Gay Dads Have All The Answers…

selfportrait

Her first self-portrait

“Daddy, when I’m an adult, I’m going to grow a baby in my belly.”

“That’s great, Honey, and if that’s what you decide, then yes, you can.”

“But Daddy…?”

“Yes?”

“How does it get in there?”

“How does what get in there?”

“The baby… how does it get in my belly?”

“Um… well…”

“How does it get in there, Daddy?”

“Well… um… actually, for Daddy and me… we had a doctor put you in.”

“Oh. OK.”

Giant sigh of relief.

 

Past Posts Revisited: How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent

therealthingnews-com-au

I’m always happy when someone reposts my piece How to Talk to Your Children About Gay Parents, by a Gay Parent. It’s one of my favorite things I’ve posted here, and I tend to hear back some really amazing things as well as gain some super cool new followers every time it gets spread to some other corner of the internet.

Previously, the piece was featured on sites like the Today Show, Lifetime Moms and the Good Men Project. Just this week, two more very popular sites reblogged it, garnering it a bunch of fresh traffic. First, it ran on one of my favorite parenting blogs, Scary Mommy. If you don’t already know Scary Mommy, you should go there right now. It’s full of hilarity, top-notch writing and all kinds of wonderful things.

Scary Mommy has amazing readers, who’ve so far shared my post almost 10,000 times on Facebook(!) One person who read it over there works for the popular Australian news site News.com.au, and she asked if she could rerun it on that site as well.

They apparently put it on the front page, which brought it a lot of attention. If you read the comments on that site, you’ll see the response was not quite as positive as it’s been on other sites. I have no idea if News.com.au’s readership leans conservative or if this is representative of how most people Down Under view families like mine. Either way, I’m really grateful they ran my post because I’d rather this topic be discussed than ignored, and at least I put the subject in a few people’s minds.

My original piece wasn’t intended to defend my family or to convert homophobes. (For that, try this post instead.) It was aimed at sympathetic straight parents. However, to the detractors on news.com.au and elsewhere, I’ll say this:

Families with gay parents aren’t going away. You can say “Every child needs a mother and a father” all you want, but at some point, you’ll need to accept that you live in a world where not every child is going to have one. They might have none — or two. The only family you get to assemble is your own. Do with it what you will. You can either try to live peacefully with those who make different choices or remain cranky and increasingly isolated. You can tsk, tsk and say “Those poor kids,” but your pity and bigotry does more to harm my children than having two dads who think they’re the greatest kids in the world ever could.

I’ve read plenty of comments, on the other hand, that made valid criticisms. In the hopes that my piece will continue to be shared, I’ve decided to do a few minor revisions to take those into account.

The first is my mockery of the word “queer” in this line from the original piece:

You could also use the word “queer”, I guess, but then your kids and I will just think you’re a pretentious dweeb.

Most people, even those who self-identify as “queer” seem to have taken it as the harmless joke it was meant to be. Others took serious offense, and that’s something I never intended. The theme of the piece is tolerance and inclusiveness, and if anyone felt slighted by that line, I apologize. I admit my impression of the word “queer” as being pretentious dweebery is probably 20 years out of date. People self-identify as “queer” for a variety of very valid personal reasons, and I don’t want to make light of that.

I’ve removed that joke from the post. The Brainy Smurf joke is a better closer anyway.

Second, a few people have taken issue with me saying, “Every child ends up with the right parents for them” when we know how many kids in this world are abused, neglected or otherwise mistreated by their parents. It’s a fair point, so I’ve changed that statement to “It’s love that makes a family”. That way you can help explain nontraditional families without also validating abusive ones.

Lastly, I made a few minor tweaks just to make the piece more evergreen and universal. I never expected people on other continents would read my blog, and not all of them know what Grand Central Station is.

If you want to reblog the post from this point on, I ask that you use the newer version. Just to restate my reblogging policy:

Anyone is welcome to repost anything on this site anywhere, provided they credit me and link back to the original post on my domain. (Something along the lines of this would be great: “This piece, by Jerry Mahoney, originally appeared on his blog “Mommy Man: Adventures of a Gay Superdad“. I request that you use the “Contact Me” page to let me know when you’re going to reblog something. I love to check out my work on other people’s sites, however big or small their audience, and I may even be able to send some traffic your way by sharing your link.

To share any of my posts on your social networks, just click the corresponding button (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) at the bottom of the post and it does everything necessary for you.

If you quote excerpts, please link back to the full piece.

If you link me without reposting the entire piece and say, “Hey, go read this guy’s site! It’s great!”, then you’re awesome and I like you.

Aw, shucks. I like all of you! And I still can’t wait to visit Australia someday.

9 Incredibly Uncomfortable Yet Absolutely Essential Questions to Ask Potential Surrogates

Cover of "Vacancy"

This is the latest in a series of informational posts I’ve been doing on the gestational surrogacy process. This is for those of you who might be where I was about 5 years ago, weighing the options you have for becoming a parent… or for those who are merely curious about the process. This time, I’m sharing my advice on what questions you need to ask your surrogate before deciding if you’re a good match.

To the rest of you, I apologize. More peepee poopoo jokes next time, I promise.

Meeting with a potential surrogate is like the most awkward first date imaginable. You’re face-to-face with a woman you barely know, and both of you spend most of the time talking about making a baby together. Talk about rushing things.

