Forget Ghostbusters… I’m Really Going to Ruin Your Childhood

IMG_0418Worried that an estrogen-heavy Ghostbusters is going to ruin your childhood? Well, relax, because it’s not.

But with any luck, I will. At least, that’s my goal.

I’m excited to announce my new project, a chapter book series for kids called MY STUPID STEPBROTHER RUINED…

It’s about a young girl who loves fairy tales… and her obnoxious step-brother who loves pointing out the plot holes in them. He actually makes some pretty good points… so good that he ends up breaking the stories, and the two feuding step-siblings get sucked into the books to fix things. The only way they can get back home is to work together and give the story back its happily ever after.

The first one is called MY STUPID STEPBROTHER RUINED CINDERELLA, and there will be three more in the series. Woohoo! They’ll all be released in the fall of 2017 by the fine folks at Capstone Publishing.

The picture up there is my daughter Sutton’s vision for the book cover. I can’t quite say this will be the official artwork, although I have yet to break that to her.

So while things have been quiet on the blog front lately, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been writing. I’m having so much fun working on these books and can’t wait to share them with you! (Yes, there may be some chart twerking involved when the time comes.)

 

JTF is my BFF! (Jesse Tyler Ferguson Reads My Essay!)

jtfHave I mentioned that Jesse Tyler Ferguson is one of my favorite people? Well, he is, and not just because he chose my essay to read for the Modern Love podcast this week. He also did a great job of it.

Seriously, you should check it out here. (You can also hear an update from me and a teary interview with Susie as well. Get your Kleenex ready!)

Can’t wait to see JTF (I can call him that now. We’re tight.) in Fully Committed on Broadway this spring!

Yes, I’m shamelessly plugging his show. It’s the least I can do for my new BFF. Break a leg, pal!

* * *

Are you new here? Well, you can be my BFF, too, by subscribing to this blog, following me on Twitter or, best of all, buying my book! The essay was just a small part of my story. You’ll never believe the rest of the crazy, emotional jiggery-pokery my husband and I went through to become dads. (Just try to act surprised now that you know the ending.)

 

ilovemyfamily2

Why I Put My Family on Display

I’m ashamed to admit that I wasn’t familiar with the story of Ruby Bridges until my son brought a picture book about her home from school. For those of you who are also uninformed, here’s the TL;DR version:

In 1960, schools in New Orleans were still segregated by race. A judge ordered that a 6-year-old girl named Ruby Bridges be allowed to attend a school that was, until then, all-white. When she showed up on the first day, she was met with scores of furious, shouting protestors trying to scare her away. She went inside anyway and sat in a classroom with the one teacher who’d agree to teach her. Unwilling to attend an integrated school or simply intimidated by the mob, EVERY SINGLE WHITE STUDENT stayed home.

Yes, every one.

Ruby was the only kid in school, but she kept coming back, day after day, until the protests finally subsided and the white kids started returning.

rubybridges

Ruby Bridges at school (with U.S. Marshals)

When I first read about this little girl’s amazing life, I had several thoughts, including:

  • Ruby Bridges is a hero.
  • Ruby Bridges was braver at six years old than I will ever be.
  • Shame on those horrible people who tried to intimidate a little girl to keep her from going to school.

And lastly…

  • What were Ruby Bridges’ parents thinking?!

It’s hard as a parent not to have that last thought. Surely, the world is a better place because Ruby Bridges’ parents allowed and encouraged her to go through something no 6-year-old should ever have to endure (but which, sadly, at the time, was fairly commonplace). How many of us, though, would put our own children in such a vulnerable spot, knowing the harm that could come to them, just for the benefit of the greater good?

Lately, people have been asking that same question about blogger Kristen Howerton.

Here’s the TL;DR version of her story:

familycloseupbestforblog300

via Rage Against the Minivan, with permission

Kristen has a beautiful family consisting of her, her husband, their two biological daughters and their two adopted sons. As you can see from the picture, not everybody in the family is the same race. Kristen writes thoughtful, moving pieces about race and adoption, as well as thoughtful, moving pieces that are not about race and adoption. She posts pictures of her family and uses their real names on her blog Rage Against the Minivan.

 

Recently, a white supremacist group targeted Kristen with a campaign of hate, stealing and altering photos of her kids, tweeting racial epithets and other jackassery. Kristen’s followers rallied to her support and helped shut down the haters, but many other people thought Kristen was at fault for putting her family on display in the first place. You can read more here and here.

I was lucky enough to share a stage with Kristen several years ago at a Listen To Your Mother reading in Los Angeles. I was inspired by her family and felt a kind of connection to her as a gay dad. People give our family funny looks, too, and much of the world is built around a concept of family that doesn’t include a family like mine. I loved the fact that she wrote about it so openly, and I’ve tried to do the same with this blog. I’ve talked about being a gay dad, and I’ve shared pictures of my family, like this one:

ilovemyfamily2

There have been times that I’ve stopped and wondered if what I was doing was wise. What if some homophobes used my pictures in an anti-gay ad or on some hate site? There are prominent figures who’ve suggested that their followers should kidnap children who have gay parents. The danger from these people is real.

So what am I thinking?

Now, I’m in no way trying to equate myself with Kristen Howerton and the wonderful things she does on her blog, nor am I trying to equate myself or Kristen with Ruby Bridges or her parents.

But every time I’ve wondered if I should stop doing what I’m doing, I end up even more determined to keep doing it. I know that will lead a lot of people to judge me and even to question my parenting. I know that if anything like what happened to Kristen ever happens to me, there will be people who will say I deserved it for putting my family on display.

You want to know why I still do this? Let me do my best to list the reasons.

It does more good than harm.

I get messages all the time from people who appreciate what I do. I hear from gay parents who are glad to see other families like theirs. I hear from young gay people who are inspired to see that a happy family life is possible for them. And I hear from plenty of straight people who thank me for helping them to understand something that’s foreign to them, or to say how much they can relate for one reason or another.

