Two Dads, International Surrogacy, And Their Search To Create A Family
Derek, a member of the United States Foreign Service, and his husband Gilberto may not think they are trailblazers, but this is exactly what they are. They are the first gay couple in the U.S. Foreign Service/State Dept to do international surrogacy, which is a very complicated, emotional, and expensive endeavor. It is also a very murky space as surrogacy laws vary by state or are non-existent. According to the Williams Institute, in 2013 around 125,000 same-sex couples were raising almost 220,000 children under eighteen. And, it is hard to determine the exact figures for American couples with surrogate children outside of the U.S. In 2015, 2,807 babies were born through surrogacy in the U.S., up from 738 in 2004, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. I had the pleasure of speaking with Gilberto, via Skype, recently along with his twins, Leo and Luna, in order to better understand the human side of international surrogacy, the process they went through to create a family, and how diplomatic life has impacted them.
So, how did you and Derek first meet?
We met in the peace corps. We were both based in China. My group was there a year before Derek’s, and it was by pure accident that our paths crossed at the Chengdu airport. Derek’s group was just arriving, and I fell in love with him when I saw him – it was cinematic. We were not out to our students. I wasn’t out to anybody in my life. I came out after I met him when I was 28 years old. I literally fell for him.
After completing their time in the Peace Corps the two ended up in California where Derek started graduate school, and this is where they both started exploring adoption as a couple.
We started exploring adoption in California. In California, you must enter the foster program first and then from fostering into adoption. Also, the birth parents legally have up to a year to claim their child back if they should choose to do so. And, we had met numerous other gay couples who had to give their children back based on these circumstances so we knew we didn’t want this to happen to us. At the time, we weren’t making a lot of money as I was working as a teacher. Derek was working at a university, and then the State Dept. came up and we thought certainly if they became a family while living a diplomatic life the idea of adopting would become easier. This was not the case at all.
We then found ourselves in Cuba. A large majority of international adoption agencies do not work with same-sex couples. We reached out to several agencies and none of them would work with us because we were a gay couple. We thought the process would be somewhat easy, but we learned otherwise as we began the process. For example, in China the law permits intercountry adoption by married heterosexual couples and single women. At this time, China does not permit lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) individuals or same-sex couples to adopt at this time. Married couples must adopt jointly, and they must be married at least two years. The rules are as strict to prohibit couples adopting where one of the individuals has severe facial deformation. We went to all these countries where we thought it would be easy to adopt and it just wasn’t easy. We exhausted the idea of adoption and international adoption so we then considered the idea of surrogacy.
Click > here for more details on adoption requirements in China.
How was the surrogacy process for you two and how did you decide on an agency?
Derek is the best researcher in the world. We did a lot of research and realized that many surrogacy agencies are not legitimate. We started our search in Latin America, and when it came down to the actual cost agencies would be haggling the price with us. This was a bit alarming to us since we were talking about a human life. So, we accidentally saw a report that Diane Sawyer did about surrogacy on ABC News World Report that we investigated and ended up using. When we started talking to the administrator of the agency, one of our primary questions was, “Why do women want to do this?” His honesty and transparency is what made the difference to us as it wasn’t sugar coated. He stated “that these women live in poverty, and they are doing this for the money they will get, which will be more money they will ever receive in their lifetime. And, it can lift them out of poverty.” For Derek and Gilberto his honesty is what sold them on using this agency. Other requirements were that the women could only do this twice, and they lived in a hostel like environment during the entire pregnancy. The women were provided psychological and medical care, and the agency provided skill training for these women so they could join the labor market afterwards. To us, it seemed like a very comprehensive and complete program. Then things happened very quickly. It was very romantic: a test tube, an ice pack, a lab in Kentucky, a surrogate, and an egg donor. The other thing we really liked was that Indian law required the egg donor to be different than the surrogate. So, the surrogate didn’t have any biological ties to the baby.
What support did you receive from the U.S. State Dept?
We thought being a part of the Foreign Service that many of the issues we faced would be taken care of by the State Department, but because we were the first gay couple to do international surrogacy we had to work with the State Department to redefine existing policies that were outdated and/or not inclusive. This presented a whole series of questions that we worked through with the State Department. We addressed specific issues outside of the adoption or natural birth process including the per diem couples receive, additional medical expenses that may be incurred, as well as paternity leave. The whole process was very expensive for us so we had to obtain a loan from our credit union to cover our costs.
Any noteworthy experiences you would like to share having lived in Canada and Mexico?
When we were based in Canada all our friends were lesbian and gay couples, which even the straight couples in Canada are so open and gay-friendly. Leo and Luna grew up with those optics. They both had a real community in Canada. An example of how laid back it was in Canada was there they have family lockers at the pool so you have families changing in front of each other, and there was never an issue for us being two dads with twins. We really cherished our time there and the impact it had on Leo and Luna.
One other noteworthy experience revolves around gender and how kids learn gender norms. Luna and Leo used to call me “mommy”, because when we were at the park with other mother’s they would hear other kids call their parent “mommy” so they would use this with me. As Luna got older I would ask Luna what’s my name and she would say “Papi”. And, then I would ask why do you call me mommy sometimes? And, her response was “mommy” is your job.
It’s interesting how every child’s environment directly influences their notion of gender, and that both associated my job and the role I assumed in the family as “mommy”. It’s hysterical when your kids decide to have a temper tantrum in the mall and you pick them up to take them out and they start screaming mommy, mommy, put me down. Gender aside someone is going to play this role.
What advice would you give to other couples considering surrogacy?
Surrogacy agencies are a business, and they treat it like one. So, when we had our first miscarriage we received an email notifying us of the circumstances. And, I mistakenly thought there would be emotional support given the news. Don’t expect a surrogacy agency to be invested in your emotions as you go through the process. It’s almost like the process is very transactional in nature similar to a real estate agent who is trying to sell you a home.
Lastly, I would recommend that parents tell their children very early on, like around the age of 2, about how they were born so they understand the narrative.
Are you the parents of children born through surrogacy? What has your experience been? Add your comments below in the comments section.