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Eggs in a Basket: Picking Our (Genetic) Baby Mama

19 Jun

On Sunday night Matt and I went to a big annual fundraiser called Broadway Bares, raising money for the fantastic charity Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. (They raised more than $1.2 million that night, more than any previous year’s take, after 22 years of holding the sexy, funny, hugely popular event.)

They do the event twice in one night, at 9:30 p.m. and at midnight.

“Which one do you want to go to?” Matt asked me, several weeks ago when we bought the tickets.

I sighed. “I hear the midnight show is a little more fun and raucous. But midnight? On a Sunday?

“I know, but when are we ever going to go to a midnight anything if we have a kid, or kids, this spring?”

“Book it,” I said.

And so we went to the midnight show.

We got home just after two o’clock in the morning, exhausted but still lingeringly energized from the high-energy show. By two-thirty we were in bed.

Then Matt’s phone chimed. E-mail!

Since we started this whole surrogacy process, we get inappropriately excited when Matt’s e-mail chime goes off on his iPhone. We get additionally crazed when it happens after midnight, because that means chances the e-mail is from India (which is nine and a half hours ahead of NYC time), increase dramatically. (It also increases the chances that it’s an e-mail from Brandi asking in an e-mail subject if we want to “make size so much bigger!” or a pleading note from a Nigerian prince who just needs us to wire $4,000 and then he’ll give us $40,000 next week. You get the picture.)

But in this case the e-mail really was from our surrogacy clinic in India.

“Please find attached the potential egg donor profiles for a July visit to our clinic. Please select three donors, in your order of preference, and we will check their availability in that order.”

Matt and I looked at each other. It somehow seemed poignant that it was Father’s Day.

Attached were sixteen profiles, showing a photograph of the egg donor, describing her height and weight, blood type, marital status, the number and age of her children, and specific hormonal markers. (The hormonal numbers, like prolactin numbers, were within the “normal” range for all donors. They were all also noted as HIV-negative and free of major diseases, sexual or otherwise.)

We agreed to get some sleep, as it was almost 3 a.m., and we both had to work in the morning, but made a pact to pick the genetic birth mother the next day after work. (The surrogate, who would carry the fertilized egg to term, will be picked in a later, separate round. For many good reasons, the egg donor and the surrogate are not the same woman.)

During our lunch hours, Matt and I sent the donor profiles to a select few family and friends and pored over every bit of information we had. Via text Matt and I agreed that we’d each pick five potential egg donors, compare our picks, and see which of them matched up.

That night we sat on our sofa in the living room and, like a really odd biologically-themed card game, or an America’s Next Top Model elimination, we revealed our picks one by one by placing printed copies of the egg donor profiles on the sofa cushions.

We had a few in common right away, which was exciting. We were able to eliminate about half of the sixteen in a matter of minutes. Then it was time to whittle away at our remaining top picks.

“What do you think of Janeane Garofalo?” I asked, holding up one of the profiles. Each profile started getting a nickname, which was helpful as there were no names on the profiles (only initials). The woman in the picture really did look like an Indian Janeane Garofalo. The next woman looked like she’d be an art teacher, so she became The Art Teacher.

“She could be a finalist,” Matt said. “What about Yearbook Pose?”

“Yep. Yearbook Pose is in. I’m still really all about The Lady in Yellow, though.” The woman in the photo looked like a mom I sometimes saw on the subway in the morning. For whatever reason, the photo and bio spoke to me.

“Yellow could be a finalist, too,” Matt said.

By the end of the night, we had it down to five. We decided to sleep on it one more night.

Today, as I was eating lunch at my desk at the office, trying to finish a million things before yet another work trip, Matt called.

“Ready to pick our final three?”

We went over the profiles that had become favorites one last time. “Okay, we have The Art Teacher, Yearbook Pose, and The Lady in Yellow. Do we feel good about that?”

“So no Janeane Garofalo?” Matt asked.

“I don’t think so, do you?”

“No,” he said. “I’m good with these three.” There was a pause. “Wow. We just picked the genetic mother of our child. Or children.”

“We did,” I said.

I was still smiling when we hung up.

One more step complete. One step closer to becoming dads.

–Josh

No Floaties Required: Matt’s Swimmers are ‘Normal’

16 Jun

So the urologist called me back to give me some good news.  My sperm are “normal.”  I guess that’s a good thing, because when the results were received by  the Rotunda Clinic, they were pleased enough to ask us for a range of potential travel dates.

