Gay Dad Life

Family Spotlight: Rick, an HIV+ Gay Dad, and His Four Kids

Rick Nadan went into the surrogacy process much like the average hopeful parent: financially prepared, emotionally ready and physically healthy.


But soon after he learned the gestational carrier who would carry his children was pregnant, the hopeful father learned he was HIV positive.

He had tested negative at the routine tests required for surrogacy in early December 2006. Weeks later, with pregnancy underway, he visited his doctor. “I felt really sick and it wasn't going away," he says. “I went to the doctor and he suggested doing a routine HIV test."

Results were inconclusive. He underwent a series of additional tests and finally received the positive diagnosis.

His mind reeled. “What's going to happen to me? What about the kids? What about the surrogate?"

Rick's fertility endocrinologist recommended terminating the pregnancy — but Rick knew that couldn't be the only option. He flipped into high gear, contacting every in-vitro fertilization (IVF) specialist he could find, all over the country.

“Most of them were wonderful," he says.

They confirmed that the chance of the embryos being infected was very low and the risk of transmitting HIV to the gestational carrier even lower. Some even felt strongly enough they were willing to call Rick's endocrinologist and argue his case.

A specialist in the Boston area tested his sperm samples, with negative results: there was no HIV present.

“In the process of all that, what I did learn was that there really have been thousands of serodiscordant couples – meaning one person is HIV positive and one is negative— that had undergone this process," Rick says.

Rick's doctor spoke with the IVF surrogate personally to assure her the process would be safe. She responded well to the news and had no qualms about moving forward with the pregnancy.

Pregnancy aside, Rick was also faced with the reality of his diagnosis. “If it wasn't for the fact of knowing that I was pregnant and having one or two really strong friends supporting me, I would have just fallen apart," he says.

The news came just before he was scheduled to begin a doctoral program in nursing practice (D.N.P.) at Case Western Reserve University. Newborn twins and school promised a heavy load for Rick to shoulder alone, but he had been game for it. Coping with an HIV diagnosis at the same time felt overwhelming. “I absolutely went from one of the highest points of my life to, 'Oh my god, what have I done?'"

Against his friends' urging, he left his home in Queens, New York for a month-long introductory session for his D.N.P. program, hoping that staying busy would quell his anxiety.

“Believe it or not, I got A's and B's," he says, “but I was chewing on Valiums like Tic Tacs the entire time."

Rick Nadan's kids with the family dog

With the support of friends and his reassuring doctor, Rick adjusted to his new reality.

Eight months later, Rick became a father to healthy twins, Savannah and Keith. The last holdouts for support among his family and friends were his father and stepmother, who worried about his responsibility of raising children alone.

“The whole [IVF] process, for them, was very science fiction," Rick says. “They just looked at me, like, 'How the hell are you going to do this?'"

Their fears subsided the moment they met the twins. “Once they saw their grandbabies, they just sort of melted."

He had always wanted kids. When he was younger, though, options were slim for gay men: IVF wasn't widely available and he wasn't certain he would be allowed to adopt. But even after he met a gay friend with twin daughters, he waited.

He had always imagined starting a family with someone else. Plus, he had been working on his education and his career.

Eventually, as a nurse manager for infectious diseases, he found himself solid in his career and settled, albeit without a partner. “I was making my six-figure salary, I had the corner office, all that stuff. I really didn't have any reason not to do it."

Having met a specialist in Boston who could test semen samples for HIV, Rick decided a few years later to grow his family. Five years after Savannah and Keith's birth, Rick became father to a second set of twins, Calista and Elizabeth.

When Rick's father became ill, he left his job — temporarily at first — to care for his dad. Rick's father passed away a year later.

“When he died, my choice was go back to work and go back to the way I was doing it, or stay home," Rick says. Thanks to an inheritance from his father, he was able to stay home.

“It was the first time I decided that work was not the most important thing in my life anymore. I like being a dad much better."

As a single dad, a gay dad and a dad with HIV, Rick initially felt isolated. Though he hasn't met many HIV-positive single gay dads, he now has a strong network of gay parents to call friends.

“Once I found them, the isolation aspect really seemed to dwindle," he says. “I have plenty of friends that are [HIV] positive, even if they don't have kids of their own."

He raises his brood with the help of family and friends, and only occasionally wonders what he's gotten himself into. “Once in a while, I look at the kids and think, 'Gosh, how did this happen?'" he jokes. “I hate all the laundry, but that kind of comes with the territory. For me, it's just what life is and what I've always wanted."

