Sister Act: How Four Siblings Helped Joey and Rob Become Dads
The husbands *also* received help from Men Having Babies, a nonprofit helping gay men become dads via surrogacy.
"I first learned about Men Having Babies while searching the internet for insurances that covered surrogacy," said Joey Guzman-Kuffel, 40, a Marriage and Family Therapist. "As I researched our surrogacy options the Men Having Babies link popped up. When I clicked on their link, I learned that this awesome organization was bringing awareness to men wanting to have babies and the possibilities to do so."
Joey and his husband Rob Kuffel, 47, Protocol Officer for the US Navy, have been together seven years after meeting via OKCupid.com. They chatted for a week via the app, then graduated to a phone call which lasted 3-4 hours. "I always knew that I wanted to have kids and knew that I needed to be with a partner that wanted to have kids as well," said Joey. Rob felt the same way. The two were married in May 2014.
The husbands decided to have children through surrogacy in part because Joey's sisters (all four of them!) volunteered to help the husbands have children. "Three of my sisters volunteered to be our egg donors and another our surrogate. I shared with Rob that we were blessed to have family that were willing to help us." As the eldest of six, Joey is incredibly close with his tight-knit family. "I come from a Hispanic family and we were raised to always put family first," Joey added.
Their journey to fatherhood took four years. Sadly, Joey's sister who offered to be their surrogate was unable to move forward in the process and so the couple thought they'd have to work with a surrogacy agency to assist them in the matching process. They took the first steps, and had a successful egg retrieval with one of Joey's sisters and were able to create five viable embryos. It was at this point they first encountered Men Having Babies (MHB).
"Rob and I attended a Men Having Babies conference November 2017 in New York while Rob was mobilized with the military and we were temporarily living in Rhode Island," said Joey. "Rob and I found the conference to be very informative." Even though the husbands had already created frozen embryos, they wished they'd learned about MHB from day one in their journey. "Sitting there and hearing other people's stories about their journeys was an amazing experience and it allowed for Rob and I to look into the future and see ourselves just like the people who were speaking on the panel. It's a great place to get information and realize that gay men having babies is possible."
Despite having already begun their journey, they were still able to apply and ended up qualifying for Stage 1 and 2 of the MHB's Gay Parenting Assistance Program, which was a huge help to the dads-to-be.
Despite the financial aid, the dads-to-be still encountered hurdles. Due to some miscommunication with their first agency, they moved to work with a second agency, and they were able to present them with a surrogate whom they had found independently. Sadly after three attempted transfers, their doctor recommended finding another surrogate. As they had gone from having five viable frozen embryos down to two, they wanted to be extra careful and they followed their doctor's advice.
After three months of waiting, they matched with what was now their third surrogate in this process. Thankfully, their first embryo transfer with their two remaining eggs was successful. After a few weeks, the dads found out that they were expecting triplets as one of the embryos had split. Sadly the twins didn't make it past 9 weeks, and at the same time they received the news, Rob's mother passed away. "It was a difficult time, and I found myself in constant fear of losing our singleton and feeling happy about having one remaining baby after the loss of the twins."
In August 2019, Rob and Joey became first-time dads when their daughter was born with the help of their incredible surrogate. Camila is the apple of her daddies' eyes and they both describe her birth as a surreal moment. "An overwhelming sense of love consumed Rob and me. When we did our first skin to skin, I remember as I looked into her eyes telling myself that all the difficult moments Rob and I went through were all worth it to get to the moment where I was holding her. She was our baby and she was finally in our arms. Such a breath-taking moment."
The dads are thriving in new roles as fathers, although it has taken some time to readjust from their previous lifestyles. "Before having a child, my husband and I were used to coming and going as we pleased and just worrying about ourselves and our pup." Now, with Camila, their hearts have doubled in size, but so has Joey's tendency to worry. "For example, I am extremely hyper-vigilant and always making sure that my daughter is safe and okay. I have never felt a strong instinct to be overprotective." And, of course, sleep has gone out the window.
Joey and Rob are forever grateful for organizations like MHB that helped guide them through the complicated surrogacy process. "I believe that organizations like MHB are important because they provide a platform of information for gay men wanting to have babies. It can help with teaching where to start and how to start, and on a larger scale, it brings awareness to a larger community outside that of the gay men wanting to have babies on the need for services to assist gay men with having babies."
"What MHB does is really special and I am happy that there is an organization as such that is bringing awareness to our needs and advocating for us as well."
Join Men Having Babies at their 7th annual MHB West conference in San Francisco, January 17 to 19, 2020. The conference will look at parenting options in the United States and Canada, and also debut the Advocacy and Research Forum on Friday along with the complimentary services expo on the Sunday.
Joey and Rob with their surrogate and her wife before and after baby Camila was born