Monday, December 20, 2010

The Taxing Matter of Health Care

At the end of 2009, five months before Max was born, I was laid off from my job in the publishing industry. I was naturally disappointed, however I considered myself very fortunate that my family would have the means to live on one salary for a temporary period of undeterminable length. Stewart and I decided that during that time-period I would be Max’s stay-at-home dad, which of course is what this blog is all about. One reason we felt we could do this is the fact that Stewart’s employer, as mine had, extended domestic partner benefits to committed same-sex couples. So the plan was that I, along with Max when he was born, would go on Stewart’s health care plan. I was pleased that as a gay married couple (married legally in Canada in February 2008) we had the same options that my heterosexual married peers have.



 
Little did I know, however, that same sex domestic partner benefits are not equal to the ones that married heterosexual couples receive. This is not the fault of employers, but of the federal law that does not recognize same-sex marriages -- even those legally entered into in a state or country that does recognize them.  Gay employees who are fortunate enough to work for employers that extend health insurance to domestic partners are unfortunate enough to be taxed on the value of that coverage — a tax that is not paid by their heterosexual married colleagues.  That is because, under federal law, employer-provided health benefits for domestic partners are counted as income if the partner is not considered a dependent.  The tax laws for who can be declared a dependant are very strict; for example, anyone who accumulates more than $3,650 of gross income in a year cannot be considered a dependant for tax purposes. Even unemployed, I do not fall into this category.

So tax is owed. The amount is based on the value of the partner’s coverage paid by the employer. As a result, employees with domestic partners will pay about $1,069 more a year in taxes, on average, than a married employee with the same coverage, according to a 2007 report by M.V. Lee Badgett, research director of the Williams Institute, which studies sexual orientation policy issues.  Given the escalating cost of health care, those numbers are estimated to be even higher now. So, despite my initial happiness that Stewart’s employer would extend benefits to me, it turned out that it was cheaper for me to elect to go on Cobra than it was for me to go on Stewart’s health plan.




Hopefully this baldly discriminating policy will change soon. In the meantime, some employers are recognizing the significant money crunch that the policy can unfairly foist on their LGBT workers, and are doing something about it. For example, last week I was very happy to hear Facebook announce that, beginning in the New Year, those employees whose same-sex domestic partners are on the company’s medical, dental or vision plans will be reimbursed by the company for the resulting federal tax hike that the government will be hitting them with. A spokesman for Facebook said that employees’ W-2 forms would be adjusted so that they wouldn’t have to pay for the extra tax.  In other words, their income will be increased just enough to cover the extra costs.

Facebook joins a small but growing number of large companies that are currently doing this, or are committed to doing so in the beginning of the new year, including: Barclays, Google, Cisco, Kimpton Hotels, Bain & Company and the Gates Foundation.  It is clearly the right thing to do, but it also makes business sense for them.  I am sure they recognize that in the ultra-competitive world of big business, talented LGBT job applicants will be more likely to sign on with them than their competitors, seeing these companies’ gestures as both a sign that their office environment is gay-friendly, as well as financially beneficial to them when comparing similar offers.



 
I think it is great that these big companies are making up this shortfall, but let’s face it: the law needs to be changed.  It is not these companies’ responsibility to foot the bill for basic equality over everyone else.  Gay employees working for any company should not have to shell out more to insure their spouses’ medical coverage than their straight colleagues.  That is lost money that could have gone towards many other things, including the care of their children, who are silent victims of this discriminatory law.  Unfortunately it is but one of many federal and state laws that show that married gay couples do not have rights equal to those of heterosexual married couples. While it is absolutely wonderful that Congress finally repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” this past weekend, the gay community and its friends cannot grow complacent. There is still much to change, for the sake of basic equality and for the sake of the many LGBT-run American families not as financially fortunate as ours.








Sunday, December 12, 2010

Go Navy, Beat Army!

This is a guest post by Stewart, aka "Papa":

Yesterday, Jacob and I took Max to his first ever sporting event: the 111th Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. We went with Max’s Uncle Jon and cousin Ben. Ben is a high-school senior applying to the Naval Academy, so his enthusiasm for all things Navy prompted our trip down and made Midshipmen fans of us all. Ben had on his Navy sweatshirt, and even Max got into the act, wearing a special bib emblazoned with Navy’s rally cry: “Go Navy, Beat Army!” (Army’s slogan is “Go Army, Beat Navy!” – so it seems that these military schools are no nonsense even down to their amazingly literal rallying cries).


The game was a blast. Navy beat Army 31-17, the 9th straight victory for the Midshipmen over their rivals from West Point. The game featured the longest touchdown pass by Navy in the history of the rivalry – 77 yards – and Navy’s longest fumble return for a touchdown in their school’s history – 99 yards. During this incredibly exciting latter score, which occurred near the end of the first half, Jacob and I were locked in the “family” bathroom at Lincoln Financial Field, doing what else -- changing Max’s poopy diaper. Ah, the glories of parenting a baby! (And by the way, ladies, the “family” bathroom is for parents in need of the changing table, not for you all to hang out in to fix your makeup together. We waited 10 minutes for the bathroom to open up, and finally out came five grown women smacking their lips and popping lipstick tops back on. And for this we missed the 99 yard fumble return for a score?! For shame!)


