“I always knew I wanted to be a father.
However, when I met my late husband Tim in 2007, he expressed on date number three he didn’t. But over time, he came around to the idea, mostly on his own. Soon after getting married in 2010, we went for it.
We did surrogacy, and found this incredible surrogate, Natasia. We put one of each – an embryo with my sperm, one with his – and out came a beautiful boy! It was clear Avery was not biologically mine, but Tim’s.
It was really remarkable to see Tim become a father. For him, a 40-something-year-old, it was a new experience. His senses were heightened. He was incredible. I was almost envious of how amazing he was. It changed his life, and ours.
When Avery was two months old, I was on the couch and Tim came out with him in his arms.
He said, ‘Babe, do you know what I’m thinking?’ I was like, ‘Pizza or Chinese?’ He said, ‘I think we should have another kid!’ I was like, ‘What the… Seriously?!’
So, we went for it again. And this time, we used my goods, right? Well, what happened next was pretty interesting…
We were clear we didn’t want two more children. We only contracted to put in one. But on the day of the procedure our awesome surrogate Natasia – and to be clear, our egg donor was different from the surrogate – literally had her legs in the air when the doctor comes in and says, ‘OK, I’ve got them!’
I’m like, ‘What do you mean ‘them?’ We only contracted for one!’
‘Your stuff is not in great condition,’ he replied.
I was like, ‘Clearly there’s something wrong. My stuff is amazing!’
‘If you only put in one, there’s only a 15% chance of getting pregnant,’ he explained.
‘What are the chances of twins if we put in two?,’ we asked, to which he replied, ‘Nil. No chance.’
So, fast forward 10 weeks. We fly down to Valdosta, Georgia, where our surrogate was. We found out it had resulted in twins! I was like: ‘Jesus…’ Tim was calm, and I was really nervous.
The next week, we were back in New York City when Tim went on a business trip to Pennsylvania. It was December 11, 2013.
He was always my alarm clock wherever we were, whether in bed with me, or traveling around the world. He made the mistake of not getting in touch once; he’d gone out the night before and woken up late and ran into a conference with no reception. I was really upset with him. He said. ‘I promise I’ll never do that again.’
So I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t connected. My text messages got increasingly more frustrated.
I was at a networking wedding event – I’m a wedding planner – and got the voicemail. ‘Hello, this is the police precinct down in Pennsylvania, please give us a call.’ I knew something was wrong.
I called and a detective came on. ‘Who is Timothy to you?’
‘He’s my husband,’ I answered. ‘What’s going on?’
‘I’m sorry to tell you this,’ he said, ‘but Tim passed away in his hotel room in his sleep.’ They believed it was a heart attack.
I just started screaming, ‘No, no! Tell me this is a joke! Please tell me this a joke!’ It was a crazy. I was obviously out of sorts. Out of my mind. I just couldn’t believe it. I just collapsed.
That period was so intense for so many reasons. In addition to just losing my husband, I only had a week to make the decision as whether to follow through with the pregnancy or not, because he passed away when we were 11 weeks. At 12 weeks, you can no longer decide. My initial thought was: ‘No freaking way.’
‘I’m definitely going to abort,’ I thought. ‘There’s just no way. Who am I to take care of three kids?’
Ultimately, there were a few things that made me change my mind.
One was financial. Once I looked at everything, I was like, ‘My parents had no money and I came out just fine.’
What did it for me, however, was Avery, who was 8 months old at the time. I thought, ‘He just lost his father. What if something bad happens to me?’
I’ve lost both my parents, and I’m an only child. I grew up in the projects. My father was caught up in drugs, my mother was never strong enough to leave – it was a very abusive household. My father passed away in 1994 at the age of 37 when I was 18. He was HIV positive. Then my mother was 41 – the age I am now – and I was 23. It was her heart. That was in 2000.
It became so obvious. I didn’t want to leave Avery alone in this world.
I didn’t want history to repeat itself in any way. I thought, ‘If anything does happen to me, at least Avery will have these two other human beings connected to him.’ I actually made the decision the morning of Tim’s service to follow through the pregnancy. In fact, I announced our pregnancy during Tim’s eulogy. Most people didn’t know we were pregnant. As you can imagine, it caused a very emotional reaction.