Do I sometimes get hate mail? Of course. But it doesn’t really bother me much because it’s far, far outnumbered by the positive responses I get.

I dread the thought of my kids being the targets of anyone’s hate. But if my husband and I didn’t put them out there, they wouldn’t see all the love the world has to show us, too.

We’re on display anyway.

You think you get a lot of attention for writing blog posts about your non-traditional family online? Try just leaving your house.

Everything we do together as a family invites scrutiny — getting groceries, going to school, playing at the playground, taking our kids to Disney World or doing a million other things. Every time we go out in public we open ourselves and our children up to the possibility of critical glares and even outright hostility. It’s not posting online that makes us potential targets of the hatemongers. It’s just existing.

But you know what? Hardly anything bad ever happens. For the most part, the reactions we get are amazing. People embrace us, show curiosity, compliment us. Last year, a few weeks before the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, a complete stranger who’d been sitting near us in a restaurant approached us with tears in her eyes and said, “You have a beautiful family! I hope the Supreme Court does the right thing!”

The bullies don’t get to set the debate.

Plenty of people believe they have some good points to make about why two men shouldn’t have kids together. (Or why white families shouldn’t adopt black kids. Or why little girls should get shouted down for trying to go to school. Or [insert some very important opinion here].) OK, if that’s you, you’re entitled to speak your mind. But don’t expect to espouse views that I find offensive and dangerous without hearing from me in return.

You can be vile and bigoted, you can harrass me and level death threats from behind the veil of relative anonymity the internet provides you. I’ll continue to defend myself openly, with logic, reason and probably sarcasm just for fun.

Just get this straight: I’m not going away.

And I refuse to teach my kids that we need to hide from the world in order to keep from upsetting crazy people.

I don’t know if I’d have had the guts to make the decisions Ruby Bridges’ parents did, but I’m glad they did.

That being said…

I believe people are generally good.

I know there’s a chance the wrong people will find my blog and twist it around in some horrible ways. I’m sure if that happened, I would be terrified and furious and do everything I could to protect my kids. But I know something else:

People would rally to my defense. My readers, my friends and my family would support me, as they always do, and whatever dribble of hate got spewed my way would be washed away by a tsunami of love. I’d end up more convinced than ever that the world has my back.

I hate seeing what’s happened to Kristen Howerton, but it makes me think of the Mr. Rogers quote everyone always posts after a tragedy:

mr-rogers

via everyone’s Facebook page, ever

So I’m not going to focus on the bad people who were nasty to Kristen Howerton and her family. I’m going to focus on all the people who came to her defense, and I’m going to add my voice to theirs.

Lastly…

My kids think it’s awesome.

My husband and I have warned our kids that homophobia exists, but I don’t think they believe us. They believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, but the notion that people would be mean to someone just because they’re gay sounds completely absurd to them.

It’s not something they’ve ever witnessed.

A couple of nights ago, my husband and I were anxious to start story time so we could get the kids to bed. Our daughter was taking her time coming in, and we were getting really frustrated. We were too tired to get out of bed and round her up, so we shouted downstairs. “What are you doing?”

“Hold on! I’m making something!”

Our daughter is always making things. It’s what she loves to do. So we rolled our eyes and waited.

A minute later, she came running upstairs, with a big smile on her face. She had three post-it notes, and she handed one to me, one to my husband and one to her brother. This is what they said:

ilovemyfamily

I love my family. It came out of nowhere. Just something she was thinking about and which was important enough to delay story time for. I have piles of notes like that, a million little ways my kids show me that they love me and they love our family.

I know most parents have stuff like that. I’m not saying my family is any more special than anyone else’s or that I expect special treatment or whatever some wacko online might want to turn this around into.

All I’m saying is, I❤ my family.

And I don’t care who knows it.

THEATER REVIEW: “Dada Woof Papa Hot” – Plus a TICKET GIVEAWAY!

Dada Woof Papa Hot Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater Cast List: Tammy Blanchard Patrick Breen John Benjamin Hickey Alex Hurt Kellie Overbey John Pankow Stephen Plunkett Production Credits: Scott Ellis (director) John Lee Beatty (sets) Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costumes) Peter Kaczorowski (lighting) John Gromada (original music & sound) Other Credits: Written by: Peter Parnell - See more at: http://www.playbill.com/events/event_detail/dada-woof-papa-hot-at-mitzi-e.-newhouse-theater-362492#sthash.FpkA3w5Z.dpuf

“Dada Woof Papa Hot” at Lincoln Center Theater. See more here.

I always knew it would take something special to get me to do a promotional post on my blog. It would either have to be something I wanted to write about anyway or the compensation would have to be ridiculously sweet. A few weeks ago, I got an email offering me tickets to see a new Off-Broadway play about gay dads by Peter Parnell.

Not only had I heard about the play, but I was a big fan of its playwright, who is probably best known to parents everywhere for co-authoring the children’s picture book “And Tango Makes Three” with his husband, Justin Richardson. Not only is that book a bedtime staple in our house, but Parnell has also been involved in two of my all-time favorite theatrical experiences, a two-part adaptation of John Irving’s “The Cider House Rules” which ran at LA’s Mark Taper Forum in 1998 and the book of the stunning stage adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, which I saw earlier this year at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse. (Sadly, it’s not coming to Broadway, but a cast album will be released this month.)

Would I be willing to see this show for free in exchange for writing about it? Sure! I’d even get a pair of tickets to give away to one of my readers. (That could be you! Read on for info.) I should note that I didn’t receive any compensation other than my free tickets and I didn’t agree to write anything in particular, so this is a totally honest review.

The show is called “Dada Woof Papa Hot”, and my biggest criticism of the show is of the title. It supposedly comes from the first four words the main characters’ daughter said as a baby (not all at once), and one of the dads jokes that they’re also the four words every gay dad wants to hear. I don’t know if I agree with that, but I’m pretty sure they are the last four words any grown adult wants to say out loud when talking to a Ticketmaster agent. (Except for maybe “Two for ‘Finding Neverland'”. Sorry I couldn’t resist.)