There are probably a million things you want — and need — to know. I’ve seen some websites that suggest you approach your surrogate with a massive checklist of questions, many of which are not exactly subtle, like:

“Do you smoke?”

“Are you sexually active?”

“What were the results of your last pap smear?”

Sure, those are great things to ask… if you want the surrogate to throw a drink in your face and slap an instant “No Vacancy” sign on her womb.

Remember, this isn’t a job interview. She can reject you, too, and if you treat her like an employee or a menial laborer, she probably should.

Don’t worry, if there are any red flags, they’ll turn up in her medical and psychological exams, and you’ll be made aware of them by a professional, neutral third party.

When you sit down face-to-face with a potential gestational carrier, try to empathize with what she’s going through. After a huge amount of deliberation and soul searching, she’s decided to do something incredibly generous, terrifically inconvenient, and more than a tiny bit risky, for a virtual stranger. She’s nervous to meet that stranger, but also a bit thrilled.

Then you come in and ask about her pap smears.

So what should you discuss in your first meeting? First and foremost, it’s time to take the mystery out of your relationship and just get to know each other. If things go well, you’ll be creating a life together.

That being said, it’s not exactly a first date. You need to check your compatibility on some pretty weighty matters.

If you’re working with an agency, much of this subject matter will be covered by them, but if not, these are the questions you need to ask, in increasing order of unpleasantness.

1. What made you want to be a surrogate?

No one’s going to reply, “I need the money,” and if they do, you should probably run away as fast as you can. Sure, the money is a nice perk, but with all a surrogate goes through, she’s going to earn that cash, and it is a limited sum. No one’s getting rich as a gestational surrogate, so it’s a safe bet she has bigger motives.

Our surrogate heard a report about gestational surrogacy on the radio when she was 19, and it made her cry. She turned to her mother and said, “Someday, I’m going to do that for someone.” Once she’d completed her own family, she googled surrogacy agencies, and that’s how she was eventually paired with us. It was such a sweet story, and it told us so much about who she was as a person.

Raising this basic topic is a great way to get to know your surrogate and to show her that you appreciate the sacrifice she’d be making on your behalf.

2. What were your other pregnancies like?

Again, the medical exam will clue you in to any relevant technical info, so try to keep this as light as possible. How bad did her babies kick? Did she get morning sickness? You may not know very much about the surrogate at this point, but you know she’s been pregnant before (at least in most cases, since most gestational carriers have a proven history of successful pregnancies).

You, on the other hand, in all likelihood have never been and never will be pregnant. Show some curiosity and empathy by asking her to describe exactly what she’d be going through for your benefit. This is also a great way to show you appreciate the sacrifice she’ll be making on your behalf.

And if you find out pregnancy makes her crave pickles and ice cream, file that away. Someday, when she’s carrying your child, you’ll know just what to put in her care package.

3. How do your friends and family feel about you being a surrogate?

Surrogacy is physically and emotionally demanding, and no one can do it alone. Make sure she has a good support system, people who care about her who appreciate what an amazing thing she’s doing. If she’s religious, it’s very helpful if her spiritual leader is on her side as well.

This is especially important for gay intended parents. If your surrogate has a homophobic husband or goes to a gay-unfriendly church, you’re not off to a good start. Someday soon, she might find herself at the Wal-Mart in her tiny town when a woman comes up, points at her belly and says, “Aww, lucky you!” She’ll have to reply, “Oh, he’s not mine. I’m having this baby for George and Steven.” Is she ready for whatever may come next?

Let her know what kind of homophobia you’ve faced and how you’ve persevered. It can be very difficult for a (most likely) straight woman to willingly expose herself to homophobia, but that’s what she’ll be doing by having a baby for a gay couple.

One surrogate my partner and I met with had previously carried a baby for a gay couple, and she hadn’t encountered any resistance, so we knew she’d be fine this time around as well.

4. Are you comfortable with me/us being in doctor’s appointments and the delivery room?

Sorry, guys, when you came out of the closet, you probably thought you were exempt from discussing (and possibly seeing) ladyparts. Not any more. Obviously, let the surrogate know that you’ll respect her privacy as much as possible. But one of the main benefits of having a baby with a surrogate is being able to participate in all the exciting prenatal moments, like finding out the baby’s sex or seeing him or her for the first time on a sonogram monitor.

Most surrogates will fully anticipate and welcome your participation in the process, but raising the issue in a polite and respectful manner will set the right tone for when those intimate moments inevitably arise.

5. What kind of communication would you like to maintain after the birth?

There’s no correct answer to this. Some surrogates and intended parents want to stay in close touch. Others might want to be your Facebook friend so they can see pictures of your kids growing up. Still others may be content merely to get a holiday card every December. As long as both parties are on the same page, anything can work.

My advice is to offer up a safe but minimal amount of contact. If you and your surrogate hit it off (as we did with ours), you can always have more contact than you planned.

It’s important to reiterate that your surrogate will have no legal rights to your child. Once your baby is born, you are well within your rights to cut off all contact with the surrogate and never see her again. I’d imagine that kind of clean break only really happens in extreme circumstances. Most people and their surrogates form a bond through the process and want to stay in touch afterward.

Once your child is old enough to understand how he or she came into the world, they’ll likely be curious about who their surrogate was, so it helps if you’ve kept up the relationship.

6. How many fetuses are you willing to carry?

My partner and I were very lucky to have twins with our surrogate, but it made the pregnancy considerably harder on her. She was confined to bed rest for most of the third trimester and there were a few scares where we thought she might be miscarrying one or both of the fetuses, which meant some late-night trips to the emergency room.

