Avid swimmers Colin Goldsmith and Patrick Billingsley were introduced by a mutual friend before an early morning swim session in New York City in 2013.
Eight years later, they’re married, living together in Royal Palm Beach, Florida, and their son Chess has really taken after his dads. Colin says Chess is a total water baby.
“He went to swim school at seven months old,” Colin explained. “We walk away and leave him with the teacher. Now he’s 18 months old, he can fall in, and float in the water on his back. He will climb into the bathtub too, he loves it!”
Little Chess is part of an extended family of swimmers, which includes his surrogate carrier Sarah, who Patrick and Colin first met at their local swim club. When Patrick moved to Florida to be with Colin in 2015, he started coaching at the club where Sarah swam, and they formed a close friendship over the following years.
When Colin and Patrick started their surrogacy journey in 2017, they ran into several hurdles. None of the embryos created at the first IVF clinic worked, their first surrogate bowed out, and the couple was left at a low point.
“So we’re sitting at a table having brunch, and Sarah was there throwing a baby shower for her friend,” Colin said. “I’ll never forget, she was carrying a box of mason jars with blue hydrangeas in them. I jokingly said to her, ‘If we ever have our child, you’ll have to throw our baby shower for us.’ And she said ‘Well you know I’d totally do it for you guys.’”
What Colin didn’t know was that Patrick and Sarah had joked about it before, and Sarah had been seriously considering being their surrogate carrier. So they agreed to meet up the following week to discuss details.
A few days later, Colin and Patrick sat down with Sarah and her husband Brad at a pizza place to discuss the possibility of her being their surrogate.
“Her husband said ‘It’s my wife’s body, she gets to do what she wants to do, and I fully support it because I love you guys,’ and I tear up now even just thinking about it,” Patrick recalled.
With their friend as their surrogate carrier, and a new fertility clinic on their team, Patrick and Colin awaited nervously as their remaining embryos were implanted.
Unfortunately, the first two transfers didn’t work. So, the couple made a very emotional and financially difficult decision to start from scratch and make new embryos, which took around three months. On the first transfer in 2019, they were pregnant.
The dads-to-be got the news that their baby was finally on the way while they were on the other side of the country.
“We were on a cruise ship with Patrick’s parents in Alaska, and I got this text that the beta levels are out of control,” Colin said. “We had a very very good rest of our trip after that.”
While they were excited, Patrick said they were “cautiously optimistic,” since they had faced so many challenges before.
“We’d had one embryo with a faint heartbeat that didn't last longer than 6 weeks,” Patrick explained. “But things happened the way they're supposed to, and now we have Chess as a result. It was amazing to have a friend step in and care enough to say ‘I want to help.’ That’s why we call them Alma Sarah and Alma Brad. Alma is the name for a caregiver, a steward of life, and they were that to us.”
Since Chess was born in January 2020, before Covid-19, the dads were able to be in the delivery room with Sarah, while Brad was there as her support.
Colin said it was an amazing experience, one which they’ll both cherish, which could not have happened without their friend.
“A woman who has children of their own, and chooses to help another family bring their child into the world, is truly a superhero,” Colin smiled. “And they should be raised on a pedestal not just for 9 months, but for the months after that. I think that gets lost, but it’s so important. We wouldn’t have Chess without Sarah. Her energy went into him. Her family was there rubbing her feet, alongside us when she was giving birth. Had it not been for Brad, we would've been lost as to how to help Sarah. He knew what to say. He talked her through it all.”
A few months after Chess was born, the pandemic was declared. The new dads had another hurdle to face. For starters, no one could come over to help them with their baby.
Since Colin works in construction, he was deemed an essential worker and had to be out of the house almost every day, leaving Patrick at home with Chess.
Because they had no idea about the contagion level at the time, every afternoon Colin would strip off in the garage, go upstairs and shower, and come down to help Patrick with their 3-month-old baby boy.
“I was also night-daddy, because Patrick had been day-daddy all alone with no help, no peer interaction, parks are closed, no parenting groups,” Colin said. “Both our parents are cancer survivors, so they couldn't be around. Patrick was alone, and he was a rockstar.”
“I struggled,” Patrick admitted. “Everybody should have a partner as good as Colin. He would come home exhausted and put all that aside to help me out. Not many people have that.”
At the time, Chess had an unknown milk allergy and awful acid reflux. Patrick said it was a really hard time for him at home alone with the baby, and he started to feel depressed. Thankfully, he got some essential long-distance support from his family.
“My mom finally said ‘Patrick, make a schedule, and do it. Schedule a walk every day.’ She knows I’m schedule-oriented, and I got lost in my own depression,” he said. “So I scheduled our days, and that helped everybody. And I just kept going. You don’t have an option.”
The couple would also talk a lot on the phone during the day, and Patrick did a lot of research about being a new dad.
“He was on the Gays With Kids website, trying to learn about parenting through articles,” Colin said. “He became the onsite research parent. I did all the books ahead of time.”
At the end of those long lonely days, the family would go out and drive around on the empty streets. They built a little castle inside the house, set up play items in the yard, and they got a huge teddy bear called Earl, which was almost Chess’ first word!
Now that life is looking a little more normal again, Patrick, Colin and Chess are able to see more of their loved ones, including Sarah, Brad and their two kids. In fact, Patrick and Chess are planning to hit the waterpark with Sarah and her children, where they love to play and swim together.
Chess is also starting Pre-K in the new year. Although much of his early life was spent in isolation from other kids, his dads say he is already great at sharing and being kind to others, which they have tried to model since he was born.
“His new teacher said she sees us as a team. And we are,” Colin said. “Chess is every bit an equal in this familial democracy. What he is trying to tell us continues to be our guiding principles as we raise him. We listen, we give him healthy choices he can live with, and he gets reasonable consequences for actions. The silver lining of the pandemic was that we got to be hyper-focused on our child, and it shows. He hasn't missed a beat.”