Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A "Village of Women" Helped These Gay Men Become Dads

Elliot Dougherty's mother-in-law served as a gestational carrier, and his sister donated eggs, so that he and his husband could become dads

All good love stories start hot. Ours just so happened to, literally. The summer I turned 23, during the sweltering heat, I stood at an invisible crossroads. I felt a momentum pulling at me, but I couldn't tell from which direction. I had been putting myself out there as a hairstylist and building my portfolio by working with local photographers and designers. At the beginning of July, I received a Facebook message from a young man named Matthew Eledge. He sent me the script to a short film he was directing, hoping I might be interested. We met a few days later on a humid summer day at a quaint French cafe in the Old Market of downtown Omaha. Drinking wine, we discussed our inspirations for hours.


That summer, we shot the film amid blistering record temperatures in a small nearby village. I styled the wigs while he stole my heart. That fall, the film was released, and I moved in with Matthew. We were madly, deeply in love. The kind of love that can only come from two dreamers sharing a waking vision together. Late nights turned into early mornings. We were reckless artists, dreaming up impossible plans of moving to Paris. Love made us brave, but boredom made us restless. Come spring, we began untethering ourselves from our life in Nebraska. By that next summer, we packed up one backpack each and left for Europe. We spent most nights sleeping in a twin-size bed at budget hostels, sharing cheap meals together, reading the same books, and philosophizing about everything under the sun. We got to know each other deeply while traveling and aligned in every way. Five months later, we headed back home, missing the life we fled. That's when I began to dream of homesteading and starting a family.

Elliot and Matthew's wedding

Life is about harvesting intentions from the seeds of passion you sew. For the next few years, my garden grew and grew, but so did something else. Cancer had begun growing in my sweet mother. She fought hard, and we did all we could to heal her. In the past, we didn't express the need to get married, but a part of us wanted to. I wanted my mom to be there to see it. Suddenly, internal desires became urgent intentions. Gay marriage had just been legalized. In a heartbeat, we were engaged, but not without consequence. Matthew worked as a high school teacher at a private Catholic school. When they caught wind of his plans to marry me, they denied him an extension on his teaching contract for the following year. To marry me would mean losing a job he loved. The situation became a national media whirlwind as students publicly protested the administration's decision. They created an online petition that gathered over 100,000 signatures. The school didn't budge, but neither did we. We were married that fall in the woods where we shot the film and first fell in love. The following weekend, we celebrated our reception at a historical music venue. The night was a celebration, not just for our love, but for all of the love now recognized between same-sex couples throughout the country. I'll never forget the way my mom giggled awkwardly during our mother-son dance as I cried and told her how much I loved her. It was one song, one fleeting moment that I will live in forever.

Elliot dancing with his mom

Soon after, my mom's health quickly declined. My sister also wanted to get married to her fiancé before my mother passed, so she quickly scrambled a wedding in our parents' living room. I laughed through tears as I curled her hair and stuffed socks into her bra because her dress hadn't been altered yet. Days later, as my mom drifted to the other side, her breaths becoming heavier and heavier, my mother-in-law Cele Eledge came to visit her. Cele hugged her softly, grabbed her hand, and whispered in her ear, 'You don't have to worry about Elliot. I promise to take care of your boy as if he were mine.' The summer wind blew love into my life, but a cold breeze took my mom away that February.

A few months earlier, my first nephew, Easton, was born. I hadn't realized I wanted kids, but the joy Easton brought made me want to be a father. Given how Matthew was fired from his job, we suspected the adoption process may not be sympathetic to our dreams of building a family. Not to mention, it was illegal for same-sex couples to even foster a child in many places two years prior. As we had since our first summer swoon, we took things into our own hands. We started living frugally, saving money for a three-letter dream called IVF. We began by scouring egg donor websites, bumbling through various options, but the whole process felt cold and corporate.

