It was on their first date that TV sitcom director Todd Holland's now-husband, actor Scotch Ellis Loring, asked whether he wanted children.
"His clock was ticking," said Holland. "I had the classic male response of 'Whoa, that's so much responsibility!'"
Today Holland, the 49-year-old director of sitcoms like "30 Rock" and "Malcolm in the Middle", and Loring, an actor and composer, are fathers to three beautiful children ushered into the world by Growing Generations, a surrogacy agency based in Los Angeles that has become the destination of choice for many gay families nationwide. According to the company, it has helped bring approximately 850 babies to couples since it launched in 1996.
"About 75 percent are gay couples," said Growing Generations CEO Stuart Miller. "We initially started the company specifically to help members of the gay and lesbian community. It's a very complex, complicated process that involves attorneys, doctors, psychologists, insurance."
With the cost of a surrogate birth ranging from $125,000 to $200,000, the agency has attracted celebrity couples including actor B.D. Wong and his partner Richie Jackson, who had a son. Actor Neil Patrick Harris and his partner David Burtka, who are having twins via a surrogate, are widely reported to be working with Growing Generations. Harris's publicist, Simon Halls, declined to confirm the reports but added, "I can tell you that Growing Generations is great … they helped me have three kids!"
The Growing Generations process is a curious mixture of courtship and online shopping. Prospective parents begin by scrolling through the company's database of pre-screened egg donors, where there is information on everything from ethnicity to education, as well as video of the potential donors.
"It's like the Sears Christmas Calendar," said Holland, joking that donors are asked questions straight out of a Miss America pageant, such as "What are your hopes and dreams? What do you hope to do when you grow up?"
Once an egg donor is selected, prospective parents begin a similar search for another woman to act as a surrogate. Once the couple has met their chosen surrogate and definitively confirmed she will carry the child, the eggs from the egg donor are fertilized with sperm collected from one or both gay men and implanted into the surrogate, who aims to carry the baby to full term. Many couples mix the sperm so they won't know which man is the biological father.
Egg Donor, Surrogate Mother Must Be Different Women
Growing Generations uses strict guidelines to ensure there are no legal entanglements between prospective parents and surrogates. The surrogate must be someone other than the egg donor, and must have already given birth to a child.
"It does make the process emotionally easier for the surrogate and the intended parents that she's not biologically connected to the child that she's carrying," Stuart said. "We want to make sure that the surrogate understands what it's like actually having a baby and how she's going to feel about giving that baby up, even though it's not her biological offspring."
Surrogates can earn $30,000 for carrying embryos to term and are screened to determine their psychological fitness for the job.
"We work with a psychologist and she has screened and evaluated probably over a thousand surrogates," Stuart said.
As a result of the thorough process, Growing Generations has never had a case where a surrogate tried to assert parental rights and keep the baby, he said.
That's not to say the process isn't daunting. In the case of Holland and Loring's family, the couple went through four egg donors, two surrogates and more than four years of disappointment. Then they met Kristy Ruud, a schoolteacher and married mother of three who was eager to help gay couples.
"I love being a mom myself and to be able to give something like that to another couple, it seemed like something I would love to do," said Ruud.
But the process was not without difficulty. Ruud discovered that she was carrying three viable embryos, one more than the couple's health insurance was willing to cover.
The insurance company suggested they "reduce" the pregnancy to two embryos to secure coverage, Holland said. It was a daunting decision: move forward with a risky, multiple-birth pregnancy, or reduce to two embryos after years of attempting to have children.
"When you've tried for four years to get a heartbeat at that seven-week ultrasound, you finally realize that this is a life, Holland said. "I've changed my whole point of view about abortion, about everything. We tried so hard to see that heartbeat and there was no way that we were going to terminate at that point unless we were forced to medically for her well-being."
Surrogate Birth Yields Three Babies
In the end, Ruud was able to tap into her own medical insurance, which covers multiple births.
On the day the babies were born by Cesarean section, Holland and Loring were at the hospital alongside Ruud and her husband. Together, they witnessed the birth of daughters Hana and Nova and son Hogan. Loring, whose heritage is partly black, is certain that he is the biological father of Hana and Nova, and that fair-haired Holland is the biological father of Hogan, who is blonde.
"It's kind of obvious. I'm mixed but we haven't produced a blonde baby in my side of the family for some time," Loring said.
The couple plans to keep Kristy Ruud involved in the children's lives for a long, long time.
"They'll know everything about Kristy. She's going to grow up with them," Loring said.
"She and her family are a part of our family and they will be forever," Holland agreed.
But not everyone is on board with this modern family. Conservative groups like Focus on the Family oppose gay couples using surrogates to have children.
"I couldn't be more concerned about it," said Glenn Stanton, director of family formation studies at the Christian ministry. "We are completely re-writing, absolutely rewriting the script of parenting. It has always been related to biology. Biology matters, it matters dramatically. Children need a mother and a father."
Holland and Loring know not everyone will approve of their choice to have biological children, but say they are no different than any straight couple who wants to have a family.
"We're now a married same-sex couple who chose to do what straight people have been doing as long as technology has allowed them to," said Holland.
"If they truly believe that we shouldn't have children this way or any other way, then they're denying my father the chance to be a grandfather or my brothers and sisters to be uncles and aunts," said Loring. "Trying to answer every single adverse reaction is exhausting. Like any other parents, the most important thing is our children."
"If that isn't what's the most important to you in defining community," Holland continued, "I have nothing to say to you."