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News

World's First Sperm Bank Opens for HIV Positive Donors

Sperm Positive, started by three non-profits in New Zealand, hopes to end stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood

"Our donors have so much to give," say the promotional materials of a new sperm bank. "But they can't give you HIV."

The new sperm bank, Sperm Positive, launched on World Aids Day this year by three non-profits as a way to fight stigma surrounding HIV and parenthood. For years, scientists have known that those living with an undetectable level of HIV in their blood thanks to antiretroviral treatments can't transmit the virus through sex or childbirth. Yet discrimination and stigma persists.

The sperm bank exists online only, but will connect donors and those seeking donations with fertility banks once a connection is made on their site. Sperm Positive was started by three New Zealand non-profits — Body Positive, the New Zealand Aids Foundation and Positive Women Inc. — who hope the project will help disseminate science-backed education and information about HIV and parenthood.

Already, three HIV positive men have signed up to serve as donors, including Damien Rule-Neal who spoke to the NZ Herald about his reasons for getting involved in the project. "I want people to know life doesn't stop after being diagnosed with HIV and that it is safe to have children if you're on treatment," he told the Herald. "I've experienced a lot of stigma living with HIV, both at work and in my personal life that has come from people being misinformed about the virus."

We applaud the effort all around! To read more about our own efforts to end the stigma surround HIV and parenthood, check out our recent round-up of family profiles, resources, and expert advice that celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV here.

Change the World

9 Stories That Celebrate the Experience of Gay Fathers Living with HIV

This World AIDS Day, we dug into our archives to find 9 stories that bring awareness to and celebrate the experience of gay dads living with HIV

December 1st is World AIDS Day — a day to unite in our collective fight to end the epidemic, remember those we've lost, and bring much needed attention and money to support those who continue to live with HIV and AIDS. For us at Gays With Kids, it's also a time to lift up and celebrate the experiences of fathers, so many of who never thought they'd see the day where they would be able to start families.

Towards that end, we've rounded up nine stories, family features and articles from our archives that celebrate the experience of gay fathers living with HIV — the struggles, triumphs and everything in between.

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Change the World

Gay Couple Adopt HIV+ Baby Passed Over by 10 Other Families

Married Argentinian couple Damian Pighin and Ariel Vijarra opened their home to a 28-day-old baby when others wouldn't

A couple weeks ago, we brought you a touching story about a gay single dad who adopted a young girl with Down's syndrome who had been passed over by 20 other families.

Well, we're beginning to sense a heartwarming trend among gay men and their openness to kids who might be a little bit different. Recently, an HIV positive baby in Argentina named Olivia was adopted by a gay couple, Damian Pighin and Ariel Vijarra, when she was only 28 days old. The baby had reportedly been rejected by 10 other families who refused to adopt her because of her status.

According to Newsweek, one of the dads told local media: "As soon as I saw her, I felt she was part of my life. The connection was immediate. We held her in our arms, we gave her the bottle and she looked at us with her eyes wide open, without crying."

The couple is no stranger to helping "hard to place" kids find homes. They created a nonprofit organization called Acunar Familias, or "Cradle Families," which helps other couples adopt unwanted children.

Many in the LGBTQ community have faced rejection of their own, so it should come as little surprise that queer parents will provide loving homes when others won't — we guarantee this won't the last story of its kind you'll read. But for now, check out more details on Newsweek.

Diary of a Newly Out Gay Dad

A Gay Chiropractor Explains Why He Came Out to His Patients

After Cameron Call, a chiropractor, came out to his family this past year, he knew he had one more step to take — he had to come out to his patients

Fear is an interesting thing. It motivates when it shouldn't, shows at inconvenient times, and is the author of stories that do nothing but hold us back. I would argue though, too, that fear has some good qualities. I believe it helps us to feel. And I think it can be a great teacher as we learn to recognize and face it.

For years fear prevented me from embracing my truth and accepting a large part of who I am. I know I am not alone in that regard. But for so long my fear convinced me that I was. Fear is what kept me from ever telling my parents or anyone growing up that I am gay. Fear mingled with strong religious teachings, embraced at a young age, which led me to believe that I could cure myself of my attractions to the same gender. And fear is a part of what kept me in my marriage to a woman for over ten years.

Only so much growth and learning can occur when we limit ourselves to our fears. If people never did anything they were afraid to do, life would be incredibly boring and far too predictable. At some point we must face the things we fear and just go for it not knowing what will happen next.

After finally coming out to my ex-wife after ten years of marriage (see previous articles for that story), and eventually telling my family I knew there was one more step I needed to make.

