About MJ and DJ

MJ and DJ are our second set of twins born through surrogacy.  A few years ago Josh and I started talking about the idea of having more children.  We thought it would be nice to have a girl to break up all the testosterone in the house, and it would also be an opportunity for the non-donor partner from our last surrogacy experience to make a genetic contribution to our family.  Because of the economy and our finances at the time, international surrogacy seemed the way to go this time around.  We researched our options and decided to look into an agency and a clinic operating in India.

The next step in our plan was to travel to Mumbai, India to see for ourselves.  We visited the clinic and were presented with some options for prospective surrogates.  We personally met and chose to work with Pavitra because she was experienced having served as a surrogate previously.  Regardless of language barrier, we knew that Pavitra understood exactly what kind of process she was getting involved with because she had done it once before.  We knew that we would not have the close relationship with Pavitra like we did with our first surrogate, but the financial benefit for Pavitra and her family in India’s economy would be life changing.  The beaming smile on Pavitra’s face when she learned we had chosen her told us everything we needed to know.

When we did IVF in India, we asked for the doctor to transfer two embryos instead of the standard three because we were trying to aim for a singleton.  As fate would have it, two embryos implanted anyway and we had a second set of twins on our hands!  Because of laws against sex selection in India, we did not know the if we had boys, girls or both until their birth.  Baby girl DJ was delivered first via c-section and baby boy MJ arrived moments later.  MJ and DJ were born during a period of change in the surrogacy industry of India, and this complicated and prolonged the process that ultimately allowed MJ and DJ to come home to the US one month after their birth.  After we left, the door seems to have slammed shut for gay couples seeking surrogacy in India.  Thailand and Nepal have followed suit in the years since, and we do not recommend international surrogacy at this time.

MJ has a name that is the masculinization of Josh’s grandmother that died a few years before.  DJ is named after a pop culture icon.  It is a name I have been saving for my daughter since before AJ and JJ were born!  DJ is a bit of a fashionista.  She insists on choosing her own outfits out of the closet proclaiming them to be “cute!”  She is partial to clothes with her favorite characters Minnie Mouse and Hello Kitty.  MJ has a voice that carries and honestly was singing before he could talk.  He started out with “ABC” and “Twinkle Twinkle” but has begun to branch out into singing along to pop tunes on the car radio.

Baby girl DJ on the left and baby boy MJ on the right shortly after their birth

DJ and MJ shortly after their birth

2nd Birthday cupcakes

2nd Birthday cupcakes

 

The Surrogacy Landscape in 2015

Surrogacy in US or abroad can be wonderful. Our family is living proof.

Surrogacy in US or abroad can be wonderful. Our family is living proof.

A lot has happened in the 2 years since DJ and MJ were born in India.  India has implemented the discriminatory regulation that surrogacy can only be offered to heterosexual couples married for more than two years.  Gay couples looked toward Thailand as an alternative only to have it shut down amidst military coup and scandal last year.  The next destination, Nepal, was hit with an earthquake earlier this year, and yesterday a court in Nepal suspended commercial surrogacy pending further review.  The options for gay couples seeking to become parents through surrogacy have become much more limited, and so my 2013 comparison of international vs. domestic surrogacy is no longer accurate.  International surrogacy has become a treacherous path to parenthood that I cannot in good conscience recommend because of possible disastrous situations like this one and this one.  I will be taking down the comparison page and leave the original 2013 entry in my archive for historical purposes.  Surrogacy in the US remains a safe option, and costs have decreased somewhat as more agencies come into operation to compete for clientele.

Josh and I are forever grateful for our positive surrogacy experiences in both California and India.  We are saddened that the options for gay couples hoping to become parents through surrogacy around the world have dwindled so.  I can only hope that in places like the UK, Israel, and Australia, their respective governments can recognize the extraordinary lengths gay couples have gone to have children, and better allow for well-regulated fair practices of surrogacy closer to home.

Trick or Treat

What a difference a year makes.

Exactly one year ago, my sister and brother-in-law came to Florida to stay for 10 days so they could take AJ and JJ to school and to trick or treat on Halloween, while Josh and I made our first trip to India. We were very quiet about our plans, and not many people knew we were even going to be away. We were so secretive because we felt there was a lot of uncertainty pursuing international surrogacy, and we didn’t want it to be public knowledge if we were about to be swindled.

Investigating our options in 2012, my medical background and our prior experience as parents through surrogacy had already served us well in weeding out some questionable situations. We knew in some cases immediately that we were being lied to: “No need to make the trip to India beforehand. We can just ship your stuff to India because frozen is as good as fresh for IVF.”  – LIE; “To ensure success in one cycle, we can transfer to two surrogates. I know you just said you would prefer singleton. The two surrogates have never gotten pregnant at the same time like that, and certainly not with multiples.” – LIE.

But some claims were not as easily disproven, and we had to see the operation for ourselves to make sure things were legit. Once we met Dr. M, we felt comfortable enough to proceed. However, throughout the pregnancy, nagging doubts remained. We had recurring nightmares that we would return to India to find that Dr. M’s Infertility Clinic had been replaced suddenly with Mrs. M’s Nail Salon, and none of the nail techs would know anything about babies… how about a manicure?

