Men Having Babies executive director, Ron Poole-Dayan, talks his nonprofit, surrogacy, and … well … babies!
Beginning Friday, March 2nd, and going through the weekend, the now-national nonprofit, Men Having Babies, is bringing their traveling conference to Austin. The nonprofit hosts these expos in numerous cities from San Francisco to NYC to Brussels and beyond. MHB not only assists in the process of educating and helping gay male couples start families through surrogacy, but also aids them in the financing of their family-planning. Now here in Texas for their current expo, MHB executive director, Ron Poole-Dayan answered some of our questions about their organization, what they do, how they started, and what couples seeking to start families can expect from MHB.
Let’s start by learning a bit more about how MHB came about to begin with
The origins of the organizations date back to 2005 when I asked the LGBT Center in New York City to create a monthly workshop for men who are interested in biological parenting. We began having monthly meetings, which we still have to this day, where we invited in people who could answer our questions. Over time a few men joined me to help facilitate the meetings, and that later became our first board. We organized our first modest seminar and someone suggested calling it “Men Having Babies.”
In 2012, we left the NYC LGBT Center and created an independent nonprofit organization, primarily since we wanted to create a financial assistance program, which was beyond the Center’s mission. Over time we started having larger events, and also in new locations: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Barcelona, Chicago, Dallas, Tel Aviv, Brussels, and this year adding Austin and Miami. The program has evolved to a two-day format with many more sessions, speakers, and topics. Now we are consistently attracting packed auditoriums, and many of the attendees fly from far away to attend the conferences. Our membership now includes over 6500 future and current gay parents worldwide.
What’s the main draw to surrogacy v. adoption?
I have my own insights, but actually just recently a study came out by a team from several universities (including Columbia from NY and Cambridge from the UK) about “Gay fathers’ motivations for and feelings about surrogacy as a path to parenthood.” In fact, MHB assisted in recruiting a large part of the parents who participated in the study. The short answer is that, “most fathers chose surrogacy because they considered adoption to be a less desirable and/or accessible path to parenthood.”
Adoption may be considered as less desirable due to the challenges associated with the process (often private adoptions where the birth mother gets to choose the adoptive parents, subjecting us to scrutiny and approval by agencies or even teen mothers from middle America), or with the more difficult parenting challenges associated with older or special needs adopted children. And of course there is the universal desire for genetic offspring. In short: gay men choose surrogacy over adoption, if they can afford it, for the same reasons heterosexual parents (who can even more easily adopt) choose biological parenting over adoption.
Having said this, it is important to stress that MHB does not advocate for surrogacy over adoption. In fact, some of our conferences — including the Austin one — feature adoption agencies alongside surrogacy resources. We just want to help the men make an informed decision about their path, and empower them to take that path in the most effective, mindful and affordable way.
We are gay parents and surrogates who got together to make the dream of parenthood a wider reality to more gay men — and in the process we believe we make society a better place for all of us.
What’s the success rate of MHB, as far as couples who actually make it to the finish line?
We know from feedback that many of our members become parents, but we do not track every single conference attendee — so we do not have the statistics. In general, I can tell you that once people actually embark on the journey — namely engage an IVF clinic to make embryos and an agency to match them with a surrogate — the vast majority have children. Indeed, surrogacy, while expensive, has higher success rates than adoption, and even heterosexual reproduction. We use technology that was developed for infertile people, with medically optimized gestational carriers and egg donors. It works and it is safe.
You are a father of a child of surrogacy, I’m told. What was this process like for you and your family
We did it many years ago, our twins are 17-years-old. We just assumed it should be possible, and luckily knew someone who knew someone that helped us find a lawyer in Boston who knew how to find a surrogate. We had very little guidance and resources, which is why I felt so strongly that something like MHB is needed.
How did MHB begin helping with the financial side of surrogacy?
As mentioned, our concern about the fact that surrogacy is beyond the [financial] reach of most people was a major motivation for establishing the organization. We knew that if we truly wanted to make a difference, we had to help people financially achieve the dream of having a family. We wanted to give this opportunity to people who would otherwise not be able to afford surrogacy.
The first thing we did was to create the “Surrogacy Advisor”— a directory and ratings table for agencies and clinics populated by hundreds of actual reviews from parents who went through the process. The goal was to promote transparency and affordability by empowering prospective parents with unbiased reviews and statistical data on satisfaction levels, success measures, and real cost figures. This allowed future parents to save thousands of dollars by identifying affordable, effective providers they would otherwise not have heard about.
But the major achievement is the creation of the Gay Parenting Assistance Program (GPAP), which for the last four years has gotten to the point that it annually provides dozens of prospective parents with over a million dollars worth of cash grants, discounts, and free services from more than fifty leading service providers.
Do you think that the importance of your nonprofit has increased in the recent political climate?
Of course. And, in particular, helping gay men form their families would contribute not just to their happiness, but it also drives much social change. Gay men with kids are extremely visible and help many people see us for who we are, human beings who want happiness like everyone else. And the surrogates who help us are all effective social change agents, as they become outspoken about equality — often in small middle-America communities.
If you could tell everyone in the world one thing about the services MHB offers or something that you feel they just really need to know, what would that be?
Due to biological and social constraints, gay men as a category face the most obstacles in their quest for parenting, not the least of which is financial. Until MHB was established, there was not a single organization to assist gay men, who are not considered “infertile” even though they need substantial third party assistance in order to become parents. At MHB, we believe that when done correctly, surrogacy can be a positive, affirmative, and all-around empowering arrangement for everyone involved – and we are very active in creating ethical and practical guidelines to facilitate this. We are gay parents and surrogates who got together to make the dream of parenthood a wider reality to more gay men — and in the process we believe we make society a better place for all of us.
If you’re going to be in the Austin area this weekend, you can register for the expo and conference here.