A month before our first child was born via surrogacy, I came home late from work to find my husband sitting on the sofa in the dark. The blue light from the television lit up his face. His eyes were puffy; he'd obviously been crying.
Given the timing, I was surprised to see him in that state. This was our victory lap. Here's our story in a nutshell: After a nightmarish surrogacy journey failed a year prior, burning through 19 embryos and $50k with no results to show for either, we had opted to lay this project down and lick our wounds for a few years. Then, an incredibly generous woman stepped forward and offered to donate her eggs for no compensation. We took this as a sign that we were meant to get back in the game. We decided to throw a Hail Mary pass and try again, and this time we found ourselves working with an excellent reproductive clinic and surrogate sent straight from heaven. It all clicked, we got pregnant on the first try.
This time around, it wasn't just an easy pregnancy but a fairytale journey of awe and anticipation. In the weeks prior we had FIVE baby showers -- one at church, one at each of our jobs, one for family, and then the fun boozy one with friends. (We didn't have to buy a single diaper until Jake was seven months old.) We were on top of the world.
I sat down beside my husband and asked him what was the matter.
"Our kids . . . they're not gonna have a Mom."
My heart sank a little bit. The 'no Mom' bridge is one that gay dads have to cross early in our parenting journeys, so it would be pretty nuclear if he was still stuck on that point a few weeks before delivery. I pressed him for more. He wasn't experiencing regret about our decision to bring a child into the world; he was certain about that. No, it was another sadness altogether. It was grief. He was mourning the loss of the mother that Jake would never have.
Shannon and I both grew up the sons of devoted, joyful mothers. Shannon's mom is soft-spoken, agreeable and friendly. I think she's Jake's favorite person on the planet, with Shannon and I competing for a distant second place. Most of my friends have tenuous relationship with their mothers-in-law. Not me. I've repeatedly asked mine to just move in with us but she won't take the bait.
I struggle to find words to describe my own mother. She was special. She was magnetic in a way that she refused to acknowledge. People said she was the prettiest woman in town, which would only elicit a giant eye roll from her before she swiftly changed the subject. It's true, she was gorgeous -- but I think what people really meant is that she put them at ease; she made everyone feel seen and encouraged.
The two of us were incredibly close. My mom turned 18 on a Tuesday and had me the following Sunday. We grew up together. We were friends, and my favorite thing to do was make her laugh. I can remember being four years old and dictating my first story to her at the kitchen table. She helped me write before I could read. Her hands were soft and her eyes were bright. She smelled like a thousand flowers.
When I was 29, my otherwise healthy mother went to see her doctor for a backache. She left that appointment with a diagnosis of metastatic liver cancer, and we buried her three months later. She was 47. After mom died, I put my dreams of becoming a parent on a shelf. I couldn't imagine doing it without her there to teach me how to change diapers or listen to me whine on the phone about being sleep deprived. When I pictured what fatherhood would look like, it always involved her standing beside me. If I couldn't have that, I wasn't sure I wanted to be a dad at all.
But storms pass, life returns to normal and dreams endure. Jake was born in 2017, followed by our daughter earlier this year. We named her Laura Ruth, after our moms. We've surrounded them with positive, loving women in important roles in their lives. They know their surrogate and their egg donor, and they're blessed with a few dozen aunts, grandmother figures and friends who love them and provide positive role modeling. I've learned that moms tend to rush in and fill the space left behind by one of their own, in a way that I'm not sure that dads do.
The truth is that our kids don't have a mom. They have a couple of guys with rough hands who, on their best days, smell like Tide. But we can make them feel seen and loved, and know that for us they are the sun in our morning and the stars in our night. We can be gentle and nurturing. We can give them safety and closeness. Because we learned from the best.