Having spent the first five years of our marriage working through issues like getting him not to leave his clothes all over the bedroom floor and understand that I didn’t find dirty dishes in the sink even slightly endearing, we finally decided that we were ready to have children. The obvious first option for us was adoption, given the thousands of abused and abandoned children in the world. I am especially aware of this sad situation, because I was a homeless teenager myself. Plus neither my husband or I are particularly hung up on needing to have children who are biologically ours. And finally, we still loved the adoption option even after one of my desperately-trying-to-be-supportive uncles told us over dinner: “I think it’s really nice when the Gays adopt – ‘specially the broken and crippled children that no one else wants.” (Honest to God, that’s an exact quote – bless my uncle’s well-meaning but misguided heart.) At the end of the day, the only thing that we knew, as we began looking to build a family, was that we ideally wanted two children because (since both of us have siblings) being an only child seems like a lonely existence.
The problem is, however, that my husband wants to have the “full experience” of being a parent. Which means that he wants – in some perverse way that I’ll never fully understand – to deal with diaper rash, colic, sleep deprivation, and the myriad of things that come with all infants. I, on the other hand, would be fine with starting with a toilet-trained child who generally sleeps through the night. The things we do in the name of love. But that really complicated our potential adoption. Of course being a same-sex couple basically means that countries where many couples adopt babies from (e.g., China, Russia) were out of the question – unless I want to be arrested the next time I have to travel there for business. So, although at some point down the road we’re likely to adopt older children, we elected to go the surrogacy/in-vitro fertilization route. Logically, at some point in time our wait is limited to nine months this way – versus the indefinite waiting line of adoption.
Gay men have their own answer to the existential question about the chicken and the egg: it’s all about the egg for same-sex male couples. We discovered, as we went with Alice down her simultaneously exhilarating and daunting rabbit hole, that the woman who carries the child of a gay male couple (i.e., the gestational surrogate) is often not the biological mother of that baby. It turns out that another woman donates (with appropriate compensation for time and inconvenience) her eggs, making it psychologically easier for surrogates to give up the babies she’s been carrying around for nine months. Relatively (pardon the pun) speaking. Some people happen to have a female friend with whom they’re close enough to ask to have a child with them, but we decided that it was too intrusive a request – especially since we could afford the cost (which, if you’re curious, for us total egg donor costs were well over $40,000). That last parenthetical may make it sound like we’re trafficking in humans – something clearly illegal and that we wouldn’t condone. But, generally speaking, the women who agree to donate eggs and the professionals who enable the process are strongly motivated by the desire to help loving couples build families. Money, the sordid topic of coin, is absolutely a factor – but it’s not the only one.
Take the first egg donor we had accepted. She ended up rejecting us because she decided that she wasn’t comfortable with her biological offspring being raised by a same-sex couple. Even in the middle of feeling bitterly disappointed when we were told about her decision, I still recognized that woman’s right to make that decision. What I was angry about, however, was her change of heart – because part of our agency’s screening process was that specific topic and the potential donor had indicated that she was open to donating her eggs to a gay couple. That woman, I hope, has no idea how much angst her thoughtless and disingenuous initial response to a simple binary question – are you open to donating eggs to a same-sex couple? – caused. It worked out for the best in the end, and we’re certainly glad that she (finally) put some thought into it (as ridiculous as her conclusion may seem to some) – but that didn’t make getting through that period of time any easier.
As I referenced in the last paragraph, we engaged an agency that specialized in finding egg donors. There are apparently a considerable number of agencies who provide services ranging from egg donor or surrogate matching services only, to “full service” agencies who will walk couples throughout the entire process. The first agency we initially retained focused on surrogate matching, so they referred us to an egg donor agency. That egg donor agency was so mortified by the fiasco of the homophobic egg donor that they dropped that donor from their pool and redoubled their efforts to work with us. Of course, because God has a sense of humor, the second donor we selected from their pool turned out to be an exotic dancer. We wouldn’t have necessarily minded that so much, but the potential donor/stripper had lied about her occupation. Our doctors ended up rejecting her before we had to decide, because of the higher risk of sexually transmitted diseases. So the professionals working with us made choices that were in our family’s best interests even though it delayed their income.
Third time’s a charm, right? The axiom held true for us. With heavy hearts, we went back to review a huge pool of potential egg donors for a third time. Fortunately for us, we had an easy way to narrow our choices. Since my husband is Caucasian and I’m Chinese/Korean, we wanted an egg donor of mixed European and Asian descent so that everyone would (hopefully) have a harder time guessing biological parentage. Our attitude is that we’re both and equally parents of any children we’re blessed with. That narrowed a pool of hundreds to less than twenty. So we made our third choice – and it turned out to be a completely wonderful choice. Even though Asian egg donors statistically give substantially less eggs than egg donors of other races, at the end of the hormone injection and harvest cycle we had 17 eggs – of which 14 ended up being successfully fertilized (three were deemed immature). For some tacky and irreverent reason the hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves” always comes to mind when I think about the process.
I know that this process may sound clinical and potentially dehumanizing. Especially since our egg donor’s identity is kept confidential (we don’t know what her full name is). This isn’t unusual, since egg donors are not signing up for motherhood: most are younger college-age women. But they are, or at least ours was, aware of the gift they’re giving. And she agreed to be open to having our children contact her after they turn eighteen. We had lunch with with our egg donor when she came into town for the retrieval, and even took a picture with her to show our children at an appropriate time.
The fertilization process was a tough one, and grueling in an unexpected way. The funny thing about genetics is that it’s not like we can choose: I’d love, for example, to have a child with my husband’s physical appearance (well, OK, maybe with a *slightly* stronger chin) and his intellect but also with my toughness of character thrown in. (And maybe my innate love of neatness and order as well.) The thought of potentially having a child that’s biologically mine brought out all of my insecurities. What if she’s as much of an emotional drama queen as I am? Besides that, frankly, I love and admire my husband enough to be perfectly comfortable having him fertilize all the eggs. But would that be a choice that an older (and presumably) wiser me would regret – or at least wonder about like the road not taken? In the end, it turns out that I have enough of an ego to believe my genetic offspring would make the world a better place. So we each fertilized seven of the eggs we had, and placed our 14 babies on ice (i.e., froze them) while we hunted for our surrogate.