Via surrogacy, some men opt to become single dads
Trey Powell's first name has an extra resonance these days. Though still a bachelor, he now presides over a family of three as the dad of twin daughters born six months ago via a surrogate mother.
"I feel so lucky every day," Powell said.
At 42, he's a new addition to the ranks of men who intentionally seek the role of single father. While some opt for adoption, others yearn to have children with genetic ties and are willing to invest $100,000 or more to make that happen.
There are no firm numbers of how many men have taken this route. It's clearly still a rarity, although Growing Generations, a leading for-profit surrogacy agency in Los Angeles, says its caseload of single men has risen steadily and totaled about 25 cases last year.
Experts say the driving force is generally a male equivalent of the "biological clock" that prompts some unmarried women to have children while they're still fertile.
"They say they've always wanted to be a dad, they haven't found a partner that they want to start a family with, they're getting older and just don't want to wait - the same things single women say," said Madeline Feingold, an Oakland, Calif., psychologist who has done extensive counseling related to surrogacy.
That was the case for Powell, a pharmaceutical company executive in Seattle who spent three years futilely trying to adopt.
"I was in an adoption pool for a year and half, didn't get any calls and got bummed about the whole experience," he said. "I just wanted to be a dad. Time was not on my side, and I didn't have the luxury of waiting for an ideal mate."
Before approaching Growing Generations, Powell discussed his options at length with family members and with people who'd been through surrogacy. There was a lot of self-interrogation.
"If something happens to me, who's going to take care of my daughters? Is this an egotistical, selfish thing?" he recalled asking himself. "I had to be sure it was the right thing to do."
Now, he says, fatherhood is the focus of his life - a transformation made easier because he often works from home and can afford a full-time nanny.
That level of affluence is a virtual prerequisite for men pursuing the option of fatherhood via surrogacy.
"We tell people to budget $125,000 to $150,000 for a single baby, and $150,000 to $175,000 for twins," said Stuart Bell, co-owner of Growing Generations.
Those figures include compensation of $8,000 to $10,000 for the egg donor, and at least $25,000 for the surrogate mother who gives birth after being impregnated with an implanted embryo.
Though male clients have the option of enlisting an egg donor on their own, Bell said most make their choice from a pool of women recruited by Growing Generations. The clients aren't told the names of the possible egg donors, but see videos of them and learn extensive details about their health, education and genetic history.
The process also entails psychological screening, plus detailed legal negotiations to minimize any chance that the egg donor or surrogate mother might claim parental rights.
By the time the process is done, the aspiring father's commitment is usually apparent, said Denise Bierly, a State College, Pa., attorney specializing in adoption and surrogacy law.
"With men especially, the process gets so well thought through," she said. "They go into this having talked about it with their friends, relatives. There's nothing spontaneous about it."
Alan Bernstein, a dad raising three surrogacy-born children in Los Angeles, describes single parenting as "an insanely hard job" and also as deeply rewarding.
"It helps to be really passionate about it," he said.
Bernstein, 48, is president of a property management company, able to adjust his working hours and also to afford an au pair who helps care for 9-year-old Isaac and 7-year-old twins Natalie and Naomi.
Like Trey Powell, Bernstein is gay and grew into adulthood never expecting that fatherhood would be a realistic and enticing option.
"When I came out in my early 20s, I felt it was a choice of leading an honest life but giving up on the idea of family," he said. "I'd always liked children - but for many years I didn't allowed myself to think about it. It seemed sad and inevitable that I wouldn't have any."
Though gays account for a substantial portion of Growing Generations' single-father clientele, it also caters to straight men, such as New York City lawyer Steven Harris, 58, whose 6-year-old son, Ben, is about to start first grade.
"Everybody thinks you're real sensitive. 'What a guy,'" Harris said. "They don't realize it's fun and wonderful."
He's had a few conversations with other men wondering whether to follow his example.
"I tell them, don't even think twice. Just do it," he said. "There's no downside, if you really want a child."
State laws on surrogacy vary widely. Some states forbid commercial transactions, while California has a reputation as perhaps the most receptive state.
Worldwide, commercial surrogacy is banned in most countries, and two that do allow it - India and Ukraine - have decided not make it available to single men. As a result, Growing Generations' clientele of single men includes an increasing number of foreigners seeking the option of a safe, legal surrogacy.
Among them is Simon Taylor, a 50-year-old Briton who had a son via a surrogate birth in Arkansas last year, and is now working on arrangements to have a second child.
Taylor, a self-employed businessman in the insurance industry, said in an email that he had extensive discussions with family and friends about his decision, with the upshot being strong support once those close to him realized how serious he was.
His son, Cal, is now 15 months old. A nanny helps with child care, but Taylor says he strives to be a hands-on dad, coming home early from work twice a week, putting the baby to bed, and spending all weekend with him.
"My life has completely changed now that my son has been born and it is all around Cal," Taylor wrote.
Was Cal losing out by not having a mother around?
"I honestly cannot answer that," said Taylor, adding that his sister, aunt and cousins were helping to provide "plenty of female love and attention."
Intentional single parenthood - whether sought by a man or woman - still draws some criticism from skeptics who say children fare best with a mix of masculine and feminine approaches to parenting.
However, some academics who study families say the gender stereotypes of parenting are breaking down.
"Fathers on average are more involved in their children's lives" than in the past, said University of Florida sociologist William Marsiglio. "More fathers are identifying parenthood as a key dimension of who they want to be - not just being bread winner, but providing nurturing and caregiving."
Diane Ehrensaft, a clinical psychologist in Oakland, Calif., says it's an outdated myth that men lack the inherent ability to be as nurturing a parent as women.
"The lack of warmth, attention and affection is what causes harm to children," she said. "No gender has a corner on the market for those three things."
One thing single moms and single dads have in common: Parenthood can complicate the prospects of kindling a romance.
"I did not grasp the degree to which having three children would be an impediment to dating," said Alan Bernstein, who does date occasionally when circumstances allow it and would like to forge a long-term relationship.
"That hasn't happened yet," he said. "I remain optimistic I will find someone who will want to be part of an awesome family."
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