We chat with Dr Michael Doyle, the Medical Director of CT Fertility.
When was CT Fertility established and where are you based?
CT Fertility is one of the world’s most established fertility centres, celebrating its 25th year of family building. We are headquartered just outside of NYC in Bridgeport, Connecticut, as well in midtown Manhattan. We also have an extensive network of reps and partners throughout Europe and in Israel, and our medical team commonly partners with them for private consultations with all prospective parents.
Doctor Doyle, on a personal level, what attracted you to working in the field of fertility?
Doctor Doyle: For a long as I can remember I always wanted to be a doctor. In college I studied biology, psychology and ethics. In medical school I loved every aspect of helping patients and I chose Reproductive Medicine because it integrated everything – brand new science and technology, challenging medicine, surgery, most certainly ethics, and lots of psychology and communication. And most of all, what could be more important and joyous than creating a family?
Soon after I decided to be a fertility doctor I also set out to have children of my own and needed to use IVF. At that time (in 1986) IVF was very primitive and surrogacy options were limited, and not generally very successful either, so I consider myself so very lucky to have my three beautiful children (including a set of twins).
Going through the fertility process myself taught me just as much as what I learned in the classroom. And now 25 years later it is truly amazing how far this field has evolved and progressed, not only in terms of success, but also safety, ethics and accessibility for people everywhere. I am so proud of what CT Fertility has become and the fact that we have created over 6,000 beautiful babies for families of all kinds from all around the world. I love what I do.
Is there a typical LGBT person/couple who attends CT Fertility?
Not really. We work with so many different types of LGBT patients at CT Fertility, single and coupled. I suppose our “typical” patients would be a gay couple in which both dads-to-be want to share donor eggs between them, fertilising half and half each. Slightly more than half of the men we see are from outside the USA, most of them Europeans. We also have a fair number of lesbian couples from the USA that come to us for help in creating their families, and European ones who come for services that are not available in Europe, such as non-anonymous egg donation and surrogacy.
What distinguishes you from other fertility clinics?
First and foremost, we are a medium-size clinic with over two decades of experience resulting in over 6,000 babies worldwide. And the key to our popularity and reputation is that we continue to maintain close personal relationships with all the families we help create, both during and long after the procedures are successfully completed.
We always ask for feedback (in person and via surveys) so we can continue to improve, adapt and evolve our programs based on the individual needs and choices of the people we help. There is nothing “cookie cutter” about us. Indeed, our motto – “Your Family, Your Way” – has resulted in the development of over ten different tracks for parents of various circumstances, preferences and family-building goals.
Among the most popular plans we offer is the Unlimited Program, where all tries or embryo transfers are included with no additional laboratory, medication or clinical charges until the prospective parents have a baby. Many families also choose the latest pre-implantation genetic screening (PGS) options to rule out embryonic chromosomal abnormalities, and further increase implantation rates and reduce the risk of miscarriages. While most clinics still use the conventional technique that only tests each cell’s nuclear DNA, we are among the few clinics in the world to routinely offer and perform an even more precise analysis that simultaneously tests the mitochondrial DNA.
We understand you also find egg donors for parents – is this a service most IVF clinics provide?
Most IVF clinics in the USA do not have an integrated egg donation program, and they rely on outside egg donation agencies. We think it is critical that a medical team gets involved from the beginning to carefully screen the egg donors, guide their matching and care, and first-hand monitor them during their treatment. In fact one of our biggest strengths is our very robust egg donor program, where the clinic’s medical and genetic team does all aspects of the egg donors’ screening, matching and monitoring personally – all under one roof.
We receive many applications from egg donors every week, but only 1 in 20 will typically pass our very strict screening process. Despite this, we still manage to have over 100 egg donors available at any given time, rivalling the scope and diversity of the largest dedicated nationwide egg banks which often list applicants as “available” when in fact little to no screening had been done.
Our donor program is unique for several more reasons. We guarantee a minimum of 15 eggs per cycle so that if your chosen donor were to produce fewer and you did not have a baby, we would make up the difference without charge should additional eggs be needed. For families who want only one child, one time, and who are looking to reduce costs, we also offer options to share the donation cycle (and split costs) by allocating only 10 eggs from their donor. In addition all of our programs are all-inclusive of all costs (i.e. donor compensation, meds, lab, IVF, screening, testing) and therefore very affordable because nothing additional is hidden or charged as extra by middlemen or other outside agencies.
Finally, and usually of great interest to our European intended parents, egg donation in the US does not have to be anonymous, and our clinic has a long track record of non-anonymous fully transparent donation. We highly encourage prospective egg donors and parents to meet over the phone before the match, either via Skype or in person. This is seldom a challenge since over 90% of our donors are willing to be known, and they even repeatedly emphasise that an open, non-anonymous match makes their donation that much more personally rewarding. And of course our parents appreciate and value the increased confidence they gain pre-match, their ability to track future medical issues that arise with the donor or her family, and the potential long term psychological benefits when the time comes to talk to their children about their origins and often even meet the donor.
What services do you offer gay men?
