Gay Dad Life

Gay Dad Details Path to Parenthood Via Surrogacy in Thailand in New Book

In "The First Man on the Moon," Laurent Pehem explains the long, complicated surrogacy journey that brought his son, Sam, into his life.

Guest post written by author, Laurent Pehem

'Where did you adopt them?'

'I didn't adopt them. I made them.'

Let's grant them this: straight people are trying their best to become more tolerant and inclusive. But when it comes to gay men having babies, they're particularly clueless.


Laurent with his son, Sam

So how exactly do gay men "make babies"? Well, there are plenty of possible arrangements, but most of them involve a surrogate mother, which means making an exception to our club's strict "no-vagina" policy (but don't worry, thanks to in-vitro fertilization, there's no going inside involved).

Finding a woman willing to carry your child is not what's most difficult. What's truly a "mission impossible" is dealing with everything else: conservative laws that refuse to recognize your family as legitimate, employers that don't give maternity leave to gay men, surrogacy agencies that expect you to sell your left testicle to pay their fees, and if you've hit the jackpot like my husband, and I did, you may also have to worry about a military junta who abolished democracy in the name of love.

We tried adoption first. But when our application was rejected because of our stubborn and defiant refusal to be anything but gay, we decided to explore other options. Surrogacy in the US was too expensive for us, and so we went to Thailand, a world-class tourist destination best known for its pristine beaches, where surrogacy only cost a fraction of the US price.

The first agency we trusted was a few clowns short of a circus, but I reckon that in the end, the joke was on us, since it took us eighteen months, most of our money and seven surrogates to realize we had to fire them if we wanted to achieve our goal.

Sam's foot

We eventually found another agency, and we were matched with a surrogate mother called Molly, who quickly became pregnant. Had we had more luck, our story would have ended up there. But instead of blissfully enjoying this long-awaited pregnancy, we found ourselves embroiled in a nerve-racking quagmire after the military junta that seized power in a coup in May 2014 banned surrogacy.

Our IVF clinic was raided by the police, intended parents were banned from leaving the country with their surrogacy babies, and every hospital and doctor in the country refused to treat surrogate mothers. We kept in touch with Molly, exchanging Google-translated text messages (for the record, Google's Thai is terrible) and hoping for the best. And thank God, the best eventually showed up. After yearning for this moment for years, we finally became the proud fathers of an adorable (two-month premature yet relatively healthy) little boy, whom we named Sam.

At this stage, you might be thinking "OMG these guys have been through so much." Yes? Well, hold on to your seat, this story is not over. Leaving Thailand with Sam turned out to be just as tricky as having him.

When people hear my story, they usually tell me I should write a book about it. After contemplating the idea for a very long time, I have finally done it. You can read all about our family's insane story in my book "The First Man on the Moon".

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We've had a busy old few months. Talulah recently turned 2 in October, and Katie made the big 14. Life in the Johnson-Ellis household has been far from dull.

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The study also found that over half of gay dads have avoided certain social situations in the last year for fear of experiencing stigma.

According to new research by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the vast majority of gay men and their children experience some form of stigma. The findings are based on a survey of 732 gay father across 47 states in the United States.

More gay men are becoming fathers each year, and have more options for doing so than ever before: including adoption, foster care, and surrogacy. However as the study's authors write: "Despite legal, medical, and social advances, gay fathers and their children continue to experience stigma and avoid situations because of fear of stigma. Increasing evidence reveals that stigma is associated with reduced well-being of children and adults, including psychiatric symptoms and suicidality"

Almost two-thirds of respondents, or 63.5%, reported experiencing stigma based on being a gay father within the last year. Over half, or 51.2%, said they have avoided situations for fear of stigma, in the past year. Importantly, the study found that fathers living in states with more legal protections for LGBTQ people and families experienced fewer barriers and stigma. Most experiences of stigma (almost 35%) occurred, unsurprisingly, in a religious environment. But another quarter of gay dads said they experienced stigma from a wide variety of other sources, including: family members, neighbors, waiters, service providers, and salespeople

Surprisingly (or perhaps not?) another source of stigma cited by the study originates from other gay men. "Gay men report suspicion and criticism for their decision to be parents from gay friends who have not chosen parenthood." The study also says gay dads often feel "isolation in their parental role."

The study concludes, "Despite growing acceptance of parenting by same-gender adults, barriers and stigma persist. States' legal and social protections for lesbian and gay individuals and families appear to be effective in reducing experiences of stigma for gay fathers."

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I literally never thought I'd see the day. Literally.

Gay fathers on the cover of Parents Magazine! Gay fathers being celebrated in a "main stream" publication about being parents. Gay fathers!

I don't want to get overly dramatic here, but this is a milestone. A massive cultural milestone.

Sure, gay dads have come a long way in being accepted in our popular culture, but to my eye we've never been on the cover of a big popular parenting magazine celebrating our parenting skills. As if we are the norm.

We are now - thanks to Parents Magazine.

This is a particular milestone for me because I have a bit of a history with the magazine and with parenting publications in general. My first job out of grad school was in brand marketing at Johnson's Baby Products where I did indeed run advertising in this particular magazine. Back then though we only featured married, straight couples. There were no other kinds of parents to feature back in the day! And if I'm to be really honest, they were generally white, married, straight couples.

I distinctly remember one photo shoot where I forgot to put a wedding ring on the "husband's" finger and we had to reshoot it. No photoshop back then!

Now admittedly this was before I was a dad and before I was out, but as the years went by and I embraced my own journey as a gay dad, there were no role models or pop culture markers to say that I (and other gay dads) were accepted. There were no Andy Cohens publicly making baby announcements. We were alone on our parenting.

It was hard. There was a constant barrage of straight parenting norms that constantly reminded us that we were different.
Not any more! Being a gay dad, or any dad, is now simply being a parent. A good parent. A loving parent. And we have Parents Magazine to thank for the reminder and endorsement, with hopefully more to come.

And I can't help but think, and actually know, that this kind of normalization will inspire the next generation of gay dads who will simply accept, without hesitation, that fatherhood as a gay man is a real, accepted, and normal option.

Bravo!

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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