Thankfully, everything worked out okay for us, but the more fetuses involved in your pregnancy, the higher the risks. A woman carrying triplets is almost always put on bed rest. It’s not surprising then that many surrogates limit the number of babies they’re willing to carry to one or two.

If you were hoping for octuplets, in other words, you’re out of luck.

7. Would you be willing to undergo a selective reduction?

Here’s where the questions start to get really dicey.

Even if your surrogate only wants to carry one baby and you only want to have one kid, you may still want to transfer multiple embryos to increase the odds that one of them attaches.

So what happens if your surrogate becomes pregnant with two or three embryos? In that case, she may undergo a selective reduction, where excess embryos are removed from her uterus at a very early stage, leaving only the number of babies you’re willing to have.

We interviewed a surrogate who had undergone this procedure with a previous pregnancy and, for various reasons, didn’t want to go through it again. She was asking that we not transfer more than two embryos, so she could be mostly assured she wouldn’t have to carry more than twins.

Some IPs plan to transfer as many embryos as they can, then reduce down to just one or two if too many of them take. That’s fine if the surrogate agrees to it, but not everyone will be comfortable with that.

This is obviously a very tricky ethical situation, so for everyone’s benefit, it’s important to make sure you’re on the same page.

8. If we were to decide, due to complications with the fetus, to terminate the pregnancy, would you be willing to do so?

You and the surrogate are both entering into this agreement with the same goal: to make a baby. Neither of you wants to think about terminating a pregnancy, because that goes against the very reason you’ve come together.

However, everyone knows that things do sometimes go wrong, and the baby will be yours, not hers, so if there are complications and you become concerned with what your child’s quality of life would be, it should be your call to make.

There are people — surrogates and intended parents alike — who would never terminate a pregnancy under any circumstances. That’s fine, of course, but if you feel that way, it’s good to have a surrogate who would defer to your judgment in the case that your feelings change.

Again, no one wants to think about the worst case scenario. You both want a healthy baby. So bring this up now, and then forget about it. Hopefully, it won’t end up being an issue.

9. What concerns do you have about us or this process?

You never know what your surrogate may be thinking or how you may come across to her. She might have a special request that’s very important to her or a fear she’s working to get over.

Our surrogate had two requests: One, she wanted an epidural, because she went without one when her son was born and didn’t want to do that again. And two, she wanted to make sure that she wouldn’t be handed the baby in the delivery room. When doctors first handed her her son, that’s when she bonded with him. To make sure to establish the right boundaries, she didn’t want to see the baby until later on, when she was in the recovery room.

Let her know that her concerns are important to you, and in case she does have a vastly different idea of how the birth should go, it’s better to find out now rather than a trimester or two into the pregnancy.

 

Hopefully, you’ll find plenty of common ground with your surrogate on these topics, because once you’ve discussed them and agreed about the important things, you’ve earned the right to never discuss them again. In all likelihood, you won’t have to, and now that you’ve gotten past the tough stuff, you can talk about things that don’t really matter: what her favorite sports teams or TV shows are, what kind of sense of humor she has and what she thinks of the baby names you’ve picked out.

Then, finally, you’ll know for sure if you’ve found “The One.”

We Were On “The Today Show”

I never planned to put my kids on camera.  I mean, my cameras, sure.  I have about 10 bajillion hours of video of them doing completely mundane things like drooling or singing that new Taylor Swift song, which in my son’s interpretation, goes like this:

“We are never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, NEVER EVER EVER, NEVER EVER EVER… WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER…”

That’s it, over and over.  It never ends.  Never ever ever.

You can see why I keep these things to myself.

On the other hand, I feel a kind of parental duty to educate people about my family, to make the world a better, more understanding place for my kids, and of course, other kids in nontraditional families.

So when my friend Robin Sindler, who’s smart and talented and amazing and just happens to be a producer for The Today Show, came to me and asked if she could shoot a segment on our family, I thought about it for a bit and then said yes.

Then Drew said no.

Then, Robin said she would fly Susie down for an interview, meaning we’d get to spend a few days with her and her daughter, Grace.

We talked about it a lot, and eventually Drew agreed that if we were ever going to do something like this, we’d want to do it with someone we trust, on a show we respect, so our lives don’t get Jerry Springer-ized or used as a jumping-off point for some loudmouthed debate.

The Susie visit was a bonus, and of course, no story about my family would be complete unless it adequately praised Susie for her gift to us.

A few days later, Robin arrived with a small (and terrific) crew, and Drew and I slogged through what was probably our worst day of parenting ever.  We said things like, “Careful with Daddy’s mic pack!”  “Stay on the swing and keep smiling!”  And, “If you can just make it through one more bit of b-roll, we’ll have McDonald’s for lunch.”  We made the kids sit in the basement watching Beauty & The Beast while we shot our interview.  When Grace started crying, we asked Susie to take her for a walk so it wouldn’t ruin our audio.

We filmed at our swim class.  Usually, Drew’s at work for swim class, and I’m forced to sit with the other parents in a galley area so I don’t distract the kids.  For the camera crew, they let us sit at the edge of the pool, with our feet in the water.  The kids got to swim up to us and show us their moves, while a camera pushed in on their dripping wet faces.  They felt like movie stars.

It reminded me of all the reasons I never wanted our kids to be child actors.  “This is just for one day,” I kept reminding Drew.