One year later everything obviously turned out well, and we were treated with a sweet outcome. But we are also sadly aware of many intended parents pursuing international surrogacy with other agencies who appear to have been tricked into paying for unnecessary medical fees, multiple IVF procedures and possibly even whole pregnancies that may have never really happened. International surrogacy can be a gamble. We feel extremely fortunate for ourselves and sympathy for other IPs who gamble with their wallets and their hearts trying to create families abroad. Trick or treat?

Take your pick - heroes or pirates?

Take your pick – heroes or pirates?

Domestic vs. International Surrogacy

*Note: This blog entry remains here for archival purposes.  Please see my comment below re: the current international surrogacy landscape.*

Ever since DJ and MJ arrived home, I have been formulating my thoughts about our unique experience and the purpose of this blog moving forward.  Having gone through the process twice, both domestically and internationally, Josh and I have a unique perspective and ability to compare and contrast two major options in assisted reproduction.  Thus, I present here some of my collected thoughts looking at domestic vs. international surrogacy head to head.  I hope this post will help people that are curious about these options, and possibly interested in exploring one of these avenues as intended parents themselves.

I am breaking down the comparison under several headings based on factors that may be important in deciding between the two.  I should add that some of this is specific to our experience with a particular agency in California, USA and an IVF clinic in Mumbai, India, and may not be exactly the same as all the domestic and international options currently available.

Agency Organization

When we pursued domestic surrogacy in 2006, we went to one of the first and biggest agencies at the time.  Located in Los Angeles, California along Wilshire Boulevard, this agency presents itself as a one stop shop for all of your surrogacy needs.  They have a large staff with a psychologist that locate potential surrogates and match them with the perfect intended parents.  They work closely with the best Beverly Hills fertility Doctors to make the pregnancy happen.  They have lawyers ready to get the legal situation sorted out before the birth even occurs.  And they have case managers that are assigned to each case coordinating communicating between all the different parts of the process like a well oiled machine.

Compared to our domestic experience, our surrogacy abroad was a much more a la carte affair.  We had a contact person in Michigan that referred us to an IVF clinic in Mumbai.  We were matched with a  surrogate through the clinic.  From there, the clinic outsourced embryology labs, OB/GYN Doctors, and hospitals scattered around Mumbai to do their parts at different points in the process.  Because there was no case manager per se coordinating all these different players and because we were relying on email alone without frequent phone calls, we felt rather uninformed at times and felt that the process was less organized.

Advantage: USA

organization

 

Surrogates

The surrogacy agency in California did a marvelous job of matching us with the perfect surrogate.  They carefully screened potential surrogates for medical issues and did psychological testing to ensure that they are mentally prepared for the process.  They had the surrogate and us both complete extensive questionnaires about our expectations, and then presented the surrogate with profiles of hopeful parents with compatible preferences for the surrogate to choose.  Our surrogate Marie told us she was presented with another profile initially that she declined before she was given ours.  She liked what she saw in our profile, and when we met in the Fall of 2006 a lifelong friendship was made.  We visited Marie frequently during the pregnancy in California and got to know her whole family.  Since AJ and JJ were born, we have remained close even though Marie has moved several times since and now resides in Alaska.  Even though she is far away, we still keep each other frequently updated and she is always the first to like Facebook photos of the boys as they grow up!

The IVF clinic in India had many women seeking to become involved in surrogacy.  Whenever we visited Dr. M, we waded through a group of not yet pregnant women waiting in the lobby.  They all stared at us with a hopeful look in their eyes because being chosen to work with us could mean a huge boost in their family’s socio-economic standing.  We were presented with a couple different surrogate profiles that were screened medically and were prepared for the IVF procedure, but I do not have the sense that they were as carefully informed about the emotional aspect of carrying someone else’s baby in their womb.  Therefore, we chose the surrogate that had done surrogacy once before and knew exactly what she was getting herself into.  After we made our choice, we know that we made our surrogate very happy because she was smiling like she won the lottery the next day.  Because of language barriers and less frequent contact, however, we knew that our relationship with Pavitra wasn’t going to be nearly as close as the one we maintain with Marie.

Advantage: USA

Our friend for life, Marie. Eternally grateful!

Our friend for life, Marie. Eternally grateful!

Egg Donors

The surrogacy agency in California had their own database of potential egg donors that they compiled on an internet website.  We were able to peruse profiles of many young woman and we found the variety of candidates from different ethnicities to be helpful given that we were seeking to have children that were half Asian and half Caucasian.  We sometimes felt looking at questionnaire answers, video clips and smiling headshots like we were looking at an online dating website rather than seeking an egg donor to help create our family!

The selection in India was understandably more limited.  There was some racial heterogeneity in the egg donor pool, but not a lot.  Nevertheless, we were able to find the egg donor that suited our goals, and moved forward making the complementary genetic contribution on our end to make the children we hoped for.

