Ryan, a new graphic design graduate, was just looking for a job when he walked into a design studio in Fort Lauderdale, resume and portfolio in hand. Little did he know at the time he'd walk out also having met his future husband and father to his children.
"We bonded over our love for design, art, music, travel," Ryan said of Chris, the man who conducted his interview that first day. "We became good friends and eventually had our first kiss in the office! The rest is history!" This is how Ryan and Chris became a family of four.
When the couple was ready to start their family, they looked into all options, but ultimately decide surrogacy was the right path forward for them. "We both felt strongly that we wanted children of our own biology and genetic makeup," Ryan said. "So we chose surrogacy."
While the choice to move ahead with surrogacy was an easy one for the couple, the process, they soon learned, would be anything but. "There are so many unknowns and variables," Ryan said. "First, there is the very preliminary fear of the unknown - having no idea what to expect or what direction to go in. There is the financial fear once we began discovering the costs associated with surrogacy."
Compounding these problems, Ryan said, was this: "I am a worried," he admitted. "So the continuous rollercoaster, the highs and lows, of surrogacy became the biggest obstacle." The couple's first attempt at conceiving didn't work, forcing the men to start from scratch with a new egg donor, and play the "waiting game" once again. "That was an extremely hard time," Ryan said. " here is so much time to question, doubt, fear, stress. So for someone like me, I was constantly nervous! I probably drove our surrogacy agency and our surrogate nuts with constant questions and concerns."
Surrogacy, Ryan cautions, is not for the faint of heart. "It got extremely taxing on us emotionally," Ryan says. At times, particularly after the first cycle did not work, he and Chris doubted whether or not to continue. "But we persevered," he said. "We trusted that the ultimate end result would outweigh the present strain."
And with twins, Connor and Olivia, now part of their lives, Ryan is incredibly thankful for sticking it out. "I remember people would tell us that one day after the babies were born we would look back and wonder what we stressed so much about," he said. "And it's true. We can look back now and feel so relieved that we continued - because it's worth it. It's all for that amazing, irreplaceable, heart-swelling little smile on their face. Or that giggle. Oh my God, that giggle is everything."
So how is life with newborn twins treating the dads? "On a surface level, everything has changed," Ryan said, explaining that the couple has also recently renovated and moved homes to accommodate their growing family. But the changes, Ryan says, go much deeper as well: "I've had to step outside of myself and put these two little humans first. It is a beautiful and sometimes challenging thing to care so much about another life that your thought process and priorities so innately shift. There was no option. It's like all of a sudden these two little ones are the absolute most important thing in my life and I wouldn't have it any other way."
Among the challenges of his newfound fatherhood, Ryan says, is making sure he's taking care of himself and relationship, in addition to his twins. "I remember joking in the very beginning after the birth to a friend about how daily personal hygiene seems to go out the window once babies are born," Ryan said. "I'd really have to struggle to remember if I even brushed my teeth that morning, let alone shower! I am so focused on them and making sure they are taken care of."
Now that several months have passed, however, Ryan says he's doing a better job learning to find balance in his life, something he says he struggled with even before becoming a dad. "Having the twins has forced me find balance because ultimately I've found that in order for me to be the best dad to them, I have to take care of myself as well," he explained. In order to be of "sound mind, body and spirit," and provide a stable environment and lifestyle for the twins, then, Ryan says he makes sure to take time for he and Chris as a couple, and for the things that fulfill him personally. "I have to make it work so I can be the best me for Connor and Olivia and my husband," he said.
As far as life as gay dads, Ryan says they do probably receive more attention in public than most heterosexual parents. "But in a positive way," Ryan says. "People constantly stop us to talk about the twins and comment on how amazing it is that we were able to have them. Chris and I joke that we are lucky to both be the kind of people who are comfortable conversing with random strangers on an almost daily basis. People are so interested in the process of surrogacy and have been extremely supportive."
For other dads considering surrogacy, Ryan stressed that the the right support system is crucial. "Whether it is a significant other or family or close friend," he said, "be strong, don't give up and always remember that everything happens for a reason."