I knew it had made an impression a couple of weeks later when we were reading one of my kids’ books.  (I think it was a Curious George book, but I can’t seem to find it now.)  There was a picture of a camera crew, including a woman who was standing in the back, taking notes on a small pad.  Sutton pointed at her and said, “That’s the producer!”

We had no idea how the piece would turn out or how many months would elapse before it would air.  It turned out it was only about three weeks.

I was terrified to watch it.  I didn’t want the kids to see it.  Drew had it on in his office, and he promised to call me afterward with his assessment.

“Go turn it on now,” he demanded.  “Sit and watch it with the kids.  It’s beautiful.”

So we did.  I backed up my Tivo and sat with the kids on the couch.

They were most excited to see their cousin Grace.  “Oh, she’s so cute!” they squealed.  I think they’re so used to seeing videos of themselves that they didn’t see this as anything special.  When it was over, Sutton asked, “Now can we watch another show about us?”

I’ve heard from lots of people since this piece aired — friends who loved hearing the story for what was probably the millionth time, strangers who enjoyed hearing it for the first time.  Now that we’ve seen it, we have no regrets.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too.  It may be the last time you see us on TV for a while.

Until I can figure out how to embed, you can click here to watch the segment.

8 Surprising Facts About Egg Donors

European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), typical ...

One of the more neglected purposes of this blog is to share information (and dispel myths) about makin’ gaybies.  I want to educate people about my family – and at the same time help prospective parents, gay or straight, who might be exploring their own fertility options.

A while back, I posted about some common misperceptions of surrogacy and why Drew and I chose that path, and now I want to share some information about the other part of the equation: the egg donor.

Admittedly, our situation is somewhat unique.  Our egg donor was my partner’s sister, Susie.  (Yes, I contributed the sperm.)  But before Susie made her offer, we were planning to use an anonymous egg donor, which is what most gay dads pursuing gestational surrogacy do – and understandably so.  Not everyone has as wonderful a sister-in-law as Susie, and for various reasons, not everyone wants to have such close ties to their egg donor (ahem, Modern Family characters).

If your fertility plans involve an egg donor or if you’re just curious about the process, here are a few facts I learned while Drew and I were exploring our options:

1. Egg donors are young.

The ideal donor is in her late teens to mid-20s.  Yes, late teens.  (OK, very late teens – I never saw anyone younger than 19.)  It came as a bit of a shock to me and Drew that our child could be getting half of his or her DNA from Gossip Girl.  When we saw their pictures, it reminded us just how young 19 actually is.  They had acne and awkward grins, wore baggy college sweatshirts and put their hair in pigtails.  Susie was 28 when she donated.  Compared to the women in the database, she was practically over the hill.

2. Your children will most likely never meet their egg donor.

If you’re adopting a child, you have the option of an “open” adoption, where the birth mother maintains some form of mutually agreed-upon contact with the child throughout his or her life.  Dan Savage recounts his open adoption wonderfully in his book The Kid, a must-read for all prospective gay dads or anyone considering adoption.

I loved the idea of open adoption.  There’s no shame, no secrecy and the kid never has to go through that pain of feeling like they don’t know where they really came from.  When we started to lean toward surrogacy, I was hoping we could do some kind of “open” surrogacy.

We learned pretty quickly that there’s no such thing.  When we asked our agency if we could stay in touch with the egg donor, they seemed startled.  It wasn’t something anyone – intended parents or egg donors – ever requested, and they were pretty sure no donor would agree to it.

These were young women, after all, most of whom wanted to have their own kids someday.  They didn’t want someone else’s kids tracking them down and calling them “Mommy”.  In fact, just to become egg donors they had to divorce themselves of any feeling of kinship with their eggs.  It was like donating blood.  You’re happy to know it went to good use, but you don’t need details from the people who received it.

3. Unlike sperm, eggs are only donated “on demand”.

Sperm donors make their deposits (and get paid) not knowing if anyone will ever use their sperm.  That’s because sperm is plentiful, easy to produce (fun, too!), and cheap to store.  Eggs are none of those things.  If you become an egg donor, you go through testing (both medical and psychological) to make sure you’re equipped to donate.  Then… you wait.  Your name, photo and vital info goes into a database, and someday, if someone picks you, you get a call that it’s go time.

You could sign up to donate eggs and never actually get picked by any prospective parents (which means you never get paid).  Anonymous egg donation is definitely not for anyone who’s afraid of rejection.

4. Egg donation is a big time commitment.

A sperm donor can start and finish his job in pretty much the amount of time it takes him to open a Victoria’s Secret catalogue or press “PLAY” on a DVD.  But egg donors don’t have dozens of eggs on hand at any given time that they can just drop off at a fertility clinic on a whim.  They need to prepare themselves physically. That means about six weeks of medication.

First, there’s birth control to synch her cycle up to the surrogate’s.  The only way a pregnancy can occur is if the surrogate’s body is prepared to take over right where the egg donor’s left off.

Next, the egg donor is required to take hormones to stimulate egg development.  These need to be self-injected.  To someone as squeamish as me, that sounds excruciating, but our fertility doctor assured us that he’d never had a donor drop out because of the medication.  The side effects are usually mild – bloating, moodiness, that sort of thing.

Then, there’s the actual procedure, which you do in a doctor’s office and which takes about 10-15 minutes.  It’s not anything too horrible, but it’s not like retrieving sperm, for sure.

