By Philip Sherwell
June 12, 2008
Will Zangwill and his four-month-old daughter, Marissa.
Dr Zangwill is unmarried but had always wanted children.
New attitudes to the family may have the answer – go solo. It is the latest way for single men to have children, writes Philip Sherwell
Will Zangwill is the picture of a doting new father as he cares for his four-month-old baby, Marissa, in his Manhattan apartment. He gently murmurs “sweet girl, sweet girl” as he changes her nappy and beams as she drains a bottle of milk before falling asleep in his arms.
The 60-year-old Upper West Side psychologist is undergoing the age-old initiation rites of fatherhood. But how he reached this landmark is far from typical. For Dr Zangwill is at the front line of the latest trend in parenthood in America – he is going solo as a single man who has paid a woman to bear his child.
As Britain changes laws to allow lesbian partners to conceive children without having to register a father, this new Stateside parenting option finds single straight men, who have failed to find Miss Right, become solo fathers by paying one woman to donate an egg and another to carry the embryo.
In Philadelphia, property developer Jeff Fuchs ended his hard-partying “bachelor life” when a near-death experience in the Asian tsunami of December 2004 prompted him to re-think his priorities and plan for the future. Now 40, he has just returned to work part-time after taking an 18-month career break to raise his son Oren, who was also born by a surrogate mother.
And in West Palm Beach, Florida, telecommunications entrepreneur Jack Potenza was a trailblazer in the world of unattached, heterosexual men turning to surrogacy, and is now the proud father of two six-year-old sons.
All three men had recently emerged from long-term relationships, always wanted children and feared that time was passing them by (a male version of the biological clock).
Couples, single women and gay men have increasingly taken advantage of the dramatic advances in medical science to become parents through surrogacy. Indeed, Baby Mama, a Universal Pictures comedy about a single career woman seeking a baby through a surrogate, topped box office sales in America last month, taking $18.3 million (£9.3 million) in ticket sales in its opening three days. It is due out in the UK on July 25.
But “solo” daddies – unmarried, well-off, professional men who pursue the same path – are now in vogue, too, spending on average between $80,000 (£40,000) and $100,000 (£50,000) for the various stages of the process.
Several lawyers and doctors involved in the surrogacy field admit that until recently it was almost unheard of for single, straight men to take that option. Now, although there are no overall figures, they are a growing proportion, and some British men have headed across the Atlantic to become fathers by this method, too.
Dr Zangwill had always wanted to have children. “In my past, I was a high school teacher and a sports coach. I was always around children and I always assumed I would have them. But I moved around a lot, time passed and it didn’t happen.
“Then a long-term relationship ended in 2005. I mourned not just the loss of the relationship but the loss of hope of having a child. The years were passing. And my market value was declining, as they say in New York.
“I was talking about this at lunch with a friend and she said, ‘Why don’t you go for surrogacy? Women do it all the time. You’d be a great father.’ So I started investigating the options.”
Dr Zangwill is fit and healthy, but he’s well aware that his advancing years were an issue – he will be 78 by the time Marissa reaches adulthood. So he first enlisted the support of his younger sister and her husband, who happily agreed to act as legal guardians for any child.
“I don’t think it would be fair on Marissa if I didn’t have this support network,” he said.
He trawled the profiles on egg donor websites that he says were like the information provided on dating-service sites – pictures of the women at different stages of life and details of education, family traits and other characteristics.
Dr Zangwill opted for a 23-year-old college graduate and aspiring actress from California. Then with the help of lawyers specialising in surrogacy, he found a woman to act as what is known as the gestational carrier.
He attended all her doctor’s appointments, heard his baby daughter’s first heartbeat, and was there at her birth near the carrier’s home in Pennsylvania.
Like many surrogacy fathers, Dr Zangwill was well enough off to re-arrange and cut back his work schedule to take care of his new child. They are also able to afford child care and all the subsequent costs of raising their offspring as single parents.
“If you grow up in an intact family with happy parents, sure, that’s an ideal structure. But in my job, I counsel couples and I know that that is sadly not the case for many families. I think this is a good second best.”
For Jeff Fuchs, it took his remarkable escape in Thailand to bring home how he wanted to change his life.
