By Lisa Regula Meyer
In my Biological Diversity class, I spend a decent amount of time helping my students to understand two major concepts surrounding niches. An organism’s niche is essentially the role that it plays in its environment and the sum of all its traits. To be specific, its niche is divided into two distinct components, fundamental and realized. The fundamental niche is the organism’s intrinsic niche, its role and traits all on its own. If we were to think in human terms, the fundamental niche is how you define yourself and what your heart would have you do without any obstacles; it’s what we want to be when we grow up as children. The realized niche, however, is what role the organism actual inhabits. This can be different from the fundamental niche due to competition with other organisms, predator or prey interactions, or even altered some by symbiotic relationships. In human terms, the realized niche is what we actually do. Maybe you always wanted to be a professional ballerina, but couldn’t make it into any of the really good classes, so instead you settle for going out dancing every weekend while teaching elementary school all week. Or maybe you get an interview at a prestigious job opportunity thanks to an old high school friend’s connections (kind of like a symbiotic relationship). For an animal, their realized niche might be restricted by another animal that out-competes them for shelter in northern areas of their range, or a plant’s realized niche might be expanded by having symbiotic fungi that helps it get water in drier climates.
What does this have to do with anything family or surrogacy related? Our identity is a big part of our niche; some parts are solid, innate parts of ourselves and are with us for all of our lives, while other parts are fluid and depend on our environment to help mold and shape those components. Our niche also consists of our family- the stable, steady people in our lives who have been and always will be with us while other members of the clan are here today and gone tomorrow, some by blood and some by choosing. Sometimes how we define ourselves and how other define us isn’t exactly the same. I don’t define myself by my experience of being a surrogate, but many other people do. For me, surrogacy was an experience that I had, not an integral part of who I am. No matter how you identify or define yourself, it’s always interesting the differences that other people might have in their perception of you, defining you as smarter or prettier than you consider yourself, or assuming that you are or aren’t a member of a particular group.
This difference in definitions and disconnect from perceived identities has been hitting home more than usual in our house. My traditional-surrogacy babe, I’ve been informed by her dads, spent quite a bit of time last week asking about her brother, my son, and where he was. Most people identify my son as an only child, and by most counts, that’s correct. He has a genetic sibling, yes, but not day to day sibling-like interactions with her. Really, they might spend a total of three days together in a year, and speak on Skype only slightly more often. He shares his home with his dad and I only, which is the data on which most people base their definition of him. But functionally, he has a pretty extended family. We have friends with two daughters with whom we typically play games at least once a week. We have another group of kids with whom we walk to school and home most days, and who frequently spend large chunks of the weekend at our house. In our house, and with these close friends, we joke about Kenny’s brothers and sisters, because the kids’ dynamics are very much that of siblings- bickering, getting jealous of each other, sharing secrets, crying to each other when they’re upset, and sticking together like glue.
Frankly, I like this dynamic in our extended, created family. Kenny gets the benefit of sibling-like interactions, Dwight and I get the benefit of having full-time responsibility for just our “only” child (although there are some days where at least one extra kid is in our home for the majority of the day). This is a system that works for us and our friends at this time. Maybe it won’t in the future, and we’ll address that at that time, but for now we’re happy with the way things are, even if people’s perception isn’t really our reality. It’s not always that differences in perceived identity and actual identity can be bridged so easily, and we count ourselves lucky that so far it has.
Photo Credit: Meggy
By Lisa Regula Meyer
Over the weekend, our family was enjoying some down time and relaxing by watching old episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise. Nothing surprising or extraordinary about that, as we’re huge science fiction/fantasy geeks. The episode on was “Cogenitor,” a story of first contact with an alien species that has three sexes instead of two, and thus uses third party reproduction obligatorily. If you enjoy Star Trek, you know of the Prime Directive- a sort of Hippocratic oath for space exploration- that states a priority on non-interference in other cultures and their development. The introduction of a third sex and third party reproduction obviously got my interest, and this portrayal of third party reproduction was not much different from other portrayals in the media, like Baby Mama, or the “Friends” episode where Phoebe serves as a gestational surrogate for her brother, among others. There are hierarchies, possibilities for exploitation, qualitatively different life histories and possibilities, all the fun themes that keep surrogacy misunderstood and surrogates stereotyped (here I give a huge hat-tip to The Next Family for helping to change so many stereotypes- thank you!).
