We love filling our passports by traveling to new countries, enjoying new restaurants, and taking frequent trips to Disney World. Before the pandemic began, we had planned a trip for Michael’s milestone 40th birthday to Japan and China. During which, we would visit each of the Asian Disney theme parks.
As a same-sex couple, we first researched our family-building options. We primarily spent our time investigating adoption agencies and processes as well as fostering and foster-to-adopt guidelines and timelines. We knew that surrogacy was an option, but never thought it was something that would be financially available to us. Then came the matter of selecting whose DNA we would use. These factors were numbing and prohibited us from moving forward for a very long time.
In October 2019, Michael and I went to an adoption information session at an agency in Baltimore. There, we learned about our options, which seemed very overwhelming and daunting. The timeline and process to grow our family, coupled with a mountain of uncertainty of whether we would be accepted by anyone seeking to give their baby to a same-sex couple was disheartening. We were, though, ready to move in that direction and face the uncertainty.
Our main goal was to build a family — no matter what it took.
A few weeks later, I clearly remember I was working from home, sitting in the upstairs bedroom on a sunny day when my friend from college, Karen, reached out with an offer that is emblazoned in my memory forever — she offered to be a gestational carrier (GC) for us. Karen and her husband live in Florida, so the next night we FaceTimed with them. Together, we made a huge collective decision.
When we heard from Karen and received her offer to be our GC, we began an immediate and immense study into the differences between traditional surrogacy and gestational carriers, what factors we would have to account for, what our timeline was going to be for success and the list of individuals on our care team (outside of healthcare) that we would need to make this happen.
We first heard of Shady Grove Fertility (SGF) through a friend who worked with SGF as a same-sex couple to start their family. Then, another same-sex couple in a different circle began speaking with us about SGF and the embryo donation program. They had recently had their second child with the help of SGF and were making the decision of what to do with the remaining embryos.
We were open with close friends and immediate family about our decision to grow our family. Once the treatment process began with our GC, we started to share with our very close friends who had been our cheerleaders from the beginning. We shared the intimate details of the process with our parents, siblings, and best friends so that we could have sounding boards throughout the process. It was seemingly uncharted territory, and we were the first to navigate these waters of anyone that we knew.
We spent a great deal of time working with attorneys, both in Maryland and Florida, to ensure that Karen and her family were protected and insured in the process. We sought counseling, both individually and with Karen and her spouse. And we met with financial planners to fully understand the risk associated with this undertaking. Finally, we were ready to proceed and then everything just happened very quickly from there.
As soon as we signed our agreement with Karen, SGF immediately provided us access to Embryo Options. We carefully (but quickly) made our embryo selection, to which Dr. Plosker added his recommendation, and then Karen began her treatment plan. The transfer was made approximately three months later.
We always knew we wanted children and had assumed that adoption was the solution available to us as a same-sex couple. Embryo donation seemed like a great way to honor that feeling that we had — to give a donated embryo a warm and loving home to two rad dads.
Upon gaining access to Embryo Options, we saw all the ways we could filter our options and view the available embryos. It was exciting to think of the possibilities of what our future child might look like, might be interested in, and might like to experience based on our perceptions of their innate cultural heritage.
We are a mixed-race family and wanted to, as best as possible, continue to celebrate diversity with our child. Our search criteria reflected our want for an embryo that was representative of a multi-ethnic background.
Next, we investigated the age of the female donor as well as the length of time that the embryo had been frozen. Dr. Plosker gave us some criteria that he recommended to be appropriate guardrails when looking for the most successful embryo.
Finally, our embryo search included health and family history for the donors. We were interested in any known illnesses or conditions that might cause potential pregnancy issues or risk to Karen. This part of the research allowed us to see the number, if any at all, of successful pregnancies that came to be from the embryo lot when initially created.
We selected two embryos and sent them to Dr. Plosker for review. He made a recommendation for his assessment of the successful transfer of each. Ultimately, we went with his recommendation which was also our first choice.
Karen became pregnant after the first transfer on December 8, 2020.
The entire SGF team was incredible. We felt included, welcomed, and celebrated from the moment we entered our first meeting.
The donor embryo team (Clelia), finance (Darlene), our nurse (Stephanie Hernandez), and Dr. Plosker were all warm, communicative, and provided us with everything we needed along the way. Michael, Karen, and I were all pleased with the SGF experience, and incredibly overcome with the successful first transfer. Their adherence to process and overwhelming care for growing families helped make that success possible.
