Men Having Babies is ’The New Normal’
When Arthur Halpern and his partner Matt Praet first got together nearly 14 years ago, they knew that one day, they wanted to have a child. After Praet was finished with acupuncturist school and the two were settled, they set about starting their family, attending an expo at New York’s LGBT Community Center. With the help of the group Men Having Babies and a wonderful surrogate mother introduced to them by some friends, they now have a beautiful 15-month-old son.
"The choice we made to go via surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization had to do with my desire to have a biological child," said Halpern. "I’m not sure where that comes from; perhaps it’s a biological imperative. But I’ve wanted a family since I was a kid, and the fact that through science we can now do it is amazing."
Halpern said that they had considered adoption because his partner Praet was adopted and had a good experience. But they were daunted by the fact that for gay men, adoption can be tricky; one often has to present as a single parent in other countries, to avoid problems surrounding being gay. There were also legal risks and medical unknowns that the two men decided they preferred to avoid.
In the spring of 2009, the men met with a New Jersey fertility doctor, who armed them with information, and sent them to Melissa Brisman, a reproductive rights attorney at the CNY Fertility Center. That June, at a 20th college reunion, Halpern ran into a former classmate who raved about their surrogate, noting that the woman was thinking of doing it again.
"We walked away thinking it would be great, but that it would never happen," said Halpern. "Six weeks later, this surrogate Jessica had come up from Tennessee to speak to a small group of men at the Center. We went that night, met her, and it was love at first sight. She picked us out as we walked into the room, and it almost felt like a done deal."
They were officially matched in July 2009, after which they went on a long search for an egg donor. "If there was a rotten egg out there, we found it," said Halpern, who said it took them seven tries before they found an egg donor in October 2010. Their son Asa was born on June 5, 2011.
The Long, Complicated Road to Surrogacy
In the pilot episode of the NBC sitcom "The New Normal," it takes the two men only 28 minutes to decide that they want to start a family, decide upon surrogacy and find a suitable mother for their child. In the real world, it takes quite a bit longer, and there are many more hoops to jump through. Luckily, Men Having Babies can help perspective fathers realize their dream.
"When ’The New Normal’ came about, we realized we had something to say about this, so we started a community page on Facebook where people are commenting about what they have seen in the pilot," said Men Having Babies Executive Director Ron Poole-Dayan, whose twin kids (via surrogacy) are now in the sixth grade. "There’s a lot of be said as far as relationships and the reality of it."
On September 22, Poole-Dayan celebrates their eight annual Men Having Babies Seminar at the Center, bringing gay men who want to be fathers together with surrogates, lawyers, IVF clinics and others who can help them reach their goals. As part of this year’s program, Men Having Babies has announced a financial assistance fund, to help people raise the average $110,000 required to undergo this process.
"We are very excited because one of our goals is to advocate for the benefits of LGBT parenting," said Poole-Dayan. "The other thing is providing detailed info about how much it costs and how to do it. Until we published the Surrogacy Adviser directory and started receiving ratings from our members, we only knew of the big, well-known agencies. But now we have found some others that are successful for much less. And we have raised about $45,000 in sponsorship fees over the past few months, and hope to get some donations from wealthy parents to help other people who need financial assistance."
"I wish it were in place when we started our journey," admitted Halpern, saying that he and his partner did not fit the stereotype of the wealthy gay couple portrayed on TV. "I don’t quite know how we did it. Everything I had we put into having this baby. We couldn’t pay $150,000 outright to have everything taken care of simultaneously, so we went very à la carte. It would be great if it was a little easier."
This was also welcome news to David Milch, the Men With Babies member who referred his surrogate to Halpern and Praet. Although he said the cost wasn’t prohibitive for him and his partner, biology shouldn’t force gay men to go broke paying for what most heterosexual couples could have for free.
"My philosophy is that not only should gay people be allowed to have families when they so choose, but it shouldn’t be harder," said Milch. "Nothing says our family is any less valuable, or should cost more than other families. It becomes a classist situation where there is only access for people who can afford it. But it’s bigger than whether you can afford to pay the clinics. We have to start talking about what kind of structures we’re creating that allow some people to have a family and some to not."