Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, the Cut’s How I Got This Baby invites parents to share their stories. Want to share yours? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us a bit about how you became a parent.
Pato Paez was sure he would have children. His husband, Brian, was less sure in the beginning, but once he knew, he knew. Right after deciding to become parents, they connected with a pregnant teenager who wanted to put her baby up for adoption. The couple arranged to visit her in person, but were contacted the week before the planned meeting with the news she had miscarried. Saddened by the loss, Pato and Brian started exploring surrogacy. Pato describes how searching for an egg donor is like Facebook, the ups and downs of international surrogacy, constructing an 80-page contract of worst-case scenarios, and what they’re doing to prepare for their daughter’s birth later this summer.
In the fall, the Cut will check in with Pato to see how everything’s going.
On knowing he would have children. I always knew I wanted children. Brian, my husband, didn’t know. He wasn’t sure whether he was going to have children. But I always knew I wanted them and one day I would have them. You know when you have a strong feeling that you want something and you’re going to get it? And you don’t know exactly when, but you’re going to get there, somehow? That was parenthood, for me.
One day Brian said, You know, I think I do want children. Why don’t we start working on that? That’s how all this started — and very soon after that we got a phone call from Kate, a good friend of my husband’s who lives in the U.K. Kate told us that a friend of a friend’s kid was 16 years old and pregnant. Instead of having an abortion, she wanted to have the baby and give it up for adoption to a gay couple, so they thought of us. It took me about five minutes to say yes. It took Brian about 48 hours.
The pregnant girl was in the Midwest. We made plans to go meet her and her family about a month after saying yes to the baby. The week before we were supposed to go, they called us up and told us she had miscarried. It’s so hard to explain — I still get very emotional about the situation. It was really hard. But that sort of reinvigorated our conversation about having children. We decided we would do it through surrogacy.
On having a friend as a surrogate. Our same friend, Kate, said she would be our surrogate. We started to work on that — there were a million steps. First, we had to buy eggs from a donor and create embryos. And since Kate was based in the U.K., she was trying to do the hormone treatment there, then fly out to New York to have the embryo transferred, then go back to the U.K., carry out her pregnancy there until the sixth or seventh month, then come back to the U.S. and deliver here. That was the plan, anyway. There were a lot of moving parts.
But we followed through: We bought frozen eggs from a donor at a clinic here in New York. The idea was to thaw the eggs when Kate was in New York and create the embryos on the spot and then transfer them to her.
All this took a few months. In the U.K., Kate was going to appointments to get ready. I didn’t like her doctor very much — he came off as very condescending and I got the feeling he was very judgmental about what we were about to do.
In the middle of this, we decided to double-check everything with a lawyer who knew the law in both countries and tell her what we were trying to do. She didn’t think it was a good idea — because if the kid or kids were born in the U.K., they would be considered the children of Kate and her husband. It wasn’t impossible, but it would be very lengthy and expensive, for us to become the legal guardians. The U.K. makes it very complicated. We’d talked to someone else earlier in the process and unfortunately, that person misinformed us.
On thinking about alternative locations. The best place in the world to do surrogacy is in California; it’s the easiest place to do it. But it can cost up to $200,000. So we were like, Okay, let’s look at other options. We talked about Mexico — then they closed to surrogacy with foreigners. But someone we spoke with from Mexico told us to try Canada.
After some research, we found an agency in Canada we liked. When we contacted them, we were told that gay parents get surrogates really quickly and we should have embryos made before signing up. So we tried making embryos with our frozen donor eggs — and only one survived. One isn’t really enough to go into a surrogacy process, so we refroze our embryo and started looking for a new donor.
On choosing a new egg donor. It’s like Facebook: You see photos first, then click for more information — everything from favorite colors and food to what diseases their grandparents had. The pages are very, very thorough but there’s no identifying information. We had their SAT scores, for example, but don’t know where they live. Our egg donor was, at the time, 27 and pursuing some kind of advanced degree. My theory was she was donating her eggs to pay for her education.
Of course, we saved the photos and the profile because one day, our child might want to know who the egg donor was and this is all we can give her. In the beginning, I definitely wondered about certain things like, Why is she doing this? Is she smart? That was a big one. We don’t know about her personality — is she shy, not shy? We really don’t know how much of the egg donor’s traits our child will get. (But I’m sure all the bad ones we’ll be able to blame on the donor.)
After we found the second egg donor, we made a batch of embryos and five survived. Then we did PGD — preimplantation genetic diagnosis — to check the embryos’ genetic material. Out of the five, three were viable. So we had four total: Two with my genetic material and the two different donors, and two with Brian’s and the same donor.
They ask if you want to know the sex when you do PGD, and I was like, Yes. So much is unknown and out of my control — anything that I can know, I want to know. We knew we had two girls and one boy. The fourth embryo, the one from our first donor, is an unknown — plus, we don’t know if it’s viable.