I know enough surrogates to know that this stereotype is far from the full story, but like all stereotypes, there is a small percent of people who do fit the stereotype, and one shared characteristic is enough for humans to lump lots of diversity and variation into one loose-fitting category. Our brains have evolved to categorize things, to make decisions simple and quick, because a wrong decision for a hunter or gatherer could have been deadly. Today, our brains are far too good at categorizing for our own good, and those quick decisions often get us into deep doo-doo.
Oysters make similar quick decisions when they are presented with something unusual, a grain of sand or a bit of broken shell, for example. It takes that small source of irritation and adds layer after layer of complexity to create a pearl, something unique and valued. What started the formation of that pearl was something unpleasant and not that valuable, but we almost entirely ignore that small grain in the center of the pearl in favor of the everything that came after it; it’s no longer seen as a grain of sand, but as a pearl, something totally different. For our part, we do things slightly differently. We take that small defining characteristic- be it race, ethnicity, gender, orientation- and use that as the basis for defining an individual. We ignore all the complex layers that the world and the individual have added to make a unique, beautiful individual. We see humans as inverted pearls, with the beauty on the inside.
What I’d like to see, and what I’m seeing more of every year, is seeing that individuality as the beauty that it is. I’m going to take a bit of creative license and totally reinterpret the saying “The world is my oyster” at this point. The world IS our oyster- it gives us experiences and challenges that are often a response to our identity, makes us a more complex person because of that experience, and makes us so much more valuable than those categories that we’re initially put into as a part of our identity. And not just us, this process happens to everyone; we are all so much more than the sum of our parts. Thank you, The Next Family and readers, for seeing the beauty in diversity and the value in all people. You’re helping to create a future that is far more interesting and accessible, and I appreciate that.
By Meika Rouda
I have a good friend who is single and in her early forties and wants to be a mom….now. She is divorced, just moved to the Bay Area leaving her comfortable apartment and lucrative career in New York. For two years she has tried to conceive both the natural way with different partners and with IVF so now it is time to move to the next phase which is adoption, just not the typical kind.
She would like to adopt a child but is worried she won’t qualify since she just moved cities and has no job currently. So she is going to adopt an embryo. The clinic she found near Sacramento will give you three tries for the price of one IVF cycle so it is a good deal. When she first told me about it I had trouble understanding why anyone would do this.
“Just go adopt a baby.” I said.
“I won’t qualify. Besides who will pick me, I am a single mom in my forties?”
“You will be picked, it might take time but you never know what resonates a birth mom. Or do the closed adoption route and get matched.”
“I still don’t think the state will approve my home study. I am living in a studio apartment the size of a closet and have no income.”
“You can get a job.”
“I will. But I also want to be pregnant, it is nice to have some control over how my child is growing in utero even if I have no biological connection.”
“So it is the same as adoption except you are giving birth.”
“Yes but I can bond with the baby while pregnant and make sure I am eating well and taking my pre-natals. You can’t make sure a birth mom is doing everything you might do if you were pregnant.”
This is a good point. A birth mom may not make the same choices you would if you were pregnant and giving birth is an amazing experience to share with your child.
Yet is also confounds me in many ways, how medicine has totally changed how we create families. It used to be adoption was the only other way to have children if you couldn’t conceive naturally, then IVF, then donor eggs and donor sperm and surrogacy and now both donor eggs and sperm and even then sometimes a surrogacy..
“Do you tell the child that you aren’t their biological parent?”
“I don’t know.”
When she went to the clinic the first time for her interview, she was given a questionnaire on profile characteristics for eggs and sperm; for her baby. She chose a very tall sperm donor because she is short and likes tall men and was open for her egg donor as long as she was healthy.
She was just matched yesterday with an embryo that has a 6’4 college student sperm and a 22 year old mixed Latina and white egg donor. This embryo is fertilized and is ready to go, just waiting to be placed into her uterus.
I was with her when she got the email describing her baby, “Mom is 5’3, dad is German and Irish 6’4…”. It felt a lot like reading a profile of a prospective adoption.
“Should I get two eggs implanted or one?” she asked.
“Do one and then if it doesn’t work, do two next time. You get three tries for the same price right.”
So that is the plan. Next month, this embryo will be implanted into my friend and hopefully by Mother’s day next year she will be a mom. And if it doesn’t work she still has two more tries for the price of one. You don’t get that in adoption.