Gay men would obviously need both egg donation and surrogacy, which means that medically they need IVF. We have an integrated egg donation program in-house, and we offer the widest possible range of egg donation and IVF options, including ICSI, PGS / PGD, egg freezing and banking, and even embryo donation. For gay couples that desire twins, we very commonly support the option of their becoming biological parents at the same time, by fertilising half the eggs with each of the two sperm samples, and transferring the single best embryo from each men. All remaining embryos are cryopreserved (frozen) at our facility, and very often we see parents come back to us for sibling journeys with embryos from either or both parents.
We also have extensive experience helping men who are HIV-positive. We have a partnership with the Special Program of Assisted Reproduction (SPAR) program of the Bedford Research Foundation, which allows the testing and washing of sperm from HIV-positive dads. This offers a safe and effective way for them to benefit from IVF and surrogacy services.
What services do you offer lesbians?
While gay women often need less technologically complex services to become biological parents, we still have a very large number of lesbians who come to us for various services. We know from them that they feel more comfortable with a team that has a global reputation of working closely and effectively with LGBT people. Some only come to us for simple artificial insemination (IUI) with a sperm donor. Other women or couples may require various degrees of intervention, especially if they are “older”. We often have lesbian couples with no fertility problems that still want to undergo IVF so one woman can carry an embryo created with her partner’s eggs. When a single women or a couple does not have viable eggs, they may also sometimes choose to proceed with our unique embryo donation program.
Are there any particular non-medical challenges to take into account for gay men or lesbians wanting to start a family?
From a legal and administrative perspective, most states in the USA are very surrogacy-friendly. To choose which state best serves each prospective parent, we routinely work very close with highly skilled and experienced surrogacy agencies and attorneys who partner with us to make the journey as smooth as possible for our families. This is especially simple for our UK parents, where surrogacy is legally recognised and any gay or lesbian couple can also apply for a UK Parental Order.
Juan Tecles, we understand you are about to become a father of twins through CT Fertility. How easy was the process?
Juan Tecles: When I set out to become a parent, I decided that first and foremost I wanted to choose the right doctor. So I started with the clinic, not the agency or the lawyer. For me it was crucial to first feel confortable with the doctor and the medical and laboratory team that is in the centre of the reproductive process. Doctor Doyle then put me in touch with one of the surrogacy agencies with whom he has worked very closely for many years. I was very fortunate to find a great surrogate who passed all the rigorous screening at the clinic. And when all the elements are optimal in the majority of cases you get what I got: a healthy pregnancy in the first embryo transfer! I am very grateful and feel extremely blessed.
What are the success rates of CT Fertility?
According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (www.sart.com), an independent body overseeing the American fertility clinics, our latest statistics show a success rate of 84% when we transfer two fresh embryos created with eggs from our donor program to a gestational surrogate. The popular industry website “Fertility Success Rate”, which compares the latest clinical pregnancy statistics, ranked CT Fertility as the 12th most successful IVF Clinic In The United States For Egg Donation Using Fresh Embryos. This is quite remarkable bearing in mind that these statistics don’t make a distinction between gestational surrogates and women undergoing a traditional IVF cycle. The other clinics also have nowhere near the level of experience and commitment to the LGBT community, or the range of choices like known egg donors and Unlimited Treatment cycles.
You are based in Connecticut, near NYC. Would intended parents have to travel to the USA for an initial consultation?
We have a network of representatives in Europe who constantly liaise with our intended parents to learn about their circumstances and goals and to provide them with information about the options available to them. Then we also facilitate a Skype or phone consult with our physicians or geneticists to discuss their concerns and answer their more specific questions. Some of the initial testing can be done in their country of residence, in coordination with our local partner clinics. Hence, actual travel to the USA in not medically necessary until we require the intended parents to give their eggs or sperm samples. Our clinic is conveniently located 75 minutes away by commuter train from central Manhattan, and only one trip is necessary, since almost all of the pre-cycle testing can all be carried out locally in Europe. The only other trip to the USA will be a joyous one indeed for the birth of your baby or babies.
Why not adoption?
This is, of course, a very personal question, and indeed anyone preferring or choosing biological parenthood might answer this the same way. However we do know that more than any other category, gay men encounter the most hurdles in their path to parenthood, and in many countries adoption is either restricted or scarce, the process has many uncertainties, and gay men are often at the bottom of the priority list. This challenge is even more severe for bi-national couples and those living away from their country of citizenship (even within Europe). Surrogacy allows gay men to take control of their fates, and become parents in a process with high degrees of certainty, safety, and dignity.
On a personal level what has given you the greatest satisfaction working for CT Fertility?
Juan Tecles: Without a doubt, to see our proud families with their babies in their arms. The expression of love in their faces and the absolute joy and satisfaction they radiate just can’t be described with words. We are here to help create families which would otherwise not be possible, and that is just plain wonderful.
Doctor Doyle: Forming and directing CT Fertility for 25 years has been a source of tremendous personal joy and pride. Every day my team or I share the wonderful news with someone somewhere –”You’re pregnant!” – and it never gets old. Though our range of expert technology evolves every year and the list of treatment options grows along with it, there is nothing more basic than the desire to have a family.
Whatever it takes to become a parent we can do, and I think our motto – “Your Family, Your Way” – embraces our core values of inclusiveness, freedom, trust and choice. That’s really what I cherish the most and what I’m most proud of: beyond the science, it’s all about the trust and the relationships that we create and that truly do last a lifetime.