Marine Corps veteran Duane Perez and his husband David are shining a light on the nonprofits that are helping them, including the Bob Woodruff Foundation's Veterans In Vitro InitiAtive (VIVA)
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David and Duane Perez
Duane and David Perez
| Credit: Jessica Bodin

After Duane and David Perez married in 2016, the couple wished to expand their family and have a child.

"I think the idea," recalls David, "was amazing." 

They chose to pursue surrogacy, and despite financial limitations, soon learned that with the help of nonprofits that defrayed costs — surrogacy can run well over $200,000 — the couple's dream could come true. In early December they will be flying from their home in Potomac, Maryland to Wisconsin, to join their surrogate for the birth of son Niklaus Asher Perez.

"It's unbelievable and extraordinary," says Duane, 46, a Marine Corps veteran who served in the West Pacific and Middle East before leaving active duty in 2000.

Duane — who says he is on medical disability related to his service and unable to work — is sharing the couple's story with PEOPLE to inspire others on this Veterans Day.

David and Duane Perez
David, left, and Duane Perez
| Credit: David and Duane Perez

Their journey to parenthood began with research. David — a 41-year-old nurse, graduate student and self-proclaimed "research nerd" — spent almost a year "finding out what it was going to take out of us both physically, financially," he says. "Is it going to change our lives for the better?"

The couple soon discovered the nonprofit Men Having Babies, which provides educational resources, pro bono advice and a wide array of grants and discounted fees for medical providers and medications every step along the way. 

They attended a Men Having Babies conference, which "was very illuminating," says Duane. "We were completely unaware of questions that we needed to ask not just ourselves but of a surrogate." 

Working with a surrogacy coordinator, the couple began the process through Men Having Babies. An egg donor was secured and their health insurance with the Veterans Administration helped pay for some of the procedures and medical costs. But to cover the cost of in vitro fertilization (IVF) — a complex and expensive procedure involving the fertilization of eggs to first create and then implant embryos — they needed outside help. 

The couple discovered that due to Duane's service-related disability, they qualified for a $5,000 grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation's Veterans In Vitro InitiAtive (VIVA). That money was paid to a clinic to help cover the cost of the couple's embryo creation, says David.  

Six embryos were created — three from David's sperm, three from Duane's — but the couple doesn't yet know which embryo was implanted and who is the biological dad, says Duane.

"We wanted to be surprised," he adds.

While the Perezes have so far paid about $89,000 out of pocket, including a $45,000 fee for their surrogate, "we really could not have done this without the organizations helping us out along the way," says Duane. "This is not an easy process."

The typical cost of surrogacy, IVF and an egg donor without insurance coverage, grants or assistance from non-profits runs $150,000 to $250,000, says Melissa Brisman, an attorney who specializes in surrogacy and founder of the surrogacy agency Reproductive Possibilities. If someone has health insurance, and doesn't need an egg donor, the cost ranges closer to $100,000 to $120,000, she says. 

"So often, when service members go off to war they're young, they haven't even thought about having kids yet," says Anne Marie Dougherty, CEO of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. "And some come home with injuries that suddenly make it very difficult or impossible for them to do that."

"Veterans have shared with us their stories of shame, confusion and financial distress over growing their family," Dougherty continues. "To be able to help them through our Veterans In Vitro Initiative (VIVA) is so meaningful. I'm delighted that thanks to our VIVA program, 18 beautiful babies have been born, with more on the way. We're honored to help make dreams come true for veteran families like the Perezes."

David and Duane Perez
David and Duane Perez
| Credit: Jessica Bodin

A comprehensive list of organizations that help people who need financial assistance along their surrogacy journey can be found at Reproductive Possibilities (scroll down to "Infertility Organizations that Offer Scholarships") and at Fertility I.Q.

David also suggests spending time researching resources available in your state of residence, and getting help verifying insurance benefits. Working with a surrogacy coordinator, who can help navigate state laws and work out a contract with the surrogate, among other issues, is "well worth the expense," he says. 

For Duane, who once could never have imagined having a baby, the entire experience, he says, feels like a "little miracle."