I can’t explain how scary it is to wait for test results like these.  You live your entire life just assuming that you will one day be able to have kids, but to spend a week waiting for a lab tech to count your sperm is completely unnerving.  One of the statistics that I came across while researching our options stated that “10-15% of male/female couples are infertile, and that at least one in five 18-25 year old men in Europe have semen quality in the subfertile range.”  I’m well past 25, and I’m pretty sure that the rate gets worse with age.  At least this is one less thing to stress over, and now we can focus on saving up as much money as possible before a potential trip to India in July.

In slightly less exciting news, I got my Indian visa back without any headache.  I received a text message alert that it had been processed and was available for pickup between 4 and 6:30 p.m. M-F.  The line at the Travisa Outsourcing India location was even longer than during the drop-off, but people were much happier as they were there to claim their reward for navigating a sea of bureaucratic paperwork.  Josh submitted his paperwork yesterday, so we should have his visa in hand by early next week.

It’s hard to write this blog without getting a little bit emotional.  Everything is happening so quickly, and I know that I can’t wait to be a father, but it’s difficult to complete all of these requirements without treating the whole process like a checklist of actions, not necessarily like a path to a child.  Every once in a while, the reality of what we are doing hits me, and I’m simultaneously choked up and grinning from ear to ear.  Thank you to all of our friends for your support as we start flipping through pages of anonymous egg donor bios.

–Matt

Pokes and Prods: The Pre-Surrogacy Medical Testing

9 Jun

Since deciding on gestational surrogacy to become parents, Josh and I researched our options and chose to work with the Rotunda Clinic in Mumbai, India, to start our family. For a complicated series of reasons (health insurance, employer policies, etc.), we’ve decided to use my genetic material this time around with surrogacy. If we do surrogacy again in a couple years, we’ll likely use Josh’s genetic material that time around.

The clinic e-mailed us with requests for my health history, as well as lab results to determine sperm motility and HIV status before the process continues to the next stage.  Most insurance plans won’t cover surrogacy-related expenses unless you can document infertility through a series of physician visits, so these costs will likely be out-of-pocket.

Working with an international surrogacy agency further complicates things, as my insurance company won’t contribute to a procedure that isn’t billable to a U.S. healthcare provider.  These tests can get expensive, but in the grand scheme of things, it seems necessary to just bite the bullet and hope that the insurance claim submissions will be approved.

(Click here to see the lab tests required by the Rotunda Clinic)

On Friday, as requested by the clinic in Mumbai, I took a trip to my urologist in Manhattan to get a lab referral for a routine semen analysis and urogenital culture.  She’s a fantastic physician and totally on board with our decision to attempt surrogacy. She sent me to Quest Diagnostics at 944 Park Avenue to complete the exams.  The procedures requested weren’t considered advanced in nature, so an appointment wasn’t required, at least according to the referral slip.

But, after arriving at the lab 20 minutes after my urology appointment, I was told that the earliest appointment slot would be in 11 days.  I explained that the referral slip (printed by this exact lab in bulk) specifically noted that walk-ins were accepted. After pointing that out, and a bit of patient reasoning with the guy behind the front desk, an exception to the rule was made and I was given a clipboard and some paperwork to fill out.  (The squeaky wheel gets the grease….)

I don’t know what I was expecting from a fertility lab, but I was led into a tiny room in what was once the coat closet of a very wealthy person’s Park Avenue mansion. There was a sink, a chair, a table with a stack of crusty, crinkled Playboy magazines, a tiny TV with a VCR cassette featuring a film from the 1990s, the nature of which you can probably guess, and a large bottle of Purell.

Now, as a gay man, I can tell you that what was provided in the room was doing absolutely nothing for me.  I wasn’t about to even go near the magazines (I can’t imagine how many previous tenants have flipped through them).

The whole experience was a bit bizarre and awkward. I could hear other people entering the building right outside of my closet, making it even more awkward.  I accomplished what was required and got out of there as quickly as I could.

The third and final stop of the day was at my internal medicine physician for a referral for the required blood work.  Rotunda Clinic requires tests for HBsAg, HCV, VDRL, HIV (1+2) antibody, HIV PCR, and a blood Rh typing.  I took the referral to the Quest labs on 57th Street in Midtown, had three vials of blood taken, and was out of there within an hour.

All of the results should take about a week to process. My urologist and my internal medicine physicians will forward the emailed results directly to the clinic in Mumbai to add to our file.

And now, we wait….

–Matt

First Things First: Getting Indian Visas

8 Jun

Applying for a visa in India is a tedious process.  Unlike many countries that simply stamp your passport upon arrival, and maybe charge a minor fee, India requires a lengthy visa application, with details like past travel, and identifying marks or bodily features, as well as a hefty fee for processing.

