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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Gay men talk about parenting journey
By Jason Carson Wilson
2014-03-04

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Grayson has two daddies.

Proud fathers Rob and Jason Colosi-McCann of Chicago describe Grayson as a typical 2-year-old who runs them ragged and lives life on his own terms. Smiles never left their faces while discussing Grayson. Becoming a family, however, wasn't easy.

Rob and Jason shared their nearly two-year long journey to fatherhood with a room full of potential gay fathers Saturday during a Fertility Centers of Illinois and ConceiveAbilities-hosted workshop, "Making Parenting Conceivable: A Gay Man's Guide To Family Building." ( www.conceiveabilities.com ) .

Conceive Abilities is a Chicago-based egg donor and surrogacy agency.

"It was frightening and inspiring at the same time," Jason said.

Rob insisted that being gay isn't and shouldn't be a barrier to building a family.

"If you want to be a parent, you can be a parent," he said. "You just have to make a decision."

Professionals walked attendees through the egg donation and surrogacy process. They included Brian Kaplan of Fertility Centers of Illinois, who shared his in vitro fertilization knowledge and expertise. Kaplan pointed out the three, obvious, but essential things necessary to start a family: an egg, sperm and uterus. With that said, one of them is the most important.

"The egg is the critical variable," Kaplan said.

Women, according to Kaplan, are born with 1 million eggs, but lose half of them by puberty. Nearly no eggs are left by age 51. Even though uteri don't age much at all, Kaplan said ideal egg donors are generally between ages 21 and 30.

Younger women have more eggs. Kaplan noted that the rate of successful pregnancies is used to identify good egg donor candidates. His colleague, Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, a board-certified OBGYN, described how intended parents navigate the egg donor selection process.

That process includes reviewing egg donor/surrogate candidates, uterus evaluations, meeting with an psychologist, sperm dropoff and egg retrieval. Both the sperm and potential egg donor/surrogate are tested for infectious diseases and risk assessment, Hirshfeld-Cytron said.

For instance, does the potential candidate have a history of Cesarean sections or preterm birth or psychological problems. Psychological testing is an essential piece of the puzzle for both the donor/surrogate and intended parents.

"It's definitely not a linear process," Ariadna Cymet Lanski, Illinois Fertility Centers clinical psychologist, said.

Choosing the best egg donor requires trust, honest communication and flexibility. Cymet Lanski said known and anonymous donors can each present challenges. While choosing a friend or family member ensures complete medical history and a relationship, defining boundaries could prove difficult.

With that said, boundaries wouldn't be an issue with anonymous donors, knowledge of future health history could be nonexistent. It could also pose a problem, when confronting a child's questions. A detailed questionnaire, Cymet Lanski said, helps vet candidates.

"That's our first filter," she said.

Only 5 percent of Illinois Fertility Centers applicants are accepted. In addition to the questionnaire, they go through an interview, during which any emotional and psychological issues are discussed. And, the emotional effect of surrogacy is confronted. In other words, could the surrogate give up the baby?

Intended parents, Cymet Lanski said, should consider medical history, donor personality and physical appearance during the selection process. However, she said following their instincts is essential.

Preparing intended parents for questions down the road wasn't forgotten. Cymet Lanski said anonymous egg-donor contracts aren't binding to the child. So, he or she could search for the donor, despite a "no contact" request, when they're older.

But, first things first. The inevitable question—where did I come from?—generally comes around age 4 or 5, according to Cymet Lanski. Her advice is to keep it simple and expect more questions later.

"Telling doesn't happen in one session," Cymet Lanski said. "The questions will evolve."

When possible, she stressed, parents should talk to their child together. Without a hint of irony, Cymet Lanski left the room of potential gay dads with one thought.

"Be flexible," she said. "This is not going to be a straight road."

Conceive Abilities Surrogacy Director Deb Levy introduced the potential parents to the world of surrogacy. Levy didn't just share information, though, she shared her story.

"My whole world opened up," Levy, the mother of two ( thanks to a surrogate ) said.

The journey to find and select a surrogate begins with a psychological consultation. Conceive Abilities provides a casual environment to discuss any and all issues involved in the process. Assessing the surrogate is vital. It's the only way to determine her motivation and assess her stability as well as the strength of her support system.

"We need to make sure Team Baby is all on board," Levy said.

The absence of financial motivation or coercion must be absent. Determining the level of attachment is also important. Levy said an ideal surrogate gets attached to intended parents rather than the baby. Children of surrogates can also become attached to the baby, but in a babysitter role.

"They get to help Mom give you guys a baby," Levy said.


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