When I told my hairdresser last week that Jacob and I were taking Max to the game, she told me that “you don’t want to do that” because the game will be “too crowded, too cold and too noisy” for a seven month old. Don’t get me wrong, those are legitimate concerns, but I was somewhat perturbed that my hairdresser (who I adore and who adores Max), while not being a parent herself, was instructing me not to bring Max to the game for reasons that she amazingly must have thought I hadn’t considered. Not wishing to get into it with her, I simply stated: “oh well, that is one of the perks Max will discover from having two dads; he gets to do things that no other self-respecting family would do, like lounging around the apartment all day in his underwear, eating last night’s leftover pizza for breakfast . . . or going to a football game in the northeast in December at 7 months old.” This got an approving nod from my hairdresser, who I had given a new way to look at the decision – one born not out of parental irresponsibility, but out of a boyish sense of adventure.

And I am so thrilled that we went, because we had the time of our lives. Max loves crowds, so we weren’t worried in the slightest about the capacity crowd of 69,223 in attendance at the game. Jacob and I often laugh that Max seems to have a reputation among those that spend time with him as a serene baby. But that’s because for some reason he decides to be on his best behavior in front of others. When he’s alone with us, it can often be a very different story! I like to think that’s because he knows we love him unconditionally, so when just with us he feels secure enough to be as grumpy as he wants. True to form, Max was amazingly content at the game, and even managed to win over the Army fans sitting behind us, despite his “Go Navy” bib – now that takes charm given this fierce rivalry! 


Regarding the weather, I’d been tracking it on weather.com for weeks. If it was bitter cold, or rainy, Jacob was going to go to half the game with his brother and nephew while I watched Max at our hotel, and vice-versa for the other half. Fortunately, it was 45 degrees with not a wisp of wind, which made the decision to bring Max to the stadium a no-brainer. He loves being outside, so much so that, as Jacob has mentioned in other posts, sometimes we’ll take him outside just because we know it has a calming effect on him. He was born in Georgia, so I think he’s a southern country boy at heart (just don’t expect to hear any country music in our household – I have my limits!).

Regarding the noise, I am no stranger to football games and know how loud they can get. I must admit when Jacob first mentioned the possibility of going to the game, the first thing that flashed through my mind was the celebration at the end of last year’s Super Bowl. The New Orleans Saints had just won the NFL championship and their quarterback, Drew Brees, was named MVP. He was seen down on the field while his one year old son sat calmly in his arms through who knows how much celebratory fanfare clamoring around him. The reason? His son was wearing black junior Peltor headphones that blocked out most of the noise. But just as importantly to me, natch, the boy looked absolutely adorable wearing them.


I knew that taking Max to the big Army/Navy game would give me the perfect excuse to buy the headphones for him for Hanukkah. It was pretty hysterical when I sat him on the bed in the hotel room to size them on his head before heading to the game. I slipped them over Max’s ears, but his head was turned away from me, so I couldn’t get a good sense of the fit. I called Max’s name to get his attention so that he’d look at me to make it easier . . . and nothing. I called again, louder . . . and nothing. He was still looking away, and I was getting pretty exasperated. Jacob stood behind me just cracking up. “I guess they work” was what he finally said, through a smile.


And it’s a good thing they did. Before the game started there was a lot of pomp and circumstance, as is befitting for an event nicknamed “America’s Game.” After literally a dozen parachuters descended from the heavens onto the field, four Apache attack helicopters chopped their way low over the stadium crowd, followed by the scream of three Hornet fighter jets. Then, after either team scored a touchdown or a field goal, a cannon would blast, including for extra points, as well as at the end of each quarter of play. It being a high-scoring game, that made for 18 cannon blasts in all! Oh, and they have fireworks at the game’s conclusion too!


If it isn’t obvious from this description, the Army/Navy game is a fantastic event for kids, and I can’t recommend it highly enough as a family outing for those who have them. Seeing the stands full of wildly enthusiastic West Point cadets in full regalia in one corner, and Annapolis midshipmen in full regalia in the other, is simply an awesome site. While the rivalry is intense, the common military purpose of both sides means that it remains a friendly one, both between the schools themselves and fans like us in the stands. We had multiple military academy students help us find our way through the maze of the Philly subway system and stadium complex, and they all could not have been nicer. Add to that the parachuters, helicopters, airplanes, humvees out front, fireworks, and – oh yeah – a heck of an entertaining and competitive college football game, and it would be impossible not to have a great time. Teaching your kids about the honor and sacrifice our of nation’s troops – and serving as a sobering reminder for us adults as well – is an extra bonus that simply can’t be quantified.  

The games are mostly held in the upcoming years either in Philly or Baltimore and either city, with tons of other things to do there, would make for an excellent December weekend getaway for the whole family. Hopefully we’ll be back very soon, not only for the game, but to scan the corner stands for our handsomely uniformed nephew going crazy amongst his fellow midshipmen after every Navy score – fingers crossed!


Monday, December 6, 2010

Raising Kids, Raising Hope

Over the past couple of months, the “It Gets Better” video campaign created by Dan Savage to combat the bullying of LGBT youth has exploded from a small grass-roots project to utter ubiquity, in which it seems like everybody and their PFLAG-waving grandmothers have sent in a video. And not just human beings either -- each new day it seems like a different corporation has gotten into the act. Of course the project’s popularity is nothing but a good thing for struggling gay kids out there, but when you see reality-TV faux-celebrities like those from the MTV show “Jersey Shore” beginning to post “It Gets Better” videos, it is hard not to feel like enough is enough already.