By Lisa Regula Meyer
This past Friday was my birthday. My mom had come up to visit and was staying with us for a few days, and that night she and Kenny had quality “Grandma-time” while Dwight and I went out. Just us, together. It’s not something that happens often, and this was special because we were going out to see a friend of his from high school as the featured poet celebrating her new chapbook. It was a real live adults’ night out!
Alexis’ poetry was great, and it was amazing meeting her and her boyfriend. The open mic poetry and slam poetry were also quite interesting, and the venue, Karma Café, served a mean chai. One poem especially spoke to me, a poem about Alexis’ children that she doesn’t and won’t have. I can’t say I understand how it feels to know you’ll never be a mom, because I don’t know that feeling, but I do understand the feeling of loss knowing you can’t have something you want.
And I kind of understand wanting to be pregnant. Maybe it was the birthday blues. Maybe it was the talk with my doc about “as we age” crap. Maybe it’s the fact that all my friends seem to be doing baby stuff. Whatever it is, there’s a part of me that has delusions of pregnancy. It’s kind of odd, I’m not sure why I feel like this, and I’m not sure how this plays out.
The one thing I do know for sure is that I still do not want another kid. So I did what any reasonable person would do- I went and shopped for some of my baby-laden friends simply to look at cute clothes and accessories. I watched cute baby animal videos on Teh Interwebz. I looked through my son’s baby books and photos of our early months as a family. I signed up to sponsor a child on Plan USA a la “About Schmidt.” I talked baby-talk to the cat. I met a new-mama friend for coffee and tried playing with her baby, only for it to look at me as if I were a complete and utter moron (and my friend claimed I had a similar expression on my own face). That experience, followed quickly by a stench of a dirty diaper and tears, reassured me that my heart most certainly was not melting, and I was still my usual curmudgeonly self.
I don’t want another baby. I just want to be pregnant again. Or at least a little part of me does. I want to feel the joy of creating a family again. I want to feel that creative energy again. And the little internal kicks. Of course, an excuse for the extra slice of birthday cake wouldn’t hurt, either.
I’ve heard stories of similar feelings from other surrogates before, and I went through something like this during my second surrogacy. I’m off to think on the topic, do lots of soul searching, and figure out where to go from here.
By John Jericiau
One of the joys of parenthood – one that hits you hard right out of the gate – is the insane sleep deprivation. Everybody’s talked and written about it ad nauseum. We know how lack of sleep affects our outlook on life, our health, and our ability to stay calm through all types of parenting challenges. We realize that lack of sleep takes years from our life and adds lines to your face. We see it contribute to an increase in waist size and a decrease in libido. These are inevitable, so if you’re about to become a new parent, get ready for them. If you’ve already been through it, then you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about.
I’m starting my fourth week of the 24/7 routine with our third son. I have that low level buzz going on in my head that only comes from weeks of sleeplessness combined with the ecstasy of watching our little boy grow. I love every minute but at the same time I want someone to take me out of my misery.
One thing that I have always forgotten about is how, each time I’m going through these first few months, I get reacquainted with late night television. I wonder if everyone has this experience. Every baby manual you read says that if you’re up feeding your baby in the middle of the night, try and maintain a quiet, dark, calm environment so that your baby will fall right back to sleep. Maybe it’s similar to my inability to be still for yoga or focused for meditation, but there is no way that I can sit for 25-45 minutes in a dark living room, staring silently at the wall while my son enjoys every slurp of his bottle, without getting the feeling that I’m about to go insane. I remember how much more pleasurable the experience was for me once I hit the power button of the remote lying right beside me. I was easily able to tolerate the bottle, burp, and even some skin-to-skin or tummy time as I enjoyed the new world that opened in front of me: the world of late, late night TV.
I’m not a huge fan of television in general. Alen and I have our favorites that we enjoy together, and to be honest I watch them more for the together time than for my pleasure. We like Real Housewives of Anywhere, Top Chef, and American Horror Stories. We only watch recorded shows so I have no idea what time these shows are actually broadcast. We watch these together during our final waking hours most nights, even if it’s just for a half hour, sometimes while we are eating our dinner.