Advantage: USA

Searching for our golden eggs

Searching for our golden eggs

Legal Issues

As I have mentioned previously, the agency in California had lawyers that specialized in family law working with us during the pregnancy prior to the birth.  The lawyers attended a hearing in California family court during the latter half of the pregnancy.  Because the surrogate was not genetically related to the babies she was carrying, and because the egg donor was anonymous and had already signed away any parental rights, maternity of the babies was deemed by the family court Judge to be “in doubt” and the Judge issued the order before the birth that birth certificates be recorded with both our names as Intended Parents alone.  The babies were automatically considered US Citizens at the time of their birth.

In contrast, India listed only one of us as the genetic father of the twins, and the space for the mother on birth certificates was left blank.  The babies spent a few weeks in India after their birth as we proved to the US Consulate that they were US Citizens, and we obtained exit visas allowing them to leave the country.  Now that we are home, we are working with our own lawyer to get a second parent adoption in Florida that will allow both of our names to appear on important documents.

Advantage: USA

As gay parents, legal protections for our family are important.

As gay parents, legal protections for our family are important.

 

IVF Success Rate

In the US, most reputable IVF doctors are happy to discuss their success rates while marketing their services.  Some of the IVF clinics in India appear to keep this information closer to the hip, but not necessarily because they are any less effective.  I think another reason for this may be is cultural.  Being of Chinese descent myself, I know that being overly forward and boastful about your success is something that is frowned upon in many Asian cultures.

Being healthy gay men with no infertility issues other than our lack of uterus, we feel very blessed that both IVF processes were successful on our first attempts.  In the US we transferred three embryos and two took resulting in a twin pregnancy, and in India we transferred two embryos hoping for one more child and both took anyway, giving us our second set of twins.

Advantage: Tie?

Don't be afraid to ask for hard statistics if they aren't readily volunteered.

Don’t be afraid to ask for hard statistics if they aren’t readily volunteered.

 

Quality of Medical Care

In the US, the quality of the medical care for the surrogate and the babies is pretty uniformly good due to healthcare regulation.

In India, high quality medical care is also available as long as you have the money to pay for it!  DJ and MJ were born at Hiranandani Hospital in Mumbai.  We found this private teaching hospital to have very well trained doctors.  They even had cord blood banking services available just like in the US.  We paid a bit extra (still reasonable by US standards) and ended up staying with the babies in the Presidential Suite with dedicated 24/7 Nurse and a Butler preparing our meals.  For a moment I felt like how JLo, Celine or Mariah must have felt right after their twins were born!

Advantage: Tie

Hiranandani Hospital

Hiranandani Hospital

Cost

Up until this point, it appears that US surrogacy is equal or superior to options abroad in most areas.  But let’s face it.  An important deciding factor is the bottom line.  Surrogacy in California through a premium agency cost us well into the six figures USD, while surrogacy in India was a fraction of the cost.  If we had decided to try and save as much as possible in India, we probably could have spent about a third of what we spent the first time around in the US.  Instead, we decided to treat ourselves to some luxury amenities in the hotels and hospital because we don’t have the opportunity to travel much anymore after AJ and JJ arrived.  Even treating ourselves, we estimate our costs in India are still less than half of our expenses in California.

Advantage: India

A little USD gets you a lot of Indian Rs

A little USD gets you a lot of Indian Rs

 

In summary, we went on two different journeys because those were our best options at different times in our life.  Obviously, we are very happy with the similar outcomes for each – two sets of healthy twins of our own.  For people considering gestational surrogacy in the US or abroad, the decision may ultimately boil down to what is important to you, and what you can afford.  If certain things like choice egg donors, ideal surrogate, constant communication and legal protections are things that you are not willing to compromise on, you may want to take out a loan and pay for the premium service closer to home.  On the other hand, if you have a taste for adventure, are a pragmatist, and simply want a healthy baby without worrying about too many other details you consider trivial, an international destination may offer you the family of your dreams at a cost within your financial means.

In trying to present a fair overview of domestic and international surrogacy for future intended parents, I have deliberately left out specific names of agencies and other details particular to our own process.  I did this because I don’t want to be viewed as wholeheartedly endorsing or advertising for anybody in particular.  To any readers who have any more curiosity or seek more unfiltered commentary, please feel free to contact me privately with the form below.

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Or you can leave a general public comment below.  Feedback is appreciated!

Home

Just a quick note to report that everyone is home safe and sound.  Josh ended up having some assistance on the flight to Newark from a nice New Jersey couple also visiting Dr. M that happened to be on the same flight headed back to the US.  After a brief rest period in New York with Aunt Claudia and Uncle Mark, Josh hopped on a flight from JFK to Florida and arrived at 4 pm happy but very exhausted.  AJ and JJ are amused by their little siblings and AJ in particular has taken an interest in helping to care for them.  Josh is now showered and hibernating, while I feed the little twins and marvel at how much they have grown in the short time that I was away from them.

Welcome Home!

Welcome Home!

DSC00119

AJ missed Daddy so much

JJ with MJ

JJ with MJ

Grandpa meets the new twins for the first time

Grandpa meets the new twins for the first time