In Canada, it’s illegal to transfer an embryo based on sex — our doctor transferred the embryo with the best chance of survival, which we later found out is a girl.
On connecting with a surrogate. We found this woman who’d worked for a long time at a Canadian surrogacy agency and paid her about $1,200 to make a profile for us and start looking for a surrogate. Once we connected with one, we’d have to pay her about $9,000 as a commission. She was awful: She just didn’t deliver what she promised us. I was pissed. It wasn’t about the money — it was about putting so much hope into someone.
Then, the Canadian agency we’d previously contacted called and said they had one spot but we had to take it in the next 24 hours. It cost, I think, $5,700 to put our profile up for two years. In Canada, it’s illegal to match a surrogate with prospective parents. So what an agency does is put profiles online, of both parents and surrogates. Legally, no one from the agency can match you with a surrogate. You have to do all the work; you’re paying for access to the profiles. This fee is just a part of our overall costs. Altogether — with agency costs, legal fees, and health-care expenses — we’re paying about $80,000 for surrogacy.
I came across the profile of this woman who I really, really liked, and Brian liked her too. I sent her an email saying we’d like to chat. Then we talked on the phone, and it went very well and she agreed to work with us. The next step was for her to go to the doctor to make sure she was viable for pregnancy. Once she was clear, we shipped the embryos to a clinic in Canada and set up a transfer.
On altruistic surrogacy. Meeting the surrogate was strange: You go into this very intimate situation without knowing each other. We met her over dinner the night before the transfer, her and her mom. I kept saying how grateful I was. Because in Canada, unlike the U.S., surrogates can’t get paid for carrying a child. It’s called altruistic surrogacy: All we can do is reimburse her for any expenses related to the pregnancy. We can only do things like cover a percentage of her food bill, and reimburse her for maternity clothes. So I’m like, Why would anybody want to do this?
One of the steps before the transfer was meeting with a social worker. That was my first question at that meeting: “Why would anyone want to do this?” And the social worker said, “Because people want to help. It’s the same reason people want to be foster parents.”
Before the transfer, we set up a contract between us and the surrogate. It covers everything from how much money she can spend on pregnancy-related expenses per month to who gets to hold the baby first after she’s born. It’s very long — 80-some pages, signed between the three of us. It talks about what happens if I die, if my husband dies, if we both die. It’s very creepy to read it because, basically, it kills us all. It has all the worst-case scenarios for what could happen — like what if she decides to fight us and try to keep the baby. Our lawyer drafted the contract, and the surrogate had her own lawyer, who went over it and made adjustments and sent them back to us. There was a ton of back and forth until we were all on the same page. It was nerve-racking because we didn’t really know each other and had to ask someone to do very personal things, in writing — like, we asked her to not have sex for a certain amount of days after the transfer.
It’s so intimate and very strange. Now that we’ve known each other for eight months, we’ve become friends. There’s a very high level of trust between us. Brian and I are — and always will be — so extremely grateful to our gestational carrier for helping us build our family. There aren’t words to describe how grateful we are.
On transferring embryos and revealing the results. This is the first thing they tell you not to do, but: The surrogate took a home pregnancy test a week after the transfer. And she was like, “Listen, it’s a pregnancy.” Fifteen days later, she went back to the clinic to confirm the pregnancy with a blood test — it was the clinic who called to tell us it was definite.
Early on, we just told the group of people we’d contact in an emotional pinch. During the first trimester, you’re like anybody else: It’s such a fragile time for pregnancy, so people don’t say anything. We didn’t tell anyone else. After that first trimester, we were more liberal about telling people.
What’s interesting about surrogacy is, you have to do a lot of educating because people just don’t know. People would ask things like, “How’s the mom doing?” And you have to tell them, “Well, she’s not going to have a mom. We call that person the gestational carrier or the surrogate.” Friends of ours sometimes ask what her name is because they feel it’s objectifying her to call her the surrogate or the gestational carrier. But we do that because we want to protect her personal information. To all of our friends, she’s the surrogate or the g.c.
On awaiting parenthood. The due date is August 19. We’re incredibly excited. The plan is, the surrogate will call us as soon as she goes into labor and we’ll drive up to Canada for the birth.
At the moment, the baby is breech — in Canada it’s standard to schedule a C-section if the baby is still breech at week 34. So if that happens, we might be able to plan a little better and be there a day or two before the birth. Right now, she’s at week 30. We’re going out of town for about ten days soon and then, when we get back, the idea is we’ll go everywhere with a bag packed — the baby could come any minute. This past week, we put together the nursery. We painted, we set up the crib, got the bassinet and the dresser ready. If she were to come tomorrow, we’d be ready. As ready as we’ll ever be.