So our mutual shows are off the table. I stick with cable TV only, beginning with CNN so I can get caught up on the events of the world that continues to spin on its axis despite the fact that we just had a baby. It’s incredible how exciting the current events of the world seem now that my days are spent monitoring poop and gas levels.
The channel surfing starts next, searching out any shows that have to do with child rearing. Jon & Kate Plus 8, 19 and Counting, Adoption Stories … I might as well make my choices applicable to my current situation. Plus, these shows make the single baby cuddled on my lap a little easier to handle.
My father was a NYC detective for many years, so that might explain why I will next search out all types of crime shows. Cops, Locked Up, I (Almost) Got Away With It, Nancy Grace Mysteries, Kidnapped, Wives With Knives, Law & Order SVU; who knew there were so many crazies in the world. Living by the beach does not really expose me to this seedy side of the world, but watch some of these shows and you start looking over your shoulder, checking and double-checking the back door lock, and worst of all you start worrying about things happening to you and your family. I’ve probably spent an above average amount of time worrying anyway. I’ve given the criminals out there every reason to harm the harmony of my family. People don’t tolerate the thought of gays marrying, let alone raising kids, so those so inclined might feel they are justified in taking or harming one of us. The boys are beautiful; kidnappers might have no problem taking them because we are not in their eyes the “real” parents. Some people out there actually hate us. “Every 40 seconds in the US, a child is reported missing or abducted” reports Nancy Grace. That’s roughly 2000 children per DAY. I figure the odds are not on our side because of our sexual orientation. I run upstairs and check on the boys in their bed, wiggle the lock on their bedroom window, and peek inside their walk-in closet, just to be sure.
On a typical evening about five shows have been watched before the baby finally falls asleep with a belly full of formula, and after a burp or two I lay him beside me so I can keep him safe. My mind is racing with horrible thoughts of what lies beneath and who goes there, and I wonder how I’m going to get myself to fall asleep.
Then I remember that I’m not sleeping anyway.
By John Jericiau
It’s just before the 39-week mark, and as we make our way to the now weekly OB appointment, our friend/surrogate tells us that she has hardly felt the baby move at all during her day at work. This is concerning because a) the baby has been really thrashing around in there up until now, and b) I’ve read too much on the internet about how late-pregnancy stillbirths DO happen. The OB had warned us to “get in here as soon as possible” after noticing the reduced movements, so we were happy that we had a previously scheduled appointment. He quickly rushed us off to a non-stress test; happily, baby and surrogate were fine. There was plenty of amniotic fluid for our son to swim around in for a couple more weeks, and he was perfectly posed high in the uterus in a head down attitude. It was only a matter of time.
It was our friend/surrogate’s last day of work, and we felt relieved that she would no longer have to endure the bus ride to and from work, as well as the standing and lifting and walking that her particular job demands. Alen and I decided to make the weekend a double feature at the movie theater (one on Friday night and one on our usual Saturday night), because it was quite possible we would not make it another weekend before our boy arrived.
Saturday rolls around, and our friend/surrogate tags along as we go through the activities of the day – mainly the boys’ activities at an indoor gym and the YMCA pool. Late in the day our friend mentions how little our son was moving again. I did not want to throw caution to the wind. As much as I didn’t want to drive back to the hospital, I wanted to enjoy date night (possibly our last one for a while) without worrying about a distressed baby.
We arrived to Labor & Delivery ready to hear the same song and dance and that everything was just fine, but were surprised when the exam showed that we were in labor and already dilated to 4 centimeters! They moved us to a room, gave our friend a bag of IV fluids and then an epidural.
Alen was with the boys finishing up their swim when he got the news. Things shifted into high gear as to the disposition of our two boys. Where will they sleep? How will they get there? Family stepped up and arrangements were made.
I had two issues. One was returning our reserved tickets for date night watching the brand new James Bond movie. I drove over to the box office and they happily refunded the tickets to the sold out show. The other issue was a dying iPhone earlier in the day. Out of the blue there was no power. Nada. Zilch. So I did what anyone in my position would do. I drove to the Apple store and bought the newest generation iPhone 5. A new daddy just has to have a phone!
I drove back home and folded some laundry, put the infant car seat in the car, packed some extra clothes for Alen and me, grabbed some food and my laptop and headed back to the hospital. I stopped and mailed some bills and got some gasoline on the way.