Dada Woof Papa Hot Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater Cast List: Tammy Blanchard Patrick Breen John Benjamin Hickey Alex Hurt Kellie Overbey John Pankow Stephen Plunkett Production Credits: Scott Ellis (director) John Lee Beatty (sets) Jennifer von Mayrhauser (costumes) Peter Kaczorowski (lighting) John Gromada (original music & sound) Other Credits: Written by: Peter Parnell - See more at: http://www.playbill.com/events/event_detail/dada-woof-papa-hot-at-mitzi-e.-newhouse-theater-362492#sthash.FpkA3w5Z.dpuf

“Dada Woof Papa Hot” at Lincoln Center Theater. See more here.

“Dada Woof Papa Hot” concerns Alan and Rob, played by the excellent John Benjamin Hickey and Patrick Breen. They’re a couple of middle-aged gay guys who’ve been together for a decade and change and have a young daughter. Don’t worry. She’s off-stage for the entire play, so you don’t have to fear that some cute child actor is going to make you feel bad about leaving your kids at home to come to the theater.

Rob is a career-minded therapist with a keen people sense, and Alan is an insecure, frustrated writer who wonders if he was cut out to be a father. They talk about their kid, marvel at the fact that they’re dads and gossip about the good-looking guys they know. I told my husband Drew I was going to say in my post that the characters reminded me of us, and he replied that if I wrote that, he would kill me — which, really, is such a Rob thing to say.

The couple befriends a younger pair of gay dads, Scott and Jason, whom they bond with over the many things they have in common. We also meet Michael and Serena, a straight couple who are a straight-up disaster. Alan and Rob are shocked to learn that Michael is having an affair. Since they had kids, Serena just isn’t as interested in sex as she used to be. Alan and Rob are glad that they don’t have that problem.

See more at: http://www.playbill.com/events/event_detail/dada-woof-papa-hot-at-mitzi-e.-newhouse-theater-362492#sthash.FpkA3w5Z.dpuf

“Dada Woof Papa Hot” at Lincoln Center Theater. See more here.

The play is very astute in detailing the differences between gay and straight marriages. Alan and Rob can be open about their crushes on other men, like Alan’s personal trainer and one of Rob’s patients. That’s something a straight guy like Michael could never do with his wife, which leads to a lot of pent-up frustration. But when two gay men lust openly after other guys, it’s all safe and fun… right?

Only, of course, it’s not. Soon, one of their new gay friends comes onto Alan, threatening to ruin both of their happy marriages at once.

Going into the show, Drew and I feared it would be another lowest common denominator act of pandering to the gay audience, full of gratuitous nudity and Streisand jokes. Yes, there’s a bit of gratuitous nudity, but Parnell is more interested in giving us our own “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” than going for easy ticket sales. His characters don’t succumb to stereotype, and he doesn’t sell them out for cheap jokes, which is probably why I found them so relatable.

“Dada Woof Papa Hot” couldn’t be more of-the-moment. There’s a schism in the gay community about having families. Are gay parents selling out their LGBTQ identity or simply buying into the American dream? Much of Alan’s doubt about being a dad comes from the feeling that he was never supposed to have kids… but is that his common sense talking or his internalized homophobia? Ultimately, the play comes down to one simple question: Now that gay couples have the freedom to marry and have children, can we avoid the pitfalls of marriage and parenthood that have long plagued straight couples?

It’s a topic that couldn’t be in better hands than it is with Parnell and the cast. Between “And Tango Makes Three” and “Dada Woof Papa Hot”, Peter Parnell is quickly becoming the patron saint of gay dads, and I’m happy to report that his new show is well worth getting a sitter for.

If you’d like to win TWO FREE TICKETS to see the show, simply leave a comment below with the words “DADA WOOF PAPA HOT ME WANNA GO!” in it. (Sorry, I’m not going to make this easy on you.) Make sure you include your name and email address in the comment form, so I can get in touch with you if you win. I’ll pick one commenter at random on Tuesday, November 17, 2015, so enter by then if you want to go. You’re on your own getting a sitter, though.

Dada Woof Papa Hot is playing at the Lincoln Center Theater now through January 3, 2016. 

captunderpants3

“Captain Underpants” and the Not-So-Stinky Same-Sex Surprise

captunderpantscoverHere’s something worth talking about besides the never-ending nonsense in Kentucky. The “Captain Underpants” series, which is widely beloved by children and widely poo-poo’ed by fuddy-duddies, went out with a major mic drop last week.

If you haven’t read “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot” yet, consider this a spoiler warning. In the 12th and reportedly final book in the series, author Dav Pilkey reveals very quietly that one of the major characters that kids have been reading about for almost 20 years now, will grow up to marry a man. It happens when the two friends at the center of the story travel to the future and see themselves with their future families. One of those families looks like this:

captunderpants3

“Soon, everyone had gathered together in Old Geroge’s studio. Old George, his wife, and their kids, Meena and Nik, sat on the couch, while Old Harold, his husband, and their twins, Owen and Kei, plopped down in the giant beanbag chair.”

And that’s it. Then comes another 86 pages of time travel, stinky gas and three helpful creatures that are half bionic hamsters and half pterodactyls.

I wouldn’t even call this a “twist”. If Harold’s sexual orientation was never mentioned before in the series, it’s only because he’s 10 years old when the rest of the story takes place. 10-year-old boys have about a million concerns more pressing than who they’re going to marry someday, so I’m not surprised that the issue didn’t arise while they were battling farts and whatnot.

Of course, I especially loved hearing this news because my family looks a lot like Harold’s family.

myfamily

I only wish I had been able to see that picture when I was 10 years old. It would’ve made the following 20 years or so a lot more bearable to know that I was going to have a husband and kids when I grew up. So the thought of Harold getting that glimpse of his future made me very happy, not so much for the fictional character as for the hordes of real-life kids who’ll get a chance to see something I never got to see when I was their age.

