Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Parent Trap: Len Brooks Markets Himself as a Fellow Gay Man Who Understands the Desire to Become a Biological Father. but Some of His Clients Question Whether the Surrogacy Sage and His Agencies Are Too Good to Be True

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

The Parent Trap: Len Brooks Markets Himself as a Fellow Gay Man Who Understands the Desire to Become a Biological Father. but Some of His Clients Question Whether the Surrogacy Sage and His Agencies Are Too Good to Be True

Article excerpt

LEN BROOKS HAS A LOT OF NERVE.

He waited years and threw down more than $100,000 to become a parent with his partner via surmgacy--not once, but twice. It was that experience, he says, that prompted him in 1999 to start, without any professional training, several gay-friendly surrogacy agencies, including International Surrogacy Consultants and the Center for Reproductive Alternatives. And facing charges of improperly taking $6,500 from one of his clients last year, Brooks listened as the judge ordered the charges dismissed and laughed.

'He'd later insist that he wasn't mocking justice but merely laughing at an unrelated joke. Even so, it takes a certain kind of bravado to look at a possible five-year prison sentence and laugh--for any reason.

Joe Thomas* and his partner of 11 years thought they were prepared for fatherhood. They had significant savings, good jobs, and extended family living nearby. They'd even bought a bigger house to accommodate multiple children. "We had been looking to have a child through surrogacy for a long time. All our ducks were in a row," says Thomas. "We were finally ready to pull the trigger."

Thomas found Brooks's agency, the Mid-Atlantic Center for Surrogacy, online in 2004. It had a real advantage over the other gay-focused, mostly West Coast agencies he'd looked at--it was just an hour away from his home in New Jersey. Says Thomas: "He offered one-stop shopping, he was close by, he was midrauge in price, and he kept a small caseload, so he told us we'd have his undivided attention."

And Brooks was gay, which mattered to Thomas and served as a calling card for Brooks. "I have clients who will call me five years later and ask, 'How do I approach their teacher when it's Mother's Day?' Brooks says. "rye been down that read."

When Thomas and his partner first met Brooks at a restaurant, he was charming. He said the right things; he recounted his own difficult story of surrogacy and commiserated over the challenges of being gay and wanting to be a biological parent.

Soon after that first dinner Brooks found the couple a surrogate. She was perfect: married, involved in education and women's issues, "She was someone with a real moral center. That appealed to us," ex plains Thomas. Thinking she was the one, Thomas paid $18,000 into what Brooks called a "holding" account to cover the mother's expenses. But not long after the money was deposited, Brooks called Thomas to tell him the surrogate had backed out. "We were devastated," remembers Thomas. "Coincidentally, that's also when the trouble started." The couple were anxious to meet other surrogates, but Brooks was suddenly unavailable. For five months, Thomas says, he was unresponsive to phone calls and e-mails. And yet when they signed on with Brooks, the literature Thomas originally received premised, "As program director I'm available to go 24 hours a day in most cases."

Brooks shrugs off such criticisms: "I do my best, but I handle everything personally. I'm the guy who designs the information systems and coordinates the pregnancy. It's a tough act to do everything yourself." He finds fault elsewhere. "I tell my clients, "Be persistent with me. If you need more of a response, pick up the phone.'"

That tactic clearly didn't work for Thomas. What's more, he says that Brooks was not handling the administrative side of the bargain either. He says his first surrogate complained that Brooks wasn't sending her payments or paperwork or insemination materials. "In the beginning it was just frustrating. Toward the end his unresponsiveness was a nightmare."

Thomas had to press to get additional surrogate candidates from Brooks, and when Brooks finally did make introductions, the women apparently hadn't been vetted. Medical histories were left blank on their applications. They were too young. Or they used drugs. In one case the woman was autistic, with a family history of autism. …

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