5. There’s generally less anonymity for egg donors than sperm donors.  

Once eggs are donated, they’re fertilized immediately (extras are frozen for later attempts) and transferred to a surrogate 3-5 days later.  Most sperm donors never encounter their intended parents first-hand, but egg donors don’t have that luxury.  You’ll probably be bumping into each other at the fertility clinic anyway, so many agencies will let you meet and interview prospective egg donors before making your decision.

Even if you don’t meet them in person, the database tends to give you their first name, an extensive bio, pictures and a video of them talking, all of which you can later pass on to your kids if you choose.

6. The standard rate for egg donors is $8,000. 

Egg donors earn a lot more than sperm donors, because of all the extra trouble they have to go through.  Their standard rate is $8,000 per “harvest”.  (The cost to the intended parents is greater, because they’re also paying for all the medical fees and medication.)

Still, $8,000 isn’t a fortune, and unlike sperm donors, egg donors are limited in how often they can donate.  The whole process can take six months, which means you’d be lucky to donate twice a year.  People don’t donate eggs to get rich.  They usually do it to pay for a couple of credits at college and to help infertile couples in the process.

7. The world of egg donors is the Wild West of the fertility landscape.

Well, OK, maybe a few women are making big bucks on their eggs.  That’s because egg donation is not currently regulated by the government.  The $8,000 fee, although fairly standard, is only a suggested retail price.  Individual agencies and donors are free to mark up as they see fit.  One agency I found online advertised “premium” egg donors – ones with Ivy League degrees, high IQs, athletic awards, etc.  A couple of them had donated their eggs more than ten times.  They also charged premium rates – some as much as $30,000 per harvest.

This represents a very small minority of egg donors, but it happens.

8. The pool is limited. 

Anyone who thinks the process of egg donation is akin to genetic engineering or eugenics is vastly overestimating the amount of choice available.  It’s more like trying to find your future wife in a bar and having only the patrons of that particular bar at that time available to you.

Given the commitment required of donors, it’s no surprise that relatively few women volunteer.   Our agency’s database had about 40-70 donors at any given time.  Not a ton – and even worse if you’re looking for a certain race or ethnicity.  Our agency had 1-2 African-Americans, 1-2 Asians.  Sure, there are dozens of other agencies you can locate with a quick Google search, but once you find someone you like, you have to make sure she’s available.  She could be “on hold” for another couple or in the process of donating to someone else.  That could lock her up for six months or longer.

Meanwhile, your surrogate may not be very patient while you wait for your dream donor to appear.  In fact, Drew and I were turned down by a potential surrogate who was uncomfortable with how long it was taking us to find a donor.  (This was part of what ultimately led us to Susie, so it ended up being a good thing.)

If you’re interested in helping infertile couples and non-traditional families like mine, egg donation is a wonderful gift you can give someone.

You’ll need to be interested in more than just making money, though.  The cash you do make, you really have to earn.  It won’t be enough to change your life, because part of the reward is knowing how much you’ve changed someone else’s.

Happy Other’s Day!

There are work-arounds to not having a mother in your family.  Our kids drank formula rather than breast milk.  We make adjustments to forms when necessary.  And when our twins are overly cranky, we tell them “Save the drama for President Obama!”  But I’ll admit, Mother’s Day is a tough one.

What are my kids going to do when their classes are making macaroni and glitter cards and milk carton bird feeders every mid-May?  Sit in the corner and do long division because they have no one to give theirs to?  I don’t want them to feel left out, and I would never want a school to cancel Mother’s Day for their benefit.  It’s a great holiday.  I even have a mother myself.

Actually, my problem with Mother’s Day started before the kids were even born.  Three years ago, around this time, our surrogate, Tiffany, was pregnant with the blobs who would eventually become Bennett and Sutton.  She did everything a pregnant woman is supposed to do – ate well, got regular check-ups, stayed off crack.  For her diligence, she was rewarded with non-stop morning sickness, a fetus who kicked the crap out of her uterus, Braxton Hicks contractions and eventually, 24-hour bed rest, all for the sake of someone else’s kids.

For that alone, I’d say she earned a bouquet of flowers once a year, but it doesn’t make her, you know, an m-word.

Then there was Drew’s sister, Susie, who’d gone through the hassle and discomfort of egg donation, who’d injected herself with needles on a daily basis, flown across country about five times – at the risk of losing her job – and forked over her DNA to make a couple of kids who would always call her “Aunt”.  What would Mother’s Day represent for her?  Just another Sunday?  An annual unacknowledged reminder of her sacrifice?

It didn’t seem right.  But using Mother’s Day to honor Tiffany and Susie didn’t seem appropriate either, because we were very clear about our family structure and who was in charge.  Fear not, Right Wing.  I have no desire to redefine motherhood.

After thinking it over for a while, we invented our own holiday, Surrogate and Egg Donor’s Day, which we celebrate on the Saturday before Mother’s Day every year.

The timing is significant, because it keeps our kids from feeling left out of Mother’s Day weekend, and it allows our surrogate and egg donor, both of whom now have kids of their own, to celebrate Mother’s Day with their own families, while still being honored for their contribution to ours.  Because they’re such amazing people, they get a whole weekend of love.

We’re not the only non-traditional family who can use this extra holiday.  Plenty of special women fall outside the definition of the word “mother” but still deserve recognition for their contributions to families.  It could be:

  • Your adopted kid’s birth mother
  • The woman who raised you in your mother’s absence
  • A stepmother
  • Your family’s long-time nanny
  • A trans parent who’s not sure where they fit in on Mother’s/Father’s Day
  • A co-parent
  • A mean green mother from outer space

Mommy?