Because I’m a sadist, I went to the book’s Amazon page to see what reviewers were saying about this revelation. Not surprisingly, some people accused Pilkey of having a political agenda. I was about in mid-eyeroll from that accusation when I saw that the book also had a bunch of jokes about the GOP (“Grouchy Old People”) and FOX News.

The "GOP", according to Dav Pilkey

The “GOP”, according to Dav Pilkey

So maybe this was a calculated move on Pilkey’s part. If so, good for him. There’s always been room for controversial topics in middle grade fiction. Ask anyone who grew up reading Judy Blume. Ultimately, I suspect Pilkey didn’t make his creative choice for attention or because he’s beholden to some radical gay agenda. He did it because he knows and cares about his readers. He knows some of them will grow up to be gay, and pretty much all of them will grow up knowing and caring about someone who’s gay. A few of them will even go to school with my kids, and when they get to that part of “Sir Stinks-a-Lot”, they’ll go, “Oh, yeah. That’s like my friends’ family!”

Most importantly, though, I’d imagine Pilkey wrote the book this way because he knows his characters, and he’s probably been aware for a while that Harold is gay.

Oh, and it looks like George, the African-American kid, may have married a Caucasian woman, if that’s worth noting at all. (No one on Amazon seems to care, at least.)captunderpants5

The good news is that as I read the Amazon reviews, I noticed two important things about the one-star smackdowns: First, they made up a mere 8% of the book’s total reviews (which I know is likely to change if some Grouchy Old People decide to start a hate campaign against the book), and second, they’re all from grown-ups.

The kids who reviewed the book — the actual intended audience — mostly gave it rave reviews. 77% of them (as of the publication of this post) rated it 4 or 5 stars.

OK, OK, but how did the kids feel about the big reveal that Harold was gay?

It’s hard to say, honestly. Only a handful of them even bothered to mention it.

Pics reprinted from “Captain Underpants and the Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot” by Dav Pilkey (Scholastic, Inc., copyright 2015).

Clever Girl

IMG_5351Sutton: “Follow my lead… and succeed!”

Me: “That’s clever. Where’d you hear that?”

Sutton: “I made it up.”

Me: “No you didn’t.”

Sutton: “I did!”

Me: “I don’t believe you.”

Sutton: “Why not?”

Me: “It’s too sophisticated for a five-year-old to think up.”

Sutton: “I did! I thought I up!”

Me: “OK.”

Sutton: “You believe me?”

Me: “Sure.”

Sutton: “Dad?”

Me: “Yeah?”

Sutton: “What does ‘succeed’ mean?”

I Know Who Gets My Vote

suttonforpresidentMy husband was reading a book about Barack Obama to the kids tonight, and it mentioned that he was the 44th president overall but the first who was African-American.

Me: “Did you guys know that? He’s the first African-American president?”

Bennett: “So all the 43 other presidents were our color?”

Me: “Yes.”

Bennett: “That’s crazy.”

Me: “I agree. And they were all men, too. There still hasn’t been a woman president.”

Sutton: “I just want the next one to be a woman, like Shirley (sic) Clinton! Are there any other women who want to be president?”

Me: “Right now, just one. Her name is Carly Fiorina, but we don’t like her.”

Sutton: “Why not?”

Me: “Well, for one thing, she doesn’t think Daddy and I should be able to get married.”

Sutton: “WHAT?!?!?!?!?!?!!?!?”

Me: “Really. I told you there were people like that, right? Well, she doesn’t think two men should be allowed to marry each other.”

Sutton: “And does she not think a woman should be able to marry a woman?”

Me: “That’s right. She doesn’t.”

Sutton: “So she doesn’t think people should be GAY?!”

Me: “You could say that.”

Sutton: “That’s CRAZY!!!”

Me: “Isn’t it?”

Sutton: “Daddy, I think she would be a VERY bad president.”

Well, I know someone who would make a very good president…. someday…

My Interview With Anne, a Child of Surrogacy (Part 2)

I’ve had a great response to Part 1 of my interview with Anne, a young woman born through surrogacy in 1993. The comments have been incredibly supportive, understanding and appreciative of her perspective. That’s been so gratifying to me, as a dad of two children born through surrogacy myself. Now that some of these kids are reaching adulthood and beyond, and now that surrogacy is becoming more and more common, it’s important to listen to the people who’ve lived through it.

I did only minor editing on Anne’s responses, because I wanted to make sure her view was as unfiltered as possible. She’s very well-adjusted and in touch with her origin story, as we call it here. Needless to say, though, there were things that were painful or difficult for her growing up. At the risk of stirring up the anti-surrogacy people, I’ve let Anne speak her mind. I’m hoping that doing so will help lots of parents like me understand our kids’ needs and do the best we can to help them grow up into people as awesome as Anne.

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, you can find it here. Now, here’s the conclusion of my interview.

IMG_0925-960x700How many of your friends today know your origin story? How long do you usually know someone before you tell them, or is it even an issue at all? Do you feel like you constantly have to “come out” about your nontraditional family?

 

Honestly, I can’t think of any of my friends that don’t know. I tell people pretty quickly. It’s just easier to explain family dynamics and my upbringing that way because it has shaped me a good bit. I do feel like I have to come out, though, and there are times when it’s scary to “come out” about it. I think with coworkers that’s the only hesitancy I have because it’s a weirdly personal thing to bring up. I’ve only been in the “real world” for about a year but, from what I hear, talking about your dad’s sperm isn’t something that should be brought up often.

I spoke with my mom some about this, and she said that she’s never met someone who hasn’t thought it was cool/interesting/etc. and that she doesn’t plan on seeking those people out. I also think there’s an internal radar within each of us that knows when it’s safe to say certain things. In terms of coming out in my mind, it’s a bigger deal for me to tell someone I’m bisexual than it is for me to talk about my surrogacy, if that gives any perspective.

 

Anne and her parents

Anne and her parents

Do you look like your mom? What do you say if someone tells you that you look just like her (when you know you don’t actually share her DNA)? Or what if they say you look nothing like her?

