The following article was recently published on The Fertility Advicate by Pamela Madsen, a nationally recognized fertility advocate. Her post “What Gay Men and Lesbians Should Know about Egg Donation & Surrogacy” is below. In it, California Fertility Partner’s fertility doctor Guy Ringler MD shares his experience and insights surrounding support of the gay and lesbian community in building families of their own. We thank Pamela, the Reproductive Law Center in San Diego, and A Perfect Match egg donation and surrogacy agency for contributing toward a great article that helps explain options available for gay couples or singles to become parents through egg donation and surrogacy (regardless of marital status).
Pamela writes … I have been doing more and more fertility coaching for Gay Men and Lesbians who are looking for support in building their families. LGBT Family Building is not new – but I am noticing a definitely upward trend in quantity of calls I have been getting.
One of my favorite reproductive endocrinologists is Dr. Guy E. Ringler, from California Fertility Partners,
Dr. Ringler has been an advocate for family building with incredible talent and integrity for couples trying to conceive for as long as I can remember. He also has a thriving practice specializing in supporting gay men and lesbians to build their families.
I had started to wonder if I was the only one noticing the increase in interest in family building among LGBT couples. And I wondered if the legalization of Gay Marriage in so many more states (New York being the newest), was the reason. It made sense to me since LGBT families now had more security as a family (at least in these states) with their marriages legalized. So I called Dr. Ringer, as I knew that if anyone would know the answers to this, and my others questions – it would be someone like him. So, I threw some of my LGBT Family Building questions at him and he was kind enough to answer!
Question: “Dr. Ringler are you seeing more gay and lesbians showing up to build families in recent years?”
Dr. Ringler’s Answer:
“Over the last fifteen years I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of gay men, both singles and couples, from around the world seeking to become parents through assisted reproduction. As our society and culture gradually shifts towards greater acceptance of gay men and women into our daily lives, gay individuals are exploring all of their life long dreams and options – including family building.
The desire to reproduce, to have children is a strong natural desire experienced by many individuals, both gay and straight. For years gay men had to squash those dreams or live a lie and get married to have kids. Young gay men today have exposure to same sex couples in their communities, churches, and families, some of whom may be starting families of their own. Gay men should not have to repress their sexuality or desires to have children because there are many options available today to help them fulfill their dreams.
A common option for gay men to build a family is through egg donation and gestational surrogacy. Many of the surrogates are often from small towns in middle America. They are very happy and proud to help these men become dads. These wonderful women from middle America are not only helping build families, but are also teaching their children, neighbors, and co-workers that gay men can have children, and become fathers. Their commitment to helping others experience the joys of parenthood will help open the minds of others in their communities and throughout the world.”
Question: “What should gay men look for when seeking an egg donor or surrogate?”
Dr. Ringler: “The egg donor provides the half of the genetic make up of your child. Intended parents should look for candidates in good overall health who have characteristics they feel are important. The desired attributes may include ethnic background, physical features, educational achievements, and personality features. Every intended parent will have his own list of priorities all of which contribute to the diversity of the children. Search for the candidate that triggers an emotion.
Before selecting a gestational carrier you should decide what type of relationship that you expect to have with the woman. Do you want to become best friends, more casual friends, or a distant neighbor. It’s important that expectations are matched on both sides. The gestational carrier has her own children, family, and friends. She may not have the time or energy to develop a close, active relationship. This does not mean that she is not committed to being a great carrier, she just may not be able to meet all of your needs. It’s important to match expectations.
A gestational carrier must have had a least one normal, uncomplicated, full term delivery, and be free of any medical problem that would pose a medical risk to the pregnancy. She must have a body mass index under 35, be free of any infection which could risk the pregnancy, have negative drug and nicotine screens, and live a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to confirm that she has medical insurance to cover the pregnancy, or to purchase a policy for the duration of the pregnancy. Before any treatment is started she must complete a thorough medical evaluation by an experienced Reproductive Endocrinologist, complete psychological evaluation by a clinical psychologist, and review and sign contracts with a Reproductive Attorney.“
Question: “Do you recommend Parental Agreements?”
Dr. Ringler’s Answer:
“The attorney will present a contract that states the intended parents’ intent to create and parent the child. No treatment is started until all parties have signed a contract. The laws governing parental rights vary from state to state so it’s critically important to work with a Reproductive Attorney who is familiar with the state laws in the states where the intended parents live and where the surrogate resides. It is an excellent idea to ask your attorney to create a Parental Agreement that outlines the parental rights of both intended parents should a relationship or marriage fail since most states do not recognize the rights of the non-legal parent. Although this document does not guarantee physical custody of the non-legal parent in the child’s life, it does provide the courts with a document declaring the intentions of the legal parent to allow the non-legal parent in the child’s life.”
Question: “Do you see single gay men or women? Or are more married or partnered individuals?”
Dr. Ringer’s Answer:
“Most of the gay patients I see are couples, but there is an increasing number of single men exploring family building options. This week at an embryo transfer, a single man brought his parents to witness the procedure. They had met the gestational carrier previously and were wanted to be a part of this exciting event in their son’s life. The intended parent’s father put his arm around his son’s shoulder during the transfer, while the mother held hands and comforted the surrogate. Everyone in the room had smiles and tears in their eyes as the embryos were placed into the surrogate’s uterus and the possibility of a new child for this family began.
Single men, both straight and guy are seeking family building through egg donation and surrogacy. It’s a huge personal step for all individuals, but even more so for the single guys. They have all done their homework and have planned their lives around this important priority for themselves. More than a few of my single patients have returned with new partners to add more children to their lives. Having children doe not put their personal lives on hold, it just shuffles around priorities a bit.”
Question: “Do gay men and lesbians have different concerns that straight couples?”
Dr. Ringler’s Answer:
“The concerns expressed by gay and straight men and women towards egg donation and surrogacy are similar. Everyone wants to optimize their chances of having a healthy child. Their attitudes toward the process can be slightly different. For the gay men it’s an exciting, upbeat and generally happy process. The men are thrilled at the opportunity to have a child of their own. For many straight couples exploring these treatments it comes after years of infertility treatment failures and they can be more beaten down emotionally and must personally recover from their disappointments before starting treatments using donor eggs and/or gestational carriers. Once they begin the process most patients express excited anticipation about the possibilities ahead. All patients are driven by their desire to create a family for themselves and are eternally grateful for the help of the individuals who have made it possible.”
I am very grateful to Guy Ringler, MD for his unique perspective and willingness to take the time to answer my questions about LGBT Family Building. What is clear to me, the doctors, the egg donor and surrogacy agencies, and the sperm banks (more on them later) is that the need for support to this community is growing.
If you are interested in helping a LGBT Couple build their family through egg donation or gestation surrogacy – know that the need is great – not just among the LGBT community but in the straight population as well. If you are interested in exploring the idea of being a gestational surrogate click here. If you are interested in being an egg donor click here.
About Pamela Madsen: Pam has worked on the Chapter and National Level at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. She served as the Vice President and President of the RESOLVE NYC Chapter and as it’s first Executive Director. She also founded and lead the American Fertility Association (AFA) in establishing itself as the premier patient advocacy organization for education and support surrounding fertility, infertility treatments, adoption, surrogacy, and childfree living. Her work in the field has been honored by other advocacy organizations including RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association and the New York City Chapter of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Her passion for infertility awareness and access to fertility treatments for all was demonstrated with her representation of patient issues in meetings with leaders from the National Institute of Health, FDA, National Conference of State Legislators, the President’s Council on Bioethics and the Centers for Disease Control.