Or whoever you think deserves a special day to honor her for her role in your family.

The same goes for special men, who you might want to celebrate the day before Father’s Day, rather than, you know, not at all.

In writing this piece, I realized I’m not the first one to use the term “Other’s Day”Some people are even offended by it, which is fair enough.  But the distinction is totally up to you and your family to make.  If someone’s special to you, you can celebrate them on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Other’s Day.  If Other’s Day sounds off-putting to you, call it Special Women’s Day or Special Men’s Day or even something clumsier, like Surrogate & Egg Donor’s Day.  Every family’s different, so we can all celebrate in different ways, too.

My kids are still a little young to understand the meaning of our special holiday, but I look forward to getting them involved in it as they get older, doing art projects, Skyping, or sending flowers.  It’ll be a great excuse to retell the incredible story of how they were born and to acknowledge what makes our family special.  Maybe it’ll also be a reminder of how corny their dads are, but I’m fine with that, too.

Again, I’m not trying to redefine anything, but I think it’s only fair that non-traditional families have a way to honor the people who matter to them.  I know, the last thing we need is one more holiday on the calendar, but if Hallmark wants to put out a special card with some schmaltzy sentiment aimed at surrogates or egg donors, they’ve got their first customer right here.

Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Sick Kid

Of all the roles being a dad has forced me into, the one I’ve been least prepared for is “doctor”.

It took three nights of Bennett throwing up before I took him to see a medical professional.  She checked him out, diagnosed it as the flu and sent us home.

It was half an hour later when I remembered that big head injury the boy had suffered the day the vomiting started.  I called the doctor back.  Hmm… could that be a factor?

She told me to rush him to the ER.

The ER doctor wasn’t as concerned about the head injury as she was about how dehydrated my kid was.  She could tell just by looking at him that he was dangerously low on fluids, and sure enough, the blood tests backed her up.  She put him on an IV and told us we’d be staying there overnight.  She couldn’t believe the first doctor hadn’t recognized the symptoms as easily as she did.

I couldn’t believe I let my kid get so dehydrated that he had to spend the night in a hospital.

On the bright side, being in the hospital meant he got unlimited use of two things we usually minimize his exposure to – his pacifier and the iPad.  That kept him happy for an hour or so.

The doctor said Bennett could eat whatever he wanted, and he shouted out, “Peanut butter sandwich!”  I may not have given my kid enough to drink over the last couple of days, but I was going to make sure he got that peanut butter sandwich, pronto.

We were lucky to be in a very well-equipped children’s ward.  They had a big playroom full of toys and books, a life-size firetruck kids could climb in, and outside, there was a full train car sitting on the lawn.  We spent about two minutes in the firetruck before Bennett was put on “contact restrictions”.  That meant he couldn’t leave his room, and everyone who came in had to wear a rubber gown and gloves so they didn’t catch whatever he had.  It was kind of like the third act of E.T., where they terrifyingly tent and sterilize the house, only without a magical alien to calm the crying kid.

I hate hospitals.

Just to rule out a serious head injury, Bennett had a CT scan, which thankfully scared me more than it did him.  That came back negative.  Whew.  Next was an EEG.  By then, he was insisting, “I feel better!”  In other words, “Get me out of this place!”

The EEG technician wanted to get a reading of Bennett’s brain waves while he was asleep.  “Do you have a way to get him to sleep?” she asked.

It’s one of those completely asinine questions a parent secretly craves getting.  “Um, you might try unhooking him from all these terrifying machines, for starters.”  “Yeah, I know the secret to getting two-year-olds to fall asleep, and did I mention I’m the world’s richest billionaire?”  The possibilities for snark were endless.

He did eventually fall asleep.  It turned out the tech only needed about five minutes of sleep readings, after which she stood over him and announced, “He can wake up now.”

Then, before I knew what was going on, she stuck her hands in Bennett’s face and started clapping loudly to wake him up.  To be honest, I think what woke Bennett up was the sound of me screaming at this lady for being such an idiot.

The next morning, Bennett’s fluids were back in the acceptable range, and the doctors told us we could go home.  Bennett couldn’t wait to see his sister – and, more importantly, the train car outside which he’d been able to stare at through his window but not visit.

Just as we were packing up, the doctor returned.  There was something questionable on the EEG, so she decided to keep us another night and do a 24-hour video EEG on the kid.  Forget waterboarding.  Try telling a two-year-old that the tiny box he’s confined to will be his home one more day, during which time a rotating group of strangers will continue poking painful holes in him.

“Remember that hat you wore with the wires on it?” I explained.  “Well, you’re getting another one.”

“Go home!” he cried, in the saddest little voice a daddy’s ever heard.  “I’m done!  Go home!”

I assumed the second EEG would be much like the first, but when they need the electrodes to stay on for 24 hours, they use glue.  In order to make the glue dry fast, they blast it with pressurized air from a deafening, rumbling machine.  Over and over, for 45 minutes.

(You’ll notice fewer pictures from this point on.  I took some, but I can’t bear to look at them again.)

Until this point, Bennett had been a super sport about the whole experience.  A few seconds of tears with every blood draw, and that’s it.  But this procedure led to 45 minutes of solid screaming – and who can blame him?  To me, it sounded as if he were saying, “Why, Daddy, why?” on an endless loop.  All I could do was shout over the sound of the air machine to tell him how well he was doing.