Other than the blond hair, I don’t really. I’m going to have to use my mom’s response to the “you look just like her” or “I can see where she got her gorgeous hair”… She would just say something like “Yup, she definitely got it from her mom!” (emphasizing mom) and then wink at me. In terms of looking nothing like her, she’s a bit older that most moms but it’s never come up that I can remember. I also think I was quick to tell people throughout my life if I could so if someone said something about looking like my mom I would just tell them and it wouldn’t come up again. I also was and am in many ways still am a huge tomboy so it’s hard to know what someone looks like in an oversized hoodie and jeans to begin with. Combine all of this with her being 48 years older than me and I was more likely to have someone ask me if that was my grandmother than anything else.

 

What about the fact that your surrogate was paid to carry you? I used to worry that my kids would think they were the product of a business transaction rather than an act of love. Did you ever feel that way?

 

This is actually a question I get a good bit early into the conversation about my “origin story”. In college at one point, I sat down with a guy who was writing a paper on surrogacy. The question of cost came up, and I called my parents on the spot asking them how much they paid. I don’t even remember how much the ballpark estimate was, which is a testament to how much I don’t really think about it.

In fact, the reason my birth mom had me had to do with her having an abortion previously. She wanted a way to give back after doing so and decided to be a surrogate. For a while, I thought that maybe I was just a redo after a mistake. That thought process quickly dissipates though when you actually break down the facts of how much time goes into being a surrogate mother. It’s not just a transaction, especially when I hear how fond my parents are of my birth mom and vice versa.

The money aspect never really bothered me too much. I think one of the harder parts of being a surrogate though has to do with the fact that I have really no reason to be upset at my birth mom or to not know her. It’s almost the opposite reaction to the money question: “Wow, someone did this for x dollars?”. In many ways, my birth mom did an incredible thing for my parents and gave up a huge chunk of four years of her life basically to do so. If anything, the money aspect is secondary but the “what kind of awesome person would do this?!” comes to mind.

 

OK, every teenager goes through a phase when they’ll say whatever they can to hurt their parents’ feelings. Did you ever, in a fit of anger, say, “You’re not my real mom!” or, as Scott Evil says in Austin Powers, “I wish I was never artificially created in a lab!”? And if so, how did your parents handle it? I’m just trying to get a sense of what I’m in for with my kids when they get older, so I can start thinking of some snappy comebacks.

I never said it as a teenager but I do remember saying it as a very very very young child. I was upset about something and said “I want my real mom”. I don’t really remember what happened exactly but I do know my mom just hugged me anyway and asked if it was okay if she was there for me. I think the fact of the matter is that we (my mom and I) both are very aware we aren’t related. Saying “You aren’t my real mom” doesn’t take away from the fact that she helped me with homework assignments, changed my diaper, helped me apply to college, let me practice the same speech a thousand times to her, checked my papers for mistakes, etc. If I were you, I would say something like “I know I’m not but I am someone who loves you dearly and am doing everything I can to support you”.

I apologize if this is like one of those job interview questions where they try to throw a curveball at you, but what do you feel has been the best part of being a child of surrogacy? Is there anything it’s given you that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?

I think it has made me incredibly self aware and curious about others. I’m not sure if I was just born that way or if it’s a result, but I definitely think just the complexity of my family has made me that way. Beyond that, I think having a broader definition of family has allowed me to have deeper relationships than most with my parents (with time) and friends. I’ve also learned purely as a result of my being here that there is an incredibly good and beautiful side to humanity. It’s taught me the importance of giving back and of doing things for others that they may not be able to do for themselves. Yes, me being born in an economic sense is nothing more than a transaction. The same is true from a legal standpoint: I’m a result of a legal contract. However, me being born in the anthropological sense shows an incredibly fascinating and wonderful next step for humans. Me being born in a sociological sense shows change in a variety of institutions (medical, legal, etc.), social opinion, and simply how people interact. I can ramble about this for a while but you get the point. Come to think of it, this may explain why I stuck to subjects like anthropology and sociology more than economics over the years🙂 It’s a more human explanation for a human situation.

I think being a surrogate baby has simply given me a perspective on the world that very few have. It’s given me a million reasons to understand myself better and to view things from a variety of perspectives (my parents, my technically half brother, my birthmom, my birthmom’s kids, etc.). It also let me blur the lines of family and let more people in as a result. I’m also very comfortable with the “messiness” of life and I think that’s been a huge asset for me.

littlegirlanne2Looking back, is there anything you wish your parents had handled differently in how they raised you? Anything having to do with when or how they discussed your origin story or the level of contact you had with your surrogate?

 

I wish my parents had acknowledged the differences between my brother and me a bit more. This may sound odd but I think they were so focused on trying to make sure we were treated equally that I sometimes didn’t get the help I needed. They tried to make things SO normal that there wasn’t a ton of time to talk about how I was different. I needed structured time to have a conversation about it whereas I think they waited for me to just bring it up. I was a very emotional kid and still am that way as an adult whereas my brother is extremely logical and quite void of intense emotions almost. While I think they wanted to make sure I had a normal existence and didn’t have to think/talk about my birth mom, I think I needed to more than we did. The one off remarks about her and, as you say, my origin story were reassuring but I never felt I had a complete understanding and always felt like I had to be the one to bring it up. I told them this about two years ago but I wish they had just asked me from time to time “How do you feel about being a surrogate baby? Do you like your relationship with your birthmom? Do you tell your friends about this?”. I just wish we had a bit of a deeper and more thorough dialogue beyond “She’s a great person! You look just like her!”.

Otherwise, I have zero complaints. My mom has handled everything with complete grace and they are ALWAYS open to talking about it honestly even if I have to start the conversations. I think for them the hard part of having kids was the not being able to have them. As a result, I don’t think they understand the perspective of it being hard for me. I don’t think it ever really crossed their mind which has been a positive in that it has made me secure about my family.

What’s the weirdest or most offensive thing anyone’s ever said to you about surrogacy and/or your origin story?

