Gay Surrogacy: Where to begin
One of the most daunting tasks when beginning a surrogacy journey is determining where to start. Below, you will find our advice as to the steps one could take on the path to parenthood through surrogacy. This is not meant to be a definitive order that all Intended Parents must take, but rather some advice based on our own experience.
Step 1: Finances
Making the decision to pursue surrogacy to start your family is exciting and stressful. The first challenge you will encounter is the cost of the journey from beginning to end. Each person or couple has their own unique financial situation, so it would be best to consult an experienced financial planner to assist you in the budgeting for your surrogacy journey.
Costs can vary in Canada, but if you plan on using an egg donor and gestational surrogate, you could be looking at a minimum of $60,000. Our journey was closer to $90,000 as we used an agency to help find both our donor and gestational surrogate. One way to minimize the financial burden is by finding a donor and/or gestational carrier within your circle of family and friends. Many IPs pursue this route, but it can have its own set of unique challenges to navigate.
Step 2: Introduce yourself to the surrogacy community
There are a number of Facebook communities for Canadian IPs and surrogates. In our experience, they were a treasure trove of incredible information and helpful resources. Many experienced surrogates are in those groups and some are willing to answer the many questions that IPs may have (or just a simple search within the group will likely reveal the answer to your question).
Instagram is also a great place to connect with other members of the surrogacy community. Try searching hashtags like #surrogacy #gaysurrogacy #intendedparents #canadiansurrogacy and you will discover some of the wonderful people that make up this community.
Step 3: Find a lawyer with experience in surrogacy
As Intended Parents (IPs), you should have a very good lawyer who has experience with surrogacy and donor contracts. There are a number of well-known lawyers in Canada (Michelle Flowerday was our fantastic lawyer) who have extensive experience in the surrogacy world. Our advice is to use someone with relevant experience as it will make experience MUCH smoother. It would be beneficial to talk to a few lawyers before making your choice. Your lawyer will be just about the only constant in this process and having someone whom you trust is critical.
A few names of other experienced surrogacy lawyers* are:
Michelle Flowerday (Ontario)
Sara Cohen (Ontario)
Cindy Wasser (Ontario)
Sherry Levitan (Ontario)
David Goldstein (Ontario)
Ellen Embury (Alberta)
Rachel West (Alberta)
*We don’t endorse any of these lawyers (except our own!)
Step 4a: Finding an egg donor
The process of finding the right egg donor for you (and your partner if you’re “coupled”), can be a very difficult one. Our advice is to make a list of the qualities for which you are looking in a potential donor. These can be personality and physical characteristics, but there are also other considerations like: health history, whether it’s an experienced donor (and whether or not they had a “successful” retrieval) and things like their religious background. Most agencies create detailed profiles from which to browse so having a list of things you’re looking for is crucial (and, preferably, a ranking of most to least important).
One of the most important factors when selecting an egg donor is her age. In Canada, an anonymous donor should be between the ages of 18 and 34 (though this requirement can vary between clinics). When you select a donor, be sure to have the clinic cross-reference the age provided on her profile with her age at her clinic intake meeting (our original donor misrepresented her age on her profile). It is critical that, as Intended Parents, you do your due diligence when selecting your donor.
Possible search categories may include:
Physical: Race/ethnicity, height/weight, eye/hair colour, facial characteristics
Personality: Education/career, character traits (outgoing, introspective, shy), talents (artistic, good with numbers, handy)
Other: Religious affiliation, health history, reasons to be a donor, clinic preference
In terms of finding an anonymous donor, you can look within Canada through an agency. There are a number of agencies that specialize in egg donors (and have the largest selection). The two that appear to be the most widely used are EggHelpers and Little Miracles.
If you want to pursue a known donor, you can look through Facebook groups and Kijiji-like websites where potential donors create their own profiles. But, you should be extra diligent if this is the route you take. There are numerous stories of scams and relationships-gone-wrong with a non-screened donor. That is not to say one shouldn’t take this route, but just keep your eyes open for any red flags.
