We've shared hundreds, possibly thousands, of stories about GBT men who've become dads through the many different paths to fatherhood. We've thanked the women who've made our dreams come true; we wouldn't be dads without their, in many cases, selfless acts of love. Amongst the courageous birth moms, and our co-parenting counterparts, are the surrogates who carry our children. It's a very personal decision to become a surrogate, but Shelly's choice was simple: if she could help others experience the joys of parenthood, she would.
Shelly Marsh, 32, met her husband Brian Marsh, 40, over 12 years ago when they were both working at Disneyland. Together they have two daughters, Aubrey who is 11 years old, and Stella who is 9.
When Shelly heard about surrogacy and the ability to help others have a family, she knew it was for her. "My girls are my life and if I have the ability to share that love with someone else, that is what I wanted to do."
The first dads whose children she carried were Norwegian couple Erik-André and Kenneth. "The agency asked us to make a profile presenting ourselves and how we wanted to do the process and what our wishes were concerning our relationship with the surrogate and her family, both during the process and after," explained Kenneth.
Shelly and Brian saw their profile and got in touch with them through their agency. The couples emailed and Skyped before meeting in-person in Los Angeles. "It was very good for us that the surrogate got to choose us out of several profiles, and not the other way around," continued Kenneth. "The knowledge that Shelly and Brian had chosen us was very comforting and it was no less than absolutely fantastic. We had a hard time believing there were people in this world like them. The more we got to know them, the more we knew it was a good match and we would all be okay."
The couples were matched for nine months before Erik-André and Kenneth found an egg donor. "The wait was hard for all of us but it worked out perfectly in the end," said Shelly. "I always knew that the obstacles would be worth it."
In September 2013, Shelly gave birth to Erik-André and Kenneth's twins. "I don't think we ever realized the high that we would feel when we got to hand those sweet babies over to their daddies," recalls Shelly. "That was the moment we worked so hard for and it was always the most breathtaking moment, every time."
Shelly continued her surrogate journey with another family, Billy and Brian, who live locally in Los Angeles. She carried two pregnancies for them: a little boy born in August 2015, and a baby sister born in January 2018.
"Our surrogacy journey with Shelly began with one of those magical life moments where we felt like we already knew her and her husband Brian," said Billy. "You hear stories of varying degrees about the relationships that people have with their surrogates but ours and always will be complete love, admiration and respect and they will forever be a part of our family."
The couples were very involved in each of Shelly's surrogacy journeys: from Skyping in for doctor's appointments and ultrasounds, to being in the states weeks ahead of time to be present for the births.
All the families have remained close. "I get to speak to both families I helped on a weekly basis," said Shelly. "We vacation together and share a very special relationship that I am beyond grateful to have. They are just an extension of our family now and I just love them all so much!"
Shelly's surrogacy families are in full agreement. "The most important thing in a surrogate journey, we think, is to get matched with a surrogate and her family with similar expectations thoughts and hopes about the journey," said Kenneth.
Shelly has some advice for future surrogates: "You have to be honest with yourself as to how much of your heart and life you will give away - it is a huge commitment but to see these people as a family after all the work is truly worth every moment," she said. "Be in it for the good you will give back to the world, and be honest with your feels and the contact you want – these journey can change everyone's life for the better, forever!"
Through her experience as a surrogate, Shelly has since become an integral staff member for Men Having Babies, joining the team as the Marketing Director in December 2017. (Men Having Babies is a nonprofit organization created to help put surrogacy within reach for gay men around the globe.) "My passion was ignited and I am able to help many more gay couples through my work."
Recently, Shelly and Brian celebrated 12 years of marriage by renewing their vows in front of 120 friends and family. Their chosen families – Erik-André, Kenneth and their sons, and Brian and Bill with their kids were there, too. In one incredibly moving photo (the feature image of this article), Shelly, Brian and their two daughters, stand amongst the two families Shelly helped become whole. They are her womb family. "That photo is a 'tear duct kinda moment,'" explained Shelly. "Those moments you save directly in your tears ducts because they will always make you cry the happiest tears... It was the perfect day!"