Before visiting my birth mom in college there was talk of my friend and I possibly staying with her to save money. My friend said something to the effect of “you don’t know her – she could be crazy. I don’t know if this is smart” and it really threw me for a loop. I was offended because it was technically my genetic mom and it made me feel like she thought I was crazy. I also was hurt because she was right – I don’t know her and I don’t know what she is like. I ended up calling my dad in a panic not knowing what to do or how to process it. He basically calmed me down and we ended the conversation laughing about the whole thing. Still though, it left me feeling pretty uneasy and weird for obvious reasons. Also, not the best thing to say to someone when they are just meeting their birth mom for the second time (if the first time even counted).

Would you ever consider being a surrogate yourself, and if so, under what circumstances? (For a friend/sibling? Traditional/gestational? “Hell to the no!”?)

I have very little desire to have kids right now so this is hard for me to answer. The idea of having a baby just reminds me of the Alien vs. Predator movie scene where the alien busts out of that person’s chest. Kidding aside, I’m reading a book right not called Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon that dives into the parent – child relationship in terms of how our identities are developed. I highly recommend reading it purely because it breaks apart the importance of correctly identifying illness (something that can be fixed) vs identity (something that needs be accepted) as well as offering a solid study into vertical (genetic/family) vs horizontal (social) identities. I want to study this more, meet more surrogates, meet more surrogate babies, and understand the parent-child relationships a bit better before diving into having kids of my own or kids for other people.

2014-03-15_1394904153When my husband and I first met with our surrogacy agency, they told us we were “pioneers”, but your parents really earned that term much more than we did, given that you were born in 1993. Is there any advice you’d have for people considering surrogacy today?

I would say the best advice is to take a child development class and to meet other people who have gone through it. I took a child development class as part of my college education and, wow, everyone considering to be parents needs to take one (seriously). Beyond that, I would think long and hard about two questions:

1. Do you want to tell your child? Are you willing to deal with the consequences of telling them or not telling them?

2. What do you want your relationship and your child’s relationship to be like with the birthmom?  The lack of research around surrogates in this case is what is mostly causing the problem. It’s a natural reaction to fear something you don’t understand, don’t hear about, and, for most people, don’t have a need for. It’s a different story when you are struggling with fertility issues. It’s ironic to me that they would be against surrogacy when it’s basically a hyper planned pregnancy with the sole goal of delivering a baby to two parents who really want the child.

My two cents: tell your kids and have an open relationship with the birthmom.

Are you aware of the anti-surrogacy movement? There are some people who don’t think surrogacy should be legal, because it exploits women and/or because it’s unfair to the kids who result from it. How would you respond to those people?

I am aware of the anti-surrogacy movement. I can see why it can be thought of that way from people who may not really understand how surrogacy is being used in the real world. The screening in place for surrogate mothers is intense, at least in the United States. I think that should be the case everywhere if it’s not already (I can’t speak with authority on that). Moreover, I think the screening for parents who want to use surrogacy should be just as intense and rigorous, which I currently think it is. My parents have spoken to me of strict standards even back at the very beginning of this so I can’t imagine they have fallen to the wayside now. By having these standards in place, I think you actually prevent many of the fears anti-surrogacy people have as you can weed out those who are doing it for the wrong reasons, which could potentially result in the exploitation of women and a level of unfairness to the kids. However, I think if you actually surveyed surrogates and surrogate babies, you would find a much different story.

For the last question, I want you to speak directly to my kids. Knowing that they were also conceived through surrogacy, what would you want to say to them?

Gah. I know there may be times when your identity feels pulled in a million directions and you’re not sure who you got your laugh or nose from but know that deep down inside you are so incredibly loved. Know that family goes much farther and deeper beyond blood and genetics. Know that it’s okay to talk about surrogacy and that you should never be ashamed of it. Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions but recognize that everyone involved in your life is going through this for the first time too (give them and yourself a break). You can never have too many people who love you and want you to be here – you, like me, have one extra person from the very beginning loving you. See your origin story as something that gives you insight into yourself and those around you. Question yourself deeply – you have a rare perspective on the world. Talk to others – often the fears or concerns you might have about being a surrogate baby can come from not having a greater perspective about how you get here in the first place. Ultimately though, be kind – everyone has their own origin story in their own way and use yours to connect rather than to divide.

Is there anything else you want to add? If not, feel free to tell me how wonderful my questions were, because that would be a super ego boost for me.

I think for me I’m at a place now where I more so just want to understand the surrogate’s perspective. In many ways, the surrogate baby is “set up” to seek the birth mom whereas the birth mom is “set up” to let go of the child she gave birth to for someone else. That’s an oversimplification of course but I think I’m realizing after so many years I think I now have the emotional energy and confidence to dive into building a relationship with her rather than theorizing about how she might feel. You can really drive yourself nuts if you want to trying to understand surrogacy and I’ve found that simplifying it to the core of it being an act of altruism in many ways helps bring me peace.

Thanks!

One last ramble… being a surrogate baby is basically like half being adopted and half being a stepchild without any drama of a divorce. It leaves you in a weird place because you have some angst of “why did my mom give me up” but not nearly to the extent that you do if you were adopted. The angst that is there as a result often goes away when you release how selfless it was to do. However, you do feel a bit like a stepchild in that you aren’t fully related to one of your parents (at least for my kind of surrogacy). BUT you were so wanted by this parent that they planned for years to have you! As a result, it’s this weird mix of more common social norms in our society that leaves you feeling both like you have people who “get it” yet still a bit alone. I’ve balanced it by realizing as we all do that there will be very few if any people who totally get your story. There are some friends who I can talk to about my sexual identity but who may not understand the surrogacy/family side and vice versa. Fortunately, I have a variety of people who I can turn to for different things and, ultimately, as a collective group of people I have never felt alone in this.

I think my favorite part of what Anne said is this: “Don’t ever be afraid to ask questions but recognize that everyone involved in your life is going through this for the first time too (give them and yourself a break).” That’s such an incredibly empathetic, self-aware statement, and we’re definitely still in a world where that is true for most families undergoing surrogacy.