I mentioned my frustrations with the process to my sister over brunch. Immediately, she said, 'I'll donate my eggs.' My sister has always been my best friend, and losing our sweet mother brought us even closer. I absolutely cherished this idea. Not only would the child be genetically related to me and Matthew but, more importantly, my mother's legacy could live on in our child as it forever will in our hearts. Now we just needed to find someone willing to be a surrogate. We mentioned this during a big family dinner, and Matthew's mother casually said, 'Oh, I love being pregnant! If you're taking names for candidates, put my name in the hat!' We laughed lovingly at the unrealistic gesture. Cele hadn't had her period in over a decade, but her support meant the world to us. She couldn't have a baby… could she? In a conversation with our IVF specialist, we mentioned the casual comment his mother had made. Matthew laughed. Our doctor didn't. 'Anyone can have a baby if they are healthy and have a uterus. It's all about egg quality, and considering that your sister is young and fertile, your chances are looking good. Bring your mother in and we can see.' Cele continued to vault each health examination hurdle. Her cholesterol levels came back lower than ever and her pap smear was cleared. In the middle of her cardio test, the doctor abruptly turned off the treadmill. 'No matter how fast we turn up this speed, we can't even get you to hit the danger zone!' My mother-in-law was put on estrogen, and for the first time in years, she had her period. When the first ultrasound results came back, we were told, 'Her uterus is beautiful.' Matthew was both proud and mortified.

Matthew, Cele, Lea and Elliot

Ours is a story of summers. As the weather turned hot, my sister went through a series of intense shots and underwent surgery to retrieve 24 eggs. Of those 24, they found three of the embryos viable for life. From the infinitely impossible to a concrete number, we had three chances at the child we dreamed about. At our doctors' advice, we decided to transfer only one embryo; carrying multiple babies is a major health risk for the carrier. The last thing we wanted to do was put the only mom we had left at risk. On the day we went to the hospital to transfer the single embryo into Cele's freshly awoken uterus, I brought my mom's ashes in a small urn. I was eating a hardboiled egg in the waiting room when Cele, in a delirious state from the morphine, said, 'Hmmm. Eating an egg on this day. How appropriate!' Our laughter became tears as they wheeled her off for the procedure.

Next came the two-week wait to see if the embryo attached. They strongly suggested to avoid taking a pregnancy test on our own. Five days later, on my 29th birthday, we asked Cele to pee on a stick anyway. Minutes later, she sent a frown face via text message and said, 'It's negative.' Later that morning, Matthew drove to his parents' house to comfort his mother. She looked up at him and bluntly stated, 'Ya know, it may have been negative, but I gotta tell you, I sure do feel like shit.' She asked him if he wanted to see the pregnancy result himself. He took the walk of shame, knowing he would only find disappointment. But when he squinted and looked at that pregnancy test with just the right amount of light, he could see it: an oh-so-faint second pink line. A maybe baby. He ran back outside and mentioned what he saw. Cele pushed him aside, literally screaming, 'Shut the f*ck up!' She insisted Matthew was seeing something that wasn't there. She could not, no matter how much her heart willed it, see it. After a second pregnancy test, everyone saw that second pink line. Cele was pregnant. We were pregnant. She may have the physique of a 20-year-old, but she definitely had the eyes of a 60-year old.

Lea, Elliot, Matthew and Cele,

Cele continued to soar through ultrasound after ultrasound, as our dear friend Laurie pumped and stored her breast milk for us. Two men in love, trying to make a family, were surrounded and lifted by a village of women working to help us. As two men about to raise a daughter, Matthew and I sometimes wondered if we lacked that special something women have, that maternal magic that heals the world. We soon realized that didn't matter, because this little girl would be surrounded by the most powerful women in the world anyway.

On March 24th, Cele's blood pressure began to rise alarmingly high. The doctor said she was at risk of gestational hypertension. At 38 weeks of pregnancy, he decided to have her induced. Although she requested we be on the other side of the room, Cele allowed us to be there for the delivery. The process of giving birth is truly indescribable. I watched my charming, goofy mother-in-law shift into a silent, stoic warrior who dug deep within herself for this visceral, supernatural strength. Childbirth is not effortless magic, but it is an undeniable miracle.

15 minutes later, I was able to take off my shirt and do the same. Speaking of magic, in that one instant, the whole room and everyone in it disappeared. I felt my heart open in a way I had never experienced. Our Uma Lu, the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, was barely born, and I could already see my mother in her face. In that moment, I made a promise to take care of her as tenderly as my mother took care of me.

Now, a few months later, I am holding my daughter in my arms, feeling a love I didn't know existed. I still cannot believe how she came to be. Her beautiful aunt gave her the seed of life, her selfless grandma provided the loving garden for her to bloom, and my own mother's example will help guide her as she grows. This is a story of two men in love, surrounded on all sides by women. It's an origin story of creativity, of true poetry. It is a story that can't be made up, only lived."

Upstream Pictures has secured the life rights to The Eledge Family's story, to develop a feature film as well as a docuseries featuring the Eledges as they continue to grow their family. Stephen Gyllenhaal and Ambika Leigh will produce both projects, and Screenwriter Kathleen Kwai Ching Man will write the feature script.

