Monday, September 27, 2010

Occupation: Chasing After Little One

As a stay-at-home dad (“SAHD”), I am a proud member of a rather exclusive club. The census bureau reported last January that the United States has an estimated 5.3 million "stay-at-home" parents. Rather amazingly, 5.1 million of them are mothers, and only 158,000 are fathers. And if you think the number of SAHDs is low, it is actually a significant increase from the number of SAHDs this country has had over the course of the past decade and a half. For example, in 2003 the census bureau counted only 105,000 SAHDs, and that number was a jump up from a mere 64,000 in 1995.

Are there really that few male caregivers in this country? Probably not. Jeremy Adam Smith explains in his book “The Daddy Shift” that “these numbers tell only part of the story of male caregiving, because they exclude stay-at-home fathers who also do paying work.” The census statistics are also skewed low because they consider only married couples, which means that they do not include unmarried straight SAHDs or gay SAHDs. Brian Reid, the blogger behind, also believes that there are a lot more stay-at-home dads than the number the census is reporting.  In other words, my new role as a SAHD is completely under the radar as far as the government is concerned. There simply aren’t any statistics that I could find that estimated how many of us gay stay-at-home daddies are out there.

I realize how lucky I am to have the choice to be a SAHD. There are many dads out there who would like to be a stay-at-home parent but do not have the means to do it. For example,, on its Statistics page, includes a 2007 press release from stating that “37 percent of working dads say they'd leave their jobs if their spouse or partner made enough money to support the family.”

So how did I wind up a SAHD? I’ve gotten that question a lot during my journeys out and about with Max. In the summer of 2008, when Stewart and I started to seriously consider having a child, we were both on the same page that one of us would stay at home with the baby, or at least be the primary care taker. If Stewart and I were going to work so hard to have a kid it would be a shame if one of us wasn’t there to raise him or her, since we have the means to do so. I was happy to volunteer to be the one to take on this role. Why me and not Stewart? The most obvious reason is that Stewart made a lot more money as a corporate litigation lawyer then I did as a business development manager in publishing. If we tried to raise Max on my salary alone we wouldn’t last very long, especially in New York City. We’d have to put Max to work at age 6 weeks. And while Max is certainly cute enough for Gerber casting calls, he’s a bit of a diva and that might cost him some call-backs!

So it was decided that I would be the SAHD. But we weren’t sure what the exact set up would be. Was I going to work part time for the job I was already in, and if so would it be from home or would I go into the office a few days a week? The decision was made for me when I got laid off at the end of last year -- a silver lining in the dark cloud that has been this recession. When that happened, we decided that instead of me looking for a new job, where I would only be able to work for 5 months full-time before having to ask them for time off when the baby was born, we decided that I would be a full-fledged stay-at home dad. We haven’t regretted it for a second. While caring for Max certainly feels like a full-time job sometimes, it’s certainly the most rewarding one I’ve ever had.

Who knows how long it will last. Ideally, I would like to be the primary care taker for our child until he goes to school for the majority of his day. At that point, as Max stretches his wings in school, I can see myself wanting to stretch my wings again back in the workforce. Then all three of us, Abba, Papa and little Max, can sit around the dinner table to discuss the projects we worked on each day, and complain about Mondays, and look forward to all of our exciting weekend plans together.  What fun!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Having a Picnic

Being a gay parent, even in New York City, is still unusual enough to engender curiosity about our family. This blog is, in part, a response to that. But in reality, there is very little about the act of parenting so far that has had anything to do with sexual orientation. That fact hit home when, a couple of months ago, Stewart, Max, and I attended the 21st annual LGBT Center Kids, Center Families Pride Picnic during Gay Pride Week at Church of St. Luke in the Fields here in NYC. We made a special effort to attend because even though Max was all of a month old at the time, we thought that if any event would highlight for us what life would be like as a gay parent in the city, this picnic would.

At the end of the day, though, the picnic was refreshingly boring. What do I mean by that? Well, the only thing that differentiated this event from the likely thousands of neighborhood block parties that take place across American suburbia each summer is that the parents were same-sex couples. Otherwise, the activities consisted mostly of parents running around after their kids making sure they didn’t hurt themselves, refereeing playground disputes, feeding them hot dogs and hamburgers and cleaning them up afterwards, and trading tips with other parents about schools, or family-friendly summer events, etc. etc. In other words, they were simply parents being parents. If any of the homophobic interest groups out there had snuck in to videotape for an exposĂ©, they would have been sadly disappointed.

