The Baby Dance
By Marc Leandro
Photo by Michael Galinsky
At a Rhode Island wedding 10 years ago, I ran into an acquaintance. Amid small talk about our adopted homes of San Francisco and Seattle, she mentioned that she’d recently had a kid, and she asked if I had any. My exact response was a quasi spit-take, “No…obviously.” It was awkward that she didn’t know I had a boyfriend, not a wife. Of course I don’t have kids!
Gay folks having kids barely registered with me at the time. To the extent that it seemed possible at all, the only candidates seemed to be lesbians with their embarrassment of riches in the womb department, or maybe wealthy gay tax attorneys who’d identified appropriate loopholes to net themselves a child—but me?
It stung, though, that I considered it such a ridiculous question. Why don’t I get to take part in fatherhood? I’d never felt constrained by my sexuality, living on my terms and ignoring anyone who might wish less for me. But this was a limit I was placing on myself. I brooded my way through cake and dancing and left in a bit of a daze with something stirring deep down.
What a difference eight years make.
In 2011, my husband Lin and I decided to become parents. After considering our options, we settled on gestational surrogacy. It could take years, and would rely on a delicate financial framework of agency and medical fees, but with a surrogate’s help we’d end up with a kid of our own and it would all be worth it. My sister even offered to be our egg donor. With Lin as the bio-dad, we’d both be genetically related to the little whipper-snapper…the holy grail of same-sex parenting, deserved or not.
But first I fended off some doubts. I had no business being a parent, I thought. I’m selfish, and I get bored and often don't follow through well, or at all. And pangs of inadequacy aside, Lin and I had talked about getting round-the-world plane tickets someday, with nary a diaper in sight! We’d even shared dreams of ditching city life and getting jobs at bookstores or cafés in some small hamlet.
Then I took the emotional equivalent of a deep breath. How could I not have a kid with this guy? I might be selfish, but am I also stupid? Lin’s going to be the best dad a kid could hope for; it was so clear from the moment I first saw him with my nephews Jesse and Quinn. Kind, gentle, funny, sweetly meeting them at their level but also elevating them to his a little; serious dad material. Fissures of optimism bled through my hesitation.
I might be pretty OK at the dad thing, too. All I really wanted was to share whatever awesomeness Lin and I found together with a kid, and this was how we could do it! I relaxed into the idea, and even began to get excited.
Until the babymaking started, however, Lin and I never had to dig very deep for patience. We met on a Thursday and spent the next five days together, signed a joint lease on an apartment after nine weeks, and got married with lots of fanfare after a year and a half of dating. Then surrogacy happened. Surrogacy, with so many moving parts we could barely keep track of them all, much less control them. This took some adjusting.
We signed a contract with an agency in Boston since New York, in all its progressive glory, does not recognize surrogacy arrangements of any kind. We quickly met and moved forward with a surrogate, only to have her back out after four months, when contracts and legal obligations came calling. Then we talked to and liked another possibility, only to discover that the agency had not properly vetted her insurance, and she wasn’t even an option for us.
A nine-month emotional whirligig ended when we finally connected with the surrogate we’d be taking our “journey” with. Jeanne (not her real name) was ready-made for the task: solid, serious, and blessed with a sunny disposition and seeming core of steel. She’d also already been a successful surrogate for another couple, and she had endured multiple rounds of IVF for her own kids. She knew the protocol backward and forward. We sensed right away that we’d lucked out.
Our last embryo transfer happened in October. The previous one, in May, ended in what’s called a “blighted ovum,” an early miscarriage usually resulting from a genetically damaged embryo. We were a little hardened, a little more cautious on our second go-around. Hopes were not sky high. Then we got a phone call from Jeanne a few days after Hurricane Sandy. She was bleeding heavily. She’d scheduled an emergency appointment for the following day, and she wanted us to go with her.
Deflated, we cried some and prepared for the worst. I waited in line for two hours to get gas for the trip, but the station ran dry, leaving us to scramble for last-minute Amtrak tickets. The ride was mostly silent. Only when we got into that exam room that next morning, there was a surprise. The ultrasound detected one embryo, looking just fine, and then another! Whoa…twins.
The enormity of it all still catches me off guard sometimes. But most of the time it feels like a construction job that's gone over-budget and has fallen predictably behind schedule. And when I think back to the “me” at that wedding 10 years ago, scoffing at the notion that I could be a dad, I occasionally allow myself to feel a little bit proud, a little in awe of what Lin and I are doing.
In a three weeks we have the big second trimester appointment, when we’ll find out the sex of the babies. To be continued…
Marc Leandro is a Brooklyn-based private chef, and the author of The Junior Project, a blog that chronicles the journey he and his husband are taking through surrogacy.
(A version of this story was published on HuffPost Gay Voices)