This is the story of Baby Love. Baby Love isn’t her real name; it is the name we chose for the purposes of this story. One reason we are going to call her Baby Love is that her parents would like to give her a choice when she grows up to keep this story to herself. More to the point, we are calling her Baby Love because three people took every ounce of their love, from the far corners of New York to the depths of Texas, to bring Baby Love into this world. If you stick with the story, you will hear about the moment Baby Love was born.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Amber, the surrogate who carried Baby Love. Amber will be the guest at the Men Having Babies (“MHB”) Pride meeting this week in New York. This is a real cause for celebration for anyone who cares about our gay families. MHB has grown from a program that ran at the NYC LGBT Center starting in 2005 to an independent nonprofit organization that provides valuable invaluable support to prospective gay fathers, including online resources, ratings of surrogacy agencies and fertility clinics, seminars, exhibits and workshops worldwide.
Most importantly, MHB provides prospective fathers who cannot afford the expenses involved with parenting through surrogacy with over a million dollars’ worth of cash grants, discounts and free services from about forty leading service providers through the Gay Parenting Assistance Program (“GPAP”). To date GPAP has already provided almost 200 couples with access to substantial discounts, and more than two dozen couples and singles received full support, including grants and free service. These prospective parents, who otherwise may have not been able to complete this journey, were chosen by a grant committee. As of today, about 10 babies are already expected to be born later this year, with many more to come. Applications for stage I of the program is open year round, and stage II applications for 2016 are received from eligible stage I recipients until August 1.
The celebratory Pride meeting of the organization will take place at 6:30pm on Wednesday June 17 at the JCC Manhattan. It will start with a networking reception, with a short briefing by the organization’s board about recent developments, future plans and opportunities to get involved. Following the reception Amber and the parents she helped will tell their stories. Tissues and light refreshments will be provided.
This story began ten years ago when Amber, pregnant with her first son, decided that she would be a surrogate one day. Amber doesn’t remember where she heard about this option, but what she does remember is that, from that moment on, for ten whole years, she knew she would one day carry a child for another family. For the most part Amber’s pregnancies were easy: she enjoyed them, and she even said that she felt like she “could be pregnant forever.” Despite her amazing outlook and good pregnancies, there were moments that weren’t easy, but none of these hardships came close to stopping Amber from pursuing her dream.
When I asked Amber what pushed her all this time, she said that, as a mother, she couldn’t imagine someone not being able to start a family because they couldn’t have a child on their own. She knew she wanted to give this gift, not only to them, but also to herself.
Five years ago, Amber, by then a mother of three, moved to Texas, where surrogacy is legal; and the moment she and her family unpacked, she started exploring it. For a long time she was a fly on the wall on Facebook groups dedicated to surrogates and their networks, and she recommended that any women considering surrogacy do the same: hear the stories, the lovely with the ugly, the good with the bad. Amber, in a way that is typical for her personality, spent a long time researching agencies, clinics and speaking with surrogates who had gone through this journey. So it was hardly surprising that, three days after she submitted her application to her preferred agency, she got matched with a gay couple from New York. Two days later she had her first phone call with the intended parents. I asked Amber about the moment before she hit “send” on her application. She remembered that she had butterflies because she had put so much of herself into it. She felt very vulnerable.
It had been a while since everyone on that phone call had been on a first date , but that’s exactly what it felt like. Excitement mixed with anxiety is how they all described that call. Amber remembers the exact date: January 8. Will she like us? Will they like me? Can I make sure I make a good impression while being completely honest? Is this the right person for us?
Amber says that she got some very good advice from an experienced surrogate before the call, who told her not to say “yes” just because she felt excited to start the process. But after an hour-long conversation, which had no awkward silences, it took both parties less than two minutes to write back to the agency and say: YES YES YES.
Amber told me that a few days ago while going through some documents she re-read the couple’s application. She said that everything they wrote in that application was spot-on, and that everything they had hoped for happened. She attributes this to both parties being emotionally ready and being in the right place at the right time.