Our friend was fairly comfortable at this point, epidural medication coursing through her veins. Alen was very comfortable, stretched out on the only sofa in the room, camped out until morning or until dilation or pain or something woke us up. I took my place on a wicker chair I found hidden in the corner of the room.
After sleeping on the floor for a while I switched with Alen and got a really good two-hour power nap. Renewed and refreshed, I woke up to the sound of the doctor saying that he was going to break the water and see if things progressed faster. At this point Alen decided he would drive the 10 minutes home and try to grab a few quality hours of sleep in our own bed, but to call him if things changed.
Boy, did they change! It was only 9 minutes later that our friend/surrogate was screaming in agony, complaining of severe left shoulder, arm, and elbow pain, while starting to shiver as if the air in the room had become like the Arctic Circle. Before I knew it 7 or 8 physicians and nurses were scanning over her and the monitors, scratching their heads as to the cause of this sudden emergency. Left arm pain brings out the fear of heart attack in almost any healthcare worker. Our baby was hanging in there but starting to show signs of stress, so our MD put up the white flag and called it a day. Time for a C section. And quick!
I dressed in my battle gear (scrubs) and watched in the OR as my son entered the world at 8 lb 8 oz and 20 ½ inches on 11-11-12. The date is significant since his Daddy and Papa and two brothers were all born on the 22nd of a month. Our new son still got the 22 done! He just did it his own way. And I’m just so glad he did.
Welcome to the world, our beautiful son, Dustin John Jericiau. We’ve been waiting for you.
By John Jericiau
Thirty-eight weeks pregnant. It seems unreal just reading the words. We tried to get our friend/surrogate pregnant a year after she helped bring our second son into the world, but the embryos we had left over didn’t take. That was four years ago! Then about a year ago we started from scratch: choosing the egg donor, contacting the attorneys, meeting with the doctors, injecting our friend/surrogate, cheering at a positive pregnancy, continuing the daily injections, going to the OB appointments, praying for the pregnancy to continue, marveling at the ultrasounds and heartbeats, and watching our baby boy #3 grow. And here we are, with his birth almost guaranteed to be in the next two weeks. Incredible! Unbelievable!
I’ve done so much in the past month to prepare for his arrival. I’ve cleaned out almost every cupboard and closet in our house. I’ve washed (with Dreft) every single hand-me-down we possess from our sons, hand-me-downs that have been stored and waiting all these years to be reused. As I refolded each one of the onesies and pants and shirts, I was able to recall with vivid clarity how it looked on my sons, and how it felt to hold one of my sons in my arms when he was wearing it. It was hard to believe that my giants were once this miniature size. Some of the onesies are the size of their feet now.
Every piece of equipment and paraphernalia has been washed and scrubbed, and batteries have been replaced. Each car has an infant car seat and a diaper bag, stuffed with newborn diapers that are the size of a blanket for a Barbie doll.
I’ve started the ball rolling on our landscaping. Brand new safe and secure fence installed – check! Unnecessary and dangerous objects that were lying around the yard thrown out –check! Contractors lined up to continue work through the first three sleepy months of new baby world – check!
Annual physicals have been taken care of. Our entire family now has clean teeth. Eyes have been examined. Flu shots are done.
Cars have been serviced. Our three-year old minivan’s lease is up in January but we already have a new one sitting in our driveway.
The boys are already registered for upcoming activities. My Master’s Swim Team membership is on hold for the next three months. I’m not paying $90 to swim once in a blue moon.
Continuing education, a requirement of my Physical Therapy license, has been completed. Parent-teacher conferences are today. Bills will be paid online automatically for the next two months. The “just arrived” card has been completed and is ready to go once he is born and weighed and measured.
As I write what I’ve done to prepare for his arrival, I realize that I’m doing pretty well. What does come to mind is a list of five important things that I still must do:
By John Jericiau
My partner Alen and I are in the unique situation of having had one child through adoption and one child through surrogacy. Now we’re 34 weeks pregnant with another son through surrogacy. There are pros and cons to both options. Adoption is usually less expensive, but surrogacy provides a possible genetic relationship. Adoption is usually more white- knuckled; surrogacy gives you more of a chance to be at the birth of your child (although we were able to see both of our sons born and we cut the cords).