We began our visa process at the website for the Indian consulate in New York City, where we learned that India has recently outsourced their entire visa process to a company called Travisa.  (Insert here any outsourcing jokes you might be tempted to make.) The process is fairly straightforward, but it takes some time to complete all the requirements.

To start, I needed a few copies of a standard 2×2 passport photo (white background, no glasses, etc.), as they’re needed for this application, and will also be needed in India during passport processing for the future baby(ies).  Getting those extra photos now, in the U.S., will undoubtedly save us from additional hassle later in Mumbai or Delhi.

Once I had my photos, I completed the India Visa Application Form online.  Visas are offered for 6 months, 5 years, or 10 years.  As the surrogacy process will require at least two visits, 9 months apart, we opted for the 10-year visa (the 5- and 10-year visas are the same cost, so why not guarantee yourself as much time as possible?).

When I finished the application, I printed a copy, affixed a copy of the 2×2 passport photo in the appropriate box, and signed the papers.

Next, you have to use a scanner or smartphone to make a copy of the entire first page of the application, and then use that cropped image of the 2×2 photo and signature on the Travisa site for the next step in processing.  (I know this sounds strange, but there are helpful videos on the Travisa website to help navigate this part of the process.) The Travisa online form can’t be completed until the India Visa Application has been submitted, as they provide a Web File number that will link both applications.

After completing both applications, the site gave me a selection of times to drop off the paperwork at the Travisa India Outsourcing Center at 316 East 53rd St. in Manhattan.

I picked the 11:20 a.m. time slot, but arrived at 10:50, a full half hour earlier than required.  I’m glad did, because I didn’t even reach the front of the line until 11:30 a.m.  The check-in attendant looked at my documents, checked the photo against my actual passport photo, and sent me to another line for payment processing.  The experience at the Outsourcing Center was time consuming, but everything was conducted in a professional manner and my application went in without complications.

Travisa told me that I should get an e-mail and text message in 3-4 working days, notifying me that the visa was available for pick-up.  The total cost was $166, payable in cash, money order, or credit card.  Credit card transactions add a few days to the processing time, though, so I opted for cash payment, and made sure to get a receipt.  (Always good to have a paper trail if something goes wrong later.)

You have to leave your passport with Travisa during the visa process–it felt strange to leave behind such an important, hard-to-replace document–so make sure that you aren’t planning any weekenders to the Caribbean while going through the application process.

After submitting my visa paperwork, I popped over to my urologist for the next step in the process.

More on that, next….

–Matt

A Change In Direction: From Adoption to Surrogacy

30 May

Earlier this year our friends E & A, a married male couple, became the fathers of two babies, born by gestational surrogate. A few months after the babies were born and things settled down for them a bit, we e-mailed and asked if we could bring them dinner and hear about their adventures in becoming dads, and also talk about our own burgeoning path to parenthood.

When we got off the elevator in E & A’s new building (they moved to have more room for the babies), we heard a baby crying and knew right away which apartment was theirs. We were delighted to meet the babies and catch up with our friends.

“So, you guys are thinking about adopting?” E asked us later in the evening, as Matt and I each held a baby. (Matt and I were in baby heaven. That’s Matt, at right.)

“It seems like the best path for us,” Matt said. “We’d love to do surrogacy, but I’m not sure that’s in the financial cards for us right now.”

During our many hours of online research, Matt and I had read that the cost of surrogacy in the United States can easily reach $100,000, and can be as much as $160,000. Also, because many states have different laws about surrogacy, things can get legally complex. At our meeting with an adoption agency, we were told adoption would cost $25,000-$30,000, and as a relatively young couple who’d also like to buy a house in the near future, it made sense for us to take a less expensive route that still ended with a baby.

But then, just a few days ago, Matt and I were lying around in the living room, poking around on our laptops.

“Hey, have you read about surrogacy in India?” Matt asked.

“I think I might have read something about it in the Times,” I said. “Why?”

“Do a Google search,” Matt said. “This might be something worth considering.”

And, indeed, it was.

Looking Into Gestational Surrogacy

To give some quick background, gestational surrogacy involves using a couple’s genetic material to create fertilized eggs, and then implanting the fertilized eggs in a surrogate’s womb. If one member of a couple is infertile, a donor egg or donor sperm is used. In our case, as a same-sex couple, we would use genetic material from one of us, and then use a donor egg. (Just to clarify, in gestational surrogacy, the woman who carries the baby–the surrogate–does not provide the egg. The surrogate is the carrier for the baby, but not its genetic parent.)