Amber didn’t ask to be matched with a gay couple in her application, but she knew she would end up working with a gay family; maybe that is why she didn’t feel the need to be specific about it. Amber’s daughter has a disability, one of the intended dads is a cancer survivor who walks with a prosthetic leg. Amber felt that commonality brought them together. The next event that brought them closer together was a failed transfer. Amber and the intended parents had only two embryos from their initial harvest, simply bad luck. So when they found out that the pregnancy didn’t take, not only were they extremely sad about the devastating news, they also didn’t know what would happen next. Amber was very upset and emotional, and the intended parents were concerned about Amber much more than the pregnancy. This concern, and their commitment to stick through this together, is what brought them closer. This is not an uncommon human experience: families, friends and even coworkers can grow closer through hardship. But the fact that these people who were strangers until a few short months ago found comfort in each other – no blame, just compassion – was a true testament to their unique and wonderful relationship.
“Looking back, I wish I could have been able to explain to them what a highly emotional person I am. I wrote it in my application, I told them again and again, but I don’t think they knew how real it was until that failed transfer,” Amber told me. Amber recognized that a mismatch of intended parents and surrogate around these types of personalities can be devastating to their relationship. She points out that their success was not only a result of their match, but also due to their ongoing lively and loving communication.
At last, Amber said the word that I was waiting for the whole conversation. She said she was very attached to the process and that is why the failed transfer was so hard on her. So I asked the question that everyone asks the first surrogate they meet: “Were you concerned you would get attached to the baby growing inside you?”
“I don’t want to sound crass or insensitive,” Amber said, “but I wasn’t worried about that at all. This embryo that grew to be a fetus and then a baby was put in my care to grow and I was responsible to protect it for 10 months. I am not her mother, I didn’t worry about the day after she was born and my focus was surrounding a healthy pregnancy. I wasn’t a pregnant mother, I was a pregnant woman.” If you talk to Amber you quickly find out how goal-oriented she is and how passionate she is about those goals. So for those 10 years, all she could imagine was handing a child over to a family that wanted a child. This was Amber’s goal as she set out on this journey.
On the morning of the delivery, Amber went to see her doctor, checked into Labor and Maternity, and called the intended parents, her husband, her best friend, and the photographer whom she had asked to document the birth. This was Amber’s gift to Baby Love. Amber is something of a prophet; she knew something about this moment to come that no one else could predict. Amber knew that memories would never be enough in order to capture that moment when she delivered Baby Love and handed her over to her parents. Amber, more than anything, wanted this child to be able to see that moment with her own eyes. Amber wanted Baby Love to know how many people loved her and truly wanted her in this world and she set out to document this precious event. She wanted the parents of Baby Love to see what she saw in that moment: her dads holding her in her arms. Baby Love was born, and rivers of love poured out of that delivery room. The nurses, doctors, and other families in L&D;, for many of them the first time they have encountered a surrogate birth, all learned something about our families that they didn’t know before.
I asked Amber if she was worried that maybe one day the parents of Baby Love would choose not to tell her about her surrogate carrier, and maybe that was why she wanted it documented, so there was proof that she was part of her creation. Amber told me that when Baby Love was a few months old she visited her in New York and the four of them sat at a restaurant for brunch. A woman stopped by Amber and said, “Your baby is so beautiful.” It took Amber only a second to say, “These guys are her parents; I only helped her come into the world.” Amber was never worried about her place in this story; she and the parents spoke about it many times before they started the process. She wanted to give Baby Love and her parents something she regretted not doing for her own kids, a glimpse into the moment they arrived into this world.
I asked Amber how she feels now, and she told me that she is simply proud. She is proud of herself, of her family, of the new dads and of Baby Love. The moment Baby Love was born she was extremely proud and honored, and this is something she will carry with her for the rest of her life.
Amber continued the story about the woman at the restaurant: “After I told her that I was the surrogate the woman got very emotional, she told me that her boss had just started this process and that when she tells him about their inadvertent yet very meaningful meeting he is going to be so excited to hear that this is a real possibility.” This is why Amber wanted to tell her story; she wants people to know this is a possibility for them too.
Photo credit: All photos in this article are courtesy of Natasha Hance – NHancePhotography.com