That said, there is one important group near and dear to my heart for which the growth of this project has served well – gay dads. When we submitted our video in late September, the project was only a little over a week old, and there were only a hundred or so submissions. (There are now over 5,000!) Besides Dan Savage’s own video, featuring himself and his partner Terry and incorporating still photos of their son, we didn’t see any other videos than ours that featured gay couples with kids. That may be why Dan Savage emailed us personally to thank us for posting and to congratulate us on our family. At the time, we were quite shocked that it seemed like we were the only other gay family featured in the project. After all, in those hundred videos we scrolled through when posting our own, we saw gay people from all walks of life talking about how their lives got better after high-school -- but where were the gay guys and gals raising children?
 
To be sure, that representation is much more important for LGBT kids to see than some gay celebrity who reached a level of fame (usually, ahem, by staying in the closet well into adulthood) that these kids will almost certainly never experience, and probably don’t aspire to. On the other hand, there are definitely LGBT kids out there who would love the experience of raising a child some day, but are feeling miserable because they fear that they are doomed to the unenviable choice of either living their life open and honestly as an out gay person and sacrificing their dream of having a family, or staying in the closet to become a parent through the disastrous lie of a straight marriage. I personally know several people who told me that when they came out they felt like they were sacrificing the option to have kids some day.

And here is where the tremendous growth of Dan Savage’s project over the past month or so has real value, because its popularity has resulted in not only all those annoying celebrity videos out there, but -- unlike when we made ours -- there are now a plethora of videos by gay parents on the channel as well. For example, a couple of weeks ago change.org reported that The Pop Luck Club, a Los Angeles based organization of gay dads, prospective dads, and their families, put out a compelling and powerful “It Gets Better” video. The video features short snippets of testimony from 13 dads who relate their stories of coming out, meeting their husbands, ultimately deciding to have children, and how rewarding those experiences have been for them. And they are not the only ones. Videos like these are so important because they show LGBT teens that you can be both openly gay and have a family of your own some day. I think that message will brighten these kids’ views of their futures much more than what a celebrity or corporation might craft for the project through their PR firms.

Stewart and I were initially hesitant to put our family on video in such a public setting as youtube, but we realized that the simple fact that our family exists as it does is too important for the next generation to see to let what little amount of privacy we gave up stand in the way. We are thrilled that so many other gay parents have realized the same thing, and we think that Max will be super proud of his family’s part in this project when he gets older (though he’ll likely be mad that we didn’t edit out his big spit-up in the middle of the video!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

All in the Family

I’ve written a lot on this blog about how lucky we are to have Max. And of course that’s true in spades. But Max is a pretty lucky kid too. And one reason is his 14 first cousins. Yes, you read that right – Max has 14 first cousins, and they are all amazingly wonderful to Max – be it his 15 month old cousin Greyson or his 22 year old cousin Noah, or any of the 12 kids in-between.

Max isn't the only one my nieces and nephews like to carry!
I was reminded of this fact last week during Thanksgiving. That is my favorite holiday because it is the one time all year that I know I will get to see all 14 nieces and nephews, not to mention their parents and grandparents – comprising of my parents, siblings and in-laws. This is no mean feat. After all, we all live in three different states, several of my nephews and nieces are off at college, and several more are busy teenagers immersed in all sorts of time-sucking high school activities and sports. So when we do get everybody together – like at Thanksgiving – I am particularly grateful, and I simply cannot get over how amazingly well my nephews and nieces get along with one another. They are an incredibly close set of cousins. Despite many of them being in the traditionally aloof “too cool for school” tween and teenage years, they are clearly very affectionate with one another and genuinely care about, and are interested in, each other’s lives.

 
Cousins Hannah A. and Ben

But I am particularly touched and grateful for how nurturing they are with Max. At one point during Thanksgiving, my sister Rebecca took Max from us for what was intended to be a couple of minutes. When she came back empty-handed, she quickly dispelled our knee-jerk concern by explaining that our nephews and nieces had spotted her with Max and literally lined up to take turns holding him once Rebecca was through. The fact that Max was being passed around like a hot potato from one set of capable arms to another not only made our nieces and nephews happy, but made us happy too. For one, it gave us the rare opportunity to hang out and chat with people unencumbered by the demands of the baby. More importantly, though, it demonstrated just how fortunate Max is to have so many people around him who are interested in him and care for his well-being.


At Max's bris with his cousins (l-r) Ben, Sarah and Josh


Max has a cousin Luke, my sister’s 4 year-old, who spent much of his Thanksgiving playing games with his 10 year old niece Rachel. Now, all he can talk about is getting together with her again so that they can continue their games. Knowing that someday soon that will be Max demanding more time to spend with his favorite nieces and nephews, because they are so good to him, simply warms my heart. 


Cousins Rachel and Luke play at Thanksgiving

I get particularly emotional when it comes to Max and his best-bud cousins because I wasn’t quite as fortunate growing up. While, like Max, I am a youngest cousin who grew up with many older cousins, I did not experience the closeness with them that Max already seems to have with his cousins. In fact, I was very jealous of my older brothers and sisters. I am the youngest by 5 years, with a 15 year gap between my eldest brother and me, and my siblings had cousins on both sides of the family who were either the same age as they were or pretty close to their age, while I did not. Therefore, to my kid eyes it seemed like my siblings had, in our cousins, built-in friends for holidays and other family gatherings through which they could forge close relationships. For example, some of my siblings went to summer camp with their cousins and some of them would visit my grandparents in Florida together. When I was little, and my whole family would go up to my mom’s parents’ house for Thanksgiving in Rhode Island, I would be very jealous because all of my brothers and sisters seem to have playmates except for me.


