Christ on a crutch, where to even begin.
Well, I mean, y’know, duh. And here I’ve been thinking all this time that “being OK with not having children” was sorta baked right into the life-as-a-gay-couple cake. Silly me.
Corey Briskin and Nicholas Maggipinto met in law school in 2011, were engaged by 2014, and had their 2016 wedding announced in the New York Times. They moved to a waterfront apartment block in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with a bright playroom for families on the ground floor.
“We got married and then we wanted all the trappings: house, children, 401K [retirement saving plan], etc,” Maggipinto, 37, tells me in their building’s shared meeting room, tapping the table in sequence with the progression of each idea.
Briskin, 30, grew up assuming he’d have children. He came out in college. “Once I had come out to myself and others, I don’t think my expectation of what my life would look like changed all that much.” With marriage equality won years ago, they expected to be able to have a conventional married life.
Sorry, fellas, but I’m afraid that’s gonna be a mite tough with what is, by definition, a non-conventional marriage.
Six months before their wedding, a targeted ad from an organisation called Gay Parents to Be landed in Maggipinto’s Instagram feed, offering free consultations with a fertility doctor who’d give them “the whole rundown” on how they could start a family. “We had the appointment and we were 100% on the same page – let’s move forward with this,”says Maggipinto.
That’s when they first became aware of the eye-watering cost of biological parenthood for gay men. Maggipinto reels off the price list in a way that only someone who has pored over every item could. There’s compensation for the egg donor: no less than $8,000 (£6,600). The egg-donor agency fee: $8,000-10,000. The fertility clinic’s bill (including genetic testing, blood tests, STD screening and a psychiatric evaluation for all parties, sperm testing, egg extraction, insemination, the growing, selecting, freezing and implantation of the resulting embryos): up to $70,000. And that’s if it all goes well: if no embryos are created during a cycle, or if the embryos that are don’t lead to a successful pregnancy, they would have to start again.
Then there’s the cost of a surrogate (called a “gestational carrier” when they carry embryos created from another woman’s eggs). Maggipinto and Briskin were told agency fees alone could stretch to $25,000, and the surrogates themselves should be paid a minimum of $60,000 (it is illegal for surrogates to be paid in the UK, but their expenses are covered by the intended parents). “That payment doesn’t include reimbursement for things like maternity clothing; lost wages if she misses work for doctors’ appointments or is put on bed rest; transportation; childcare for her own children; [or] lodging.”
It takes 15 minutes for Maggipinto to run me through all the expenses they could incur if they tried to have a child genetically related to one of them. The bottom line? “Two hundred thousand dollars, minimum,” he says, tapping his index finger on the table with each word in disbelief.
Hey, gotta pay to play. Whatever made you guys imagine that bucking biology, rationality, and reality itself could be done on the cheap?
They couldn’t afford it. Maggipinto earns a corporate lawyer’s salary but is saddled with student debt. Briskin used to work for the City of New York as an assistant district attorney, earning about $60,000 a year.
Ugh. Lawyers. It figures.
His employment benefits had included generous health insurance. But when they read the policy, they discovered they were the only class of people to be excluded from IVF coverage. Infertility was defined as an inability to have a child through heterosexual sex or intrauterine insemination. That meant straight people and lesbians working for the City of New York would have the costs of IVF covered, but gay male couples could never be eligible.
This isn’t an oversight, it’s discrimination, Briskin says. “The policy is the product of a time when there was a misconception, a stereotype, a prejudice against couples that were made up of two men – that they were not capable of raising children because there was no female figure in that relationship.”
Briskin was working alongside colleagues who were happily availing themselves of the benefits he wasn’t entitled to. One of his co-workers – an older, single woman – became a mother using donor sperm, IVF and surrogacy. “It was hard,” he tells me quietly. “You want to be happy for people.” Their frustration at not being able to have their own children turned to anguish. “My sister – who is more than six years younger than me – just gave birth to her second baby,” Maggipinto says, twisting his wedding ring. “I was OK with not being a parent at 30, I felt that was very normal for our generation and the current work-life balance ethos. But seven years later, I’m really not happy.”
Anyone capable of uttering gibberish phrases like “work-life balance ethos” with a straight face ought to be legally barred from having children. Thankfully, though, the response confirms that sanity and common sense still do exist in this topsy-turvy world.
Maggipinto and Briskin braced themselves for some kind of backlash when news of their claim broke. But there was a deluge: on Instagram and Facebook, in audio messages and in their work email inboxes, on Reddit and beneath news articles. Wherever you could post public comments, there was condemnation.
A much-liked response to one piece about their story read: “Not having a uterus because you are male, does not make you ‘infertile’ – it makes you MALE. No one – and I do mean no one – has the right to rent another human’s body and womb to use as an incubator. That is not a human right.”
Actually, all my sarcasm and snark aside, these two do in fact seem to be susceptible to making a certain amount of sense here and there, almost despite themselves:
They never claimed any right to surrogacy, Maggipinto says. “I think a woman willing to do this is enormously generous. In the same way that I feel like I’ve been robbed of time in my life because I don’t have a child yet, I feel like the sacrifice a woman makes to be pregnant for someone else is an enormous chunk of time out of her life that she’ll never get back, and the compensation really is a token for that.”
When it comes to the fear that gay surrogacy erases mothers, Maggipinto is defiant. “Our family will be a motherless family,” he says, tapping his finger on the table again, “I won’t tiptoe around that.” But the creation of that family doesn’t depend on the exploitation of women. “We’re not using a woman’s body. We are accepting a woman’s generosity to use her own body in a way that she agrees with.”
Fair enough, I suppose. In the end, though, as I’ve so often said of liberals in general, their quarrel isn’t with me, or with anybody else out there; it’s with reality, which, no matter how they try to adjust it to suit their own desires, isn’t bendable in the direction they need it to be bent. Bottom line brought to you by Phyllis Chesler, who lays it out plain, nary a punch pulled.
Chesler is an author and a professor of psychology and women’s studies. She has been a critic of surrogacy ever since she campaigned for the rights of Mary Beth Whitehead, the New Jersey surrogate who fought for custody of the baby she carried in 1986. (Whitehead’s case was ultimately unsuccessful.) When New York state voted to legalise commercial surrogacy in 2020, Chesler was one of the most vocal campaigners against it. The fight was still fresh in her mind when she heard about Briskin and Maggipinto’s claim.
“Gay men now want insurance companies to treat being born male as a disability or as a protected category, one which requires paid compensation,” she wrote in an article for a feminist website published a few days after the men filed their complaint. “They are protesting the ‘unfairness’ of not having been born biologically female.”
“One of them comes from a wealthy family. The wealthy know the world’s their oyster: they can buy whatever they want and if the poor are ill-served, well, so be it, it’s the way of the world. This way of thinking is involved in surrogacy. Nobody is saying: ‘I would rather give up this longing if it means harming another human being.’ The types of people who opt for surrogacy are entitled, used to getting what they want. Here I include celebrity women who do not want to ruin their figures.”
Chesler is a mother and a grandmother. She has been married several times – most recently to a woman. Their wedding certificate is framed on the wall. “If you balance the women who could die in pregnancy, the women who could become infertile because of their eggs being harvested, who must endure pain and loss of time in a way not commensurate to what they are being paid, against this new desire of a gay male couple to use surrogacy as their first option, I think the balance of suffering is more on the female side.”
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to conceive. Mother Nature can be a real bitch like that sometimes.