Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tonight's Message: Be Open to Openness

This evening Stewart and I have been invited back to discuss our surrogacy experience at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center’s monthly “Planning Biological Parenthood for Men” meeting. We attended these meetings in the months leading up to, and during, our surrogate’s pregnancy with Max, and learned an amazing amount about the surrogacy process from those who had been through it. Once Max was born, we were asked to return to the group, this time as the speakers instead of as the listeners. I blogged about that meeting here. I can’t believe that it has been almost a year since we first spoke to the group. So much has transpired!

As some of you might recall from that post, when we were asked to talk to the group last year I was very concerned about what Max was going to wear. We were introducing Max to a room full of very discerning gay men, so I wanted Max to wear a hip outfit; but, at the same time they were the wannabe dad kind of gay men, so I didn’t want Max to look too hip. In short, it was complicated! A year later, though, the only criteria I have for his outfit is that it be clean and have minimal stains. Actually, that’s not as easy as it sounds since we’re talking about a 14 month old here!

On a more serious note, Stewart and I are thrilled to have the opportunity again to discuss our experiences because we are big advocates of the method we chose to create our family: independent traditional surrogacy. Plus, our enthusiasm for this choice has grown even greater over the past year due to the amazing relationship we’ve maintained with our surrogate, Christie, and her family, as well as the other family that Christie conceived and carried a child for via traditional surrogacy (a beautiful little girl named Georgia who you can read more about here). Last year we could only tell the group about the type of relationships that we hoped to keep with these families. This year we can tell them about our actual experiences, which I think is the best evidence possible for why couples looking to start a family via surrogacy should at least seriously consider taking the independent, traditional route.

Stewart and I pursued independent traditional surrogacy (where the surrogate is both the egg donor and carrier, who you find yourself) rather than gestational surrogacy (where you find a separate egg donor and carrier through a process usually arranged via a professional agency) for several reasons. We wanted to conceive with as few people involved as possible, to make an already complicated method of creating a family as uncomplicated as possible. We also wanted to develop a natural relationship with Max’s biological mother -- as opposed to choosing her from donor stat sheets -- and really get to know her. And it was important to us that Max not only know the identity of his surro-mom, but also that he grow up knowing her as a person.

Call me a crazy pessimist, but I believe that no matter how you raised, or raise, your kids, they are going to be angry at you for something. For Max, I much prefer that anger to be about mundane things like why he isn’t allowed to ride his bicycle without a helmet than about something as deeply felt and personal as his identity. Besides, Max should know the woman who has given our family the tremendous gift of its very being. So one of the main reasons we matched with Christie is because she was on the same page as us in this important regard. But while we all agreed on open, ongoing contact, we left unanswered what that meant. I don’t think any of us were really sure. We choose instead to let our new lives -- with Max suddenly a part of them -- tell us organically what felt right.

A while back Christie wrote a moving guest post about her experience as our surrogate, and in that post she described our relationship as an extended family. That truly is the best way to describe it, and is a term that not only describes the relationship that we have with her and her family, but also the one that we have with Georgia and her parents as well. Since Max was born, we have seen Christie and her family multiple times in multiple locales, including most recently on a beach vacation to Florida that also included Georgia’s family. Seeing the kids all together, happily playing, alone made it a wonderful trip.

with half-sis Georgia

And that is what strikes me most about our relationship with Christie and her family -- not the number of times that we have seen them, but that we are part of each other’s lives in such a natural, unforced way. During our regular workaday lives apart, if anyone in our families does something fun or interesting, we don’t hesitate to email or text each other about it on the spot, and maybe snap a photo to go along with it. And when we hang out together, we are all equally happy running around town with the kids or just sitting on the couch enjoying idle chit-chat while the kids romp around. In other words: normal family stuff. Normal, but incredibly special and extraordinary at the same time.

with half-bros Drew & Dean

If tonight Stewart and I can convey even a fraction of this wonderment to our surrogacy group, we just might convince some hopeful couples to see the potential that independent traditional surrogacy has to be a truly magical way to create a family.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Something Good

If you are even the most casual reader of this blog, you will know that here at Gaddy Daddy we believe that the concept of family contains multitudes. In that spirit, I am pleased to present the following post about the Fresh Air Fund. Through this amazing program, every summer nearly 10,000 New York City children from low-income communities spend a week or two of summertime bliss with volunteer host families from out of town who open up their hearts and homes to them. This summer the Fresh Air Fund is in need of 850 more families to sign up. If you, or someone you know, might be interested in participating in the program, please contact the Fresh Air Fund: here.

This post is authored by our good friend Joy, who has wowed us not once, but twice before at Gaddy Daddy with beautifully written, moving and eye-opening narratives about parenthood. It should come as no surprise that this inspirational post is yet another must read, well worth the time even if you are not able to support the cause.

