Oren Henry and David Rak first met in 2005 at a party at David's house in Washington D.C., where they were both attending law school. Since David had just started a new relationship, the spark between them didn't happen just then.
As gay Jewish lawyers living in D.C. and New York City, David and Oren’s paths continued to overlap over the following years. Eventually, in 2015, they ended up on a fortuitous double-date in New York, and they’ve been together ever since.
After ten months of a long-distance relationship between San Francisco and NYC, Oren moved to San Francisco to live with David.
“This guy was worth taking a chance on,” Oren smiled at his husband.
When they started their life together in California, the couple kicked off all sorts of wonderful adventures, including lots of international travel, family visits, and their marriage and honeymoon in summer 2018.
A few months after they tied the knot, they started their family-planning journey.
“Oren and I always shared the goal of becoming parents, given our fortunate and wonderful upbringing and close relationships with our extended families,” David said. “We are both Jewish, and we share similar values. So the creation of a family, after several years of enjoying being just us together, was something we always knew we would pursue.”
David and Oren wanted to create their family through surrogacy — they both hoped to create embryos, using the same Jewish egg donor, so that any resulting kids would be biologically related to each other and at least one of the dads.
Although they never had any doubts about wanting to become parents, they did have a few hiccups along the way that caused them some concern.
“We had an unsuccessful first egg retrieval,” Oren explained. “No eggs were able to be retrieved at first, then a few days later it was just a few eggs. That was a big surprise for us having chosen a ‘proven’ egg donor, meaning she had been successful in the past. We didn’t expect that. It was actually harder to take than I thought.”
“It's an incredibly stressful journey for any new parent,” David added. “I think being two dads and choosing surrogacy means you really have to let go of control, and rely on science and other professionals, which was tough for us at times.”
Despite those early issues with egg retrieval, the couple said they were still really interested in using the same egg donor. Since the donor was also disappointed the retrieval hadn’t panned out, David and Oren wrote her a letter to connect with her more personally, asking her if she would consider trying again. Thankfully, the second attempt was a success, and the couple were able to create ten embryos, five from each dad.
Throughout their entire journey, including those early and nerve-wracking bumps in the road, Oren and David said they were fortunate enough to have had the support of a tremendous team of caring professionals, including their lawyer Rich Vaughn and his team at the .
“I really appreciated how super communicative and available, helpful, warm, and thoughtful Rich was,” Oren said. “He’s so open to sharing the networks and resources he’s garnered over the years. So it felt like more than just working with a law professional, and more like somebody who is really invested in helping us make our family.”
With a strong team of professionals behind them, David and Oren were also able to match with the perfect surrogate, who helped create their family.
“For us, educated, healthy, and of Ashkenazi Jewish descent were some things we were looking for,” David said. “Within a day or two we had matches, and we both immediately and independently really liked this one woman… and she was available to help us make our family.”
Their surrogate Christina, her husband and their four children, all of whom live in LA County, have since become an extra special addition to David and Oren’s extended family.
Since their surrogacy journey happened amid the pandemic, the couple only met Christina once on Zoom, and they met with her and her husband once in person on the night before their embryo was transferred.
Although they didn’t know what to expect at that dinner, Oren said it ended up being the start of a wonderful relationship.
“Her husband, from the start, said, ‘I’m just here to support all of you,’ and her kids during the pregnancy would give Christina’s belly a kiss,” Oren said. “They knew it was not their sibling, but they loved this growing child nonetheless.”
Since their daughter Maya was born just over a year ago, David and Oren have met up with Christina and her family a number of times.
“I can’t wait to tell Maya, and any future brothers and sisters she has, about the two amazing women that are the reason we have our family,” Oren said. “They’re special in what they did.”
Thankfully, the pregnancy was smooth sailing for Christina. But following the birth of baby Maya, the couple did not have the first year they expected as new parents.
“Our daughter was born in April 2020, right when COVID-19 was starting, and we knew very little about it scientifically,” David explained. “Plus, instead of a night nurse to help us early on, or a nanny lined up for the early months, Oren and I were sole caregivers.”
For the first few months of Maya’s life, her family in NYC and Chicago couldn’t visit the new dads and their beautiful baby daughter. Even going to Maya’s first doctor's visits was very stressful, the dads said.
“Fortunately, we remained healthy, and we made the most of our time at home,” David said. “We also took a mitigated risk to travel to the east coast and Chicago, quarantining for 10 days first, and seeing family when Maya was between 4 to 5 months old.”
The new dads said forming their family hasn’t always been easy, but without a doubt, it has been worth it. They’ve also received tremendous support from their family and friends, who will be there for them as their family continues to grow.
“We know we have a long road ahead of us, especially when it comes to talking about different types of families, the two special women who helped bring Maya into our lives, what to do and talk about on Mother's Day and topics like that,” Oren said. “We have to consider how to talk about teenage girl issues, and living in a world that is typically just set up for heteronormative families.”
As they continue in their new roles as dads, the couple said their approach is to lead with love, openness, and honesty. When it comes to advice to other dads considering surrogacy, David and Oren said; “Stick with it.”
“It's the best thing you'll ever do,” Oren smiled. “However you create your family, and there is no right or one way, love is what makes it.”