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Fatherhood by a New Formula

Hinson recently placed an ad on behalf of an African American doctor searching for a minority egg donor while another male client wanted a donor who was "smart, fair-haired [and] tall."

Donors and surrogates are given a letter from the father explaining why he wants children. Hinson also requires that the father, donor and surrogate undergo medical and psychological evaluation.

New dads Michael Thorne-Begland (left) and Tracy Thorne-Begland hold their 4-month-old twins -- daughter Logan (left) and son Chance. The twins were carried to term by a surrogate in a pregnancy that was the product of sperm from one of the partners and eggs donated by the sister of the other.

Hinson or her partner accompanies clients to meetings with prospective egg donors, which are typically held in a Starbucks or Cosi coffee shop, chosen for their informality and proximity to Metro.

Those meetings are typically preceded by a telephone interview with a prospective donor as well as a reference check, acquisition of certified college transcripts and sometimes SAT scores. Applicants must submit a recent photo -- some fathers say they want a donor who resembles them or a relative -- and complete a 12-page questionnaire that asks them, among other things, to rate the condition of their teeth.

"It was very important to me to look the egg donor in the eye," said Scott, who met with five candidates. A 90-minute meeting at Starbucks, he noted wryly, is "not a lot to choose the mother of your child."

Surrogates are required to have had at least one successful pregnancy and to undergo two home visits -- the first by Hinson and her partner alone, the second with Hinson and the prospective parent or parents. The surrogates' 30-page contracts specify how much caffeine they can drink and which hair products they can use, and state that they are subject to random drug and alcohol testing. "Everything is negotiated," Hinson said.

Although legal agreements are essential to protect the parties, Hinson said, the relationships are based on trust: that the egg donor has accurately disclosed her medical history, that the surrogate won't smoke or drink and that she will name the father when she is admitted to the hospital to give birth, a crucial action that establishes paternity.

Penn's Caplan said he doubts such contracts are enforceable in most states.

The process is "much easier for lesbian couples," said Reston fertility specialist Fady I. Sharara, "because one of them just gets inseminated with donor sperm" and carries the pregnancy.

"In my book, just because they're gay doesn't mean they can't be parents," said Sharara, who counts Scott among his patients along with a gay physician who fathered twins five years ago. "These men are not trying to fool anybody, they're not in the closet. I think they're doing it in a very responsible way."

At least half of the gay men who consult him, Sharara said, don't make it past the initial consultation where they learn how expensive and time-consuming the process is.

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