Pam wasn’t writing that day, which was odd. She was the oldest woman in the class; the leader. With her gentle manner and calm demeanor, she often set the tone, and set an example for the younger students. With her on my side, I knew I had the respect of all the women in the room. But there she was, staring at her black-and-white composition book, pen lying flat on her desk, arms crossed defiantly across her chest.

I had given one notebook to each student at the start of class based on the specific instructions I received: no spiral-bound notebooks, as the spirals can be sharpened into weapons. No red notebooks, as red is a gang color. This class was being taught in prison, and prison rules are to be closely followed. I found that out the day I arrived to teach in a tank top. It was summer, over ninety-five degrees out. I knew I couldn’t wear green, as that was the color of the women’s uniforms. I knew I couldn’t wear open-toe shoes, in case there was a riot and I had to run. But I didn’t know tank tops were forbidden because they are apparently considered too sexy. I almost wasn’t allowed in that day, but after several guards conferred on the matter, I was permitted to teach my class.

That day, the day Pam wasn’t writing, I had asked the students to write about a time something good happened. I leaned over to Pam, who was sitting in her usual chair directly to my right.

“Are you stuck?” I whispered, so as not to disturb the other women, who were writing with bowed heads and expressions of concentration.

“Yeah,” she said, not looking up from her blank note book page. “I can’t think of anything good that ever happened.”

Pam had written about her childhood in previous classes. I knew she grew up sharing a room with her three sisters, sleeping two to a bed. I knew her mother was often harsh and occasionally abusive. I also knew Pam was in jail for a long sentence—25 years—and that she was nearing the end of her term. I also knew her crime: manslaughter. So I knew Pam hadn’t had many good things happen to her. But even the darkest lives usually have moments, sometimes very small moments, of light.

“It doesn’t have to be a big thing,” I said softly. “It can be a really small good thing. Maybe something that surprised you?”

Pam bit on the end of her pen and I looked at her. It was really hard to tell how old Pam was, or how old any of the women were. Stripped of makeup, jewelry, or their normal clothing—everyone was in army-green uniforms—all of the women appeared younger than they were. There were a few girls in the class who appeared like teenagers, and I was shocked to find out, through their writing, that they were in their late twenties.

Then Pam started to write. “I thought of something,” she said. “Something good. Really good.”

After about fifteen minutes, I told the students to finish their last sentence so we’d have time to hear a few people read before the end of class. I was used to teaching homeless teens, who often had to be coaxed to write even a few lines. But my students at the prison seemed to be able to write all night. I think they liked the calm environment of class, the normalcy of sitting in a room with desks and bulletin boards. Usually the room I taught in was used for GED. The papers tacked to the bulletin board, some with stickers and smiley faces, make the room look like a fourth-grade classroom. In that room, it was easy to forget my students were incarcerated; that at the end of the evening I would walk out the door and eat a slice of pizza on my way home, while they would be escorted back to their small locked rooms.

I’m not na├»ve. I know some of these women committed serious crimes. But I also strongly believe that many of them were victims of the circumstances in which they grew up, rife with poverty and violence. Many of them wrote about the abuse they suffered, both physical and sexual. We often spoke about anger; what to do with it, how to both honor the very real reasons they had to be angry, yet not let anger overpower them into making bad decisions and getting into trouble. I tried to help them see they could respect their anger by putting it on the page, by writing about it. In that way they could get their anger out, but not in a way that would hurt themselves or others. One woman in class was reluctant to write about the abuse she had suffered, even when I told her she could write about it, then rip the page out of her notebook and throw it away. I kept thinking she was afraid that someone would see her writing, but finally she admitted that she was afraid to see it herself. “If I see it, then I have to believe it,” she had said. “And I still don’t want to believe it.”

When time came for the students to read that day, Pam volunteered. As she started reading, it was almost like she retreated into the past. The details she remembered made it seem like she was writing about something that had happened the day before, not in 1967.

As a child, Pam had asthma, and on the advice of a doctor, who thought getting out of the city would help her breathing, Pam’s mother signed her up for the Fresh Air Fund. Not any of her sisters; just Pam. She remembered everything about the morning she left for her first-ever summer vacation. Pam was six years old. She and her mother got up very early in the morning and took a subway to Penn Station. Pam was not scared at all; even when the time came to say goodbye to her mother. She was completely ready for departure, for freedom.

Pam wrote about waiting with the other children for the train, the kind of sandwich she ate while she waited, and transferring from the train to a bus to go even further away from the city. She didn’t sleep at all even though she had awoken much earlier than usual—she didn’t want to shut her eyes because she refused to miss a single moment of looking out the window at grass, trees, and open space. It was the first time she had even seen these things, aside from city parks. And she was transfixed.

