Oregon has become something of an international center for surrogacy. In this five-part series, OPB's Kristian Foden-Vencil explores why this is the case, especially for gay Israeli couples.
Oren and his husband are computer engineers who live in Haifa, a historic Israeli city perched on the Mediterranean.
They turned to Portland resident Jennifer Mitchelldyer, her husband, Craig, and their children for help starting a family.
“The first meeting with them was less stressful than I thought it would be. Because Craig is a very funny guy. He’s very smart and witty. He made everyone feel very comfortable in the conversation," Oren said. "And Jennifer is very sensitive, kind and loving. So it was really easy to bond to them.”
Oren doesn’t want to give his last name because he’s still in the process of applying for citizenship for the twins. His partner won’t even be recorded.
But they nod at the joke that Jews don’t have just 10 commandments — they have 11, and the 11th commandment states: Thou Shalt Have Children ... even if you’re gay.
"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’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 can happen,” Oren.
Having children is a desire intricately linked to Israeli identity and to the Holocaust. So many Jews were lost during that time.
Indeed, the Israeli government pays for heterosexual couples to have course after course of in vitro fertilization. But not gay couples. Gay couples are not allowed to marry in Israel, and they’re not allowed to use an Israeli surrogate to have a baby. Oren 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 elsewhere for a surrogate: first 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.
Costing about $120,000, the process in the U.S. is generally twice as expensive as in other countries; however, the U.S. also offers both the surrogate mother and the family seeking her help the most protection possible via a clear and understandable legal contract.
“I didn’t want to some day wake up and say: ‘Oh, my God. I did something awful. I used a woman.’ So I wanted to have a clear conscience,” Oren said.
So, Oren and his husband traveled to Oregon four times — for medical testing, to meet the surrogate, 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.
“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 Mitchelldyer, who carried the twins, and her family. In fact, the Mitchelldyers recently traveled to Haifa for a vacation.
"We rediscovered Israel again. For me, they are part of my family,” Oren said.
Israelis like Oren have their reasons for coming to the U.S. for a surrogate, and citizens of other countries have theirs. French, Germans and Spanish families come to the U.S. because their nations prohibit surrogacy. In countries such as the United Kingdom, the Irish Republic and Denmark, surrogacy is permitted, but women can’t get paid.
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.”
Oregon’s doesn’t keep track of the number of surrogacies, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that of the 60,000 births achieved through assisted reproduction each year in the U.S., only about one percent happen via surrogacy.
Read More: Oregon, The Surrogacy State
Part I: Checkup: An Oregon Surrogate's Story
Part II: The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Have Children
Part III: Fertile Ground: Why Oregon Is The Surrogacy State
Part IV: Religion And State: Oregon Born, Israel Bound
Part V: DNA And Surrogacy: The Envelope, Please