One other kind of big deal difference between the two options is the stage when you are declared “the natural and legal father of the child.” If you’re adopting in California, the birthmother has 48 hours after the birth to sign relinquishment papers – or change her mind and keep the baby. It’s an extremely nerve-wracking time, especially if you’re like me and your very first try led to a horrendous experience whereby the birthmother came knocking on my door (so to speak) 24 hours after I had my son Ryan home and dressed and burped and fed and rocked and loved, demanding him back. You come to realize that the horror stories you heard were true, and the scenario could easily be repeated with subsequent adoption tries.
Even if you are so lucky to have relinquishment papers signed and you are sent on your way, you know darn well that if the birthmother came back a week or two weeks or two months later, crying about the agony and the pain of losing her child and she can’t take life another second without her baby, you’d be screwed. You couldn’t rightly say “a deal is a deal.” This is a baby, not a car.
If you can bypass that scenario you’re left with waiting about a year until your court date comes up and you are finally legally Daddy. Mind you, you’ve been told all along that the child is already yours and even if a previously unknown father or grandmother comes out of the woodwork at the last minute, he is already yours. The court date is just a formality. A party. A happy day. However, when you’re in court that day and you watch your attorney finally breathe a sigh of relief and seem so happy that this day has come, you realize that things were probably not as final and irreversible as you had been led to believe.
Also, after the birth at the hospital you were handed a birth certificate that had the birthmother’s name as the parent, which we kept filed until the “happy day.” You’re also kept in limbo with regard to a passport, social security number (you’re given a temporary one), and even with travelling outside the USA.
The situation with our son through surrogacy was a breeze compared to all that. About twenty weeks into the pregnancy, we simply sent our attorney a $2000 check. She filed papers in court herself, and a few weeks later we received the judgment stating that Alen and I were the legal parents. And I thought voting by absentee ballot was awesome! We were now fathers, and the first and only birth certificate right out of the hospital at the time of birth would reflect that. We could immediately get his social security number, passport, and travel to Fiji to celebrate if we liked. It was seamless, smooth, and effortless.
Four and a half years have gone by, and so far – with Baby Boy #3 – everything has proceeded in much the same way as our previous surrogacy. That is until this past week. Our attorney finally got around to telling us that due to some type of “surrogacy fraud”, it is now the law that Alen, myself, and our friend/surrogate must all make an appearance in court to settle the parental rights.
The “surrogacy fraud”, I learned with my friend Google’s help, involved an internationally renowned surrogacy attorney in San Diego who used numerous surrogate mothers to create an inventory of unborn babies that she would sell for more than $100,000 each. U.S. surrogates were sent to Ukraine be impregnated with embryos from anonymous donors. When the women were in their second trimester, the conspirators offered the babies to prospective parents, telling them the developing fetuses were the results of legal surrogacy arrangements in which the original parents backed out. The attorney had used her knowledge to work the system in California — the hub of the surrogacy industry — and to dodge its progressive laws designed to protect surrogate mothers, prospective parents, and babies.
So we had to hire (and pay for) our attorney, an attorney for our friend/surrogate, and an attorney for our unborn son, and we would all rendezvous at the court on the scheduled date. All of us had to take the afternoon off from work and be pulled out of kindergarten to make this happen, but if it had to be, so be it. Total cost: more than $5000.
I was told by our attorney to expect a call from our unborn son’s attorney, and he rang us up a few hours later. I was literally in shock when he listed some of the things we had to prepare for the court date.
Seven pictures of our home, including the outside as well as a picture of our unborn son’s room. Sorry, but that’s not set up yet. I’ve been washing the hand-me-downs and the stroller and changing table and boppy for the last two weeks, but haven’t gotten around to tackling the crib. Also, we’re doing a ton of home improvement projects at the same time, so the house is kind of a mess.
A copy of our latest tax return to prove our financial stability. That’s fine, but please please don’t ask us for our American Express bill! If you knew how many times we’ve gotten a massage lately, or how much we spend eating out for breakfast in Santa Monica, you’d surely question our sanity!
At least three letters of recommendation from friends and colleagues referencing our character. Whoa! Do you have any idea what you’re asking? Most of our friends are parents. There is no way that in three days they can sit down and spit out a well thought-out letter and get it back to us. Not with the start of school barely behind us and the fact that we’re all schlepping our kids to soccer and swimming and Spanish, with just enough energy at the end of the day to climb into bed.
