Family Spotlight: Steve & Mark
AT A GLANCE
Names & ages: Steve (44) and Mark (41)
Professions: Financial Advisor (Steve) Stay at home dad (Mark)
Relationship status: Together 13 years – legally married in New York 2012
Child: Grayson (14 months)
Location: New York City
Always wanted children: Yes
Process to becoming parents: Gestational surrogacy
Favorite playtime activity: Trips to the park, story time, music and swim class
Child calls them: Daddy and Papa (hopefully)
For some, the thought of surrogacy seems so sci-fi. Images of Jurassic Park-esque DNA storage stacks billowing with the fog of sublimation and scientists hunched over microscopes might initially come to mind. However, it seems prudent not to let the futuristic images you may conjure in your mind to overshadow one of the most historically common human experiences: the carriage and birth of a brand new human being. For Steve and Mark, two new parents from New York City, the journey with their surrogate was one of the most intimate of their life.
The pair first investigated becoming parents through adoption or fostering beginning in 2005, but then put the process on hold. In 2011, they switched gears slightly when they took the first steps in the surrogacy process. “Something was just telling us we wanted to have our own biological children,” Steve explained. “We always knew, ultimately, our plan was to have one child from each father; the same egg donor and two biological dads,” he said.
The couple’s first task would be to identify an egg donor. Wanting both children to share the same egg donor meant that the pair had to come to a consensus. “I know that we influence each other a lot when we talk,” Mark explained. “He went into one room and I went in the living room and we [read the profiles] ourselves.” Over a period of three days the couple sorted through more than 40 potential egg donors. They were looking for a variety of factors. Of course, health was a top priority but more than anything, the couple was interested in finding someone with traits that would complement their own. “We each picked our top five [egg donors],” elaborated Mark. Their clever method of preserving individual choice seemed only to show how in synch the couple was when Mark explained that they ended up sharing three of the same donors in their top five choices. “It was funny, we narrowed it down and we both gravitated to the same person,” said Steve, through a slight chuckle.
They used Skype to connect with her once before officially choosing her as a donor. She was exactly as they had imagined after reading her profile; Steve and Mark knew that she was the complement they were looking for. Selecting her was a momentous decision. One genetic half of an equation set, abuzz with a mysterious sense of possibilities regarding the result. They do not have an ongoing relationship with their donor, but she is a ‘known donor,’ meaning that they have the potential to reconnect in the future.
With two thirds of the puzzle complete, the pair shifted focus to finding a surrogate. This process was significantly different from choosing an egg donor. Surrogates give of themselves in a different way than a donor does. Yet Steve and Mark’s criteria remained similar; health and personality were key. They wanted to be involved during the pregnancy and thus were looking not only for a strong candidate on paper, but also someone with whom they felt inherently comfortable.
When selecting a surrogate, their agency only presented one profile at a time. They passed on their first candidate only to fall in love with the profile of their second. She had a wonderful family of her own; two kids and a loving husband. She had delivered twins for an Israeli couple less than a year before. Her experience and history were valuable traits, but the couple also felt strongly about her great personality and pro-gay stance.
“She really wanted us to be very involved in the process – which is what we wanted [too],” Steve detailed. She told them upfront that she wanted to become like a family. This request initially seemed intensive, but during the four month period before the embryo transfer the three became extraordinarily close. Their intimate connection evolved through daily contact in emails and Skype sessions. They shared private and personal details about their lives, like their happiest moments and their most difficult trials. “It was amazing; we got to know her really well. It made us feel like part of her family,” stated Mark.
By the time the transfer occurred, the threesome was closer than any of them had probably anticipated. Once they were officially pregnant and out of the first trimester, everyone was relieved. Steve and Mark traveled from New York City to Indiana three times throughout the process for short visits and to accompany their surrogate to key medical appointments. They have fond memories of being present at the first ultrasound. The three new confidants huddled in a dark room hearing the heartbeats of their son for the first time.
Their surrogate sent updates throughout the journey of pregnancy, allowing Steve and Mark to feel as much a part of the process as she did. Skype sessions featuring belly bumps became a regular occurrence. Their bond over this unborn child was a remarkable catalyst for true intimacy between the parties. Mark elaborated, “It worked really well. [The process] was hard in the beginning, until we realized – this is how it’s supposed to be. You have to let the third person in and share what you feel. It was not just me and him anymore, there was someone else who was involved, and it was fantastic.”
Things continued well throughout the pregnancy with Steve and Mark making the journey out to Indiana the fourth (and final) time for Grayson’s birth. Mark was actually on hand to cut the umbilical cord. The couple stayed for two days in the hospital getting acquainted to being new parents. Their surrogate was not far away, recovering in a separate room. She came by often with milk that she pumped for them. This continued for another week in an apartment Steve and Mark rented near their surrogate’s home.
“It was pretty emotional. I mean, now thinking about it, I get teary-eyed. The whole thing was wonderful. That whole week we spent together – she was coming [by] everyday…” explained Mark in a reminiscent way. It was truly hard for them to part ways when the couple left to return to New York City. “We were all crying.” Mark spoke about the tearful and bittersweet moment between the three. “It was also the most time we spent with her. She came over every day and we spent the whole day together. We spent a lot of time with her kids and we really bonded with her family. Her kids, her husband; it was really sweet,” Steve added.
“All of us left feeling we were going to stay in touch for the rest of our lives and knowing there was no way that wasn’t going to happen,” Steve concludes. And for them, that’s perfect. They want Grayson to know where he came from. “[He’s] not genetically hers, but she nourished [him] with her blood… giving him as much life in some ways as the egg donor,” Steve reminded me. The three still maintain enduring contact. She has affectionately been dubbed ‘Surro-Mom’ and has her own stream of baby pictures curated daily by Steve and Mark. Reminders of the little life she carried for nine months, as well as the dream she helped two very close friends accomplish.
Given the pair’s remarkably positive experience, it is no surprise that plans for Grayson’s sibling are underway. Following Grayson’s birth, Surro-mom moved to a new state that bans the surrogacy process, but Steve and Mark are very open and hopeful for another remarkable experience. A new surrogate from Vermont is embarking on her own journey with the couple; a new attachment, with uniquely exceptional moments to come.