TV chef Yotam Ottolenghi wrote a brave and heartfelt piece in the Guardian last Saturday about his long journey to parenthood as a gay man. Having considered co-parenting with a lesbian couple and then a single woman, he and his partner Karl finally settled on surrogacy, conceiving their son Max with the help of a US surrogate mother. Yotam describes the twists and turns of his journey and how they got there in the end.
It makes us reflect on how, for many gay men we work with, finding the right path is not easy. Very often, co-parenting or known sperm donation seems the obvious first choice. It is easy to understand why. It is efficient – lesbian/single women and gay/single men can help each other, the arrangement can be dealt with privately and informally, and in many cases conceiving is free.
But it is a mistake to think that co-parenting is the easy option for gay dads. Sharing your life as a parent with someone you don’t live with takes hard work and a long term commitment to flexibility and compromise. You have to be prepared to fit your family life around someone else. It can work well, but only if it is what you – and your co-parent - really want.
It may be that some gay men (and lesbian women) choose to co-parent, not as a positive decision, but because of a sense that it is the more ‘natural’ choice, a belief that it is better for a child to have a mother as well as a father, and that such a family will be more acceptable to others than one with two fathers. This is an understandable feeling, particularly given that same sex parenting has not been part of the visible landscape we grew up with (although this is changing fast thanks to brave men like Yotam).
In fact, there is no evidence to suggest that children need mothers (or fathers), or that children born through surrogacy are worse off emotionally. In fact all the evidence shows that it is the quality of parenting which matters, not the number or gender of the parents. On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence to show that children are damaged by parents in conflict. We have seen too many cases where men who really, deep down, want to be the primary parents end up in bitter conflict with their co-parents. That is never a good outcome for anyone, least of all the child.
Our advice to gay dads: examine your motives carefully and think really hard about what kind of parents you want to be and make sure that you test this out with anyone you choose to build your family with. It is perfectly natural to want to create a family with your partner and to be a full time Dad – in many ways, surrogacy is the more ‘natural’ choice.
There is more information on our website about how we help gay dads with surrogacy in the UK and the USA.