This isn’t to say that we didn’t have a great time, or that we don’t feel the need to attend events for gay families in the future -- to the contrary. What we enjoyed most about the picnic was the diversity of the families that attended. There was a good mix of lesbian parents, gay male parents, inter-racial couples among both, and children of all sorts of different ethnicities (sometimes even within the same family). We love what that says about the color-blind nature of love and we hope Max’s friends will reflect the melting pot that makes this city so great. I’ve mentioned in a previous post how interested many strangers have been in how Max was conceived, so it was also refreshing at the picnic that when we met and chatted with the different families there, no one asked us about that, and we didn’t think to ask anyone else how they went about creating their families. We love Max’s creation story, but sometimes it’s just nice to be a family. Everyone else there seemed to feel the same way.

The picnic was also important to Stewart and me because we both agree that we want Max to grow up knowing, and hopefully having close friends from, other same-sex led families like ours, so that having gay parents winds up being as ho-hum to Max as the picnic ultimately seemed to us. We want to start working on that before Max even knows what being part of an “alternative” family means. And believe it or not, that will take some work. Stewart and I do not live our lives in a very gay-centric way. While we have a small circle of amazing, and amazingly supportive, gay friends, we don’t live in a gay ghetto or have a large extended gay network. We don’t know many gay couples with kids (or for that matter many straight ones!) So, starting next month, we plan to attend the LGBT Center Kids, Center Families Play Days which are held once a month during the school year.

I can only imagine that the first summer picnic twenty years ago must have been much different than the one we attended, and maybe in twenty years families with gay parents will be so common-place and accepted that there will not even be a need for such an event. But until then, Stewart, Max and I will have our picnic baskets fully stocked and ready to go!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Swaddle Me

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

Move over David Blaine, Max has been straitjacketed for 131 consecutive nights. It’s an ugly truth that we new parents, who naturally embody only love and kindness, hugs and kisses, good intentions and better intentions, prefer to euphemistically call “the swaddle.” And Max has been swaddled every night since his first, when a nurse named Eboni bundled him up so tight I worried for his safety. You might think that fear would have prompted me to ask the nurse, “Is he okay? Can he breathe?”; but it didn’t. I had been a parent for all of a few hours, and every question seemed like a stupid question when standing before a woman who literally swaddled babies for a living. Of course he can breathe; keep your mouth shut and keep nodding thoughtfully.
The nurses showed us how to swaddle using poly-cotton receiving blankets with pink and blue stripes faded from too many washings in industrial strength washing machines. They had stacks of these blankets, so we ferreted a few out with us that we have since grown hopelessly attached to and will keep forever. The nurses told us: first you fold this corner back, then bring this other corner up over Max’s shoulder, then tuck this other one behind his back, and then do a bunch of other steps I’ve since forgotten. It was complicated. I thought maybe they were transforming the blanket into an exotic animal, like they do on cruise ships, like origami. But they were just turning Max into a big burrito. In fact that is what they called it, the “burrito roll.” The nurses wrapped him like that for three days until we left the hospital. Then we were on our own.
Jacob and I never really got the hang of the burrito roll though. Max would kick and cry (always the squirmer) and it was just such a bother. We had anticipated this depressingly obvious turn of events and brought down to Georgia with us a store-bought version of the burrito wrap that substituted large swathes of velcro for the nurses’ intricate tucks and folds. Ingenious. So ingenious that here we are four months later wedging a baby ten pounds heavier and seven inches taller into his store bought swaddle each night. Of course at some point over the course of those months Max graduated to the “large” swaddle size. On the customer reviews for the small size outnumber those for the large size by a ten to one margin. I interpret that to mean we’ve taken this swaddle thing a little too far. The next size up is no longer even called a swaddle. It’s called a sleeping bag.

But can Max sleep through the night outside of his cocoon? I fear that we’ll have to find out sooner rather than later. Let’s just say though that this great experiment will not be taking place the night before I have a big legal brief due, or when I’m due in court, or any other night that requires Jacob and me to get fitful sleep. Let’s just say that night might be a long night.