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Change the World

Surrogate Pens Powerful Op-Ed, Urging New York Legislators to Legalize the Practice

Victoria Ashton says she was "fully in control of her body" while serving as a surrogate for two New York families.

In an essay for Gay City News, Victoria Ashton, who has serves as a gestational surrogate for two New York-based families, powerfully defended her decision to help others form their family, and urged legislator to enact the Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA) to legalize the practice in New York State.

She says, for her, the decision to become a surrogate was "easy." After she had her own two children, and her family felt complete, Victoria says she "still felt this nagging desire to bring more children into this world. I loved being pregnant and both of my pregnancies were easy and textbook. But since I thought the only way to be pregnant again was to have another child of my own, I tried to push it aside and move on, because at the time two children was the perfect fit for us."

So she began to educate herself and research the process for becoming a gestational surrogate. "I understood the commitment, I understood the process, I understood the risk — but my overwhelming desire to help someone in need by giving them life is a reward that tops it all. Somewhere out in the world another family or couple deserves to be just as happy as I am. A man or woman deserves to be called Mommy and Daddy, if they wish. They deserve to experience firsts. They deserve unconditional love."

Victoria also sought to clear up misconceptions that some may have about the role and rights of a surrogate throughout the process, saying she had "full control over" her body throughout the process. "I made decisions about my own body and my own health," she wrote. "I felt protected and secure. It was a partnership from day one." But, she noted further, she was lucky to live in a state where surrogate enjoy full protection under the law. "Had those not existed," she wrote, "it would have complicated my own decision."

Currently, those protections don't exist in New York, she pointed out. But the soon could, if the New York State Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA) is passed. The bill, Victoria writes, "goes above and beyond in providing the necessary protections that create successful surrogacy partnerships."

Read Victoria's full essay here.

Gay Dad Life

Meet the Surrogate 'Angel' Who Carried Her Own Grandchild for Her Son and His Husband

After several leads didn't pan out, Jensy De Los Santos's mother offered to serve as a surrogate for he and his husband, Junior Guzman.

Jensy De Los Santos, 30, and Junior Guzman, 29, always had a strong desire to have a family. "We always wanted to be parents," said Jensy, "to be able to love, protect and guide our children."

Jensy and Junior met through a mutual friend and knew each other for many years before falling in love three years ago. Jensy recalls the first time the topic of becoming dads was raised: "We were at this hotel in front of the ocean in the Dominican Republic and I told Junior that I always wanted to have children, since I was young, and that I would love to have them with him and build our family together." Junior felt the same way and responded with "Let's do it, baby, I want my future with you."

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Gay Dad Life

Women Recount Reasons Why They Served as Surrogates in Moving Essays for Marie Claire Magazine

"We've gained an extended family," Nichole Vaughan said of the single gay man to whom she served as a surrogate

In a recent article for Marie Claire, five women who have served as surrogates recounted their experiences in personal essays for the magazine.

"I have a sister who's 11 years younger than I am, who has a heart condition, and has been advised not to carry for herself," said Nichole Vaughan, a 33 year old women in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. "I've always wanted to be a surrogate for her. Since she's not quite settled down, I decided to be a surrogate for someone else first, learn to separate myself. Make sure my body could do it."

The intended parent she ended up carrying for was a single gay man. "We've gained an extended family," she said. "The first time the gentleman came up and met my kids, who were 9 and 4 at the time, he told them, 'I'm going to be your cousin in Miami.' That's how my kids refer to him. They're like, 'I have a cousin in Miami.'"

Nichole went on to give advice to other women considering serving as a surrogate. "I wouldn't do this if you don't have a very supportive group of friends and family. If they're not there in the beginning, then it'll be a very difficult road. We had to travel [to Miami for the transfer] so I needed my children watched. My doctor required me to stay flat for 72 hours afterwards, so you have to account for that as well. Some people stay in a hotel, but fortunately, that's where my intended father lives, so we stayed with him. It was a good way to bond."

Now that Nichole has successfully served as a surrogate, she still plans to do the same for her sister one day. "I'm very excited to do this again for my sister. I may even do it again for somebody else; I'm tossing that around. I really enjoy it. I love being able to bless somebody else."

Entertainment

How Fatherhood Has Impacted Tom Daley's Diving Career for the Better

British diver Tom Daley, and new-ish gay dad, is looking to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in South Korea.

