Fuller House Thinks My Family is Awesome

fullerhouse3SPOILER ALERT: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you’re concerned about spoilers for Season 3 of Fuller House, then you should hold off on reading this column until after you’ve watched it. Also, Soylent Green is made out of people! It’s people!

Back in 2012, I wrote a post called Modern Family Thinks My Family is Creepy, about a particularly disappointing episode of a show I love. In the episode, Claire, played by Julie Bowen, suggests that she could donate an egg for her brother, have it fertilized by his husband and have the embryo carried by a surrogate. Then, they all decide that this would make her “Aunt Mommy,” which they all find “creepy”. It stung because that’s exactly how my husband and I created our family. My sperm, his sister’s egg and a surrogate. Now we have twins, a boy and a girl who are 8 years old. Everybody’s happy, nobody’s “Aunt Mommy,” and none of us have anything but overwhelming gratitude for the way it all worked out.

“Modern Family” remains a wonderful show that’s progressive, honest and funny about, well, modern families, so I don’t hold a grudge. (In 2016, Jesse Tyler Ferguson even read my Modern Love essay, about how my family was created, for the Modern Love Podcast. Wuzzup, JTF?)

Now, I’m happy to report that another popular sitcom has tackled the issue of sisterly surrogacy (it’s been on two sitcoms, so as far as I’m concerned, it’s now officially a thing) in a much more open-minded way. And it’s that cutting-edge, ahead-of-its-time show known as Fuller House.

I know, right?

Well, kudos, Fuller House, for being bolder than most sitcoms would ever be, by taking on a complicated and potentially controversial topic in a straight-forward, family-positive way and getting it wonderfully right.

susieandkids

My sister-in-law/hero Susie, posing with her daughter and the four nieces and nephews who wouldn’t be here without her help

In the show, Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin), learns that she’s unable to carry a baby of her own, but that she does have a few viable eggs left. That leads her to consider surrogacy, which is when her sister D.J. (Candace Cameron), tells her there’s nothing she’d love more than to carry a baby for her and make her sister a mom. (And I should point out that after my amazing sister-in-law Susie provided eggs for my kids, she went on to become a surrogate — but not egg donor — for her other brother and his husband, twice. Yes, she’s really that awesome.)

 

Unfortunately, for medical and personal reasons, D.J. isn’t a good candidate to be a surrogate, but the fact that she wanted so badly to do it, and that the show treated this as nothing but the beautiful, loving gesture that it is, was so welcome and refreshing.

I’ve been watching Fuller House with my kids since it started. (Say what you will. It’s funny, it has a perfect sense of nostalgia, and it’s one of the few programs I can watch with my kids that we can all enjoy.) So it was a fabulous treat to watch with them as this plotline unfolded. It gave us so much to talk about, and it helped my kids appreciate the way our family was created even more than they already do. Everybody wants to see their lives reflected in popular culture, but I never dreamed my kids would see shows they could relate to like this.

As the story unfolded, (again, spoiler warning to my fellow Fuller Housers!) Steph’s one-time rival Kimmy Gibbler — practically a sister figure herself — stepped up to carry the baby. We’ll have to wait for Season Four to see how it all turns out, but this is a sitcom, so I’m guessing hilarious conflict, wacky shenanigans and ultimately, over-the-top sappiness will ensue. (Hey, I’m not crying. You’re crying!)

fullerhouse2

Another spoiler: by Season 6, this new baby will be covered in slime for some reason

The best part is, I’m not even worried about how the show will handle this going forward. Full House/Fuller House has always been a show about non-traditional families. (Hey, we only have two dads in our family — they had three!) While the surrogacy storyline was unfolding, they’ve also had a sweet running subplot about Jesse & Becky adopting, not to mention single mom DJ and whatever’s going on between Kimmy and Fernando.

 

That’s because (cue the sappy music)… from the very beginning, Full House has shown us that life doesn’t deal everyone the same hand, so you put together the best one you can. Ultimately, it’s not important whether your cards looks like everyone else’s, because it’s not pairs or straights that matter. It’s love that makes a full house.

Hey, I’m not crying! You’re crying!

* * * * *

If you like this post, please share it. And if you want to read more about non-traditional families going through wacky situations and somehow making it all work, why not check out my MY ROTTEN STEPBROTHER RUINED FAIRY TALES series from Capstone Publishing? They’re now available at your favorite bookstore or online retailer, and you can read all about them on my other site, www.jerrymahoneybooks.com. (I also recommend my book BUTTHEADS FROM OUTER SPACE, coming out in March 2018. No sappy messages. Just fart jokes galore!)

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the M-Word

specialauntsdayThere’s a dirty word among gay dads. The M-word. I’ve written about it before, and I’ve done everything I can to avoid saying it around my kids. Back when Drew and I first decided to pursue surrogacy, the head of the surrogacy agency himself told us to write it out of our vocabularies. An egg donor is an egg donor, not a “biological mom.” And a surrogate is just a surrogate, not a surrogate m-word.

