Two weeks into parenthood, Michael Barbaro made a list: “15 Things I’ve Learned About Being a Dad.” In it, he advises against purchasing baby clothes with snaps on them – “Where is the Velcro? Magnets? Duct tape?” – or even bothering with those tiny newborn socks.
“My Italian nose can press an elevator button, hold a bottle and balance coffee, while my toe can lift a car seat and fold laundry.”
If it sounds like Michael could use a few extra limbs, that’s because he could: The 45-year-old ordained minister in the UCC Church and associate chaplain at a private school in New York City recently became a single father to fraternal twin boys.
Michael makes no bones about needing a hand. Item two on his list, second only to “Plan for nothing,” reads: “Help does come when you need it. Accept it. Wash, rinse and repeat this mantra. It's okay to accept help.”
Raised with a strong sense of his own spirituality, Michael struggled with his sexuality even as he entered seminary to become a minister. There, he began reparative therapy, which aims to cure homosexuality.
“You cannot be a gay and be a Christian,” his therapist told him one day, two years into his treatment.
“I remember sitting there and thinking, ‘I don’t know what I am. But I know what you just said is wrong,’” Michael says. He abruptly ended treatment. Even though he now believed his faith and sexuality could co-exist, Michael felt a deep sense of loss.
“One of the things that made it so hard for me to accept that I was gay was the thought that I would never be a father,” he said. Once he came out, he simply tried to let go of the dream of having kids.
That was 15 years ago. On Easter Sunday last year, though, Michael’s mother insisted he revisit the notion of becoming a parent. Financial concerns were paramount for Michael – surrogacy is dauntingly expensive and he knew adoption as a single gay man would also come with challenges.
“Nobody ever has enough money to have kids,” his mother said. “If you don’t do it, knowing you, when you are seventy, you will look back and have regrets.”
Michael knew she was right. He began investigating surrogacy in India and Thailand, but the tide for international surrogacy had turned against gay parents. He settled on the most affordable agency he could find in the United States.
The two embryos implanted for surrogacy were, according to Michael’s doctor, a boy and a girl. The hope was for at least one to make it, as there is about a 50% chance for an embryo to perish very early on.
But, secretly, Michael hoped for twins. “As a single parent, I was really open to the idea of having twins so that they would have each other.”
The first ultrasound confirmed there were two babies – a boy and a girl – and Michael began preparing, even choosing their names: Giabella and Giovanni.
“I made them videos and called them by name, I recorded books with their names and sent them to [the gestational carrier] to play to the womb, and I kept a journal for them throughout the pregnancy,” he wrote in the announcement letter to his friends. At baby showers, he received clothes and toys for a boy and a girl.
The girl was expected to arrive first. To the delivering OB/GYN’s surprise, though, a boy came out first. She explained they must have switched places somehow. Then another boy was born.
“Everyone started to cheer as they held the two boys together for me to see,” Michael says. “They weighed them, started to clean them and I just kept saying, ‘Wait are you sure? It's two boys? Really? How is this possible?’ I kept staring at them, confused, and a bit in shock. It felt like everything went into slow motion as they swaddled and handed me two baby boys.”
Even as he met his two beautiful sons, Michael sobbed, feeling overwhelming grief for the loss of Giabella, the daughter he thought he would also be welcoming into the world.
Michael spent the next few nights in turmoil. Doctors had a number of possible explanations for the gender mix-up, some of which alarmed him: Had the clinic transferred the wrong embryos? Had a stray egg from the surrogate implanted?
To Michael’s great relief, DNA tests determined the genetic testing and ultrasounds had simply been wrong. “An emotionally brutal situation that left a lot to be explained, but all I cared about at that point was being their Dad,” Michael wrote. He named his boys Luciano (which means bringer of light) and Giovanni (gift from God).
Perhaps the numbers are flipped for Michael – one parent for two babies instead of the other way around – but he says his family is just like any other. All parents need help and all children need outside role models to thrive.
“No parent can do it all,” he says. Still, he’s asked about the boys’ mother at every new doctor’s visit or casual interactions out with the boys. Even supportive friends were flabbergasted that he’d consider twins. “I got more of a reaction about having twins than about being single or being a minister.”
For Michael, though, twins were the hope, if not the plan. He’s supported by a village of family and friends. His mom, sister, and best friend of 36 years and godmother to the twins help with daily care.
“Sometimes people really like to lead with their own anxiety about twins, but the truth is that I don’t really know any different right now,” Michael says. After all, he hasn’t experienced parenthood any other way.
“There are moments that I think, 'Wow, how am I going to do this?’ and then I go back to, ‘Wow, I’m so lucky that I get to do this.’”