I’ve always wanted to be a dad. But for gay men like me, expensive surrogacy arrangements are the only realistic option – we should have access to affordable fertility treatments at home here in Ireland
I remember the first time my partner and I spoke about having children. We had only been together a couple of years and I asked had he ever thought about getting married or starting a family.
He said he would like to do both, but as a gay man in Ireland he felt that those things weren’t an option for him. This was before gay marriage – or even its precursor, civil partnership – was legalised in Ireland.
For me though, it was never a question of ‘if’ and more a question of ‘how’. I had always envisioned myself as a parent, I’d just never thought about how this would come to be. I was naive about it – but I was so sure that it would come to pass that I never thought too much about the obstacles.
There are children who need a home and we want to give a child a home
In time though, these obstacles became very real, and the channels that need navigating because of them are not for the fainthearted.
With the advent of marriage equality for gay couples, many people assume that if gay couples can legally get married, then surely they can have babies too. So, naturally, we’re often asked about when we will start a family. While these questions are well-intentioned, they are more weighted than people realise.
My partner and I have been married for eight years, and every time someone asks us about having children, it feels like a dart hitting me in the gut.
I imagine people who face fertility issues feel the same. It’s easier to say ‘we don’t want children’ or ‘we haven’t thought about it too much’. Not because either is true, but because I don’t want to say ‘we really want children, but it’s very difficult’.
Theoretically there are several avenues open to gay couples who want to have children – and with many people in the public eye, such as Brian Dowling or Tom Daley, doing it, it looks easier than ever.
However, it’s still an incredibly difficult, costly, time heavy and emotional process. When we started our journey, my partner and I looked at adoption, which seemed like an obvious avenue to the uninitiated.
There are children who need a home and we want to give a child a home. But, very few children are given up for adoption in modern Ireland, and the process can take several years, and sometimes bear no fruit.
International adoption at first seemed more viable. The Adoption Authority of Ireland website has details on all countries that Irish residents can adopt from – but many of these countries refuse to let gay couples adopt a child.
For example, only single females and married couples can apply to adopt from China, with single applicants even having to sign an affidavit to confirm their heterosexuality.
Other countries that have either vague language or straight-up discriminatory prerequisites include Bulgaria, Haiti, India, Poland, Thailand, and Vietnam.
This means the United States and the United Kingdom are options for gay couples. Except, adopting from either of these countries is becoming less likely – regardless of sexual orientation.
The data is stark. Only 67 children were adopted into Ireland from the US between 2012 and 2018, and no intercountry adoptions from the UK into Ireland occurred in the same timeframe. There is no data on how many of the US adoptions went to people from the queer community.
As we began to realise how difficult adoption might be, we began researching other options. And surrogacy consistently came to mind.
Surrogacy seemed like the best solution, as you can be involved in the process from the very beginning. However, there is no structure in place for gay couples to build a family via surrogacy in Ireland. Surrogacy is unlegislated for and unregulated here, making the option fraught with difficulty for couples considering it.
Couples can work with an egg donor overseas, and then have a friend or family member carry the baby for them in Ireland. However, if the baby is born in Ireland, the surrogate will be the legal mother of that child – even if there is no genetic or biological connection between the surrogate and child.
For us, this created too much of a grey area and placed so much responsibility on the surrogate. Any woman willing to carry a baby for another person has my utmost admiration – but we couldn’t see ourselves asking that of someone.
Gearoid Kenny Moore, a spokesperson for Equality for Children, and a father to three children through surrogacy with his husband, says: “Ireland has still failed to legislate for any form of domestic surrogacy.
"This places all parties to a surrogacy arrangement in a very precarious legal situation; the surrogate mother has legal responsibility for a child with whom she typically has no genetic link, the intended parents have no automatic parental rights – and the child is left in a situation where his/her family unit are not recognised.”
Having ruled out domestic surrogacy, we set out to find out what other options were open to us.
An Irish solicitor, who specialises in overseas surrogacies, told me that doing a surrogacy journey in the US is best. They have, he said, the “gold standard” of surrogacy legislation and services – but, we were warned, it would be very costly.
We had already looked into another agency which specialises in working with surrogates and egg donors in countries in Central and South America. The cost there would be approximately 35pc less than the US, but with far fewer legal protections.
We also looked at Canada – and again, while there are far more options there than in Europe, the legal structure isn’t as firm or as reliable as what’s available in the US. It’s nerve-racking as it is, so having as much protection as possible going into the process helps to ease anxiety.
