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COURTESY OPB - Oren and his husband were able to start their family in Israel with help from Portlander Jennifer Mitchelldyer, who carried their twins. Oren and his husband know the joke.

Jews don’t have just 10 commandments — they have an 11th, which states: “Thou Shalt Have Children.”

Even if you’re gay.

So like a lot of couples in their situation, they turned to a surrogate mother to help start their family. What’s perhaps more surprising is that the men, who live in Israel, are part of a growing trend in would-be parents who find a surrogate in Portland.

There isn’t one big reason people end up looking for surrogates in Oregon. It’s more a consequence of many smaller decisions.

The path to the Pacific Northwest often starts with the intended parents’ goal of using a surrogate who is fully in control of her body and economic situation.

Stories abound about women being forced to live in dormitories, away from their families, during their surrogate pregnancies. Hiring someone to carry a child in India, Nepal or Thailand costs half the price of a surrogate in the United States, but the process is not transparent.

As Oren puts it, “I didn’t want to someday wake up and say: ‘Oh, my God. I did something awful. I used a woman.’ So I wanted to have a clear conscience.”

That’s why he and his husband turned to the United States, where contracts lay out in plain language all the issues a surrogate or the family could face.

They found Jennifer Mitchelldyer through the Northwest Surrogacy Center in Portland.

Jennifer, a financial coordinator for Providence Medical, had decided to explore surrogacy as a way to assist those who couldn’t, for whatever reason, have a baby of their own.

“I had really easy pregnancies with my own kids,” she said.

“Knowing that people are out there that want kids and cannot have them, I just wanted to be able to help somebody else.”

So, two years ago, Jen and her husband, Craig, met Oren and his husband at the Northwest Surrogacy Center.

“The first meeting with them was less stressful than I thought it would be, because Craig is a very funny guy,” Oren said. “He made everyone feel very comfortable in the conversation. And Jennifer is very sensitive, kind and loving. It was really easy to bond to them.”

Children of Israel

COURTESY OPB - Jennifer Mitchelldyer, her husband, Craig, and their children pose with the twins she carried for an Israeli couple during a recent visit with them in Haifa.Having children is a desire intricately linked to Israeli identity and to the Holocaust, in which an estimated 6 million Jews — including more than 1 million children — were killed.

Indeed, the Israeli government pays for heterosexual couples to have course after course of in vitro fertilization. But not gay couples.

They’re not allowed to marry in Israel, and they’re not allowed to use an Israeli surrogate to have a baby.

“For me, knowing that I would be alone without a family and without kids — it was, I think, the worst thing that I could think of as part of my life being gay,” Oren said.

Oren doesn’t want to give his last name because he’s still in the process of applying for citizenship for the twins. He and his husband both are engineers who live in Haifa, a historic Israeli city perched on the Mediterranean

Oren’s mother-in-law, Yaffa, who is in Haifa to help with the twins, says she knew the couple would someday have children. “She said that because the world is very developed, and so she thought about this thing (that) can happen,” Oren said.

He said adoption is also difficult because gay couples tend to be put at the end of adoption lists. That means they’re often assigned older and more challenging children.

So Oren and his husband started looking for a surrogate to carry their children. First they looked in India, then Nepal, then Thailand.

“The government in India decided that they don’t want same sex couples,” Oren said. Something similar happened in Nepal and Thailand. But not in the United States.

Citizens of other countries have their own reasons for coming to the United States to help start their families.

France, Germany and Spain prohibit surrogacy. In countries such as the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic and Denmark, surrogacy is permitted, but women can’t get paid.

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The Oregon connection

Oregon doesn’t keep track of the number of children born through surrogacies, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of the 60,000 births achieved through assisted reproduction each year in the United States, only about 1 percent happen via surrogacy.

John Chally, an attorney with Northwest Surrogacy Center in Portland, says most of his company’s business is international. “We’re in 23 different countries, and we have significant programs in Israel, France and China, slightly smaller programs in Spain,” Chally said. “After that we kind of disperse with lots of countries where we’re doing two, or three or four clients. And that’s literally throughout Europe certainly. But it includes Australia and Asian countries as well.”

Here’s how the surrogacy process works: First, a couple decides it wants a baby and doesn’t want to go the adoption route. Most couples try for twins because each pregnancy costs about $120,000 — so twins is a kind of two-for-one deal.

Second, the couple picks an egg donor. They’re shown pictures and given information such as height, education and eye and hair color. The egg donors, many of them college students, earn between $5,000 and $10,000.

Once couples have picked the egg donor, they then pick a surrogate. Again they’re given all kinds of information: where she lives, what she does, her age. Generally, the surrogate has to be younger than 40 and already had a baby.

Oren and his husband traveled to Oregon four times — for medical testing, to meet the Mitchelldyers, for an ultrasound and for the birth — while waiting for their twins. During their visits, the couple got a taste of the state’s accepting attitude.

“On the flight to Portland, we sat by a nice lady that says, ‘You’re going to Portland; you’re going to smoke weed.’ And we said, ‘What?’ She said, ‘Don’t you know this is the weed state?’” Oren said.

That came as a bit of a shock, but he says they were pleased with their visit.

“I liked the vibe of the city. You can be yourself — no matter how weird you are,” Oren said.

Oren says during those visits he forged strong ties with Jennifer and her family. In fact, the Mitchelldyers recently traveled to Haifa for a vacation. They spent time with Oren, his husband and the twins that Jennifer carried.

Oren said it was a powerful reunion: “For me, they are part of my family.”


About this story

Last month, Oregon Public Broadcasting aired a five-part series explaining how Oregon has become something of an international center for surrogacy — particularly for gay Israeli couples. The Portland Tribune, working with OPB, is publishing a two-part print series based on Foden-Vencil’s reporting. The complete original package, including the radio stories, a slide show, and other multi-media are available at www.opb.org/news/series/surrogacy-oregon/

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