Stories of women turning to IVF to have children are common, and women becoming single mothers by choice has become a more socially accepted phenomenon, but a then-46-year-old man from Minnesota used the same system to become a single dad.
"Four years from 50, I thought I would never have a family," Tom Garden told Today Parents. "I had been married to my business for 10 years so I was really never thinking about kids and I didn't have time to date or do anything else."
When a cousin pointed out that the family name would end with him, Garden talked to his mom.
“My mom told me about this surrogacy thing, which I knew nothing about,” he told Romper. “I found one clinic in Minnesota, but I was too embarrassed to call them. Thank God, my mom called for me, and found out all this information.”
Garden is Jewish and wanted an Israeli egg donor, since Judaism is passed down from the mother. He was able to find an agency in New York, Spring Life, which provides Jewish egg donors from Israel.
“I got in touch with the agency and they sent me all these profiles of these Israeli girls that wanted to be egg donors. It was very surreal. It was a very kind of weird feeling just kind of looking at these profiles picking which person you want to be the genetic mother of your kid,” Garden told Inside Edition.
Once he found a donor, Garden found a surrogate named Nicole who lives in Arkansas. Nicole is married and has four children of her own.
“She would send me sonograms," he added. "She would show me the baby and how it was doing. We were close. I was really insecure because I had never even held an infant. I knew nothing about it. My relationship with the surrogate and doctors was really helpful because I knew nothing about raising a child.”
Nicole became pregnant with the first implantation of an embryo at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey in October 2015. Joseph Garden was born on June 25, 2016.
While it’s more difficult for a man to become a single parent than a woman, Dr. Thomas Molinaro, a reproductive endocrinologist at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey (RMANJ), said the conversation should be had more often.
Starting the single dad conversation
"The reality is, stories like Tom's are not common enough," Molinaro told Today Parents. "We don't see enough of it, and we know there are men out there that don't even know how to get started or that becoming a father is possible for them."
“For men, it's more complicated because you do need both an egg donor and a gestational carrier,” he added. Women often carry their own baby and just require a sperm donor.
Single fathers head eight percent of U.S. households and the number is rising, according to Pew social trends reported in 2013.
Being a single dad
"There are incredible moments when my son will come up to me and grab my leg and say 'da da' and smile and it melts your heart," Garden told Inside Edition. "I still talk to my surrogate every two weeks. I get a lot of encouragement from her. If you asked me a few a years ago if I would have done this, I would have asked if you are crazy.”
Garden, now a full-time stay-at-home dad, has six frozen embryos left and is looking to have another child carried by the same surrogate.
“Not everyone understands. I have one relative who said, ‘Why can't you do this the normal way?’ It sounds kind of corny, but I’ve just never met a woman that made my heart sing, at least recently,” Garden told Romper. “Maybe [Joseph wasn't conceived] the traditional way, and it’s not something I thought I'd ever do, but who cares how it happened?
There’s no greater gift than to bring a life into the world, and to share in that life, and to give love to a child. Whether it’s normal or not normal, it’s a beautiful process.”