On a recent spring morning, Lura Stiller sat in her stockinged feet in a sunny cottage in Cambridge, Massachusetts, helping Cary Friedman and his partner, Rick Wellisch, calm their daughter, a three-month-old in a pink T-shirt.
Stiller, 34, a homemaker from the Dallas suburbs, likes to say that the number of gay people in her acquaintance before she met Friedman, a psychiatrist, and Wellisch, an internist, amounted to zero. "Everything I knew about gay people I knew from TV, which meant that everything I knew about gay people I learned from Will & Grace and The L Word," she said.
In December, Stiller gave birth to the baby, named Samantha, for Friedman and Wellisch, conceived with a donor egg and the sperm from one of the partners. (They chose not to know which.) In her decision to work with them Stiller is part of a small but growing movement of surrogate mothers choosing gay couples over traditional families.
As legislatures debate giving gay couples the right to marry -- 14 states have amended their constitutions to prevent it -- hundreds of couples are finding ways to create families with or without marriage through surrogates like Stiller, who are willing to help them have children genetically linked to them and to bypass the often difficult legal challenges gay men face in adoption.
The exact number of surrogates who have worked with gay couples is unknown, but nearly half of the 60 or so agencies and law firms around the country that broker arrangements between surrogate mothers and prospective parents work with gay couples or are seeking to, through advertising.
Within the close-knit world of professional childbearers, many of whom share their joys and disillusionments online and in support groups, gay couples have developed a reputation as especially grateful clients, willing to meet a surrogate's often intense demands for emotional connection, though the relationships can give rise to other complications within the surrogate's family and community.
Many surrogates who choose to work for gay couples say they feel ill- equipped or reluctant to deal with the sense of hopelessness and failure expressed by married women and men who have struggled unsuccessfully for years to bear children. Still others are drawn to men as clients because they fear the possible resentments and jealousies in working so closely with other women.
Surrogates, who are paid about US$20,000 above and beyond medical expenses to carry a child, are responsible for approximately 1,000 births a year, according to the Organization of Parents Through Surrogacy, a nonprofit group that records births brokered through agencies. That number does not include surrogate arrangements made privately on the Internet.
The many surrogates who choose not to work with gay couples frequently cite a spouse's disapproval or fears that their own children might be stigmatized by classmates and neighbors. In some instances surrogacy brokers bow to their own reservations.
Ann Coleman, an adoption and surrogacy lawyer in Greenville, South Carolina, said she would not pair women with gay couples. Though she once represented a lesbian couple in a custody suit against their former husbands, Coleman said she believed gay couples should pursue children through adoption, not surrogacy.
In the last 13 years, Stiller has had five children: one with her first husband, two with her current husband, and two more as a surrogate. Her first excursion into the world of surrogacy, for a Florida husband and wife, left her feeling unappreciated and depleted, she said.