Before the start of the so-called gay baby boom 20 years ago, most gay parents had either conceived their children during prior heterosexual relationships, or adopted as single parents. Others became foster parents or co-parented a partner’s child, but did so without any legal protection or recognition. When I was considering parenthood, none of these options felt right for me. So, wanting to experience childbirth but not to involve a male friend in the conception, I embarked on a two-year journey through the world of fertility clinics and sperm banks.
I was shocked to find out that many fertility doctors and cryobanks would not accept single women or gay couples as clients or patients. I was required to sit for interviews and undergo psychological testing to prove my fitness for parenthood before I would be seen by the few practices that did welcome singles or gays. Eventually, I was approved and became a mother to two daughters, now 21 and 13. Happily, today’s potential mommies and daddies face less scrutiny and have many more choices available to them.
Options for women seeking biological motherhood now include various fertility treatments, starting with the most common, alternative insemination using donor sperm. More advanced techniques can include In-Vitro Fertilization, where a woman’s eggs are removed from her body and mixed with sperm in a petri dish, with the resulting embryos either reintroduced into her womb, or the womb of another woman, or frozen for later use. This method can be used so a surrogate mother can carry a biological child for a gay man or male couple.
Many fertility practices in the New York Metropolitan area now happily welcome gay couples and unmarried adults. Many such practices even market directly to the gay community, and several law firms specialize in co-parenting agreements, second-parent adoptions, and other services not generally sought by heterosexuals. Unfortunately, the legal system in some states has not kept pace with medical advancements in fertility.
Gay parents would be well-advised to make sure that legal protections are in place prior to conception in order to avoid some potentially disasterous complications. Several years ago, a court in Kentucky denied a surrogate mother’s request to terminate her rights to the children she bore for a gay male couple, ruling that it was not in the best interests of a child to have two fathers and no mother. The state of Kansas recently sued a man for child support after the mother of a child conceived using his sperm started collecting welfare benefits. This time, the court decided that a father cannot sign away his obligation to support his child, regardless of the fact that he was a paid sperm donor. In a case in New York, a woman who carried her partner’s embryo moved out of state with the child, denying her partner any parental rights. Because the women did not have a surrogacy agreement, the child was considered the legal offspring of the birth mother, forcing the ex-partner to sue for visitation. Complications such as these, although rare, can be avoided by working with both a reputable fertility practice and a good lawyer.
by Chris McNamee