Wish us luck.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bragging Rights

Many people ask us how Max was conceived. It’s a rather personal question that some parents would understandably decline to answer. We usually don’t mind it, because we see it as an opportunity to inform them about the wonderful ways that families can come together outside of the norm. Of course some people ask in more articulate ways than others. While some may understandably ask if Max was adopted, others have simply blurted out, “Where did you get it from?” I’m always tempted to reply: “They’re a blue light special this week at k-mart -- hurry before they sell out!” I once replied that Max was born in Georgia, and the person assumed I meant Georgia as in the former Soviet republic! Until a few months ago, Russia was a popular country for international adoptions. (To see why it isn’t anymore, recall this disheartening story). I now make sure to say Atlanta, Georgia. But regardless of how people ask the question, my answer always winds up with me bragging about Max’s surrogate mother, Christie, in one respect or another.
There are many reasons why we brag about Christie. First, there’s a lot to brag about. Max is a lucky boy to get half of his genetics from her. She is both beautiful and super smart. She has two masters degrees, one in the sciences, and she is an AP chemistry teacher. Max can thank his lucky stars for her prowess in the sciences, because neither Stewart nor I are math or science whizzes. She is also incredibly driven, which is another trait that we hope Max emulates. For example, our journey almost ended before it even began, if it weren’t for Christie. We were having trouble finding a doctor to perform the IUI (intrauterine insemination) in the Atlanta area for two men. There weren’t many doctors who performed it for infertile straight couples, and finding one of those in the deep South who didn’t mind that we were gay was even more challenging. It was Christie, after much persistence, who found a doctor to perform the procedure. It shouldn’t come as any surprise that it turned out the doctor was Jewish and originally from New York!
There’s another reason we like to brag about Christie. There is a common misperception that traditional surrogates aren’t known for having great looks or intelligence. When we met with some surrogacy agencies to see if we wanted to work with them, we mentioned that we were also considering traditional independent surrogacy. They told us point blank that we were not going to find what they thought was a “quality person” to do traditional surrogacy; and, that we were especially not going to find such a person online. They warned us that a surrogate found that way would likely not be college educated, would be from a different class level, and therefore would be hard to relate to! We feel that the agencies (not that there aren’t pros to using them, which is beyond the topic of this post) really push this incorrect stereotype because it scares infertile couples into thinking they need to sign up with them and pay for an expensive egg donor, which then leads to having to pay for expensive IVF treatments to implant the donor’s egg into the surrogate. Given that this is what couples exploring surrogacy are often told, it is not surprising that when we met other couples planning to have children via surrogacy, they would raise their eyebrows when we said we were not working with an agency and were on a journey with a traditional surrogate.

So another reason we brag about our surrogate to anyone who asks about our story is to debunk the stereotype that prevails about traditional surrogates and carriers. We’ve come to learn that, in reality, traditional surrogates are as beautiful, talented and smart as any other women out there, and on top of that are extraordinarily selfless and courageous. We talk to a lot of couples (and even some singles) looking to start their family through surrogacy. We tell them all about Christie not only because we’re so proud to have her as Max’s surromom, but also because we hope to open their eyes that independent traditional surrogacy is a real option for them and that they aren’t sacrificing a bit -- genetically or otherwise -- by pursuing that route. We don’t think that the agencies adequately convey this message, so we feel like we have to as a counterbalance. Because if we had listened to the naysayers, Stewart and I would have lost out on the son, and the surromom, of a lifetime.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Friday Night Lights

I read on that the Chicago Tribune recently profiled Notre Dame’s new starting quarterback, Dayne Crist, and mentioned his support for ending homophobia. According to the article, Crist “arrived early for an appointment at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex, wearing red workout shorts and a black T-shirt. On the shirt’s front, in large white lettering, was “StaND Against Hate”. He wore the tee-shirt during a week on campus dedicated to ending hate against LGBT people. This is pretty great news to see a high-profile college football player publicly sending a message that we need to stamp out homophobia!

Upon hearing this news, I have decided to come clean on this blog and let people know about a fantasy I have for Max. Those of you who have known me since childhood know that I wasn’t the most coordinated or tough-looking kid. For those of you who don’t know me from back then, I’m sure this admission is not a big shocker! Even though I have become a pretty good tennis player over the years, “coordinated” is probably not one of the first words one thinks of when describing me. For example, at a family outing just a couple of months back we were playing kickball, and I could hear my brother David telling his girls to kick the ball to Uncle Jacob if they wanted to be sure to get onto to first base!

So my fantasy for Max is that this confident, yet humble, intellectually curious and sensitive son that I am sure Max already is will grow up to also be a star linebacker! When I told my mother this she said, “You are not serious! Do you know all the kinds of injuries you can get playing football?!” Yes mom, but my tough little Max can handle it. I never would have imagined that I would fantasize about Max playing, let alone excelling at, football. But as I have probably mentioned in a previous post, Max is a pretty big kid for his age. Many people comment in particular on the size of his thighs, including his Papa who likes to teasingly call him “thunder thighs”. Last week a stranger came up to Max and me in the neighborhood and asked, “What’s up with Bamm-Bamm?” That’s because at his 3 month check-up, Max weighed in at 18 ½ pounds and 25 ¾ inches tall, both of which are pretty much off the charts. We are excited -- and a little afraid! -- to see the stats at his upcoming 4 month check-up.

