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The Joys & Challenges of Single Parent Surrogacy | Julien's Story

After 10 years of planning and saving to become a father through surrogacy, a single dad shares his honest experience.

June 27th, 2024 | 15 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

Becoming a parent is one of the hardest, most rewarding experiences in life. Becoming a single parent through surrogacy brings even more challenges, including significant financial hurdles. In this story, a father through surrogacy shares how he navigated major obstacles and setbacks to finally welcome his daughter. 

In this article:

Meet Julien

"I've always wanted kids," says Julien. "I always assumed I would have a child, and it was never a question - since the time I was young - that I wanted to be a father." Family was always important to him, and as the oldest child, he soon started feeling the pressure to give his parents a grandchild.

After coming to the realization that he was gay in his mid-20s, Julien knew he would have to find a different way to make his dream of fatherhood a reality. He began looking into potential family-building pathways, exploring adoption and gestational surrogacy as his two main options.

On Choosing Surrogacy

Julien soon became overwhelmed by how complicated and difficult the adoption process can be, and decided to focus his efforts on pursuing surrogacy. However, as he'd soon find out, surrogacy has its fair share of challenges too!

At first, Julien admits, his view of surrogacy was a bit naive and oversimplified. He made a pact with a single friend who was willing to be his gestational carrier: "Okay, by 35, if you’re still single without a kid, we’ll do it together," they agreed. However, at age 34, she met someone and got pregnant, and his backup plan disappeared.

That's when Julien decided to get serious about pursuing surrogacy on his own.

The Single Parent Surrogacy Process

Julien spent countless hours researching fertility clinics, surrogacy agencies, and other resources that might be able to help him on his quest to become a single father. He educated himself on the surrogacy process and learned about working with an egg donor and a gestational carrier (surrogate)

With this newfound knowledge, the hopeful dad took the next step on his journey. 

Step 1: Finding An LGBTQ+ Inclusive Fertility Clinic

In 2018, when Julien first started looking into his fertility clinic options, he kept coming across Illume Fertility and Gay Parents To Be on social media. After reviewing our online resources and learning more about the practice, he reached out to book his first consultation.

One of his first visits was with Jamie Speer, a genetic counselor at Illume, who gave him a preview of what the surrogacy process might look like. As a gay single dad himself, Jamie was able to provide a unique perspective.

Still, he wanted to explore all of his possible options, so he attended a Men Having Babies conference in New York City, where he met Illume Fertility's founder, Dr. Mark Leondires. He also met Jamie Speer, this time in person! Julien connected with Dr. Leondires' personal family-building story, as a gay man and father through surrogacy himself, and felt like Dr. L could truly relate to what he was going through.

What Attracted Julien to Illume Fertility

In addition to the personal connections he made with Dr. L and Jamie, Julien also felt confident about Illume's success rates, laboratory setup, and clinic protocols, after having gone on a tour of the clinic's headquarters in Norwalk, CT.

He also appreciated that Dr. L's approach was more conservative than many other fertility specialists he'd come across, as he strongly advocates for single embryo transfers with the goal of having one healthy baby at a time. 

Because Julien knew how important it would be to work with a reputable, inclusive fertility clinic with proven IVF success rates, he spent a lot of time comparing different doctors before making a final decision. He eventually narrowed his list down to two fertility clinics before deciding to stick with Illume. "I don't know why I ever hesitated," he says.


Step 2: Choosing An Egg Donor

A friend volunteered to give Julien her eggs, so they went through the initial screening process to see if she'd be a good match. Unfortunately, they found out her ovarian reserve was low, which threw a wrench in their plans. Dr. Leondires was open and honest about the fact that while they could proceed and try to work with his friend and her eggs, it would significantly lower their chances of IVF success.

With this information in mind, Julien decided to work with a donor from Illume Fertility's internal egg donor pool. It wasn't easy telling his friend about this choice, he says, because she had been so generous, but she understood why they couldn't proceed. "It was the right decision," Julien says. "Everything happens for a reason."

Planning for the Future

Matching with an egg donor was still a challenging process, as Julien knew he wanted to work with a donor who was open to future contact with his child. Unfortunately, this criteria meant he had fewer candidates to choose from.

When Julien finally decided on a donor and met her in person at Illume, he knew he'd found a great match. "It really comforted me and confirmed that I made the right choice," he says. While his donor was initially hesitant about having a more open relationship with an intended parent, she has now fully embraced their connection.

Looking for a donor?

Choosing an egg donor is one of the first big decisions you'll need to make as a dad-to-be pursuing surrogacy. Let us help you navigate the process.