Even though we survived the day and have in our hands the judgment declaring us the legal parents of Baby Boy #3 (which we will give to the Birth Certificate issuer at the hospital whenever he is born), I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. Although it appears that the procedure has nothing to do with us being a gay couple, but rather a couple using surrogacy, I can’t help but feel that once again we had to prove our suitability and worthiness as a candidate for the role of parent, in a world where most can hook up and make a baby in gangnam style with little or no afterthought.
When the judge has us in his court making comments such as “Oh, great. You’re a doctor” to Alen, followed by a warning that he should not be playing a part in our friend/surrogate’s health care during the procedure, it’s enough to make your blood boil. When our friend/surrogate is asked why she would consider doing this out of the goodness of her heart for “mere nonrelatives”, it blows you away. And when you’re sitting in the court listening to a diatribe of your life, adding some details (if it would please the court) about your victories as well as some explanation about your traffic infractions, you can’t help but wonder if they’ve taken this one step too far.
For the first time this entire pregnancy, Alen – Papa of Baby Boy #3 – was able to attend a doctor’s appointment, albeit in his doctor’s scrubs. It’s a crucial time, so I was happy about it. Happily we have not had any spotting or bleeding lately, but just one day before the appointment, our friend/surrogate felt the baby squirming and pushing and stretching, but not nearly as vigorously as usual. On top of that she was having some unusual back pain. Since we already had an appointment set for the next day, we decided that the baby would be fine for 24 hours. Bad decision! It’s important to get in to the doctor as soon as you notice a reduction in movement – things can go downhill extremely fast if there is something wrong. The doctor insisted that for the rest of the pregnancy, we should call for an appointment ASAP if we notice any change in movement or intense back pain. Here I was thinking that our youngest son was just having an off day!
So after being urgently transferred from his office to Labor & Delivery for a non-stress test (a misnomer since I for one definitely felt stress), we found out that all was well. The baby’s heart rate was strong and steady, he had plenty of fluid to swim around in, and the ultrasound showed a healthy happy boy. He even waved at us, and Alen remarked that he thought our son had my nose (which arguably is not my best feature). The appearance of “my” nose may or may not be true, but the fact is that, just as with our son Dylan, we will probably never know whose nose it really is since we allowed randomness of natural selection to pick our sons’ paternal DNA – as natural as it could be considering the petri dish.
After the stress test we were given the okay to go back to the doctor’s office so that we could have further consultation with him. Our two boys, Papa, our very pregnant friend/surrogate, and I all squeezed into the exam room with a Kaiser doctor that has seen (most) of us only once before. Since we were 33 weeks pregnant, he advised “Mom” to take it easy so as not to break her water prematurely. (Her water broke at 35 weeks while carrying Dylan.) She was cleared to continue working her day job, and she should continue her ½ hour per day of walking. However, and this he was adamant about as illustrated by the fact that he repeated this three times, there should be NO SEX. The doctor’s eyes darted quickly from me to my friend and back to me and then to Papa as he said this, completely unsure of who in the exam room was having sex with whom, and therefore making him unsure as to whom to direct his statement. I give him a butch “Awww, shucks!” while my friend meekly says “Okay” and Alen says “We got the message”, further adding to his confusion.
Our son is now over the four-pound mark, about the size of a pineapple. I briefly considered naming him Dole to go along with our other “D” sons Devin and Dylan, but just as quickly scrapped the idea. More than likely he’ll end up with a “D” name that ends in the letter “n” (since the rest of the family members’ names end in “n”), and we will do whatever we can possibly do to make his birthday October 22nd (which is the 36 week mark) or November 22nd (which is 6 days past due) since all of his family members’ birthdays fall on the 22nd. To outsiders these things might appear frivolous and downright silly to care about, but for a family like ours it is just another way to help us feel connected as a family in a world that tries to constantly disconnect us.
So now we wait two more weeks for the next appointment, barring any warning signs. I continue my “mesting”, a name I use to describe my male nesting. Everything’s getting washed in Dreft to reduce the irritants in our new sons’ clothes. All previously used paraphernalia is getting pulled out of the storage shed and the garage, hosed off and evaluated for worthiness. I was surprised at all the national treasures I have found: stroller, double stroller, snap-n-go, double snap-n-go, swing, mini-bathtub, bassinette, pack-n-play, highchair, vibrating baby recliner, Boppy, and more toys than any single child could ever play with. After counting the said toys I calculated that if our D son plays with a different toy each and every day, we’ve got him stimulated until he is approximately 12 ½ years old.
