrogate mothers; promote ‘best practices’ to minimize risks all around; and offer grants to prospective parents to help lower the costs of surrogacy.”

And those costs can be considerable. Besides the obvious biological impediments, gay couples face a number of obstacles not encountered by heterosexual couples hoping to have a child. While straight couples can expect their health insurance to cover many fertility procedures – and have access to non-profit foundations when insurance falls short – gay men are not considered infertile, in spite of the extensive measures needed before they can become fathers. According to an MHB survey, gay fathers spend an average of about $110,000 on the surrogacy process. The same poll found that many had underestimated the required costs by $10,000 or more. Not surprisingly, more than half of the intended parents surveyed expressed interest in financial assistance to people who cannot afford the entire process.

In May MHB will begin taking applications for its Gay Parenting Assistance Program. The program will provide financial assistance to gay men who cannot afford the high costs associated with surrogacy, along with access to free or discounted services and medications. The funds come from event sponsorship fees paid by supporting providers and from direct donations by parents and allies.

MHB also began the “Surrogacy Advisor” ratings database of various clinics and agencies, based on hundreds of responses to its online questionnaire. “The feedback we’ve received includes satisfaction levels, effectiveness measures, and what the process as a whole really costs,” said Poole-Dayan. That’s already created downward pricing pressure and has helped many save tens of thousand dollars by identifying affordable, effective providers.”

This is the first time MHB has brought the event to the West Coast. It will feature nearly two dozen American and international surrogacy agencies and clinics; personal stories of dads who have gone through the surrogacy process themselves; and panel discussions featuring legal and medical experts, surrogates and egg donors, as well as information on both independent and agency-guided surrogacy. Twenty-four breakout sessions and an expo will allow prospective parents to become more familiar with exhibiting agencies and clinics, as well as supportive community organizations. And for the first time, the seminar will include a panel discussion on surrogacy for HIV+ men, featuring noted experts and a seropositive man who went through the process himself, as well as his surrogate.

Rigg says that information and hearing the stories of others is what got him through the process: “There were many times over the six years we were considering fatherhood that I thought we wouldn’t have a kid. But once I saw the community of people out there, I knew that if we stuck with it, we would become dads. It’s a numbers game, and all it takes is one.”

For more information and to RSVP, go to www.menhavingbabies.org/LA

When: May 5, 2013, 10:00 AM – 6:30 PM

Where: The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, 1125 N McCadden Place Los Angeles, CA 90038-1212.

Registration: Admission is free, but advanced registration is recommended.