Rick Nadan went into the surrogacy process much like the average hopeful parent: financially prepared, emotionally ready and physically healthy.
But soon after he learned the gestational carrier who would carry his children was pregnant, the hopeful father learned he was HIV positive.
He had tested negative at the routine tests required for surrogacy in early December 2006. Weeks later, with pregnancy underway, he visited his doctor. “I felt really sick and it wasn't going away," he says. “I went to the doctor and he suggested doing a routine HIV test."
Results were inconclusive. He underwent a series of additional tests and finally received the positive diagnosis.
His mind reeled. “What's going to happen to me? What about the kids? What about the surrogate?"
Rick's fertility endocrinologist recommended terminating the pregnancy — but Rick knew that couldn't be the only option. He flipped into high gear, contacting every in-vitro fertilization (IVF) specialist he could find, all over the country.
“Most of them were wonderful," he says.
They confirmed that the chance of the embryos being infected was very low and the risk of transmitting HIV to the gestational carrier even lower. Some even felt strongly enough they were willing to call Rick's endocrinologist and argue his case.
A specialist in the Boston area tested his sperm samples, with negative results: there was no HIV present.
“In the process of all that, what I did learn was that there really have been thousands of serodiscordant couples – meaning one person is HIV positive and one is negative— that had undergone this process," Rick says.
Rick's doctor spoke with the IVF surrogate personally to assure her the process would be safe. She responded well to the news and had no qualms about moving forward with the pregnancy.
Pregnancy aside, Rick was also faced with the reality of his diagnosis. “If it wasn't for the fact of knowing that I was pregnant and having one or two really strong friends supporting me, I would have just fallen apart," he says.
The news came just before he was scheduled to begin a doctoral program in nursing practice (D.N.P.) at Case Western Reserve University. Newborn twins and school promised a heavy load for Rick to shoulder alone, but he had been game for it. Coping with an HIV diagnosis at the same time felt overwhelming. “I absolutely went from one of the highest points of my life to, 'Oh my god, what have I done?'"
Against his friends' urging, he left his home in Queens, New York for a month-long introductory session for his D.N.P. program, hoping that staying busy would quell his anxiety.
“Believe it or not, I got A's and B's," he says, “but I was chewing on Valiums like Tic Tacs the entire time."
Rick Nadan's kids with the family dog
With the support of friends and his reassuring doctor, Rick adjusted to his new reality.
Eight months later, Rick became a father to healthy twins, Savannah and Keith. The last holdouts for support among his family and friends were his father and stepmother, who worried about his responsibility of raising children alone.
“The whole [IVF] process, for them, was very science fiction," Rick says. “They just looked at me, like, 'How the hell are you going to do this?'"
Their fears subsided the moment they met the twins. “Once they saw their grandbabies, they just sort of melted."
He had always wanted kids. When he was younger, though, options were slim for gay men: IVF wasn't widely available and he wasn't certain he would be allowed to adopt. But even after he met a gay friend with twin daughters, he waited.
He had always imagined starting a family with someone else. Plus, he had been working on his education and his career.
Eventually, as a nurse manager for infectious diseases, he found himself solid in his career and settled, albeit without a partner. “I was making my six-figure salary, I had the corner office, all that stuff. I really didn't have any reason not to do it."
Having met a specialist in Boston who could test semen samples for HIV, Rick decided a few years later to grow his family. Five years after Savannah and Keith's birth, Rick became father to a second set of twins, Calista and Elizabeth.
When Rick's father became ill, he left his job — temporarily at first — to care for his dad. Rick's father passed away a year later.
“When he died, my choice was go back to work and go back to the way I was doing it, or stay home," Rick says. Thanks to an inheritance from his father, he was able to stay home.
“It was the first time I decided that work was not the most important thing in my life anymore. I like being a dad much better."
As a single dad, a gay dad and a dad with HIV, Rick initially felt isolated. Though he hasn't met many HIV-positive single gay dads, he now has a strong network of gay parents to call friends.
“Once I found them, the isolation aspect really seemed to dwindle," he says. “I have plenty of friends that are [HIV] positive, even if they don't have kids of their own."
He raises his brood with the help of family and friends, and only occasionally wonders what he's gotten himself into. “Once in a while, I look at the kids and think, 'Gosh, how did this happen?'" he jokes. “I hate all the laundry, but that kind of comes with the territory. For me, it's just what life is and what I've always wanted."