We learned that Karen was pregnant on December 22, 2020, and then had the first ultrasound in the first week of January 2021. It was a very exciting Christmas. We were at my parent’s house in Kentucky for the holidays. We were very open with them about the process, and they were in the room when we got the call. It was surreal to immediately share this news with others.
Karen lives almost 1,000 miles away in Florida. We were able to visit her one time during the pregnancy before we traveled to Florida a few weeks prior to the birth to prepare. However, we did see her multiple times a week on FaceTime for medical visits. We felt very connected and informed throughout the process. We were in touch with all the providers and were able to ask as many questions as we needed to along the way.
The situation was unique but familiar to our care team. They all understood that Karen was their patient, but that we were also a priority and that she was generously offering a service to us as our GC.
Our families would send Karen and her family cards, flowers, or meal deliveries frequently to help ease their burden. Karen has two young children of her own, so serving as a GC was no small task.
We recorded ourselves reading Winnie the Pooh and sent Karen to play for the baby. Her entire family would gather around and listen, especially to Michael’s very animated character voices before bed each night.
It was very exciting to experience the pregnancy with Karen, albeit from 1,000 miles away. We spoke with her daily about how she was feeling, what she was experiencing, and how active the baby was at that point. We were happy to send her family meals, to share books with her sons about what their mommy was doing, and to send recordings of us reading to the baby. At home, we prepared the nursery, did a lot of research on baby gadgets, and joined local groups for new parents.
The week leading up to the birth was very emotional. We had traveled to Florida to be closer to Karen and to be prepared. We rented a short-term apartment for the month close by. It was both exciting and anxiety-inducing. I didn’t sleep much the week leading up to the birth (or much thereafter). We had some friends nearby who were able to visit the days before the birth so that we could be a little distracted, but all we could think about, or talk about, was how life was surely to be different.
We were planning to be surprised by the gender at birth. We had planned so much and had been in control of a lot of the process leading up to our baby’s arrival that we wanted to give up control of one small thing and add for one element of surprise.
After a very successful pregnancy, our baby boy was born on August 22, 2021.
He is playful, loves to meet new people, and isn’t scared to try new things. He loves to play with his French Bulldog, Maisy. He loves bath time and giggling to silly noises.
Being new parents is an interesting challenge — full of ups and downs, twists, and turns. There are very high highs, and some sleepless lows. But ultimately, the result is a sweet baby staring back at you who depends on you, not to be perfect, but to shower him with love and affection.
We learned a lot about each other in the early months of parenthood. We learned the importance of communicating and asking for help when we needed it, that we aren’t mind-readers, and that we must model the meaning of a loving and happy marriage for our son.
We learned how to strategize our time to be the best parents we could be for our baby. Michael has always been an early riser, so he gets up in the morning for the first feeding and those warm smiles. The two of them giggle and dance, read books, and play first thing every single morning before the day begins. I stay up a little later, so I get the bedtime routine and those dreamy baby eyes, the nighttime snuggles and hugs, and the goodnight kiss. We sing lullabies (“Blackbird” by The Beatles, to be exact), and drift off to sleep.
We obviously stay home a lot more. We got very ingenious with the space in our small Baltimore rowhome and the amount of stuff that comes with the baby. We have found our way with other same-sex parents on social media to sound off to for support in ways that we previously did not need to before.
Our lives are very different than they were several months ago, but seemingly so ordinary. Just two people working hard to do everything to raise our baby in the best way we can.
As a person who very much likes to be in control, I learned that I could give up control to an amazing and communicative GC who was empowered to make good, healthy, and informed decisions, but also kept us very informed every step of the way.
I’ve learned that I can be ready for anything at a moment’s notice. I can go from comforting and soothing a crying baby, to laughing and giggling, to trying to help him burp, and cleaning a dirty diaper. I can be ready at any time of day for anything.
I have also learned that unless you want to fill your hood with spit up, never burp your baby on your shoulder wearing a hoodie.
Michael has learned the value of being open, communicative, and expressive with his own needs. He has learned that it is important to emulate the value of an open and value-driven relationship for our baby by consistently sharing the things that will make him a better father and spouse. Whether it’s a need for a short break, or a special request for takeout, asking for help has become okay.
Have patience with your partner, your community, and your care team. It may seem as if nothing is happening and that time is taking forever to pass, but then suddenly, you’ll have blinked, and the hardship will be behind you.
You’ll be celebrating the upcoming birth of your baby —a wonderful joy that you had been waiting so long for. Then, at that moment, you’ll realize that you should probably have relished those long, leisurely wait times a little more because there’s no more rest headed your way any time soon.