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.
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


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.