British diver Tom Daley is currently in the running to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in South Korea, his fourth if he competes, at the young age of just 26.

But he also has another concern that most young gay men his age couldn't fathom—fatherhood. He and his husband, filmmaker Dustin Lance Black, recently welcomed Robbie Ray via surrogacy in June 2018.

In an interview with the Independent, Daley explained how fatherhood has changed his routine and training, which he says is often for the better.

"It has changed my life completely in all of the best ways possible," Daley said. "It has changed my perspective, the way I think about things. [My son] is the most important thing in my life, everything I do is for him, everything I think about he is at the forefront of everything."

With respect to his diving career, Daley continued, "if you have a bad day at training, or a good day, you are grounded immediately when you get home through the door because you are having cuddles or you are having to change a dirty nappy. It is the first time that I have been able to leave diving at the diving board and not think about what I need to the next day in the pool."

Whatever the challenges he faces while training, he said, "I can leave it there because you don't have time to think about diving when you are looking after a kid under one."

The strategy seems to be working in Daley's favor. He recently enjoyed his most successful FINA Diving World Series ever this past Spring in Canada, winning 12 medals across five events. And barring any major catastrophe, he is overwhelmingly expected to qualify for South Korea 2020.

And we can't wait to cheer the young dad on!

Change the World

One Gay Dad's Fight Against Hate in Superior, Nebraska

Brian Splater is refusing to let homophobic and transphobic elected officials in his town go unchecked

Millie B. Photography

Guest post written by Brian Splater

No one ever should feel they will have a very lonely and secluded life as a child. But that is something me and many other gay kids believe as they are growing up.

The truth of the matter is there are people who will try everything in their power to have our rights go back in time instead of forward. It is very disheartening when these people are elected officials, or they are people who use their place of employment to spread their disgust and hate.

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Politics

America's First Gay Dad Governor Heads Into the Lion's Den

Colorado Governor Jared Polis recently became the first elected Democrat to speak at the annual Western Conservative Summit in Denver

Last Friday, American's first gay dad Governor, Jared Polis, became the first elected Democrat to speak at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, where he urged the Republican crowd to help him build a "Colorado for all."

"While we should never gloss over the things that divide us, there is a lot more that unites us," Polis said. "When we close ourselves off from discussion or debate, and we reject the possibility of hearing and understanding other perspectives, it threatens the fabric of our democracy."

If he was hoping for a Kumbaya moment, he didn't exactly get it. As he was called to the stage, he was greeted with a smattering of applause—while others booed and shouted for a "recall" of the Governor.

"It was almost unbearable for me to sit there to listen to his talk," Abby Johnson, one of the event's attendees, told the Denver Post. "And I'm going to tell you why. He kept talking about equality for all persons, yet we live in a society where 60 million innocent human beings have been slaughtered in the name of choice. Where is their justice? Where is their equal rights?"

Polis was also criticized from his left flank for attending the same event that refuses to let the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay GOP members, participate—and that featured Donald Trump Jr. as a speaker the same day. "To me it feels like vanity," Katie Farnan, a staffer with progressive group Indivisible, told the Denver Post. "He can go and be a hip Democratic governor who isn't afraid to go into GOP sanctuary. Or maybe it's recall insurance. But unless he was there to hold them accountable for their support for fascist and racist policies, what's the point?"

In response to the criticism from both sides of the political aisle, Polis told the Colorado Sun: "I think it's very important that Coloradans of different ideologies, different races, different geographies, different orientations and gender identities all really celebrate that we're all part of what makes Colorado great."

The event is hosted each year by Colorado Christian University to bring together conservatives from around the state, and the larger West.

What do you think, dads? Was Polis's decision to speak at the event a savvy political move or mere pandering?

Entertainment

Hate Group Boycotts 'Toy Story' for Featuring Lesbian Moms—Hilarity Ensues on Twitter

"One Million Moms" announced a boycott of the latest Toy Story movie for *very briefly* featuring lesbian moms. Twitter's response was swift and hilarious.

One Million Moms, which is affiliated with the anti-LGBTQ American Family Association, recently called for a boycott of Toy Story 4 for (very, very briefly) featuring (interracial!) lesbian moms in the animated film. The angry, hateful moms affiliated with this group must have watched the film VERY closely because you could easily blink and miss the moment that apparently "blindsided" viewers.

The Internet reacted with a collective facepalm to the ridiculous boycott. Here are some of our favorite hilarious Twitter reactions to the hateful group:

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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