12 Dec 2012 Who’s Your Daddy? How Gay Dads Decide Whose Sperm to Use
The decision to create a family using assisted reproductive technology is a huge and somewhat daunting step for most couples. For same-sex couples, there are even more complicating legal and social factors, potential obstacles and interpersonal relationships to consider. As my husband Tommy put it, “As gay men, when we came out, neither Rich nor I thought becoming a parent was possible.” It was a huge leap from not thinking it possible to create a family to becoming parents of our own two little boys.
Like many gay men, one of the primary reasons we chose to create a family via gestational surrogacy was because we wanted, if possible, to have our own biological children. Our ideal was to have twin boys, with each of us fathering one boy. However, there are many variables in the egg donation, fertilization and embryo implantation processes over which the prospective parents have no control. Sometimes the outcome is different than the one the parents initially envisioned. But what Tommy and I learned, and what I have observed hundreds of times in working with other intended parents, is that, in the end, the birth of a healthy child or children is the most important thing, one that overshadows all other considerations.
Ultimately Tommy and I did have twin boys, Aiden and Austin. As they grew, we began to see qualities in them that make us believe that I am genetically linked to one and Tommy the other. But we have never done any DNA testing to validate our belief. The fact is that we have two beautiful boys, we both love being fathers, and their genetic makeup is not a meaningful distinction to us.
When beginning the process of becoming a parent via surrogacy, one of the first tasks is to select a surrogate. It is very important that the parents and surrogate are comfortable with one another and that there is up-front, forthright discussion and agreement on a number of important issues. One of the most important questions for a potential surrogate: Is she willing to carry multiples? If your ideal is to have twins, your surrogate must be willing to carry twins to term, or potentially to carry more. Sometimes in order to ensure the birth of one child, multiple embryos must be implanted.
With in vitro fertilization, it is very common, and in fact it is desirable, to end up with multiple fertilized embryos. One of the most challenging and emotional decisions gay intended parents face is whose sperm to use in the fertilization process. It is important that couples discuss openly and agree on a strategy ahead of time, rather than in the emotion of the moment, while being mindful of the reality that Mother Nature could always throw a wrench into the best-laid plans.
An egg donor typically produces between five and 35 eggs or more per cycle. In the case of Tommy and me, our first cycle with the egg donor yielded 13 eggs, 11 of which were successfully fertilized. Although 13 eggs was somewhat of a low yield, we were excited to have 11 fertilized eggs. We used a procedure called ICSI in which the sperm of one individual is injected directly into the egg, so that we knew which sperm had fertilized which egg and resulted in which embryos. Other couples handle the fertilization process differently, as reported in a 2007 University of Florida study published in Journal of Marriage and Family:
Billy and Elliot, romantic partners and fathers of 3-week-old twins, decided to mix their sperm before inseminating their chosen egg donor. At present, it is unknown which of them is actually the biological father of the 3-week-old twins. They maintain that because there are two children and two ‘‘fathers,’’ each man is the biological father of a twin.
After discussion with our doctor, Tommy and I decided to split the eggs 50/50, so that my sperm would be used to fertilize half the eggs and Tommy’s the other half. Since there were 11 viable eggs, I agreed and was completely comfortable that seven eggs would be fertilized with Tommy’s sperm and six with mine.
From those, 13, 11 were successfully fertilized, and we ended up with three viable embryos, all day 5 blastocysts—two genetically related to Tommy, one to me. Although that high rate of attrition was disappointing, it is not uncommon with in vitro fertilization.
Our next big decision was how many embryos to have implanted. During the surrogate selection process, we knew that our surrogate was willing to carry multiple babies if need be. Although our ideal scenario was to have no more than twins, we decided to take a chance and have all three embryos implanted, at the recommendation of our IVF doctor.
We did not get pregnant, and we started the process all over again.
When the first cycle doesn’t take, it can take 30 to 45 days, or more, before you can try again. On the second round, we got 17 viable eggs, of which 13 were fertilized. But by the day of the implantation, there were only four viable embryos—two mine, two Tommy’s.
This time, with the agreement of our surrogate, we decided to have all four embryos implanted. Although our doctor informed us the likelihood of all four attaching was low, there was the chance we might have ended up with four babies. But we could not have gone through a third round of egg donation and fertilization, in part due to the expense. As it happened, two of the embryos made it, and in August 2008 our twin sons were born.
Although at the beginning of our journey both of us wanted very much to father a genetically related child, today, content with our family, we don’t give it a second thought. The most important piece of advice I have for would-be fathers is to communicate, openly, honestly and thoroughly, with one another and with your surrogate. Talk through the possible scenarios. Reach agreement ahead of time about whose sperm will be used, whether you will implant multiple embryos, and whether your surrogate will carry multiples. One of the things Tommy and I agreed upon was to rely on our doctor’s advice first and foremost when unforeseen decisions had to be made. All any of us can do is make the best decisions we can with the cards that are dealt us. By thinking ahead and supporting one another in your decisions, you will ensure the best possible outcome for you and your family