‘‘I have an oven that has never been used, in good shape, and I wanted to see if you needed it?’ It was this line in an email to us that started our road to becoming a family via surrogacy.
Our story started out somewhat conventionally. We had been together for nearly 9 years, legally married, and settled into our careers. For us, the next obvious step was to start a family, which is something we had talked about all along. We decided open adoption was morally and financially the best option for us at the time. We chose the Open Adoption and Family Services agency based in Portland, OR. We completed the open adoption seminar, filed stacks upon stacks of paperwork, passed a thorough home study, and were only one or two steps away from jumping into the waiting pool. Then came the email that changed everything.
The email was from Ryan’s sister Kimberly and her husband. They both knew we dreamed of having kids and being fathers and Kimberly wanted to help by giving us a tremendous gift: to be our surrogate. Looking back we laugh to ourselves because we didn’t know why Kimberly was offering us an ‘oven’ as ours was in perfectly good condition! Could we be so naïve?
We shared this unbelievable news with our longtime friend, a genetic counselor, to learn more about the process of surrogacy. To our surprise she said, ‘If you guys are looking for eggs, I’d be more than happy to donate mine!’ Everything seemed to be falling into place for us. We separated from the adoption agency and started doing our research for surrogacy. In an effort to keep the cost down we chose not to work with a third party surrogacy agency. Instead we would do all the legwork ourselves. We knew things would be not without complication though. Kimberly was family and this would be her first pregnancy and on top of that, our egg donor was a really close friend but we knew it would be worth it in the end. Everyone was so well connected. After months of searching and being rejected countless times, we finally found a team of lawyers, psychologists and a fertility clinic who would work with us regardless of our unique situation. Thankfully, California had some of the best surrogacy laws already in place for us. The terms of our surrogacy agreement was secondary to the goal of becoming fathers. Our discussions about the finer details happened rather casually and without trepidation. We researched and used other surrogacy agencies fee schedules as a baseline. With this we were easily able to reach an agreement between all parties.
Our egg donor produced twenty-one viable eggs. The eggs were then separated into two groups in which each of them were fertilized with our sperm. Next, one embryo was selected from each group and implanted into Kimberly’s uterus. From the two only one of the embryos took, and we’re not exactly sure which one it was. Of course, we had wished that both embryos would have taken. Perhaps raising two babies at once would be more challenging at times but it would most certainly be the most cost effective way of having two children via surrogacy. For us it didn’t matter who was the biological father of our son. We know in our heart of hearts that Oliver is both our son equally regardless of his genetic makeup. Sure at birth our family and friends would play the guessing game and say things like ‘oh, he has Chris’s nose,’ or ‘he looks just like Ryan did when he was a baby.’ Honestly it was nearly a 50/50 split. Nobody, including ourselves, can say with 100% certainty that he shares my DNA or the other. This is something we are comfortable with. Deciding to have another child in the future, we may opt to have Oliver DNA tested and use the other persons frozen embryos, or we may just choose the best embryo from each of ours and implant them without knowing the outcome. We’re still undecided at this point. A few months later the long awaited gender reveal had arrived. ‘It’s a boy!’ exclaimed our Gynecologist.
Thankfully the pregnancy for Kimberly wasn’t too difficult. She was a wonderful surrogate and kept us up-to-date on everything. Because we lived a great distance apart from each other (she was in California and we, in Guam), we would Skype on all the doctors appointments, ultrasounds, and routine check-ups. The months leading up to our due date, we spent time attending ‘Baby Daddy’ classes and taking general childbirth educational courses. Due to our work schedule, the class was held exclusively for us. There were no other students. The nurse who was our instructor was originally from the US mainland. So seeing a same-sex couple in her classroom wasn’t out of the norm for her. She was just delighted that we had interest in learning everything we could in an effort to be the best fathers possible.
Armed with all this knowledge and our concrete birth plan in hand we joined Kimberly in the hospital for the delivery. We were all scrubbed up and ready to bring our son into the world. Unfortunately everything we had hoped and planned for would go flying out the window! A placenta abruption during labor sent Kimberly into an emergency C-section. To say we were nervous is an understatement. When the monitors started beeping and an army of nurses came rushing in to whisk Kimberly away was terrifying. The tension in the room was palpable. Within seconds, the room was completely empty except for us. No explanation from anyone. In that moment, we both embraced each other and sobbed. Was Kimberly going to be ok? What about our son? Nothing prepared us for this unexpected and traumatic event. Watching the birth of our son, cutting his umbilical cord, and the first skin-to-skin contact that we had hoped for never happened.
Due to the traumatic hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) event that had occurred during delivery our son was transferred by ambulance to the Children’s Hospital of LA. For three days he underwent neonatal therapeutic hypothermia treatment. This is a relatively new treatment option. Our son was placed unclothed on a cooling pad that circulated temperature controlled water throughout. The idea was to reduce his core body temperature and slow down his brain metabolism in an effort to reduce the chances of severe brain damage and slow down, if present, any disease progression. It was an unbelievably difficult and sobering experience seeing our newborn son lying in the hospital connected to numerous tubes and monitors, unable to pick him up and hold him. Hours turned into days, which turned into weeks. We had no other choice to but to be there for each other during this difficult time. We did our best to support and comfort each other as needed.
Upon arrival in the Children’s Hospital we met with the doctor assigned to our son who casually mentioned the worst case scenarios like he was on auto-pilot. ‘Your son may grow up and not be able to feed himself or walk, etc…’ Walking around the hospital from time to time was a daily wakeup call. The things we take for granted, many of the patients around us struggled with. It really put things into perspective for us. We were fortunate his condition wasn’t much worse and had to be thankful that he had a team of excellent doctors, nurses and caregivers to tend to him around the clock. Fortunately it was only a matter of time before each milestone was met with a positive prognosis and we were finally able bring home our healthy baby boy who we now called Oliver.
Parenthood has been an absolute joy. There isn’t a day that goes by that Oliver doesn’t make us smile or laugh and luckily he was never colicky or too fussy while teething. The abundance of paperwork, the outrageous financial impact, and the emotional journey wasn’t easy, but it was worth every sleepless night without question. We’re happy and blessed to have such an incredible little guy in our lives and we look forward to growing together as a family and experiencing all the wonderful things life has in store. As Oliver is getting older, we enjoy living vicariously through him. It’s the simple things in life that he finds great joy in. From spotting his favorite food on his dinner plate or seeing an airplane fly overhead. It brings a great big smile to his face and brightens our day too. On the flip-side of things, we quickly learned that having a strong foundation in our relationship as husbands is crucial to getting by when times get tough. In the early stages sleep deprivation was a real struggle. Tensions where high and our patience was low. Although most of our time and attention is focused on Oliver we still make it a point to set aside some personal time for ourselves. A few hours here and there to have a date night or an evening to ourselves makes for good medicine. It’s important to reconnect and rekindle our love and focus some attention back on each other.
We encourage same-sex couples interested in starting a family to do research and educate themselves on all the possibilities of becoming parents. Consider the pros and cons of surrogacy, adoption (open & closed), and fostering and although the roads may be different, they all lead to parenthood, which will be one of the hardest, most rewarding jobs you’ll ever have. We are happy to share more of our journey and be a resource for others so please feel free to reach out and connect with us.”Courtesy of The Zubrick Family
Courtesy of Kelsey Wilson
Help us show the world that compassion is contagious: SHARE this beautiful story on Facebook with your friends and family.