Portland, Ore., famous for its coffeehouses, indie music, microbreweries and
bookstores, is now gaining recognition -- particularly among gay couples -- for
a lesser-known attraction: reproductive medicine.
Gays and lesbians who want babies are flocking from as far as France and Israel to conceive their dream of becoming parents using donor eggs, donor sperm and surrogates -- something not allowed in their home countries.
The USA is a top market for gay-friendly surrogacy, and a growing number of couples come from overseas, joining a burgeoning travel segment commonly called medical tourism.
"They all, without exception, cannot do surrogacy or egg donation in their countries," says Ron Poole-Dayan, executive director of Men Having Babies, a non-profit support network for biological gay fathers and fathers-to-be. At least 40% of the 1,000 couples in the group are European.
The popularity of the USA with gays and lesbians worldwide who aspire to be parents is understandable. But Portland?
There are several reasons why the City of Roses, which combines small-town charm (fewer than 600,000 people) with a big-city vision that has become an international model for good planning (light-rail, an urban-growth boundary), is becoming a magnet for gay couples on a parental mission:
--Top clinic. Oregon Reproductive Medicine (ORM), based in Portland, is ranked one of the top in the world for its high success rate, egg- and sperm-donor options and quality of medical service.
"They are really very highly rated," says Poole-Dayan, whose group rates agencies and clinics. He and his husband are dads of 12-year-old twins through surrogacy.
About 85% of surrogacy attempts at ORM result in a child's birth, and "that's the biggest reason people all over the world come to Portland," says Jonathan Kipp, marketing director.
Ten years ago, the clinic might have seen one gay couple in a year, but "now, it's absolutely a normal day to have gay couples in our hallways every week," he says.
--Gay-friendly.Portland is "very left-leaning, it's welcoming, it's small and it's down to Earth," Kipp says. "Really, it's a lot of things that people, no matter where you are in the world, like."
The domestic and international LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) travelers "looking for a friendly, safe and fun place to travel are important pieces of the tourism story," says Megan Conway of Travel Portland, the city's visitors association.
The community supports gay-owned businesses, she says, and "that, in turn, is why this is also such a great destination for LGBT travelers."
--Healthy and young.The city, nestled between the Willamette and Columbia rivers, attracts outdoorsy, health-conscious people, says Carl Abbott, professor of urban studies and planning at Portland State University.
"There are lots of hikers and bicycle commuters and healthy people in their 20s and 30s ... and people in that age range with a college education are more socially liberal and progressive," he says.
Liberalism aside, "we have lots of young, healthy women willing to donate their eggs and lots of young mothers who want to be gestational carriers who are healthy people," Kipp says.
--Cheaper.The process of making babies usually costs $130,000 to $170,000 in more typical destinations -- larger cities such as New York and Los Angeles.
"The California and Northeast agencies have become very expensive," Poole-Dayan says. "The cost in Portland is somewhere around $90,000, and its reported success is very high."
Guy Tatsa, 43, and Lucian Laur, 38, live in Tel Aviv, Israel. They had their first child, Ella, now 5, through a surrogate in Los Angeles. They came to Portland for their next child and wound up with two: twins Eitan and David, just under 4 months old now.
"We had friends who had done it through ORM, and we searched clinics' statistics and saw they were one of the best," Tatsa says. "We found Portland a wonderful place ... a very-child-oriented city."
Tatsa and Laur came three times for tests, to meet the surrogate and see the ultrasound and finally for the births.
"You have to want to get here if you're coming from Tel Aviv or Paris," Abbott says. "It's a long trip."
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