Of course, I was freaking out throughout. Even more so when I found out it was two girls! I was like, ‘What the heck!? Oh my gosh!’
I had an order of preference. I’m very OK with saying that two girls was last on that list. My first choice was a boy and a girl. The second was two boys.
There’s a stereotype in gay culture – and obviously some of it is true – that we want girls, because we can do pretty things with them. But the reality is, I only knew being a boy. Not only was I having one girl, but two.
But ultimately, when Lilah and London arrived, something calmed me. I was like, ‘OK. We’re in this together. Let’s make this work.’ And I have.
Now I can’t imagine my life without having my two girls.
I’ve been in New York City for 20 years; my city family has been my actual family, so along with our incredible nanny, Leti, who had been with us for the first five years, to our new live-in au pair Victoria, there’s no shortage of adopted aunts and uncles around.
These include Uncle Ryan and Uncle Dave who are not only Godparents, but without fail are here every single weekend to be a constant for them.
It’s been a great for the kids. They’re going to grow up and have all kinds of awareness. It’s going to be normal for them to have all kinds of people in their lives. They also have cousins in Massachusetts, and we try to see each other as much as possible.
I was a single dad for a year and a half. I thought: ‘Who’s going to date somebody who has kids?!’ Then, I unexpectedly met this other incredible, amazing human being named Alex, a Scottish boy.
I was like ‘Wow. This guy is hot, smart, a humanitarian director, he thinks I’m cute…’ I really wanted it to work. But ultimately, although we were together for almost two years, it didn’t.
What was interesting was, actually, the kids ended up being the easiest part of our relationship. It was more us that ultimately weren’t compatible. It took us a while to figure that out. We tried really hard to make it work. After a few therapy sessions, we ended it. We’re now friends.
Since Alex, and after having a few misses with some guys I’ve dated, I found my guy. His name is Pablo. He’s Argentinian with an accent (I can’t escape accents!) A Spanish literature teacher in Harlem. He’s funny, romantic, but complete opposite to me. His knowledge of pop music is endearing! ‘Is this the Janet Jackson you speak of?,’ while Mariah Carey is belting. He has an 18 year old daughter from a previous marriage so he gets what it is to be a parent. The best part is, my kids are obsessed with Pablo.
It’s also interesting because Tim’s not an ex. That’s important. Whoever comes into the picture has to be secure in being aware this person is no longer here. And Pablo is that secure. He has this quiet confidence I find sexy. He’s always asking me questions about Tim because he knows to know him more is to know me better. He sees why it’s important for me to honor who Tim was. At the very least, for the children, so they understand it was our love that got them here.
At the moment, I’m in a beautiful place. I’ve learned nothing is permanent, but I’m choosing to love and be present in what I call my permanent now.
People who know me are pretty amazed I’m living the life I am. Because this wasn’t meant to be my path.
When I met Tim, I genuinely didn’t take a single thing for granted. When he passed away, there wasn’t a thing I wished I’d said or done differently. There’s something really beautiful and comforting about that.
You do hear of couples getting into fights, then the husband goes to get the groceries and dies in a car accident; there’s this major guilt. I don’t have to feel that.
With Tim, I’m very open about my grieving. My kids are very aware of who daddy Tim is. There are pictures of him around the house, and I dedicated a whole website to him. There are stories about him that other family and friends submitted, videos of him and I, lots of pictures. In the future, when the kids are ready to know more, they will have RememberingTimothyMerrell.com to go to.
It’s wild how much I see Tim in Avery. If you see pictures of him and my son, he’s a little mini Tim. They even have the same smile, lips, and ears. He’s this massive blessing that Tim left behind – a beautiful legacy.
I see the blessings of our children, and it’s because of Tim – it’s kind of insane. And I refuse to take any of it for granted.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jose Rolon of New York City. You can follow his journey on Instagram. A version of this story originally appeared on Gay Star News. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
Read more beautiful stories from two fathers:
SHARE this beautiful story on Facebook if you believe love is love!