I’d like to point out, for the sake of clarity, that my kids were created through a different type of surrogacy than Anne was. Her parents underwent what’s commonly called “traditional surrogacy”, in which the surrogate carrier uses her own egg but does not retain custody of the child. (Thus, Anne’s use of the term “birth mom,” which we don’t use in our family.) Traditional surrogacy has become less common with the advances in IVF technology since the 90’s, although some intended parents still choose that route. My husband and I underwent “gestational surrogacy,” which is more common today. In gestational surrogacy, embryos are created in vitro using a donor’s eggs, and they’re then transfered to a surrogate who has no genetic link to the child.

Thanks again to Anne for her openness and honesty in responding to my incredibly direct and invasive questions. She is an inspiration to me, and I’m sure she will be to my kids as they get older. If you’d like to get to know Anne even better, you should follow her on Twitter @annezazu

Meet Anne: A Slap-In-The-Face Interview With a Child of Surrogacy

Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to speak at the first ever WordPress-sponsored Press Publish conference in Portland, Oregon. While I was there, I met tons of awesome people, but the one who probably sticks out the most to me was a young woman named Anne who spoke to me after my presentation. She wanted me to know that she was born through surrogacy herself. She was curious to meet my kids, because she’d never met anyone else who was born through surrogacy.

Anne

Anne

She was a wonderful person — smart, polite, down-to-Earth, and we had a very nice chat. I promised to put her in touch with some people who might be able to help her find other people her age born through surrogacy, and she gave me her card.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about her, because I often wonder how my kids will feel about their birth story as they get older. Will they be confused? Alienated? Bored to tears? Anne was so cool about where she came from, so I emailed and asked if I could interview her for this site.

Now, in honor of Surrogate and Egg Donor Day (a/k/a Other’s Day), which my family celebrates every year on the day before Mother’s Day, here are her thoughtful, honest, eye-opening responses.

Before I start, I want to say that Anne gave me permission to be totally blunt and intrusive and ask the kind of questions that would normally earn me a slap in the face. In return, I gave her permission to respond “You horrible bastard!” to any question that was particularly rude, and then just move on. I would not normally be this direct when talking to someone with a nontraditional birth story, nor would I recommend you be. But if you want to know how they might answer if you ever were so bold, here you go.

In order to avoid any confusion, I also want to point out that when I refer to Anne’s “mom” or “mother” in these questions, I mean the woman who raised her. If I’m talking about her surrogate, I’ll use the term “surrogate”.

* * *

Hi Anne! First of all, can you tell me about your family and about how you were conceived? It was through traditional surrogacy, right, meaning the surrogate used her own egg, along with your father’s sperm?

Yes, I am a result of a traditional surrogacy! My mom dealt with fertility issues, which led them to consider surrogacy. Through the Center for Surrogate Parenting, they met my birth mom. The first attempt ended in a miscarriage, and after that, it took them almost 4 years to have me.

 

Before my second question, I want to apologize for my first question, because no one should ever have to hear, say or think about a phrase like “your father’s sperm”. Most of us have the luxury of never having to ponder the specifics of how our parents created us — whether it was on their honeymoon, there was a broken condom or they were crazy drunk and our dad actually thought he was hooking up with our mom’s identical twin sister or something. I don’t know those things about myself, and I don’t want to. Do you ever get annoyed that people are so curious about the specifics of your birth story, or that you have to talk about it more than most people do?

Hahah oh my gosh. In some ways, I’m lucky my birth was SO planned. They REALLY wanted me, so much so that they went through this intense process to have me. Honestly, I get more annoyed with people who try to pretend like I didn’t just say anything about surrogacy when I mention it than those who see me as an interesting biology and social experiment. “That’s nice – what are you doing this weekend” feels a lot worse than “Wait – how long have you known?!”.

If I don’t want to talk about it I don’t have to. Either way, most of the time when I do bring it up or when family is brought up an interesting conversation results, which is always fun.

 

What kind of communication do you have with your surrogate, and what do you call her? Is she your “surrogate mother”, or do you avoid the “m” word, like we do in our family?

I call her by her first name actually. I had to take a second to think about that. If I’m describing her to other people, I’ll say birth mom like I am now. Otherwise though, I had major speech problems until I was about 9 and surrogate mother would have come out like “I haff a shuwoogathe mothwa” which sounds like it could be a disease.

I didn’t have much communication with her growing up. Looking back, that’s something I wish I had more of but she was living her life, most likely trying to give my parents distance to raise me. I remember getting cards on Christmas and for my birthday every once in a while.

When I was 12, I met her for the first time. Apparently, organizations associated with surrogacy think 12 is a good age. Real quick: think back to when you were 12 and imagine meeting your parent for the first time?! It threw me for a loop for sure. I think 12 was just too awkward and emotional of an age for that to happen. We only went out to dinner and my parents were there the entire time. I don’t remember saying much because what do you have to say when you’re 12?

After that, I remember reaching a point in my freshman or sophomore year where I hacked into my dad’s email looking for her email address. This was the beginning of social media and all that jazz so I was determined to see if I could find her. I found her email address, then found her on Facebook. Long story short, we became Facebook friends my junior year and basically liked each other’s posts for a while.

Midway through college, I realized I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if something happened to my birth mom and I hadn’t met her as an adult. I decided to make the trip my junior year to visit her. I dragged one of my close friends along for the road trip and am so happy I did, as I definitely would’ve been too nervous to drive to dinner by myself. We met up with her and her husband and had dinner. Since then we’ve mostly kept up very randomly via texting but I’m planning on going to see her sometime in the next year again. My relationship with her is definitely something I want to develop as I do think I’m lucky to have such an open relationship with her.

wholefamily

Anne’s family

When did your parents first tell you that you were conceived through surrogacy, and what was your initial reaction? Did you feel like a weirdo, some kind of superkid or somewhere in between?