Cousin Hannah D. introduces a skeptical Max to the ocean

One part of parenting that we always hear recited is that we want for our kids what we wish we had for ourselves growing up. That certainly applies here. I know Max will be close to all of his cousins in a way I wasn’t growing up with mine (though I am very fortunate to have since gotten close to them). Max is only a few months younger than his cousin Greyson, less than two years younger than his cousin Tyler, and less than four years younger than his cousin “little Luke” (Esther’s boy, as opposed to “big Luke”, Stewart’s sister’s oldest son). These three kids will be like older brothers to Max, showing him the ropes and most definitely getting him into trouble!


Max flanked by cousins Tyler (l) and Greyson (r)

But not only that, I truly feel that Max will develop close relationships with his older cousins as well, and will look tremendously forward to seeing them at family occasions, and hopefully even more frequently than that. And given the significant age difference, that means a lot to me. These kids have a million “cooler” activities that they can pursue rather than spend part of their holiday looking after their slobbering mess of a 6 month old cousin, Max. The fact that they line up for the opportunity to do so speaks volumes about their character. Stewart and I should be so lucky that Max learns to emulate them. They are a special, special bunch. 



Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pumpkin Pie and Humble Pie

I am finally adjusting to the fall and can’t believe that Thanksgiving is already here! Ever since I can remember, my family has always had two Thanksgiving celebrations. Poor Stewart – not just one celebration with the in-laws but two! The celebrations begin tonight with my family’s annual Pre-Thanksgiving dinner hosted by my dad and my step-mother, which is now held in the city and includes all 5 of us kids, our families, my two step-brothers, and their families. Then tomorrow, Thanksgiving afternoon, we go to my brother David’s house in New Jersey to celebrate with my mom’s side of the family. This is an even bigger celebration; besides the immediately family, extended family and all of their relatives join in -- around 40 people in all. On top of the two celebrations with my family, Stewart, Max, and I are then going to Stewart’s sister’s house (which is near my brother’s) in the early evening to celebrate with his immediate family: his parents, sister, brother, and their families. We consider ourselves very fortunate that our families live relatively close to us and very close to one another.
Max gets a head start on the holiday
Tonight’s Thanksgiving-Eve dinner features a thoughtful and contemplative tradition that my step-mother Ellen introduced, in which everybody around the table states what they are thankful for each year. Naturally, I give some thought to this question -- unlike, say, some of my teenage nephews who manage to get away with being thankful each year for the Devils, Jets, or Yankees. At least that’s better than one particular nephew, who is forever thankful for the Red Sox -- to this New Yorker’s ears that is just plain wrong! I’d be a little more forgiving if they mentioned my teams – the football Giants and the Mets.
But I digress. This year I obviously have so much to be thankful for. Not only am I thankful for Stewart and Max, but for Christie and her family as well. Last Thanksgiving-Eve, Stewart and I shared that we were thankful for Christie and that she was carrying Max in utero safe and sound. This year we’re thankful that after Max’s birth she has remained, and will remain, such an important person in our lives. If you have read Christie’s candid and witty post you will understand what I am talking about, and if you haven’t read it, I advise you to do so now.

As our first Thanksgiving dinner fast approaches, I have begun to ponder the other things that I am thankful for. Since becoming a parent I have definitely had my share of disastrous days. However, I am grateful that lately they have been seldom. This might be because I have learned from some of my mistakes. While practice might not make perfect, I have had more time at this thing called “parenting” to smooth over the rough edges. But more likely, this seeming improvement is due to the fact that my definition of what a “disastrous day” is has changed over the last few months. Many things can go wrong in a day parenting Max and the day can still be considered a good one. For example, any day that witnesses multiple massive spit-ups from my son can’t constitute a disastrous day, or every day would count as disastrous! Why can I look past his daily, multi-colored vomits on my best clothing? Mostly because I have entered an official love affair period with Max. As the books say, I am experiencing a tight bond with Max at this 6 month period because he finally gives me what I call the two R’s -- Reaction and Recognition. In short, he is all smiles these days, and that’s all I need.

Notice, however, that I said that disastrous days with Max have become “seldom” -- not non-existent. They do still exist to be sure. The last truly disastrous day that comes to mind occurred about a month ago. It was the first cold day of the fall, and somewhat unexpected at that. I had ventured out of the apartment to bring Max to “story time” for 0 -18 month-olds at a bookstore in an NYC neighborhood called Nolita. This was the first public kids event that Max and I were attending. We were both underdressed for the cold windy day. As I strolled Max to the “story time”, it seemed like every other baby we passed had on a winter hat, was in a muff and had a plastic shield drawn down on his or her stroller. I even saw kids wearing mittens! I called Stewart from the street and said we have to buy Max a muff, some booties, some mittens and a winter hat. We had received a muff as a gift, but since Max is a huge kid for his age, it was too small and we had to return it. And while we planned to buy Max a new, larger, one, we hadn’t yet since we never dreamed we’d have to use it as early as October!