It makes sense, in a way. If we’re going to have a non-traditional family, we should embrace who we are, both with our kids and with the world. Nope, no Mommy here. Try the next family. It might be hard on our kids at times, but it’s better for them to appreciate what’s different about our family than try to force ourselves into some rigid ideal of what families are supposed to be, which will never really fit us.

So we’ve been very clear. We have two dads and two kids, and that’s our family. We also have two very special aunts, our surrogate and our egg donor. (Sure, we’ve broadened the definition of the term “aunt” so it doesn’t just mean daddy’s sister, but let’s not be nitpicky.)

It’s been very easy to explain to the kids, because, of course, they’ve had no idea what the hell we’re talking about. Sure, they picked up pretty quickly on the fact that most families have a mommy and we don’t. But “surrogate” and “egg donor” have always been pretty empty terms to them, since they’re way too young to understand what those things mean.

They’re starting to, though.

We’ve made a point of celebrating Special Aunts Day (a/k/a Surrogate and Egg Donor Day, or Other’s Day) the day before Mother’s Day. It’s a way to remind the kids of where they came from, to show them how proud we are of our family and to honor two incredible women whom we love dearly. Plus, this way, the kids don’t feel as left out when all the other kids at school are making Mother’s Day crafts.

We’d lost touch with our surrogate a bit since we moved away from California. Drew and I still felt incredibly close to her, but our 3 1/2 year olds hadn’t seen her for nearly half their lives. We don’t want them to forget her,  so we decided to fly her and her son out this year to spend Special Aunts Day with us and the kids.

(Selfishly, I’ll admit I had an ulterior motive, which was to have her take publicity photos for my upcoming book — coming Spring 2014! It just so happens Aunt Tiffany is an amazing professional photographer.)

We also invited Aunt Susie and her daughter to make our Surrogate and Egg Donor Day complete. We decided to make a long weekend of it. It would be great to spend the extra time with them, but that left a troubling prospect looming over our heads.

Our surrogate and egg donor, who are arguably m-word adjacent, wouldn’t just be spending Surrogate and Egg Donor Day with us. They’d be here for Mother’s Day as well.

We started prepping the kids for the upcoming visitors months ago. “You know two daddies alone can’t make a baby, right?” we’d say. “So Aunt Susie donated her eggs and Aunt Tiffany carried you in her belly, and they helped us make you.”

babybookWe read them a photo book we’d made about their conception and birth. We wanted to make sure they knew the role their special aunts had in making our family — what it was, and what it wasn’t.

It had been almost three years since we were all together, but there’s only one way to describe how it felt to have them with us again. It felt like family.

The kids are currently at that awkward age, roughly between 2 and 27, when they get shy around people they don’t know very well. We feared that might happen with Aunt Tiffany, who has yet to figure out how to use Skype. Apparently, though, all the preparation made a big difference. Despite the fact that they hadn’t seen her in years, the kids welcomed her instantly with big hugs.

specialauntsday-1We spent Surrogate and Egg Donor Day at Legoland. (Good thing we’ve forgiven Legoland.) Bennett gave it his usual review of “Best day ever!”, and I concur.

Still, I was afraid of how the next day would go. We couldn’t ignore it. Aunt Susie and Aunt Tiffany were both moms themselves, and they’d brought their kids with them. They deserved to be honored for their role in their own families.

So we did it all over again. We spent Sunday in Times Square, where we rode the Toys R Us ferris wheel and I got testy with some of the costumed creeps, (“Hey, Spiderman, go away! You’re scaring my kids.”). We didn’t shy away from the M-word, because that’s what the day was all about. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever said the M-word more in one day.

“Isn’t Aunt Tiffany a great mommy to Gavin?” we’d say. “Isn’t Grace lucky to have her mommy?” “Let’s give a toast to two great mommies!”

Just that quickly, the M-word was back. It’s a beautiful word, and my kids deserve to hear it, see it and respect it. Despite what I always feared, I think it will only make them appreciate our family more.

timessqelmoI know my kids are still young, and I know there will be times in the future they’ll be sad that they don’t have a mom. Maybe when they hear it in certain contexts, it might sting a bit.

But for now, this year, things were just perfect. Sure, it helped that the weekend was a non-stop funfest. It’s hard for a three-year-old to be sad about anything when he or she is meeting Elmo live, in the fur.

But if I had any doubt about how my kids felt toward their special aunts, it was erased every time I saw Sutton hug one of them. She wrapped her arms around them, smiled a smile that was somehow twice as wide as her face and squealed a very special message just for them.

“Thank you for making us!” she said.

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.”

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.