Read Now

Step 3: Working With a Gestational Surrogate

In August 2019, Julien finally matched with his gestational carrier (sometimes referred to as a GC). She went through Illume's comprehensive screening process and was cleared to begin preparing for an embryo transfer. Julien and his GC had their first embryo transfer in January 2020. Sadly, the transfer was unsuccessful, which was a difficult experience for both of them.

"It’s like you're mourning for your child, even if they’re not really felt like a loss," Julien shares. He also didn’t expect the transfer to fail because they had the best of everything: a perfect embryo transfer, a healthy gestational carrier, and great doctors.

He realized he needed a break from the surrogacy process to regroup and emotionally reset, so he took some time off, went on vacation, and visited his family. 

A Shocking Twist 

Julien returned from his travels and geared back up for a second embryo transfer with his gestational carrier. The transfer was scheduled for March 2020, and as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, their plans were put on hold. Julien stayed in close contact with his Illume third party nurse, who he says helped him feel more confident throughout the entire surrogacy process.

Staying positive after an unsuccessful first transfer (and then, a global pandemic) was hard for Julien. The entire experience left him questioning if he was even meant to be a father. He considered whether he should continue on or simply stop trying. 

When Illume Fertility reopened and resumed performing embryo transfers, Julien and his gestational carrier were first in line! Thankfully, their second embryo transfer was successful, and he was finally able to celebrate some good news. 

Step 4: Pregnancy, Birth & Fatherhood

Seeing his GC's first positive pregnancy test (along with her strong hCG levels) was a major high point for Julien. "I was in the clouds...I popped champagne!" he says. "You have to celebrate every little victory, otherwise you won’t be able to last - this process can be so long and difficult."

Julien's gestational carrier had a fairly uneventful, textbook pregnancy and his baby girl Adele arrived, perfect and healthy, in February 2021. Even after years of research and careful consideration, Julien admits that navigating solo parenthood hasn't always been easy.

When Adele was born, it took time for Julien to adjust and settle into his life as a new dad. He took two months off from work to bond with his new baby girl and take care of her full-time. He then returned to his busy career as a camera operator and assistant director, enlisting the help of a part-time nanny and daycare.

"Those first few months were chaotic and exhausting," he says. "But slowly, your world begins to reorganize and everything falls into place," Julien says.

How long does the surrogacy process take?

While every journey is different, and the timeline can fluctuate based on a variety of factors, the surrogacy process can take anywhere from one year to three years or more. Let's break down Julien's personal timeline, which took over two years from start to finish:

  • Fall 2018 - He chose Illume Fertility as his fertility clinic, selected a surrogacy agency, and signed legal agreements to work with them both.
  • November 2018 - Matched with his egg donor, who then underwent an egg retrieval.
  • February 2019 - Embryos were created through IVF (using the donor's cryopreserved eggs and Julien's sperm) and stored at Illume.
  • February-August 2019 - Waited for his surrogacy agency to find him the right gestational carrier.
  • August 2019 - Matched with a gestational carrier, who went through Illume's required health screenings and was cleared by the Third Party Reproduction team to begin the surrogacy process.
  • January 2020 - First embryo transfer (which was unsuccessful).
  • March 2020 - COVID-19 pandemic put plans for a second embryo transfer on hold.
  • May 2020 - Second embryo transfer was successful, began their pregnancy journey.
  • February 2021 - Julien's daughter Adele was born!

Single Parent Surrogacy: Expectation vs. Reality

While the timeline above shows Julien's IVF and surrogacy journey, the many years he spent researching his family-building options, having appointments with fertility doctors, attending conferences, and saving money can't be forgotten.

Each intended parent's experience with surrogacy may vary, but it is important to remember just how complex and extensive the entire process can be. "Even when it feels like it’s going to last forever, everything is temporary," Julien says. "Keep taking things one day at a time, and it will all fall into place."


The Emotional Aspects of Surrogacy

Not all families and cultures are accepting of single parents by choice, which can make the journey even harder for intended parents who have to go it alone. Thankfully, Julien's father was supportive of him pursuing surrogacy from the start and very excited about the process.

He admits his mother needed a little more time to adjust to the idea that her grandchild would be raised without a 'mother figure,' which she felt [at the time] was important. Luckily, as time went on, she came to accept that children are able to thrive in all different types of families and is now very supportive of Julien's choice to become a single father. 

The surrogacy process almost didn’t feel "real" to his family, Julien says, mostly because they live far away. But for Julien, surrogacy was constantly on his mind. "For many years, I was thinking about it every single day - I was waking up thinking about surrogacy and going to bed thinking about surrogacy." With it being such a complex journey - no wonder it took up so much of his brain!

