NEW YORK (AFP) — An ever-growing number of gay couples are paying tens of thousands of dollars to have surrogate mothers carry their babies, turning America's concept of traditional family on its head.
It took two women and two men for two-year-old twins Katherine and Connor to come to life.
Their fathers, Michael Eidelman and A.J. Vincent, who have lived together for years, invested love, time and all their savings to build their family in New York's Chelsea neighborhood.
The eggs were donated by a woman in Washington state and fertilized in vitro with sperm from both men. The fertilized egg was then inserted in the uterus of a woman from Ohio.
Each man is the biological father of one of the twins, who were born in Los Angeles, where the laws are less stringent for same-sex couples.
"I am so glad that we chose that pathway," said Eidelman, a 40-year-old dermatologist.
"It definitely has challenges on a day-to-day basis. You never know what is coming your way," he said. "But, on the other hand, it is more rewarding than any other thing I have done in my life."
To fulfill their dream of parenthood, the couple turned to Circle Surrogacy, a company that helps people find egg donors and host mothers and navigate through the legal and medical insurance process.
"It is a very successful business," said Circle Surrogacy President John Weltman.
"In 12 years we have grown 6,000 percent with no borrowing whatsoever and profit made every month," he said. "We expect to double in the next two and half years."
When the company was launched, 10 percent of its clients were gay couples. Today, 80 percent are same-sex couples from 29 countries.
"Actually, of the 250 or so couples we have helped, all but about four are still together, a less than two percent break up rate, as opposed to the national average of 50 percent," he said.
The "gay baby boom" has made families with two fathers a common sight in New York City's daycare centers and parks, although gay couples legally marry only in one US state, Massachusetts.
"It is not looked at anymore as something so weird or strange," said Sanford Benardo, president of the Northeast Assisted Fertility Group from Boston, Massachusetts.
"More and more people are doing it," said Bernardo, whose company has clients from Asia to the Middle East and Europe. "It is not for celebrities anymore."
The process costs at least 100,000 dollars, with 25,000 dollars going to the surrogate mother and between 4,000 and 10,000 dollars of the egg donor. The rest goes to the agency, medical costs and legal fees.
Coupled with adoption, the number of families with gay parents is growing. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, between one million and nine million children under the age of 18 have same-sex parents today.
Henry, a blue-eyed baby turning two in August, has two fathers -- Christopher Hietikko and Jeffrey Parsons -- both in their 40s. His surrogate mother, a lesbian from California, has been made part of the family.
"We became very close and we still are very close," said Parsons, a psychology professor at Hunter College. "We didn't want to treat it as a business arrangement. We wanted to treat it more like creating a family."
The two men don't know who fathered Henry, but they will take a DNA test once they are ready for a second child to decide who will be the next baby's biological dad.
For their first child, the sperm samples from both men were mixed together to give each an equal chance at becoming the biological father, Parsons said.
The boy was born in California, and the names of both fathers appear on the birth certificate.
The psychologist insists that children born in these 21st-century families are as happy as kids whose parents are a woman and a man.
"The research shows very clearly that what children need the most to strive and survive is a safe, and secure, and loving home," he said.
"It really doesn't matter whether there are two moms in that home, two dads in that home, a single dad, a single mom, whatever, as long as a child knows that he/she is loved and is cared for."
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