This is a hard question to answer, because I can’t think of a time when I didn’t know. My family always talked about it, never in a way of “You’re different” but more of a “We’re so lucky to have you!”

In terms of how I felt, there were definitely times I felt a bit different. It was more centered on me not knowing my biological mom. I think it made me wonder if I was missing anything. I know that I felt a bit out of place within my family at times. I do remember daydreaming about meeting my birth mom and what I would say to her or what would happen if we didn’t get along. I think more than anything I just wondered if she was like me. I wrote about it a bit on an old private blog. Here are some excerpts:

“my half sister messaged me a bit ago about wanting to get together and go on vacation or at least meet up. isnt that strange? isnt that lovely? i love it. every bit of it. it’s weird that there is someone genetically related to me living their own life doing their own thing and i am only following from a distance on facebook. same with [my birth mom]. will i ever know her? know what her face looks like when shes mad or happy? know what her favorite song is. favorite candy. favorite meal. what time she goes to bed. how she cuts a steak. what her laugh sounds like. the little things.” – December 31, 2012

“i saw my birth mom almost two weeks ago. i am at work and can’t write too much about it but let’s just say that the connection was made. the synapse was complete. i can now think about my birth mom and there is a mental endpoint. there are less questions. there is more peace. it was amazing to see myself in her. to sit across from her and feel so calm. i wasnt worried about what i was saying or doing. i just was being. it was a lot less scary than i thought it would be and a lot more natural.” -November 5, 2013

Based on these two you can see a glimpse of how I felt before and how I feel now. When I think about her now there isn’t this nagging feeling that I need to see her. There’s a much broader sense of calm and peace about it.

Growing up, how many of your friends knew about your unique birth story? (Just to make you feel more like a superhero, we’ll call it your “origin story”.) Did other kids ever tease you about your family?

I don’t ever recall being teased but I do remember outing myself, so to speak, about being a surrogate baby when a friend of mine who was adopted was being picked on. I think the other kids were so shocked by what I said they just didn’t pick on her again! I have some memories in 1st – 5th grade of telling people, but it was always just passed over. My mom told me recently that she had some parents come up to her asking for the story so they could explain it a bit better to their kids. After 6th or 7th grade, I remember telling my close friends more often. It was one of those “secrets” that came out after a certain period of time. In college, I would say it casually if there were moments it came up in conversation about family life, etc. I mentioned it to a Lyft driver the other day after making a comment about being born where he was from but only living there for a week. If the opportunity comes up, I’ll say something but it’s definitely not a natural thing you throw into conversation.

 

Did you feel different from your friends with more traditional families, and did you ever wish you could just have a “normal” family like everyone else?

I do have some really funny memories from a doctor’s visit when I was probably 6 where I said some really insane stuff about not letting my mom’s blood go inside my body because we aren’t related. I definitely had moments where I felt like my brother was closer to my mom. My dad and I like the same candy, wake up early in the morning, have similar mannerisms, etc. I felt like I could feel the biological connection more than I could with my mom. How can you prove that? If I didn’t know I was a surrogate baby, would I even notice anything? I firmly believe I wouldn’t.

At some point when I was growing up, though, I realized that having blurred lines about what exactly family is allowed me to develop closer relationships with people. To explain a bit further, by expanding my definition of family, I was able to let more people in. I think this way of viewing things helped me not worry as much about what a “normal” family is. Plus, the second you really talk to anyone about family, you realize there is no normal🙂

 

Anne and her brother

Anne and her brother

Tell me a bit about your brother. While your parents were struggling to conceive with the surrogate, they actually conceived naturally, and your brother was born. Is that right?

That’s correct! My brother was basically a miracle baby. My mom had stopped fertility treatments when she found out she was pregnant with him!

 

So if your parents’ goal was to have a baby, why did they continue to pursue surrogacy after they had a biological child of their own? I think that’s something that might confuse some people.

Simply put, they wanted two kids🙂 I think just having one kid would have been a miracle enough, but the chance to have two… they couldn’t pass it up. I think at that point they were already heavily invested in the idea of surrogacy and decided to go for it.

 

Did you ever feel different from your brother, like he had some connection to your mom that you lacked? Did you ever feel like your parents treated you differently? And be honest, because every kid in history who has siblings has at one point or another said, “You like him better than me!

I am about as different from my brother as I can be. We butt heads, as I seem to have taken all the emotions between the two of us. I would say despite my parents’ best efforts, we were treated differently. I think having different genetics meant I needed to be treated differently. I’m much more emotional than my brother and needed different responses in certain situations. I spoke to my parents about this a couple of years ago and they said they just never thought of it that way but can see how they could have done things differently.

When you think about everything your parents went through to have you, do you ever wonder, “Why didn’t they just adopt?” Is that something other people have asked? (My husband and I get that sometimes when we mention we had a surrogate.)

For some reason, I think my parents would have had a harder time adopting than having a surrogate. I’m 22 and my mom just turned 70 about a week ago. My dad is 60.

I just called my mom and asked. Here’s a summary of her response:

“We tried everything. We started with adoption and it’s not that easy when you’re our age. Because at this day and age, birthmothers have a big say and I was probably older than most of their moms. The short answer is we tried, and when we had the funds to go for surrogacy we jumped for it. Having the possibility of surrogacy was a more attractive option because you would have more of a likelihood that you would have a baby and there would be a genetic connection. It was an evolution – it wasn’t an either/or.”

As a backstory, The generation gap is something that did cause issues but, now that I’m older and wiser myself, I’m SO happy to have had older parents as there was a maturity that I think made this entire process easier. In terms of other people asking about adoption, I’ve actually never been asked that!

Coming up in part two, I’ll ask Anne about how she deals with being a child of surrogacy now that she’s grown up. Does it still come up? Would she consider being a surrogate herself? What would she say to kids like mine who were also born through surrogacy, and to people who don’t think surrogacy should be legal?

Check back for the second part of my interview or subscribe to my blog to get it emailed to you as soon as it becomes available. And Happy Surrogate and Egg Donor Day!