But despite my worry, we made it to the bookstore for story time without incident, and I thought I had dodged a bullet. Not so fast! The event was already packed when we arrived, but luckily one mom said I could have the seat she was saving for her husband because he wasn’t there yet. As we started to get going -- maybe we were on the second or third baby book being read -- I started to smell a big poop. I looked around my immediate circle, praying that the offender was someone else’s precious baby; but, of course, it became obvious that the big pooper was Max. I promptly made my way to the bookstore’s sole bathroom to change Max’s diaper, but not surprisingly with this audience, there was a big line. When I finally got inside, I discovered that Max had not only pooped, but had pooped through his diaper onto his clothes -- poop seemed to be everywhere! Despite that, I plowed ahead, and at first was very impressed with my speedy change of diaper and clean up job. Then I looked at his socks. They had been white socks when I dressed Max that morning. Now they were an odorous brown and there was simply no way of salvaging them.
I had no idea what to do. I had a change of clothes for Max in my diaper bag, but no socks. All summer long I had an extra pair of socks for him, but for some reason on the coldest day of Max’s existence so far I did not have an extra pair of socks for him. Just great, I thought, how am I going to stroll Max home in the cold from Nolita to the East Village – easily a 15 minute walk – with him barefoot. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t Max’s poor feet I was so worried about, but the thought of how many mothers we would pass by along the way that were going to yell at me! As you know if you follow this blog, there’s nothing I hate more than perpetuating the “clueless dad” stereotype. To make matters worse, there wasn’t a baby store in sight that I could simply run into to buy a stop-gap pair of socks.

Luckily, as I led Max back into the story time group, I saw two moms that happen to attend the same new parents play group that I do. I made a bee-line for them and explained the situation. While neither of them had an extra pair of socks on them (which I must admit in a way made me feel vindicated!) one of them had a pair of baby foot muffs in her bag. So she literally exchanged the socks on her kid’s feet for the foot muffs and gave me the socks so that Max could wear them home, which was really sweet. As I was putting the socks on Max, I breathed a sigh of relief that I was going to get out of this whole situation discreetly. Unfortunately, some other woman nearby said very loudly: “I overheard your conversation about your crazy ordeal in the bathroom” -- and all of the sudden the ten women around her all turned their eyes on me expectantly, waiting for me to explain! And so I did explain to them the whole story. Clearly this seemed like a more interesting story to them then sitting through “The Wheels on the Bus” for the umpteenth time!
If my worst disastrous day is pooped stain socks and a little embarrassment, I do indeed have a lot to be thankful for this year. All of us parents do. So have a happy Thanksgiving, whether you’re celebrating just once like a normal family, or three times like us!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Tie That Binds

As promised, below is a guest post from our surrogate and friend, Christie.  Thank you so much Christie for agreeing to share your thoughts and experiences with our readers!  We are three incredibly lucky guys to have you in our lives!  (btw, post title, photos and captions are by me)

I got a text the other day from a girlfriend of mine whose daughter has been a bit under the weather- turns out it’s strep throat. I can completely sympathize. It’s no fun to take care of a sick child and you feel so bad for them. My younger son has a nasty cold right now that is making his nose run and he has a bad cough. We’re in this together, girlfriend!

I got another text the other day from another friend of mine whose son just had his 6 month check-up. He is 21 pounds, 14 ounces, and over 27 inches long at only 6 months! His dad was so proud. Apparently, despite what these impressive numbers might indicate, this actually qualifies as “thinning out.” I can relate to this, too. My older son was getting a little rounder in the middle for a while (and eating me out of house and home), and then all of a sudden recently has shot up about 3 inches. I keep telling him not to grow so fast.

There’s nothing unusual about those two paragraphs, is there? It probably sounds like a day in the life of all of you reading here. The strange thing about it is that I have given birth to all of those children- the two boys that I am raising, my friend’s daughter, Georgia, and the little boy, Jacob and Stewart’s son, Max. What’s more, I am related to all of them because I am a traditional surrogate, but I only consider myself to be the mother to my own two boys, Dean and Drew.

Georgia, Dean, Drew and newborn Max
I am an incredibly fortunate surrogate. There are many kinds of surrogate/intended parent (IP) relationships. Many surrogates, both gestational and traditional, do not have any ongoing relationship with their IPs. Some of them become “Christmas card” friends, where they get a card and maybe a photo each year. As long as the relationships work, however they work, I think it’s fantastic. I knew when I decided to become a traditional surrogate (in which my own eggs were used and I became pregnant through artificial insemination- gestational surrogates are not related in any way to their surrogate children), that it was important to me that I had an ongoing relationship with the families I created. I didn’t know exactly what that would entail, but I don’t think you should keep secrets from children, so I didn’t want to be completely unfamiliar. I have been outstandingly lucky in that, by helping to create these two families, I have gained extended family. Through the process of becoming pregnant and being pregnant, I have become great friends with these families and I cherish that- not so I can stay close to their children, but just because I love them for them.

With Christie prior to the pregnancy
Jacob asked me to write a guest post talking about what it’s like from this end, after everything is over.  I’m sure he thought it would be interesting and informative, but I’m willing to bet that he’s super curious what I’ll say, too.  (I’m totally right, aren’t I? J)  The truth is, being a surrogate changes absolutely everything about who you are.  It changes your family, and it obviously changes the families you create, but it changes your relationships with other people, too.