So I envision Stewart and me high-fiving every fall Friday night at Max’s high school football games when he sacks the quarterback and then looks up into the stands at his proud daddies who are yelling “Yeah baby, that’s our boy!” But if Max doesn’t make it to the highest levels of football stardom I will still be okay with it. He may end up not becoming this mammoth guy after all, or football may not interest him. In that case, he’ll just have to become a tennis prodigy instead so we can watch him at the U.S. Open. No pressure Max!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Having a Field Day

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day Weekend. Stewart and I were lucky enough to have Max’s surromom and her family up for the weekend, so we were more than happy to stay in the city and pal around with them. But many of our friends hit the road, which got me to thinking about our first day trip with Max, which happened just a few weeks ago.

It was a nice, relatively cool summer day in August, and the goal was to get out of the city and into nature. Pre-Max, when we looked to escape the city on a hot weekend day, we would typically go hiking somewhere in the Catskills. But neither of us was quite up for hiking with an 18 pound baby strapped to our chests! I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that I hurt my back schlepping Max around town, and as a result I’ve started to visit with a chiropractor on a regular basis. Chalk it up as yet another unexpected baby expense!

We discussed walking around a quaint town upstate like Cold Spring, or Ridgefield, Connecticut, but let’s face it -- that wasn’t getting out into nature. Then we hit upon an old favorite spot of ours: Storm King, an expansive sculpture garden in Mountainville, New York. It was the perfect solution. It allows you to feel like you are out in nature without doing a hardcore hike, and plus you get to see some great art at the same time

Before we left, Stewart wanted me to check out online what baby clothing stores were at the Woodbury Commons outlets, a huge outdoor mall near Storm King.  I refused, because I knew that once we knew that info, it was very possible that not only would we stop there, but we might not get out of there and on to Storm King. We didn’t want to risk losing both our money and our exercise, so we wisely steered clear!

When the big day for our inaugural day-trip came, what a surprise (not) that we got out of the house much later than we intended. All of you with babies know what I’m talking about. It can take a good half hour just to get you, your baby gear and your baby set for a quick stroll to the local playground! We eventually arrived at Storm King at 2:00 PM, and after changing and feeding Max and getting a late lunch for ourselves at the cafĂ©, it was well after 3:00 PM. We were now antsy to get going. In the past, when taking such a field trip we would share a small backpack with some water, snacks, a camera, and maybe sunscreen and shades. But we’ve learned that life on the road with an infant is a wee bit more cumbersome. We headed out into the sculpture park with the traditional backpack full of our stuff, but also another one filled with Max’s stuff (diapers, wipes, change of clothes, yada yada), a baby carrier, an outdoor blanket, a boppy pillow so that Max had a little neck support on said blanket, and a stroller.

As we started walking, Max decided to have one of his moments, so Stewart carried Max and I lugged the stroller, which instead of containing the baby was now over flowing with all the stuff we brought. At this point it was tempting to simply hop on the tram that tours the park over paved roads, but of course, if you know me, you know I insisted that we see all of the sculptures off the beaten path. Unfortunately that meant lugging our stroller off the beaten path through rocky dirt trails that were definitely not made for it. I bet you can guess what comes next. Yup, the stroller broke down -- its front right wheel completely fell off! This was a recipe for disaster, because as anyone who remotely knows Stewart or me knows, we are not the handiest people in the world!

At this point I will admit that we had a bit of a melt-down and Stewart and I started barking at each other. We had needlessly let a relaxing field trip turn into a stressful ordeal. But then we saw a young couple with their toddler sitting on a blanket in a grassy meadow, simply relaxing. They weren’t trying to race through the entire park with an ill-equipped stroller full of unnecessary baby gear. They were just enjoying their baby and the beautiful surroundings. We looked at each other and asked ourselves why we weren’t doing the same thing. We took a deep breath, we patched up the wheel and found our own secluded spot overlooking some beautiful sculptures. We threw down our blanket and just chilled out playing with Max for the rest of the afternoon. It was a wonderful time.

Oh, and on the way back to the car at the end of the day, the stroller’s wheel fell off a few more times.** But this time we didn’t care. Perspective is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?

(**And thanks to friends Doug and James for being handy enough to fix it back home!)