We decided to bite the bullet and go for surrogacy in the US. We contacted a surrogacy agency in California which specifically works with gay couples. They gave us a full cost breakdown of the process – everything from DNA and sperm testing to surrogate costs, post-birth hospital care and more.
For a number of reasons, we wanted to try for twins. While aiming for two gives you no guarantees, it gives you a better chance – but the cost is higher.
When taking this into consideration, the figure came to more than €200,000. While the total seemed impossibly out of reach, when looking at individual costs it was easy to see how the figure reached stratospheric heights.
The figure was daunting and quite disheartening. I had read somewhere a few years back that the figure could be around €80,000, and that was stuck in my head, so finding out the true cost was a shock. For most couples, the idea of having a spare €200,000 lying around is laughable. Especially in our current economic climate.
But it was something we really wanted to do. So to finance the process, we sold our house and downsized.
We had worked incredibly hard to buy our home, and in the years since we bought it, its value had increased.
We sold up last March, and in an ideal world we would have used the profit from the house to buy a better property, save towards a pension, or reduce our prospective new mortgage and live a bit more comfortably. We did none of those things.
Seeing the money come in from the house sale and immediately go back out was infuriating. I often think that if money were no object, we would be spending this time excited for what is to come – instead of being racked with financial concerns.
Essentially, every penny made on the property has been put towards the surrogacy, with more costs still to come. All for the chance to have a baby. And it really is just a chance.
This route isn’t going to be viable for everyone, as it’s incredibly costly. Without the sale of our home, and the fortunate increase in its value, we would never have been able to consider this.
We’re privileged, but mostly just lucky.
What I find hard to take is that commercial surrogacy is available for heterosexual couples in countries closer to Ireland, such as Georgia, Russia and Ukraine – the latter being a very popular choice for Irish couples before the war broke out.
However it is not open to gay couples because of their sexuality, it is illegal. So the options for people like us really are very restrictive, and that was the most disappointing aspect of my research.
While surrogacy is in fact a very viable option for gay couples, it has been made expensive by the exclusivity of it and lack of availability in countries closer to home. It’s very upsetting to know that so many Irish gay couples would love to be parents but with the current lack of access, they will never be able to afford it.
I know there are people who are firmly against surrogacy and believe it shouldn’t be available in Ireland – or indeed, at all. And I can understand some of the hesitancies around it.
In order to do it correctly, parameters need to be put in place to protect women who want to carry a baby on behalf of another.
There are ways to do this, though. In other countries there are protections in place to manage the process. And I believe there are opportunities in it, not only for gay couples to have domestic access to fertility solutions, but also for women who would want to take part in the process.
There are many conversations, on a global level, of women having the right to take control of their own reproductive systems.
In order to be equal, we need to have the same rights as every other citizen
If a woman wants to donate her eggs or be a surrogate, why shouldn’t she? If we were to have a structure in place, many women in Ireland might find that they wanted to do this.
Initially I was nervous about the women involved in the process and how well they would be cared for. From our experience with the US clinic so far, I can see how my concerns weren’t necessary.
Our own egg donor told us she currently has no plans to have children of her own, and thought it would be nice to donate eggs she has no intention of using to a couple that want a family.
From a financial perspective she planned on using the money towards an upcoming master’s degree. Finding out more about the donor put my partner and I at ease. We could see how this could be mutually beneficial.
In Ireland we were all so proud for ushering in gay marriage by public vote. It is such an amazing achievement. However, we are fooling ourselves if we think that makes LGBTQ+ people in Ireland equal.
In order to be equal, we need to have the same rights as every other citizen. We currently have no rights to accessible, affordable fertility, therefore we are not equal.
I am not a legislative expert and I know that there are a plethora of possible issues to be mitigated with something like commercial surrogacy – but I do know that other countries have done it successfully, so why can’t we?
Why can’t we look at affordable, safe options for gay couples to have children in Ireland? We need to collectively take off the rainbow-tinted glasses and ask ourselves what we can do to change this landscape of inequality.
Fourteen months after starting the process, my partner and I we have some embryos on ice and we’re on a waiting list for a surrogate. The list could take weeks or months. The waiting is almost unbearable, but we have no other option, so we will continue to wait and hope.
We just moved into our new home, where we plan to raise our children. We hope by then that these children will have the same protections as all other Irish children, and that other gay Irish couples will have more options to start their families.
To find out more about LGBTQ+ families in Ireland and to support the rights of Irish children, visit equalityforchildren.ie