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The golden age of status surrogacy is here, and the new parents are healthy, thriving, and all over social—get used to it.
When most people get ready to have children, they head to the bedroom. Fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra and his husband, the real estate investor Seth Weissman, headed out to a restaurant. With another couple.
“Our friends Jordan and Richie had gone through the surrogacy process, and they gave us a list of agencies to consider,” Weissman says, referring to Broadway producer Jordan Roth and his husband Richie Jackson. “We talked through the whole thing.” He and Altuzarra welcomed a baby girl in late 2019.
Much like the concept of camp, Lady Gaga, and “Yaasss queen,” surrogacy is something that gay men developed before the culture at large caught up. After complications during her first two pregnancies, Kim Kardashian gave birth to her third and fourth children, Chicago and Psalm, with Kanye West in 2018 and 2019. Since then Gabrielle Union, Cameron Diaz, Ricky Martin, Kristen Wiig, noted honorary Spaniard Hilaria Baldwin, and Real Housewives honcho Andy Cohen have all had babies (twins in Wiig’s and Martin’s cases) via surrogate. A year after Cohen’s son was born, his pal Anderson Cooper welcomed a boy of his own through a surrogate, and in May YouTube executive Derek Blasberg and his partner shared the news of their twins.
Over the summer Blasberg Instagrammed a picture of the group at a Madonna performance in New York, captioning it: “Daddies. (No, Really.)” The New York Post may call such notable late-in-life matriarchs as Janet Jackson and Naomi Campbell, who are believed to have employed surrogates, “geriatric moms.” Except, none of these high-profile mommies and daddies are over the hill. In fact, they’re healthy, they’re thriving, and they’re everywhere. Get used to it.
Twenty years ago, assisted reproductive technology was in its, er, infancy; 727 children were born by surrogate in 1999, when the Centers for Disease Control began to keep track. The number had expanded to 3,432 by 2013 and has continued to climb. The lack of more recent figures may be a function of privacy concerns and the stigma that remains around infertility. But that is beginning to change thanks to social media and a greater transparency on the part of parents, especially public figures and LGBTQ couples, to discuss their journeys.
In September, Union opened up about the birth of her daughter with husband Dwyane Wade in her memoir, You Got Anything Stronger?, writing, “If I am telling the fullness of our stories, of our three lives together, I must tell the truths I live with.” And last year New York, with its high concentration of media figures and influencers, became the 47th state to legalize paid surrogacy, which may explain the Instagram baby boom.
Among the best-known surrogacy agencies is Growing Generations, which opened in Los Angeles in 1996. Today it ushers in about 100 births a year; one was Cohen’s son Ben. Teo Martinez, one of four partners in the practice, says that celebrity clients make up a big chunk of its business.
“Confidentiality is a big thing,” he says. “Some clients will come out and discuss it after the birth, but during the pregnancy they want a high level of confidentiality and a limited number of people on a case.”
Like so much else available to the affluent, surrogacy can be highly bespoke. Parents can be as involved as they wish, or they can let an agency double as a sort of concierge service. Growing Generations charges a flat fee, usually $25,000 to $40,000, but its rate for the VIP package is $100,000, for which you get one of the firm’s partners serving as point person for an unlimited amount of handholding. (The package accounts for about 10 percent of the company’s business.)
As with so much in life, the rich are paying for convenience and how they want to exercise it. The process itself can cost prospective parents anywhere between $145,000 and $250,000 (though some employers offer generous fertility/surrogacy benefits that can go as high as $100,000). That total includes the surrogate’s fee, the agency’s bill, medical care, related expenses, as well as payments for egg donors, IVF treatments, and all the legal work to establish guardianship of the newborn. The choice of carrier resides entirely with the future parents, no matter their income; they all get the opportunity to review profiles of prospective surrogates and usually interview several before deciding who they think is the best match.
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Melissa Brisman, the chief executive and founder of Reproductive Possibilities, in New Jersey, also caters to high-net-worth individuals, including Altuzarra and Weissman. She offers a package that includes private hospital rooms, her personal presence at the birth, and security that goes beyond the normal expectation of discretion.
“This is a very private, intimate part of their lives, and they don’t want it exposed for profit,” she says. “It’s unfortunate that they’re subject to all the normal worries in a surrogacy, plus the annoying problem of reporters writing about their infertility all over Star magazine.”
That’s not the only reason the real names of all parties involved are kept private throughout the pregnancy. “We’re doing it more for the carriers’ protection,” Brisman says. “Celebrities are used to having their privacy invaded. Carriers are not.”
There are two types of surrogacy. In the traditional approach a woman carries one of her own fertilized eggs to term. In the now more common method, gestational surrogacy, she carries a fertilized egg from an egg donor. Ideal carriers are women under 38 who have already had a child of their own in the past decade (and no more than five), who are financially stable, and who live in a state where paid surrogacy is legal. Fewer than 2 percent of candidates end up qualifying for the role. If they do, first-timers can make between $47,000 and $58,000, Martinez says. For their second time, they can add between $5,000 and $35,000 to their fee.
Some say the pandemic has brought about a wave of interest in surrogacy, but it has also introduced new wrinkles to the proceedings. Think traveling abroad is complicated these days? Consider the challenges of giving birth in the current public health environment, on top of the intricacies, sensitivities, and hurdles of navigating this costly and emotionally draining process. Agencies can consult with new parents online and connect them with carriers via Zoom, but as with everything else, politics has entered the conversation: All parents want their carrier vaccinated, and that’s not always the case.
As for Weissman and Altuzarra, Brisman found them a surrogate who gave them Emma, who is now a beautiful two-year-old and has already made her fashion debut, appearing in one of the designer’s advertising campaigns alongside other important women in his life: his mother Karen and his grandmother Jeannette. Weissman and Altuzarra are, in several respects, the opposite of the carrier and her husband, but the arrangement worked perfectly.
“They couldn’t have been more loving, and it is an incredible gift,” Weissman says. “We’ve had them to our homes in New York City and Long Island a couple of times.” Everyone remains in touch, and now that they’ve all learned about the modern birds and bees, they’re paying it forward. Just as Weissman and Altuzarra once benefited from the wisdom of others, they’re happy to spread the gospel, even if it’s one planning dinner at a time.
This story appears in the November 2021 issue of Town & Country. SUBSCRIBE NOW