Gay couples find path to parenthood in Greenwich
GREENWICH, Conn. (AP) — When Wear Culvahouse, a Greenwich obstetrician-gynecologist, delivered a baby for the first male same-sex parents at Greenwich Hospital in 2004, he saw doors opening for himself as well.
Lesbian couples had been delivering babies at the hospital for a few years, said Culvahouse, a gay physician who was on the staff at the time.
The team assembled to help the male couple included personnel from labor and delivery, the nursery and administration. They set up two rooms at Greenwich Hospital: One for the new fathers to learn how to bathe, feed and change their baby, and one for their surrogate to recover.
“We had to just talk through the logistics of how to make that work,” Culvahouse said. “So that they would be happy, they would go back and tell their friends, ‘Go to Greenwich Hospital, deliver your babies there because they will accommodate us.’”
It was a big moment for Culvahouse, who married his husband, Douglas Graneto, that same year.
“It was awesome because I got to witness it, knowing that that’s what we were working toward,” Culvahouse said during an interview at his kitchen table, with Graneto by his side. “It was awesome because I got to follow that set of twins and see them grow up just as I saw ... all the thousands of women that I’ve delivered that come back year after year; you get their Christmas cards with their kids growing up. And I got to do that with this gay couple as well.”
He and Graneto started searching for surrogates two years later.
For a gay couple to have a biological child, they need an extended group beyond the egg donor and surrogate. They also must have mental health professionals to screen both partners, and lawyers to ensure both fathers have parental rights. The entire process takes two to three years and costs $100,000 to $200,000.
In the early months of 2008 they found their surrogate through a California agency named A Perfect Match. Their daughter Katie was born in June 2009.
Similar journeys have been on the upswing, part of what has been called the gay baby boom — though the term implies an ease and speed that gay parents are quick to dispel.
There are no official numbers on how many same-sex couples are having biological children, but fertility clinics in Fairfield County describe an increase in gay clients in recent years.
One doctor who has seen that trend is Mark Leondires, who works at Reproductive Medicine Associates of Connecticut, a fertility clinic based out of Norwalk with offices in Stamford, Danbury and Trumbull. He also personally went through the process with his husband, Greg Zola, as they gave birth through a surrogate.
In recent years, Leondires has seen the percentage of his clients who are same-sex couples rise from none to 80 percent. About two-fifths of those same-sex couples are women, who use sperm donors and sometimes opt to carry embryos from their partner’s eggs, a process known as reciprocal in vitro fertilization.
The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology does not track whether procedures are for heterosexual or homosexual families, but it reports that surrogacy embryo transfers in the United States increased more than 250 percent between 2005 and 2015.
The growing number of LGBTQ couples choosing to have children is due in part to growing acceptance of the community and to the Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, Leondires said.
“It became a safer place not only to be yourself, but to raise a child,” he said.
Culvahouse and Graneto can attest to that change.
“It has been an amazing journey to think of how I grew up” in Tennessee, Culvahouse said. “And to what I thought was the ‘golden ring,’ just to be openly gay. And then here we are 15 years later, married with a child, enjoying a much fuller life. For me, I think it’s just an amazing experience. You don’t know what you’re missing until you’re a part of it.”
“We are just two parents with our child, just trying to raise our child the best we can,” he said. “And she’s a good, pretty well-adjusted kid, and we are lucky. I don’t think that our experience parenting is really that much different from anyone else’s. And it’s also amazing how after you have a child, how much more a part of the community you feel and how much more connected you actually feel to your community.”
Connecticut is now a destination for gay parents-to-be around the world; Leondires said he has had patients from as far as Europe and China.
Many who travel to Connecticut for services are from New York and New Jersey, where surrogacy contracts are unenforceable. Many end up at Greenwich Hospital not just because of its openness to accommodating gay and lesbian couples who want to give birth there, but because it is the first stop once you cross the Connecticut border, Culvahouse said.
But when Culvahouse and Graneto were looking in 2008, they remember Connecticut didn’t always have such a smooth process for bringing together all the parts of surrogacy. The couple found their surrogate and agency in California because the process there was “a well-oiled machine,” Graneto said. It had been in place for nearly 30 years at that point.
In Connecticut, “you would have someone who would try to help you find a surrogate,” Culvahouse said. “And a group that would help you with an egg donor, and you had to go someplace else for your semen analysis — it was just so disjointed. And now you’ve got someone like Mark Leondires, and they have the surrogates, they have the donors, they have everything there. That didn’t exist in Connecticut in ’07 and ’08.”
Although marriage equality has been affirmed, that does not mean all people have the resources to become parents. The six-figure price tag is prohibitive for many.
Costs for lesbian couples to have a child are significantly lower, because there is no cost for an egg donor or surrogate. But in vitro fertilization and attorneys still rack up costs in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Connecticut is one of 15 states requiring insurance companies to offer fertility coverage for couples who have tried to conceive for a year without success. While that coverage applies to couples of any age, it does not yet extend to same-sex couples, who have no chance of conceiving from the outset.
Some companies, including NBCUniversal and Google, have taken a step toward what is being called equal access to fertility treatment. LGBTQ employees there can access the same benefits, such as in vitro fertilization, as their heterosexual co-workers.
However, such coverage is rare, and Hawaii’s attempt to pass a bill for equal access to fertility treatment failed in April.
A more likely way for couples to reduce their bills, doctors say, is to use what’s known as a compassionate surrogate — a friend or family member willing to carry a child without a fee — or to find their own egg donor. Couples can save around $45,000.
In addition, Men Having Babies offers the Gay Parenting Assistance Program, which annually facilitates over $1 million worth of financial support for gay dads-to-be.
At the Culvahouse-Graneto household, they recently were preparing for their family dog Stella’s 5th birthday and for Valentine’s Day.
Their daughter, Katie, 8, came home with two boxes of Valentine’s Day cards for her classmates at Greenwich Country Day School and family. Each valentine included an animal window cling, and Katie jumped up and down excitedly as she counted out how many she needed for others and how many she could keep for herself.
She has a window cling collection in the kitchen — a few hearts, a couple of pumpkins and some baskets with eggs in them.
None of her classmates have a similar family, but Culvahouse and Graneto said kids are understanding and ask questions.
“How you prepare any child that is a bit different, is you just have to give them ... a talking point,” Culvahouse said. ”‘Why don’t you have a mother?’ And then she would give her answer, short, concise, and her friend would say, ‘Oh,’ and move on.”
Information from: Greenwich Time, http://www.greenwichtime.com