I decided to become a surrogate because I thought I could, and I thought I would be good at it, and I thought it would be fun and amazing. It took me about 4 years after I decided I wanted to be a surrogate to talk my husband, Bill, into it. He thought it was an awfully big risk to take for someone else. However, if you know me, you know I can be a bit… tenacious when I want something. (That works in your favor if I’m working with you on something, like getting pregnant, but makes me VERY hard to live with otherwise.) After we had Drew, we knew we were done with our family, both pregnancies had been easy (for pregnancy), and he caved gave me his support.
Bill with newborn Max
I met both of my surrogate families through an online community. Getting pregnant with Georgia was quite easy. The pregnancy itself was very easy. The strange thing for me was how nervous and cautious Laurie was about the pregnancy. It was my first brush with infertility. Every time I had gotten pregnant, nine months later (or eleventy billion months later, like with Drew, who was 89 11 days overdue) there was a baby. That wasn’t true for Laurie, so we had a few hiccups when I couldn’t figure out why she was nervous. When Georgia was born, it felt like an enormous victory. Everyone was so happy, and healthy. Same with Max- despite a few hurdles, and a brief time on bed rest (which sounds like a fantastic, doctor-required vacation in bed, but really just sucks is super boring isn’t), the pregnancy was easy, and Jacob and Stewart were wonderful IPs the whole time (except for the one time that Stewart said my girth was impressive- that was his exact word- impressive- ouch). Then I went home and there was the hormone crash.

Post pregnancy hormones can turn you into a crying, raving psycho make life a little difficult. That’s true whether or not you keep the baby. For those people around a surrogate, who has just relinquished the baby, it seems as if she is so sad to have the baby gone, like we have regrets or are sorry we did it. Well, it is sad. For nine months you spend literally every single minute of your life with this person, and you get to know them, and you get used to having them around. Pregnancy hormones get a woman ready to be a mother to a child, and there isn’t a baby to care for. Surrogates don’t love these babies less because they aren’t going to be ours. If anything, they often are more careful, because this baby’s parents have entrusted their care to you for the duration of the pregnancy. That’s a big responsibility! It’s important to understand, though, that the sadness isn’t because the baby is gone- that was the whole point, and it feels great when it happens. The sadness is that the journey is over, and it was everything to you for a long time. It does get better- once you recover a little, the hormones settle down, and the body returns to normal, it really is back to your regularly scheduled life again.

Christie with Max at 4 months
So how do Bill, Dean, and Drew feel about all of this?  They are such an important part of what happens.  My husband and boys pick up a lot of slack when I am pregnant.  With Max, I was on bed rest for a bit, and that really required a shift in the family dynamic.  Despite his initial reluctance, Bill is one of the biggest supporters of surrogacy at this point.  He also considers everyone family.  My boys don’t really think anything of it.  Having a mom who is a surrogate is their “normal.”  They are young, and they haven’t ever known any different.  They do realize that Georgia and Max are their half-siblings.  They loved it after Georgia and Max were born and they got to meet them and cuddle them.  For a while after we had Georgia, they wondered if we would have another child in our family, but Dean later decided that having half-siblings who live somewhere else was best.  He gets to travel to see them, gets more family that he loves, has more siblings, but doesn’t have to live with them all the time or share anything with them.  He figures it’s win-win.  (Sometimes, when my boys are being especially difficult, I’ll joke to Bill that either Georgia or Max is my “favorite child” for pretty much the same reasons, so there.)  What it boils down to is that we all love all of them, and we wouldn’t have our lives any other way. 
Dean and Max
I think the surprising thing was how extended family took it.  I told my grandmother about the first surrogacy.  She seemed very happy and supportive.  I found out later that she did not tell any of my relatives (aunts, uncles, great-aunts, cousins) that live in the same area.  She didn’t think they would understand.  My parents know, obviously, and I thought they’d be very supportive, but I don’t think they understand.  They have met Georgia, and they have seen pictures of Max, but I think the whole thing makes them uncomfortable.  I think they feel like I am giving away grandchildren, but they don’t/won’t ever really talk to me about it.  When I told my mom I was going to be a surrogate a second time, one of her first thoughts was that I would “lose the body that I had worked so hard to get back.”  Nice priorities, Mom.  Surprisingly, one of our biggest supporters has been Bill’s mom, who is in no way related to these children.  She’s met them both, and came down to help when I had Max.  She loves them, and she thinks it’s awesome. 
Max with Bill's mother
Friends and colleagues are insanely curious about it, and ask the most invasive questions.  Probably most common is “How can you give your baby away?  I don’t think I could do that.”  So don’t- nobody asked you to.  (Laurie says nobody wants their kids anyway- she says why would you when you can have one of my designer babies.  She offered to be my “baby pimp” for a cut.  Too funny.)  (If you are mortally offended by that, it’s just surrogacy humor, and it’s really okay.  Deep breaths.)  The reality is, I didn’t give away my babies.  I gave them to their parents, but if you aren’t a surrogate, or don’t feel like you could be one, then it’s a mentality you’ll never understand, and that’s okay, too.  Regardless, it changes people’s perspective on you, usually for the good, and when I get to tell my positive surrogacy stories, I know it’s helping the community as a whole.
So now Georgia is 2 ½ years old (and in the terrible two’s full force, from what Laurie tells me, but that’s okay because I have a tween who has so. much. attitude. we may need another bedroom built on to the house just to make room for it, so Georgia is still my favorite) and Max is 6 months old (and smiling and cuddly without poking anyone with a scrawny elbow or wiggling to death or protesting with a very long, very painful “Mo-o-o-o-om” about the torture of being cuddled, so Max is still my favorite) and I am fortunate in that their parents have allowed me to keep loving them. And, despite the roller coaster of pregnancy hormones and post pregnancy hormones, and me just being me, they all still tolerate love me. I feel so fortunate to have done this, and my life is richer for it, so while Laurie and Joel, and Jacob and Stewart, may feel that what I did was generous, it was selfish, and that’s okay, too.
XXOO- C
Bill, Christie, Stewart, Laurie and me toasting newborn Max
PS – Good job if you made it this far! This was much longer than I anticipated, so my apologies. I can be painfully a bit wordy. My first big “getting to know you” e-mail to Jacob and Stewart was so long that I think they are still reading it. Love you guys!
Love you too!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Milestones