When the procedure was done, he was tethered to a machine and couldn’t move more than three feet away from his bed at any time.  It was the least free space he’d had since he was in the surrogate’s womb 2 1/2 years ago.

Drew slept in the hospital the second night, and I went home to stay with Sutton.  As difficult as it was being in the hospital with Bennett, it was much harder being away from him.  That’s when I really began to worry.

Sutton had been in bed for two hours when I heard her screaming over the baby monitor.  I ran in and was overcome by the smell of regurgitated mac & cheese.

“What happened?” she cried.

I checked her crib.  It was everywhere.  On her blanket, her dolls, the mattress.  “You threw up,” I told her.

She stopped crying.  “I threw up.  Like Bennett did?”  A smile broke out on her face.  “I threw up like Bennett did!”  I had never seen her prouder of herself.

I smiled a little bit, too, because if she caught Bennett’s illness, that meant it was unlikely he had a concussion.

“How would you like to drink a big glass of water?” I asked.

The next day, I returned to the hospital so I could be there when Bennett got his electrodes removed.  The EEG specialist looked at me and Drew standing over our son, and her eyes widened.  “Are you two dads?”

It was hard not to wonder where she might be headed with this question.  When people make the case for gay marriage, they always mention how crappily gay couples are treated in hospitals.  “Uh… yeah.”

“Oh my God!” she shouted.  “I can’t believe it!  I need to give y’all a hug!”  She tore off her rubber gown and gloves and did just that.

“You’re the first two dads I’ve ever met!  I’ve only seen them on TV!”

Another nurse told her to get over it, but Drew and I made it clear we enjoyed the attention.  We’re shameless, I tell you.

“I hear people saying bad things about two dads, and it makes me so angry.  Just let everybody do their thing, that’s what I say!  I think it’s terrific!”

Bennett was laughing.  We talk a lot about how cool we are for having two dads in our family, and finally, we had a complete stranger to corroborate it.

Thankfully, the electrodes came off much easier than they went on.  A few minutes later, Bennett’s special hat was gone.

We still had no idea when we were going home.  We had to wait for someone to do a reading of 24 hours of squiggly lines and make sure there was no bad news inside.  Drew went home to see Sutton (whose uncles were taking good care of her – another reminder why we moved back East), and Bennett and I decided to take a nap on the pull-out couch.  I curled up with him under a blanket, and we both fell asleep.

An hour or so later, we were awakened by a knock on the door.  “How would you like to go home?”  The doctor said the EEG looked OK, so we were being discharged.

“Like, we can leave right now?”

“Yup!”

I packed up our stuff in record time.  I wasn’t going to sit around and let the doctors change their minds again.

“Bennett, see that train out the window?  What do you say we go check it out?”

Trains are probably Bennett’s second favorite thing in the world.  His favorite is balloons, but the one balloon he had no interest in was his get well balloon.  He decided he didn’t want to bring it home with him, so we left it behind with all our half-eaten cafeteria food.

Soon, we were outside.  Bennett ran up to the train, only to find the gate was locked.  After all that waiting, the train was just for show.  You weren’t actually allowed to go inside it.

Like I said, I hate hospitals.

Modern Family Thinks My Family is “Creepy”

I guess there’s one episode of “Modern Family” I won’t be showing my kids after all.

In this week’s episode, Mitchell, Cam, Phil and Claire all got really drunk, and Claire came up with a crazy proposition.  What if she donated an egg, Cam fertilized it and a surrogate carried the baby?  Then her gay brother and his partner could have a child who was related to both of them.  It sounded so beautiful.

It was all very familiar to me, because my partner Drew and I had the exact same idea a few years ago.  We debated it and dismissed it, but then Drew’s sister Susie came to us independently with the same suggestion.  What if she gave us her eggs?  Hmm… what if?

On “Modern Family”, the notion didn’t seem so perfect once everyone had sobered up.  They decided not to go through with it.

As for Drew and me, our twins will be two and a half years old this Friday.  They were conceived using Susie’s eggs and my sperm and were carried by a surrogate.

I always knew the decision Drew and I made (not to mention Susie) wouldn’t be right for everyone.  So why, when it wasn’t right for a group of fake people on a TV show, did it feel like such a punch in the gut?

As the episode, titled “Aunt Mommy”, unfolded, the characters used words like “creepy”, “inbred” and “freak show”.  I turned to Drew and said, “They’re talking about us.”

It’s hard to accept that anyone might judge our family because of the way we created it.  Harder still to see that judgment coming from such a progressive, gay-positive TV show.

And it hurt.

We never get reactions like that when we tell people our story.  It doesn’t matter if they’re close friends or complete strangers.  They always remark about how wonderful it is, how moved they are by Susie’s gift and how lucky they think our kids are.  That’s what they say to our faces, at least.  Who knows how they really feel?

I will say that there was nothing that came up on “Modern Family” that we didn’t ponder ourselves before we decided to have kids in our nontraditional way.  And, given more than 22 minutes to ponder the topic, our soul-searching ran a lot deeper.  We went through all the same emotions and fears – Was this creepy?  Was it fair to Susie?  To Drew?  To the kids?  Drew’s own brother told us that having a baby with Susie’s eggs would be “effed up”.  That alone almost made us reconsider.