In India, since 2005, there has been something of a surrogacy baby boom. (There are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about it online.) It’s been reported that surrogacy has become a billion-dollar industry in the country. There are many different viewpoints on gestational surrogacy, especially when it takes place in developing countries, but the fact remains that gestational surrogacy is entirely legal in India, as it is in many countries and states in the U.S.

Many of the articles on Indian gestational surrogacy also point out that the amount of money surrogates make from the arrangement often allows Indian surrogates to purchase housing for their families, as well as provide a paid education for their own genetic children.

Adoption vs. Surrogacy: Length & Cost of Process

As Matt and I began discussing adopting in the United States verses looking at surrogacy in India, our conversation came down to two important elements: the length and cost of the process.

We knew that adopting could take as little as a year, but could stretch out to multiple years, and would likely cost about $25,000-$30,000.

In researching Indian surrogacy, and communicating with a few Indian clinics, we learned that Indian surrogacy would also cost about $25,000-$30,000, a dramatic difference from the $100,000-$160,000 price tag for surrogacy in the United States.

Unlike U.S. adoption, surrogacy wouldn’t require a social worker to do a home study, and it wouldn’t require any of the other bureaucratic complexities of adoption. We wouldn’t have to advertise for expectant mothers who may be considering putting their baby up for adoption, and wait for a mother to select us.

Beyond that, we also know the precise length of the process: once we complete our paperwork with an Indian clinic, and make our initial visit, we would have a baby in nine months. (Sometimes surrogacy doesn’t take the first time, of course, and another round of in vetro fertilization is necessary. Still, you know how long you need to wait for your baby to arrive once the process is under way.)

“So, is this the route you want to go?” I asked Matt.

“I think so. You?”

I smiled. I nodded.

And, with that, Matt and I started the process of becoming parents, half-way around the world.

–Josh

The New Dads on the Block

5 May

Matt and I have always wanted to be parents. Long before we met each other–in fact, even as teenagers–we always knew we wanted to have children someday.

Matt and I met in November 2008 and fell in love that winter. Exactly three years to the day after we met, we got married in Central Park, surrounded by friends and family. Now, six months after the nuptials, we’re both ready to set out on the journey of becoming parents.

Yes, of course, becoming parents is slightly more complicated as two guys. We can’t just make a baby in the privacy of our home and, nine months later, have a newborn in our Baby Bjorn as we stroll the farmer’s market for fresh produce. But, thankfully, there are many options open to us (and all couples, regardless of sexual orientation) in becoming parents.

Matt and I started the journey of becoming parents today with an informational meeting at Family Focus Adoption Services, an adoption agency in New York City (where we live), which has been around for more than two decades, and is well-known as an agency that works very happily with same-sex couples. In fact, at the informational meeting we attended, there were three young same-sex male couples in attendance, along with two straight couples.

So, here’s what we learned at today’s meeting: Adopting a child will cost about $25,000-$30,000. There’s a good chance it will be a multi-year process. The first big step is setting up a home study with a social worker, which is a months-long process of vetting us as a potential adoptive couple (a non-refundable process that will cost just over $1,500).

After all the initial screening and bureaucracy is complete, the process of essentially advertising ourselves in any way possible to potential birth mothers begins. There are a slew of websites expecting moms can visit if they want to place their children for adoption, and these days moms can essentially browse the sites and pick a couple they want to have their child. The agency then serves as the impartial middle man, helping bring the whole process together, from the initial contact to the day there’s an infant swaddled in Little Giraffe blankets in your arms. (There really are too many great baby product and clothing sites out there to browse for my own good.)

There are many other ways and places to advertise the fact that you’re a couple that would like to adopt children, of course. They suggest reaching out to hospitals, women’s clinics, churches, etc. Word of mouth, as we learned today, can also be hugely helpful. We heard a story today about a grandmother who was getting her hair done at a salon, talking about her son and his husband, who had just announced they wanted to adopt. The woman washing hair a couple chairs over overheard the conversation. That woman was pregnant and wondering what to do, and that day at work she’d found the couple she’d eventually give her baby to. Kind of amazing, right? You never know how and when and where it’ll happen.

Matt and I want to visit a few more agencies before we settle on one, but we enjoyed meeting with Family Focus today, and definitely consider them a contender. But, there’s still quite a bit more footwork and reading to do before we make a final decision. We certainly hope to make that choice early this summer so we can get things rolling in what may very well be a marathon process.

Aside from all the reading and research, discussing and pondering, Matt and I are very excited and happy to have started our journey in becoming dads together.

And, who knows? Someday soon we might just be the new dads on your block.

–Josh