Max hit a milestone this past week – he turned a half-year old! The past 6 months have been the happiest of our lives, and have also completely messed up my sense of time. On the one hand, the 6 months have seemed to fly by. It seems like just yesterday that Max could sleep comfortably cupped in my forearms, that a four-ounce bottle of formula was a meal and a half, and that we could lay him down and leave the room for a moment or two and he’d still be exactly where we left him when we came back. Now he’s a 6 month old in size 18 month old clothing, drinks from an 8 ounce bottle and still has room in his belly for a jar of peas, and can schooch and roll across the living room in a matter of minutes when given a little incentive. But while those moments have flown by, at the same time it seems like an entirely different lifetime ago that Stewart and I were a childless couple, whose main concerns were which art-house movie to see on a Saturday night and which new restaurant to try out afterwards. We saw approximately 60 movies at the movie theater in 2009. Since Max’s birth we’ve seen exactly one (Winter’s Bone). We haven’t done much better with restaurants, though during the summer we prided ourselves on finding places with outdoor gardens where we could eat at 6pm with Max before his bedtime. The funny thing is we don’t miss going to all the movies or the restaurants. Parenting Max is certainly more challenging, but a thousand times more rewarding too.
This week marks a milestone for this blog too.  Gaddy Daddy is barely 3 months old and this is my 20th post! I can’t believe how this little idea in my head to jot down my thoughts on life as a new dad for family and a few friends has blossomed into a full-fledged blog that has had hits from readers across 5 continents (where are you Australia and Antarctica?!) I feel so lucky that so many people have responded so positively to my blog and have followed along on my journey through fatherhood. Your comments, on this site and my Facebook page, as well as through Twitter, have added a lot to the experience. While I hope you’ve learned a little something from reading me, I know I’ve certainly learned a lot from your feedback – so keep it up! I said in my very first post that I wanted the blog to be a dialogue, not a monologue, and I can’t wait to keep the conversation we’ve all started going strong.

Just as Max is growing in exciting new ways, this blog is as well. For example, I am thrilled to announce that the next post will be from our amazing surrogate, and very dear friend, Christie. She is such an important part of our lives that I asked her if she would be so kind as to introduce herself to you all and to fill you in on our crazy family dynamic from her perspective. Trust me, you will enjoy that post! Also, I recently met an amazing man the other night while out at one of those early dinners with Max I just mentioned, who was raised by two lesbian moms in the 1950s. I asked him if I could interview him for Gaddy Daddy about that experience, and he said that he’d be delighted to share his story. You can expect that post next month. Max’s Aunt Paula, my sister-in-law and a rabbi -- who we like to call Max’s “spiritual advisor”, and who describes herself as vice-president of the Max fan club (with Stewart and I as co-presidents, naturally) – has also agreed to write a post for the blog, which is equally exciting news! And, of course, you will be hearing more from my husband as well.
So, in short, thank you to my son Max for being so incredibly blog-worthy and cute (I know his face drives as much traffic here as my words do!) and thank you to all of you for giving me this great outlet to share such a special time in my life!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Molecular Parenting

This is a guest post by Stewart, aka "Papa":

Max is my biological son.

I know what you’re thinking. Whoa . . . wtf?! I thought Max was Jacob's biological son! But wait, family members, don’t faint just yet.  Max is also Jacob's biological son, and Jacob would beat me hands down in any Jerry Springer paternity test episode.

Okay, now that your universe has righted again, let me explain. When you are two guys planning to start a family via surrogacy, everyone wants to know which one is going to be the biological father. Some people ask directly, and others ask everything about the process except that, hoping that you mention the parentage, since it’s what they really wanted to know in the first place. But even as it’s obvious how badly people want to know, their question is always tempered with: “not that it matters . . .” Indeed, we know several sets of gay parents who have taken this attitude to heart, and actually mixed their sperm together before inseminating their surrogates, so that even they would not know which of them is the “real” father. After all, it just doesn’t matter. Each of the men in these couples are their babies’ “real” fathers, regardless of whose little swimmers won the race.
But, even these couples usually end up finding out the answer through a paternity test when their children are very young (even if, in the spirit of “not that it matters,” they do not divulge the results to others). Because biology does matter in certain respects, right? It can matter legally, as I discovered when our lawyer and I had to go through more hoops than Paul “Dizzy Hips” Blair just to get listed as “mother” on Max’s birth certificate. It certainly matters medically, as we know that genetics affect an individual’s tendency towards such innocuous traits as height, eye color and skin tone, as well as much more serious concerns, such as susceptibility to cancer, alzheimer’s and diabetes. Let’s face it, there is a reason why, if you want to become a sperm donor for an infertile couple, you have to do more than grab a dixie cup and aggravate Christine O’Donnell (so to speak). You also have to fill out a 22 page questionnaire about your family’s medical history. Anyone in your family ever have Mad Cow Disease? You better know the answer (for real) if you want to earn that $200 for your deposit.