We kept talking about it, though.  We wrote Susie a heartfelt letter laying all our feelings bare.  We flew her out to LA to have therapy with us.  We obsessively dissected every angle of the scenario we were creating:

Would Drew feel like less of a dad because we used my sperm and not his?

Would Susie have trouble watching us raise a child she was biologically bonded to?

Would the kids feel that Susie was their mom and Drew their uncle, because that’s what biology seemed to suggest?

How would the world see us?  Would people be uncomfortable with our story or, worse, with our kids?

I wish I could say that talking everything through brought us complete clarity, and that’s why we decided to go ahead and make our babies together.  But that’s not true.  We knew that making a baby this way would be messy, that we were venturing into uncharted territory.  We feared we were doing the wrong thing.

We also thought there would be something very special about our family.  We liked knowing that we could someday tell our kids the unique, incredible story of how they were born.  We imagined how special they’d feel knowing what Aunt Susie had done for them, how wonderful it would be to create life out of such a pure gift of love.

Drew’s brother came around eventually.  Susie convinced us that she was emotionally prepared for what lay ahead.  And in the end, with our families’ support, I guess we rolled the dice.

As a result, there are two tiny human beings who live in my house.  They fight and cry.  They sing songs from their dads’ 80s mixes and songs they’ve made up in their heads.  They pour yogurt in their hair.  They make us laugh.  They cost a fortune.  They’d eat cupcakes 24 hours a day if we let them.  They hug and kiss and say, “I love you.”  They’re ours.

And they wouldn’t be here if not for my love for Drew, and Susie’s love for her brother.

That doesn’t make the doubts go away.  In some ways, it makes them worse.

Every day, I feel guilty that Susie doesn’t get to be our kids’ mommy.  I see bits of her in our children – their features and their personalities – and I feel like she deserves more than our arrangement provides her.  I struggle wondering about the pain she must feel when she says goodbye to them, when Drew and I make different parenting choices than she would and about the tiny sting she must feel when the kids call her “Aunt”.

I feel bad for Drew, too, like I got something that he didn’t get, a bond he might not feel quite as strongly as I do.  I worry that the kids will treat us differently when they’re old enough to understand how they came into the world.  I fear that they’ll view Drew as less of a dad.

I fear for my kids, too.  Have we doomed them to being outsiders, anomalies of nature the world will never fully appreciate or understand?

These aren’t issues we addressed and resolved.  They aren’t emotions that will ever go away.  They’ll be with us forever.  It’s the path we chose, and a bit of ambiguity was part of the deal.

I don’t know how my family will evolve over the next 5 or 10 years or how my kids will feel as they grow up.  But I know they’ll always be loved.  If there’s one thing I can do, it’s to make sure they know that.

… and also, to do my best to educate everyone else.  As long as anyone out there thinks we’re “creepy” or a “freak show”, I need to keep sharing our story.  (Say what you will, but we’re not inbred.  Susie isn’t even my sister-in-law, let alone my sister.  Drew and I aren’t legally married.  Thanks, Prop 8.)

My family may not seem normal to everyone else, but it’s our normal, and if it wasn’t how we were, we wouldn’t be us.  I never have a moment of regret for how our kids came into the world.  I’m grateful for it every day.  We’re not perfect, and at times things still get a little messy, but we’re a family.

I guess, in the end, a post-Modern one.

Welcome, Thank You and Please

English: Chain

Image via Wikipedia

It’s always nice to see my hit count spike when I post something people connect with.  So, first of all, welcome to all the new visitors who’ve been coming to this blog.  I hope you’ll stay and check out some of my other stuff.  The best place to start is on one of the pages linked above — Best O’Blog (for my favorite posts from this blog) or Other Writing (for pieces published on other sites).  You might also want to check out the About Me page for some background about the site and me in particular.

Because so many new people have been coming, I owe a big thank you to my regular visitors, who have obviously been kicking some serious tushie (that’s right – “tushie” – it’s a family blog) getting the word out.  I don’t always see who’s sharing my posts on Twitter and Facebook or I’d thank you all individually (and if we’re not FB friends, I probably didn’t see your share at all).  However, I do see how many people are sharing, and it’s more than just the friends I’m quietly bribing to link me, so I know some of you are doing it because you actually like my posts.  Wow.

That being said, to the rest of you, I ask you to please join in and help spread the word.  If you see something here that you find interesting/funny/informative/infuriating, please click the links at the end of each post that let you share the post easily on Facebook and Twitter.  If you’re on Digg, Reddit StumbleUpon or some other site so hip I haven’t even heard of it yet, then link me there, too.  (Reddit has been particularly kind to me lately.)  Link me on your own blog, if you have one.  Send out an email to your friends who you think might appreciate this blog.  Most of my readers have found me through referrals from their social networks, so I really rely on that word of mouth to help my readership grow.

Please also like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and subscribe to the blog by providing your email in the right column where it says “Follow Blog Via Email”.  (You’ll only get emails about new blog posts, no spam.)

And most of all, comment!  I love hearing from readers, especially if they have nice things to say (but even sometimes if they don’t), and it helps me understand what people like and dislike about the posts so I can figure out what kind of content works best here.

Sorry for the hard sell.  I promise not to do this too often, but as I’ve said before, I’m trying to get my memoir published, and the more hits and subscribers I get, the more interested publishers become.  I don’t advertise on the site, and I don’t make any money from it, so when people help me bring in more readers, that’s all the payment I ask for.

I’ll be back soon with another regular post… and eventually, that redesign I’ve been teasing.

Thanks again for reading!