It’s an extremely exciting and nerve-wracking time for all of us, but I can’t wait to see how it all turns out. For the best, please. For the best.
By: John Jericiau
It’s hard for me to believe that almost a decade has passed since I started trying to make my family. As a single gay man who nearly gave up on the hope of finding true love, focusing instead on having kids, the fact that I’m on the cusp of having a third son with my incredible husband is nothing short of a miracle to me.
Not that there hasn’t been some heartache. I’ve written before about losing my first real chance at fatherhood when the newborn I had in my home for 24 hours was unceremoniously returned to her mother because of her heartache. I can’t be mad at her – it’s got to be extremely difficult to give your child to someone else – but it was devastating nonetheless. Luckily I had supportive friends that helped me through that dark period. I also had the fortune of having my future husband enter my life at that time.
It took over a year for him to get on board about becoming parents together, and together we made it through more tough times. One year a woman changed her mind a week before our baby daughter was due, and the next year a woman from Las Vegas tested positive for meth halfway through the pregnancy. A few other near misses and we were thinking that adopting a child just wasn’t in the cards for us.
Enter an angel who I will call Elle (not her real name), because she is a very private person and I respect that. Elle and I had worked together for years, and she was one of the supportive friends I mentioned earlier, albeit in a very quiet and unassuming way. She was someone you could always count on. One day out of the blue we were at work and she proceeded to tell me how she had a dream that she had a baby for Alen and me.
Elle is not from the USA, and I’m not even sure that she knew that surrogates actually existed and could be found in a number of agencies around town. I had not even mentioned going the surrogacy route to fatherhood since I had invested so much time with the adoption. But there was Elle, describing a plan she had hatched to “get us that child we have been dreaming about for so long.”
We both decided to sleep on it. Alen and I couldn’t sleep that night. We lay awake wondering what type of person would be willing to do this for us. By 4 am we came to the conclusion that Elle was an angel, and we should go for it. When I saw Elle at work the next morning, we both yelled “YES” at the very same time. I made an appointment with the fertility clinic that day.
Elle is unmarried and has never been married. She has been through her own heartache with love, and simply has never found the right man. She also has never been interested in having children of her own. Elle speaks of Alzheimer’s and cancer in her family medical history, and for this reason insisted that we not use her eggs for the procedure. (We wouldn’t have used them anyway, for several reasons.) She was very interested in the chance to experience pregnancy however, so she saw this as a win-win situation, and so did we.
It took three tries before the IVF procedure worked, using a very young egg donor and a random mix of our DNA. Elle and I continued to work together as we made doctors’ visits, toured the hospital, and attended Lamaze class. During the workweek I could talk to my future son, feel his kicks, and watch Elle’s tummy grow. On the weekend I could check in by phone and make sure all was well. Her water prematurely broke at 35 weeks, and our big 6-½ pound healthy boy finally arrived.
I left my job to be home with my boys, and Elle left her position and relocated to another one. We invited her to come over whenever she was able, mostly because we enjoy her company, but also because we wanted the boys to get to know her better.
Over the subsequent months after our son’s birth, our relationship naturally evolved. Elle would take the bus to our home each Saturday afternoon, watch the boys during our weekly Saturday date night, stay through Sunday enjoying any and all activities that we as a family would partake in, and then I would drop her off at work on the way to my early Monday morning Master’s swim workout. She’s come with us to weddings, family get-togethers, birthday parties, and more, introduced simply as our close friend Elle. It was not as Alen and I ever imagined our family would be, but it works for us.
Flash forward to our son’s first birthday, and we’re sitting at the dining room table listening to Elle discuss the fact that she has no residual issues from the pregnancy, that she cannot even tell that she was ever pregnant, and if we were ever inclined to try for a third child, she is on board for that!
A month later we were repeating the IVF procedure with the few frozen embryos we had remaining (just in case we ever felt inclined to have a third child). When that procedure didn’t work, we shelved the idea for several years until we were ready for the procedure again with a brand new egg donor and another random mix of our DNA.
We were successful on the first try, and now we are 29 weeks pregnant and expecting our third son! And while we won’t, after son Number 3, be adding to our brood again (Elle is ageing out and Alen has reached his maximum limit), we feel so lucky to call Elle one of the family. And a family it is.