Aside from their awesome 2-year-old son Grayson, Joe Rouse and Jason Layman said one of the best parts of forming their family through surrogacy has been the relationship they’ve built with their surrogate, Morgan.
“She has been amazing,” Joe said of Morgan. “I honestly see her like a sister now.”
It wasn’t their initial plan, but the couple said finding a surrogate from within their own social circle played a major role in making their experience as new dads even more joyful.
Joe and Jason began discussing having a family when they first started dating in 2012. Since they were both always very involved in their nieces and nephews’ lives, the couple knew they wanted their own kids from early on. But they didn’t know which path to pick.
At first, they thought about adoption. But as they continued researching that route, they found that adopting in the United States had its own set of hurdles and complications.
“I work in the ER doing shift work nights and weekends, and Joe was working downtown a lot,” Jason explained. “Some of the requirements before adoption ask you to do foster parenting for a while. If we weren’t able to go through surrogacy, that would've been something we wanted to do. But we landed on surrogacy because the company Joe worked for at the time, Ernst & Young, introduced a Pathway to Parenthood benefit that would help with the financial burden of all of it.”
Once they’d landed on surrogacy, their next hurdle was finding agencies and experts who could usher them through the complicated process ahead. That’s what the couple said they found most challenging — how do you get started?
“I feel like everything else you get walked through once you step through that right door,” Jason said. “But finding the right door to step through can be very cumbersome.”
Not knowing many other people who had done surrogacy, the husbands decided to track down some fertility experts in spring 2018.
Since Jason is an emergency room doctor, he had friends in the medical field who had specialized in Obstetrics and Gynecology. So he asked if any of them knew of someone that did fertilization and IVF, especially for gay couples.
“Fortunately, one of my friends had heard of Dr. Alvarez through mutual friends, who said he’d heard great things about him,” Jason said. “I think that was the most lucky referral we got. As soon as we met with FCI, they had us meet with a counselor first to make sure we knew what we were getting ourselves into. Then she spent time helping us plan the next steps of our journey.”
Those questions included: How are you going to go about picking your surrogate or surrogacy agency? How will you find an egg donor? How do you decide whose sperm to use?
“It was a lot of things we'd never even thought about,” Joe said. “It was still a little overwhelming, but they knew how to do it in a focused and organized way.”
During their discussion with the counselor at FCI, Joe and Jason were introduced to the idea that they could ask friends, colleagues and other people they know who might actually want to be their surrogate.
“The FCI counselor said ‘You’d be surprised how many women are out there who love being pregnant and would want to do this,’” Jason said. “So I was working in the ER, and a few nurses had just come back from their maternity leave, and I asked if they knew anyone who might want to be a surrogate. They all said ‘Morgan!’ So, our surrogate is one of the nurses I work with.”
Their surrogate, Morgan, and her husband have two daughters, and they’ve decided they’re done with forming their family. But, Jason explained, Morgan loved being pregnant.
“Her husband was extremely supportive. He may have seen it as his own personal out,” Jason joked. “She wanted to be pregnant, but they didn’t want any more kids!”
Joe said Morgan was happy to have them very involved in the pregnancy, and she allowed them in the delivery room. Now Grayson is about to turn two years old, the dads say Morgan has become more of an aunt-figure in their son’s life.
“She’s been one of the best parts of this whole journey,” Joe smiled. “Everything has gone flawlessly, the medical stuff aside. Still having her as part of Grayson’s life is just fantastic. She truly cares about us, and him, and it’s great to see them have that relationship still.”
Since their first experience with surrogacy went so well, Joe and Jason are now expecting baby number two, who is also being carried by Morgan.
The dads said they’re stressed about very different things with this baby than they were when expecting Grayson.
“Now we have to worry about which rooms to put the kids in, how to have a newborn alongside a toddler,” Jason said. “With Grayson we also went to all the appointments, but we’ve missed a lot of earlier things this time because of Covid.”
Now mid-way through their second pregnancy, Joe and Jason have become strong advocates for other dads-to-be who might consider turning to their own networks when looking for a surrogate.
According to Jason, the best thing they ever chose to do was to reach out to people they knew to help them form their family. Doing it that way, he said, helps promote the normalcy of gay men developing families, and it becomes a normal part of family-building conversations with friends and family.
“Surrogacy agencies can be a fantastic wealth of resources and information,” Jason said. But you can also consider approaching “people in your lives, because it can build on an already existing relationship. We would’ve been fine with a mostly anonymous surrogate, but knowing her just adds something. We couldn’t imagine having done it with anyone else.”