“I had spent a lot of my time living a bachelor life. It was a lot of fun but I never seemed to meet the right woman. In my thirties, I dated a woman for four years but she didn’t want a family. When we split up, it struck me that I was already 36 and that I couldn’t spend my whole life partying.
“I do think that men have some form of biological clock. It’s not the same as a woman’s, obviously, but it really did feel that I’d reached that time of life when it was right to have a kid.
“But it took a traumatic experience to bring this home.” To get over the break-up of that four-year relationship, he went on holiday in Thailand, arriving in Phuket on Christmas Day. When the tsunami struck the next morning, he was near the beach, being driven in a motor tri-shaw.
“I saw the water rushing down the street but the driver headed inland and just managed to outrun it,” he said. “I was lucky, very lucky. But that narrow escape really made me take stock of life. And I realised that I wanted kids and I didn’t want to be an old dad. I didn’t know what my options were, but I thought if a woman could go to a sperm bank, surely there was something I could do.”
Mr Fuchs then entered what felt like the “uncharted territory” for a straight man of egg donors, gestational carriers, fertility clinics and specialist law practices. The result was his son Oren, who is now aged 20 months.
He knows that some may view having a child without a mother as selfish. But, like Dr Zangwill, he says such attitudes are outdated.
“The face of the family is changing and there are many different kinds of family today. When I was younger, I expected to have children with a woman but that didn’t work out.
“I feel very happy with my decision and I have a wonderful child. I was lucky enough to be able to take 18 months off work to raise him, and have just gone back part-time. My time is devoted to Oren, I’ve become a homebody, and I’m usually in bed nowadays by 10.30pm. I’d have just been going out then in the old days.”
Ian Mucklejohn, who wrote a book about his experiences, with his triplets, Ian, Piers and Lars
Ian Mucklejohn, 60, was one of the first British men to have a family by this method, and in 2005 wrote about his experiences in his book And Then There Were Three. Being his father’s long-term carer made it impossible for him to find a partner, though he knew that he wanted a family – and not an adopted one. The internet, and surrogacy, gave him an answer. “They are not three tragic little motherless boys, which is what some have accused me of,” he said. “I am happy and proud to have created this lovely family.”
Melissa Brisman is a New Jersey attorney who specialises in reproductive law and had three children of her own through surrogate mothers. She is currently handling 10 cases of single straight men seeking to be fathers this way – a phenomenon, she says, that was unknown five years ago.
“Straight single men turning to surrogacy is increasing as the visibility and acceptance of surrogacy increases.
“It’s increasing as the technology becomes more available and more successful, and it becomes more acceptable for single fathers to raise children as we get used to different types of families.
“Men are not dealing directly with a biological clock. But time is still a factor as most don’t want to wait too long and become a father late in life.
“They are generally upscale professionals, financially stable and secure. This is not a cheap process but it does indicate the children will be well cared for.”
In Florida, Dr. Mark Denker, a reproductive specialist, offers a programme called Fertility Treatment for His Biological Clock to meet this new demand.
“We are specifically targeting straight men as they seemed to be the last demographic to benefit from developments in fertility treatment,” says Dr Denker, who runs the Palm Beach Fertility Centre.
“There has been a shift in how people view this. It’s increasingly accepted that single fathers can be the primary parent and so this programme seemed the logical next step.
“The men who come to the clinic tend to be very guarded and private and want to keep the details confidential. It is a very personal process but I think this also reflects their financial and professional status.”
Jack Potenza with Sagan, left, and Andrew
Dr Denker currently has seven single, straight men pursuing fatherhood at the clinic. He began the specialist programme after treating Mr Potenza, an early pioneer, who has two sons – Sagan and Andrew – from the same woman’s eggs but carried by different gestational mothers.
Like the others, Mr. Potenza had expected to have a family with “the right girl”.
“In my twenties, I felt no hurry. In my thirties, I felt no hurry. And in my forties, I met someone and we got married. We wanted to have kids but it didn’t work and we got divorced after six years.
“Suddenly, I was in my late forties and dating women who either had teenage children of their own by that stage or didn’t want them. My window was closing.
“I hadn’t been successful in my private life but I had been successful in business. I could afford to do this. And now I have two wonderful children.”