Looking outside Canada:
It is possible to find a donor outside Canada, but there are some additional legal and logistical hurdles you may encounter. The United States has a massive number of egg donor agencies, but they tend to be far more expensive and require additional costs to IPs for things like legals and travel/transport.
If you are working with a donor in the US (depending on the fertility clinic with which you’re working in Canada), you can:
- Do the egg retrieval at a clinic based in the US and have them transported to Canada or
- Fly the donor to your fertility clinic in Canada and have them do the retrieval there.
The option that is most feasible will depend on your clinic and your US-based donor. If the retrieval is done in the U.S. it can cost approximately $2000 to transport eggs/embryos to Canada (will depend on clinic and distance). Consult your Canadian clinic for additional details.
Step 4b: Finding a Clinic (and RE)
Part a and b should be done in conjunction with each other (and may have to be done together, depending on the donor/clinic). Some donors will only work with a particular clinic (surrogates, too). Be sure to check a donor’s profile for clinic preference because, if you feel strongly about working with a specific clinic or doctor (RE), you may want to look for a donor who doesn’t already have a different clinic specified in her profile.
The largest clinic in Canada for IVF (and related medical procedures) is Create Fertility located in downtown Toronto. That’s not to say that there aren’t many other options; there are (Repromed, Trio, Hannam, Anova, NewLife). And you will be meet people who’ve had both great and terrible experiences at each. Be sure to ask the right questions if you are talking with prospective clinics. For example,
- Is the clinic/staff LGBTQ+ friendly?
- Does your RE have experience working with surrogates?
- What is surrogate/donor screening process like?
- If it was a positive experience, what made it so? (same question in the negative)
If you are choosing to look outside of Canada, please be sure to consult a Canadian lawyer in order to determine the additional considerations for your journey (there are additional considerations).
Step 5: Finding a surrogate
You have likely already determined whether or not you are looking for a traditional or gestational surrogate. If you are trying to find a traditional surrogate, it may be more challenging. Traditional surrogacy represents less than 5% of all surrogacies in Canada. If you are deciding to pursue the traditional route, you will have likely come up with a list of qualities for which you’re looking in both donor and surrogate.
For most IPs, we are looking for a gestational carrier. With surrogacy laws being as complicated as they are, the pool of surrogates in Canada tends to be quite a bit smaller than in the United States. The process of finding a good match can take months or years, so be sure to pack your patience and perseverance from the outset.
If you want to find a surrogate independently, there are a number of Facebook groups and websites that can assist you in your journey. The most well-known website is probably www.findsurrogatemother.com where gestational (and some traditional) surrogates post individual profiles. It’s advisable to check the website regularly as surrogates receive many messages from potential IPs every day.
If you are going the agency route, there are quite a few to choose from. There used to only be a handful of agencies, but more and more pop up all of the time. The most well-known (with arguably the most surrogates and IPs) is CFC (Canadian Fertility Consulting) and SCO (Surrogacy in Canada Online), but there are many more from which to consult (including Canadian Surrogacy Online, Canadian Surrogacy Options, Proud Fertility and ANU Fertility). The most important thing is: DO YOUR RESEARCH! No one is “perfect” and you can read mixed reviews/controversies about each and every one. But, cynically, using an agency can be a means to an end. Remember, if the goal is to have a child then the agency route may be the quickest way to go.
Agency costs can also vary from $4000 to $13,000+ (this does not include any reimbursements to the surrogate). Their services can also vary, but one of the services most of them provide is the tracking of the reimbursements to your surrogate which can be incredibly helpful.
As you embark on your search for a surrogate, be sure to spend time figuring out how to share your story. Why do you want to be parents? How did you meet? When are you looking to begin your journey? Share stories, photos and videos that will allow any prospective surrogate to get to know you better. The decision to be a surrogate for someone is a huge decision for these incredible women. Most of them want to feel a connection with prospective IPs before engaging in a relationship.