So yes, biology matters. But so what? That’s no skin off my back. Because parents who adopted their kids, or whose partner did the donating in a surrogacy relationship (as in my case), are still their kids’ biological parents. How? Because a person’s genes are not solely the result of which sperm met which egg. Parenting also plays a role in the biological make-up of our children. For example, as parents we can literally alter our children’s tendencies towards certain genetic conditions. According to a finding published in Newsweek last year:
In most cases, our genes are only a predisposition; they are not written in stone. And if we have a strong family history for diseases such as prostate cancer, breast cancer, or heart disease -- "bad genes"-- then we may need to make bigger changes in lifestyle in order to help prevent or even reverse chronic diseases. In the centuries-old debate about nature vs. nurture, we are learning that nurture affects nature as much as nature affects nurture.
As parents, we have the power to affect in our children all of the lifestyle choices mentioned in the article: “nutrition, stress management techniques, walking and psychosocial support.” As another example, through parenting we actually change our children’s physical brains. The Toronto Star reported last year that:
Infant brain imaging, baby brain wave studies and even autopsies of infants show the profound similarities among newborn human brains. Adult brains, however, are profoundly different biologically.
In other words, our brains are literally shaped by our lifetimes, and our lifetimes are shaped by our parents, irrespective of how they became our parents.
So, while Jacob and Christie created Max’s biological make-up, as his “papa” I will have the tremendous privilege and obligation to help mold his biology in a positive direction, towards a lifetime of health and happiness -- through guiding him in what he eats, how much exercise he gets, how often is brain is engaged through reading and experiencing the world, and in countless other ways. So yes, Max is my biological son, and is becoming more so every day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

One of the many unexpected pleasures of parenting Max is the renewed appreciation I find that I have for my neighborhood: the East Village. I have lived in the East Village more or less since Stewart and I started dating in early 2001. I say “more or less” because I was technically living in Brooklyn at the time, and subsequently Harlem, but I spent most of my overnights at Stewart’s pad on Second Avenue and Ninth Street from early on in our relationship. Actually, it was Stewart’s brother’s pad as well, and I’m sure that he will tell you that three is definitely a crowd. Even then I loved the neighborhood. There were so many cheap restaurants, unpretentious gay bars and little boutique shops. So when Stewart and I decided to officially move in together by buying an apartment, we pretty much looked exclusively in the East Village.

We ended up looking at over 50 apartments for sale until we found our dream apartment, a one bedroom where we still live at Avenue A and 3rd Street. In our years together in this apartment since then, we’ve witnessed our neighborhood gentrify. In came the chain stores and the bridge and tunnel crowds that turned the East Village into one big parking lot on the weekends, and out went the cheap mom and pop stores and restaurants. When our surrogate Christie got us pregnant, we knew that the clock was ticking on our time in our one bedroom. Max can only sleep in our bedroom so long before the situation drives him and us crazy. Given the way the neighborhood was becoming so popular and crowded, we seriously considered looking to move to a new neighborhood to raise Max.
But then Max actually arrived, my life as a parent began, and my perspective on the East Village surprisingly changed. While we had been souring on it during our pre-kid lives, I discovered that, as a parent, the neighborhood was completely transformed. A perfect example is Tomkins Square Park. Stewart and I rarely spent time there as a couple, but it is now the main place that Max and I venture to. There are three playgrounds in the park, in addition to another kids’ space that features running fountains of water in the summer. Max and I spend most of our time at one particular playground that has bucket swings for the wee little ones. Max was a little hesitant about them at first, but now he smiles and coos and kicks his feet just at the sight of them. There are invariably other parents on either side of me pushing their own babies in the swings, and naturally we get to chatting. Everybody is really friendly and resourceful and they have become familiar faces that I look forward to seeing. They hail from all types of different backgrounds, and I’m very thankful that Max is growing up in such a diverse neighborhood.
When we are not at the park, we are either wandering around one of the several gorgeous community gardens in the neighborhood or taking a breather on the benches in front of Ninth Street Espresso. Also, during the summer and even now (it got up to 70 degrees today here), the East Village has a ton of outdoor cafes where Stewart and I can grab a weekend brunch or early weeknight dinner with our son. Max loves to watch all of the activity about him while we eat. In fact, he is such a fan of the city that whenever he gets fussy in the apartment, I know I can calm him down almost instantly by taking him outside for a walk around the block. His eyes will dart around the bright, loud cityscape and that endless distraction makes him forget whatever grievance he seemed to be expressing inside. And while I haven’t experienced the neighborhood with a kid during the winter, I am told by my new playground buddies that many families still brave it in the park, and that the 10th Street library branch is a great warmer option to entertain a kid.
So why have I fallen back in love with the East Village? Because it is Max’s home. It has his playgrounds and libraries, his outdoor cafes and communal gardens, and his calming sojourns around the block. A neighborhood is only as good as its people, and the East Village is good people. I hope we get to stay.