I am a business owner. I am a structural chiropractor and am highly specialized in my field. Nearly four years ago I opened my own clinic, Horizon Chiropractic Center, in Phoenix, Arizona. I poured my whole heart, body, and soul into the creation of my practice and its growth. Opening a business fresh out of school is no simple task and I worked hard to build my practice with close relationships and word of mouth referrals. I established myself as an expert and built a strong reputation as a family man, and my ex-wife and kids were the face of my practice.

I loved and do love every person who has ever come into my office and treat them like family. We laugh together during visits, celebrate wins, cry together, often hug, and cheer each other on regarding various things in our life. That's also a large part of who I am: a people person. I enjoy spending quality time with those I am privileged to help. No one comes in my office and only sees me for 2-5 minutes.

Even though there was so much good that I had built into my brand and reputation fear eventually found its way into my business too. I was afraid of what would happen if people found out the truth. Would they be okay with having a gay chiropractor? Would they still trust me to be able to help them? Of course, the story in my head I was telling myself was much bigger and badder than it needed to be.

When we decided to get a divorce, I felt strongly that I needed to face these fears and begin telling a number of patients the truth of what was happening in my life. I know in reality it is no one's business but my own. However, I felt like I needed to let my patients who had become like family to me truly see me for who I am, and who I always was. And so slowly, case by case, I began to tell a select number of people.

I'll never forget the first patient I told. She had been coming in for years and was bringing her son in to see me who is on the autism spectrum. It was the day after my ex-wife and I decided to get a divorce and she could tell something heavy was on my mind. I eventually came out to her. The first words out of her mouth were "I am so proud of you!" We cried and hugged and it was the complete opposite of what I ever expected. And it was perfect. I felt loved. I felt accepted. I felt seen.

As time went on it got easier. And overall the responses were all completely positive and supportive. Out of all the patients I told and those who found out from other circles, only three stopped coming in to see me. Since coming out, my office has grown tremendously. My reputation hasn't changed. If anything, it's solidified. I can't help but think that part of that is due to finally embracing all of me and allowing others the same opportunity.

I read somewhere once that you never really stop coming out of the closet. And I've noticed that too. Sure, not everyone needs to know; it isn't everyone's business. And I hope that one day we live in a time period where fear doesn't prevent anyone from being seen. I want to contribute to the upward trajectory I think our society is headed of understanding, acceptance, support, and equality.

I would love to be able to say that after coming out publicly I no longer feel fear; but I do. And I think in some ways I always will no matter what. But that's part of life, right? Recognizing fear when we have it but then choosing to move forward out of love – love for others, but maybe more importantly love for ourselves.

Personal Essays by Gay Dads

A Gay Dad Gains Clarity After a Health Scare

A recent health scare helped give Erik Alexander clarity.

Sometimes fear can cripple the mind and hinder ones judgement. Having children of my own, I have come to grips with accepting the things I cannot change and learned to take action when there is no other choice. When it comes to my own personal health, the future and well being of my family gives me all the clarity I need to make the right decision about any kind of health scare.

This episode is dedicated to all the parents out there that are going through or have gone through similar situations.

Keep reading...
Gay Dad Family Stories

This European Couple Became Dads Through a U.K.-Based Surrogacy Program

Janno, from Estonia, and Matthias, from Belgium, were accepted into the "Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy" Program.

Janno Talu, an accountant, and Matthias Nijs, an art gallery director, were born in different parts of Europe. Janno, 39, is from Estonia, and Matthias, 28, is from Belgium. Their paths crossed when the two moved to London, each from their different corners of the European Union.

Janno relocated to London earlier than Matthias, when he was 24, and his main reason for the move was his sexuality. "Although Estonia is considered one of the more progressive countries in Eastern Europe, when it comes to gay rights, it is still decades behind Western society in terms of tolerance," said Janno. "And things are not moving in the right direction." In 2016, same-sex civil union became legal, but the junior party in the current coalition government is seeking to repeal the same-sex partnership bill. "In addition," Janno continued, "they wish to include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the country's constitution. Even today, there are people in Estonia who liken homosexuality to pedophilia, which is why I decided to start a new life in the UK, where I could finally be myself."

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Surrogacy for Gay Men

Interested in Surrogacy? Check Out These Bay Area Events This Weekend

If you're in the Bay Area this weekend, two major events are happening that will be of interest for dads-to-be and surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF)

If you're in San Francisco or the surrounding area, clear your calendar this weekend. Two events are happening simultaneously that are significant for dads-to-be AND surrogacy advocates: the Men Having Babies San Francisco Conference, and the SF Advocacy and Research Forum for Surrogacy and LGBT Parenting (ARF). For an outlines of both events, check out below.

Keep reading...

Fatherhood, the gay way

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