First comes love.
Then comes marriage.
Then comes an online bake sale to pay for an egg donor, a surrogate and in vitro fertilization.
In the kitchen of their snug, rented loft off U Street, Will and Dan Neville-Rehbehn, a married gay couple, are “baking for babies,” as their Web site calls their efforts to raise the money they need to start a family .
Tonight, they’re baking a Margarita Layer Cake that will sell for $70.
“I need 12 cups of powered sugar!” Will, 30, calls out to Dan, 29, who is watching their red KitchenAid mixer whip tequila-lime buttercream frosting on high.
“Got it,” responds Dan, double-checking the recipe on the couple’s iPad.
The multilayered vanilla cake also calls for “margarita liquid cheesecake” — a filling made with agave-based 1800 Tequila Reserva Silver — and “roasted corn tortilla-chip crunch,” which are alternated in an 11-step assembly process.
Most of Will’s recipes are similarly labor-intensive. Take his Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever, which must age in the fridge for several days before they are baked. A dozen of the hand-size sweet-and-salty treats goes for $45.
The pair liken their fundraiser to an old-fashioned American bake sale — the Web site is called “Will’s Bake Sale!!!” — with a few 21st-century twists. And while gay marriage, surrogacy and the Internet are all modern phenomena, the human desire for baked goods is not. And the Neville-Rehbehns are counting on it.
“Can you preheat the oven for me, honey?” Will asks as he sets aside the margarita layer cake and starts on Dan’s Grandmother's Lemon Meringue Pie.
Their fundraising campaign illustrates the desire of gay couples to start families and underscores the fact that — like straight couples who face fertility challenges — they are willing to do just about anything to make it happen, said Carrie L. Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, an advocacy group.
“That the cost is now more often a problem than cultural barriers really shows how far we have come,” Evans says. “I think they are doing a beautiful thing, getting their friends and community involved in building a family.”
With the cost of surrogacy with egg donor IVF not covered by insurance running anywhere from $35,000 to $100,000, the Neville-Rehbehns, who both work for nonprofit groups, went on “baby lockdown,” saving everything they could.
Dan, who is casting director for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, took on more teaching. Will, who is director of strategic communications at Advocates for Youth, sought extra graphic design work. Even with all of their cost-saving measures, they came up about $6,000 short.
“Agencies. Medical costs. Lawyers. More Lawyers,” they wrote on their Web site.
“To say this is a financial stretch for us is an understatement,” Will says. “But we didn’t want to just ask people for money. I love to bake. I’ll bake if someone had a bad day or if it’s someone’s birthday. Why not bake for this?”
They started the project about a month ago and have gotten half of the money they need, largely from friends, co-workers and people in the infertility community who heard about their baking project on Facebook and wanted to help.
“The reality is that many friends — straight and gay — are struggling with fertility problems and feel so isolated and alone. But we have gotten support from people who order and end up telling us their story,” says Will, who said the site has had more than 3,000 visitors.
“I will always feel like I can lay a claim on their child,” jokes Justin Schneider, 30, who lives in Silver Spring and ordered one of Will’s $85 Chocolate Chip Cakes for a birthday party. “It felt great, because I was able to tell everyone at the party the story of the cake.”
As it happens, Dan and Will’s love story started with baked goods.
They met on Match.com in April 2009.
Will had one deal-breaker:
“If you are one of those gays who doesn’t eat carbs, then I’m not interested,” he remembers telling Dan, adding that he was experimenting with a margarita cupcake.
“And I was actually trying to make a margarita cookie!” Dan says. “We moved in together soon after.”
They lean across the kitchen counter to kiss.
So far, they have received 65 orders and turned their small loft apartment into a kitchen cupboard. Their fridge is stuffed with bags of various graham-cracker crumbs and chocolate-malt crumbs, and of course, birthday-cake crumbs for their Funfetti Birthday Cake.
“One day, we’ll show the Web site and all the supportive notes and orders to our child,” says Will, taking out a blowtorch to carefully and lightly brown the fluffy whipped meringue atop Dan’s Grandma’s Lemon Meringue Pie.
“It has to be good,” he says. “This stuff is the most important thing we will ever bake.”