A big surprise came when the bus finally stopped in Maine. Pam thought she was going to a Fresh Air Fund camp, but in fact she and the other children on her bus were going to spend a few weeks with families. Pam remembered the shock of seeing so many white, smiling faces coming to retrieve so many small, black children. Pam didn’t know many white people back in the city, and those she had met had never seemed too happy to see her. Some kids from the bus cried, but not Pam. She happily joined her host family—a mom, a dad, and three children, all around Pam’s age.

In the following weeks of class, I urged Pam to continue to write about her experience with this family. I learned that her time spent with them was the happiest time in her entire life; that she returned to spend summers with them for many years, and that she is still in touch with the children, who are now grown-up. Pam also told me that she wrote about her time with the Fresh Air Fund one Thanksgiving as part of a writing contest, and her piece was chosen as the winner. I believe Pam said her mother used the prize money to buy Thanksgiving dinner for the family.

Sadly, the cycle of classes I was teaching ended before Pam could finish her story. I urged her to continue on with it, and I hope she did.

I also hope those of you reading this who live outside of New York City will consider hosting a child through the Fresh Air Fund. By doing so, you have the opportunity to provide an inner-city child with what may turn out to be the happiest memories of his or her life. 850 host families are still needed for this summer, and all types of families are welcome to participate. To learn more, click here

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Wedding March

As most of you are probably aware, my home state of New York recently passed a bill granting gay couples the right to marry. Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law late Friday night, June 24th, which (wholly coincidentally) was perfect timing to kick off New York City’s gay pride weekend, which always takes place over the last weekend in June. Stewart and I are already legally married, thanks to our northern neighbors in Canada, but nevertheless we were absolutely thrilled that the state will finally recognize our marriage, and that it will allow thousands of other gay couples to plan and hold their own dream wedding in our hometown. 

Like most gay New Yorkers, as soon as we heard the news that the marriage bill would pass the state senate, we knew instantly where the party would commence -- at the iconic Greenwich Village gay bar: the Stonewall Inn. That is where the gay civil rights struggle for equality unofficially began, in the form of a skirmish between its gay patrons and police over their unwarranted raid of the bar back in late June 1969 -- hence the city’s gay pride parade taking place in late June ever since to commemorate that special night of defiance. So of course it being gay pride weekend, and another historic night being upon us, the Stonewall Inn was everyone’s instant destination.

Stonewall Inn riot
Unless, of course, you are a gay couple caring for a sleeping one year old. Stewart and I couldn’t make it to the Stonewall Inn that night for that obvious reason. That made it particularly important to us to make it to the pride parade to take place down 5th Avenue that following Sunday afternoon, so that we could have our moment of celebration too. To be honest, in the pre-Max years this parade was not all that important to us. Our focus that day instead had been on an annual brunch that we traditionally had for friends at our apartment before the parade, and to the bar-hopping festivities that commence after the parade has wound down. Due to Max being in our lives, we haven’t had our gay pride brunch for the past two years, and last year Max was too tiny for the parade.

Between the historic nature of the marriage equality bill having just passed, and Max now being old enough to marvel at all of the sights and sounds of the city, we were determined to get to the parade this year, and luckily we had some very good couple friends with us to join us (one of whom are getting married next month themselves!). Like past years, this year we didn’t stay at the parade for long, but that didn’t prevent me from getting all teary-eyed once we arrived, which believe it or not is very unusual for me. Right as we showed up, with Max on my shoulders, we saw Governor Cuomo march past. The crowd cheered louder than I’ve ever heard them, because everybody knew that not only did he sign the marriage equality bill into law, he was the key supporter who risked his political capital to make sure the bill passed the republican-controlled state senate. No previous democratic governor had put forth that effort or achieved that result -- even when the senate was controlled by fellow democrats.

Gov. Cuomo and other supportive pols marching in the parade

And if the raucous cheers in recognition of his heroic efforts weren’t enough to get me choked up, the “It Gets Better” project was marching right behind the governor, followed by the Trevor Project (a national organization providing crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBT youth).  It is no surprise that these floats were linked to Cuomo and his accomplishment. After all, marriage equality is a very tangible sign that life does “get better” for the LGBT community, and hopefully LGBT youth witnessing first-hand their state government beginning to treat gay relationships with as much respect as their straight counterparts will give them the courage to live open and proud lives.

Max and his daddy taking in the festivities
And I was particularly thrilled to watch the parade, with all that it symbolized this year, with Max on my shoulders watching along with me. Because I realized that Max will now blissfully get to grow up never knowing a time in his life when his parents’ marriage wasn’t official or wasn’t recognized by the state. This is one aspect of our lives that we’re happy to be perfectly banal in the eyes of our son.