Raising a Donor-Conceived Child

It was important to Julien that his child would be able to know where they came from. At the suggestion of social worker Lisa Schuman, he even made a little book for his daughter Adele that explains her story and all the wonderful people who have played a major role in her life. 

To maintain connections with his gestational carrier and egg donor, Julien regularly sends photos of Adele and shares updates on how she's doing. He knows that as Adele grows older and becomes more curious about her story, he will answer her questions and be able to offer detailed information about the special women who helped bring her into the world.

The Financial Burden of Surrogacy

"It's a big sacrifice," says Julien. "I worked a lot, taking every job possible, saving money everywhere I could." Even after saving up for 10 years, he still found himself coming up short - easy to do when the process typically costs upwards of $100,000.

Julien applied for financial grants to help lessen the financial burden, eventually receiving a surrogacy grant from a non-profit organization called BabyQuest. He also received a grant from Men Having Babies, and these extra funds made all the difference, he says.

Some fertility treatment grants don't explicitly state whether they accept LGBTQ+ applicants, so it's always worth it to reach out and ask. Julien was initially unsure if he'd qualify for a BabyQuest grant, since their website focused heavily on families dealing with infertility, but was happily surprised to find out he could apply.

While progress has been made to increase access to fertility and family-building benefits for LGBTQ+ parents, many insurance providers still have frustrating policies in place that exclude them. 

Can I afford surrogacy?

Get a complete cost breakdown and learn what you can expect to pay for a surrogacy journey as an intended parent.

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Advice for LGBTQ+ Parents-To-Be

Even though he considered himself a well-prepared, educated parent-to-be, Julien admits that he was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information, financial burden, and emotional ups and downs of the surrogacy process. Now on the other side, he feels much more confident and knows he'll be prepared if he decides to have another child via surrogacy. 

Julien has been a vocal advocate, sharing his story publicly through interviews and directly supporting those who reach out to him for advice. He knows just how valuable visibility can be to others going through similar experiences, and regularly chats with intended fathers about surrogacy to help them have the smoothest journey possible.

Here's what Julien advises for fellow LGBTQ+ parents-to-be:

  • Be patient: Everything moves slower than you'd expect, try to take things one step at a time, stay flexible throughout the entire process, and know setbacks may happen.
  • Ask for help: Talk to friends, join support groups, and reach out to your care team.
  • Read the fine print: Understand your gestational carrier's insurance policy, budget for potential surprises, and carefully review all contracts with an attorney before signing.
  • Talk to other parents: Surrogacy is complex, and connecting with intended parents who have already been through the process can be a great source of wisdom and guidance.
  • Ask questions: Don't hesitate because you feel like a bother - ask lots of questions and don't stop until you get the answers you need.
  • Do your research: There are many different players in the surrogacy game, so take time to fully vet your options instead of going with the first agency or clinic you find.

Despite the many challenges he encountered on his path to parenthood, Julien confirms he'd do it all over again to meet his daughter. "Everything vanished right away as soon as she was born," he says. "All the heartache, the anxieties I had to endure, the sacrifices I had to make, they were all were worth it."

Recommended Resources for Intended Parents

This process is quite overwhelming at times, and reaching out for guidance and support can be invaluable. Julien found the following organizations to be helpful sources of information and support throughout his surrogacy journey: 

  • Gay Parents To Be: Illume's resource hub for LGBTQ+ fertility and family building.
  • Men Having Babies: An organization for gay men looking to pursue surrogacy. They offer financial grants, resources and support, seminars, conferences, online support groups, and even discounts on fertility treatment at participating clinics (Illume is one of them). 
  • BabyQuest: A foundation offering financial grants that help those in need of fertility treatment. 
  • Support groups like those offered by Illume Fertility gave Julien a safe space to connect with others who understood how difficult the fertility treatment roller coaster can be.
  • RESOLVE: A non-profit dedicated to advancing access to fertility care for all, including LGBTQ+ families! They also offer support groups, community events, and advocacy.
  • Gays With Kids: A robust online resources and more dedicated to helping gay, bi and trans dads and dads-to-be.
  • Fertility Within Reach: A non-profit offering helpful resources and tools to advocate for yourself with insurance companies (and much more). 
  • Family Equality: A non-profit with extensive resources for LGBTQ+ families of all kinds. 

Where are they now?

Julien currently lives with his partner and 3-year old Adele in Brooklyn, New York. "Every single day, she is changing and learning new things," he says. "She's a joy." After everything he went through to bring his daughter into the world, he's exceptionally grateful to be her dad.

He still has three embryos safely stored at Illume Fertility and knows firsthand that the surrogacy process can be lengthy. With that in mind, Julien is considering whether or not to add a second child to their family. For now, he's simply enjoying life with his little girl.

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.

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