LGBT Pride Month represents a time to show appreciation for individuals and businesses creating an environment of equality worldwide. Growing Generations is a full-service surrogacy and egg donor agency in Los Angeles that was created in 1996 to help an under-served segment of intended parents within the gay community. Today, it serves all couples and has delivered over 1,600 babies via surrogacy.
We spoke with Growing Generations co-owners, Stuart Bell and Dr. Kim Bergman, about the impact their business has had on gay families, how tolerance and acceptance of gay parents has changed since they opened their doors and what the future holds for couples considering surrogacy.
"There are people of all types who want to be parents – there's just this innate desire to have a family."
What are the challenges gay couples face — compared to what straight couples encounter — when they decide on the surrogacy route for having children?
Stuart: From a legal standpoint, gay couples are not permitted to have children though surrogates in all the same states where heterosexual couples can — they're allowed that option in only 15 states. One challenge for us is addressing each state's legislature individually so we can expand the use of surrogacy for those couples.
Kim: The emotional reactions are different, too. For gay couples, it’s a revelation when they realize they can become parents through surrogacy. They may have come out and given up on being parents — only to figure out that they can have children. When they come into our office they're pretty thrilled and often cry tears of joy in the initial meeting because they’re so happy and relieved to know they can be parents after all. Heterosexual couples often cry tears of sorrow, because by the time they’ve come to us, surrogacy was not Plan A or even Plan B. It’s tough to get your mind around having to include additional people in the intimate experience of having a child.
What inspired you to start the company? Why did you want to focus on serving the gay community?
Kim: It started as a wonderful accident. 20 years ago one of Growing Generations’ original owners, Will Halm, wanted to have a baby with his partner. He decided to do it via surrogacy, but no one would help him. Will figured out how to navigate the process himself — and Stuart helped, supporting his efforts along the way. When other gay men saw what Will had accomplished, they asked, "Can you help me do that, too?" So, a group of us decided to help them, and Growing Generations evolved from there.
What are the challenges you’ve faced running a business focused on personal, sensitive parenting issues?
Stuart: We wouldn’t consider them challenges, but we want to have a very high level of service, so we do a lot of staff training. We brought in people from The Ritz-Carlton to lead training sessions because our clients expect a certain level of quality and customer service — and they expect to be helped by people who know what they’re talking about, so we’re always continuing to hone our crafts of great customer service and expertise. We’ve seen every scenario that can happen in parenting, but the most upsetting is pregnancy loss. We have great doctors and technology, but surrogacy still may take more than one try to be successful. In helping people through the heartbreaking moments, we must maintain our sympathy and compassion. We have to deal with those negative moments too, but our job is not to be devastated along with our clients — our job is to help them through it.
How have advances in surrogacy evolved?
Stuart: 20 years ago, half of all surrogacies were done the traditional way: with the surrogate mother's own egg being artificially inseminated by the intended father's, or donor's sperm. This method is now down to two percent. The most common method now is gestational surrogacy, with the surrogate carrying a baby that has been conceived using the egg of the intended mother or an egg donor, and sperm from the intended father or a sperm donor. Technology has improved so much. We can now genetically screen embryos to rule out almost all fetal abnormalities.
Growing Generations has grown to be one of the largest LGBT-owned businesses in the country. How have you seen public acceptance of gay couples — and gay couples having children — change since the business launched?
Kim: One trend that shows a fascinating change is the average age of gay parents. A few decades ago most of our clients were 40 to 50 years old because it took that long for them to come out. They gave up on the idea of being parents until they finally figured out that they could be. Now we’re seeing more young gay men and women who plan to get married and plan to have kids.
Stuart: Also, the attitude of surrogates has changed. This used to be a cause-driven mission for them — they wanted to help a gay couple or single person become a parent because they were an activist. Today, sexual orientation isn’t as controversial. When asked if they want to surrogate for a gay couple, most women reply, "Why wouldn’t I?" For the younger generation of female surrogates, a person’s sexuality isn’t something they even consider an “issue” at all.
After 2015’s Supreme Court ruling, what have you seen happen for gay couples? And how has that changed your own lives?
Kim: My wife and I have been married for 30 years, first with a temple marriage that was not legal in California; then with a ceremony in Canada, but it also wasn't recognized here. This past October, we celebrated our 30th anniversary with family and friends, and we did a surprise wedding. It was our first wedding that was a real, truly legal wedding.
Stuart: My son was born in 2008 during that four-month window for marriage when it was legal in California but not recognized nationally. The lowest point for us was when we were coming back from an overseas trip and the U.S. Customs agent wouldn’t let us go through as a family. It was humiliating. When the Supreme Court was ruling on same-sex marriage, I was so nervous — I was really scared that the Court wouldn’t do the right thing, so when it actually happened, I was in complete and utter shock. I felt like a weight been had lifted off of me. To have all of that behind us, it’s incredible. Now I feel, in every legal sense, that I’m married. Now, we’re seeing a lot of our clients getting married, and they tell us they’re doing it before they have children. There are people of all types who want to be parents — there's just this innate desire to have a family.