by Leah Sewell | photos contributed
In September of 2012, in a Topeka hospital, a father witnessed the birth of his first son and wept openly as he felt a sudden connection to the continuum of human life on earth.
Omer, father to twin boys Daniel and Benjamin, remembers the moment that his firstborn, Daniel, entered the world, and his voice cracks as even today he struggles to convey his emotional reaction: “Suddenly you see a little creature, a little human being coming … I was crying, I was more than crying. I was weeping like a little girl! I felt so connected suddenly to humanity, to the reason why we are here – to have continuity. That is our purpose here. If there is no continuation, then what is the point?”
It’s not every father who weeps uncontrollably in the delivery room when his first child is born. But Omer’s experience of the birth of his sons is not typical. Omer and his spouse, Felipe, witnessed the births of Daniel and Benjamin after two years of grueling preparation, research, travel and emotional upheaval. A typical couple might try for a baby, conceive and, over the next nine months, ready the environment for the arrival of their child and the beginning of the newest chapter of their lives. For Omer and Felipe, things were radically different. The decision to expand their family through the surrogacy process wasn’t arrived at lightly.
“We started to discuss it in 2010, right after we got married,” Omer remembers. “To me it was always clear we would have a family. Felipe is from South America, and I am from Israel, so we were socially, culturally, very different. We had to make sure we were on the same page. So that was the beginning of our journey. Before we met Jennifer and Jude, we’d been pregnant a long time, because mentally we were pregnant. For us, it was a two-year process.”
Jennifer and Jude Quinn are intrinsic to the story of Omer and Felipe’s entry into fatherhood. They were in that Topeka hospital delivery room when Omer experienced his moment of transcendence. Jennifer was the surrogate mom in the midst of delivering Omer and Felipe’s twin sons. Jude was by Jennifer’s side, aiding his wife as she labored.
“It’s the biggest thing you’ve ever done,” says Jennifer. “The thing you’re most excited about during surrogacy is delivering and getting to see the parents with their baby for the first time.”
“The greatest love I ever felt was the first time I got to see my children when they were born, and to be able to give that gift to someone else is a pretty powerful thing,” says Jude.
The Quinn family consists of eight people, six children converged over past and current marriage and presided over by two lovebirds, Jennifer and Jude, in a North Topeka home that can be at times teeming and chaotic. But amidst the congenial chaos, Jennifer, now in the midst of her second surrogate pregnancy, is calm and measured as she sits in the living room recounting her initial decision to become a surrogate mom.
“Obviously we love kids. We have six,” says Jennifer. “During my last pregnancy, I knew we were done, and it was at that point we started talking about [surrogacy].”
Introduced to the surrogacy process by longtime friend and neighbor, Sara Chinn, a four-time surrogate mom, the idea began to take hold in Jennifer while pregnant with her youngest.
Jennifer is the kind of pregnant woman who wears the physiological change with outward ease. When you step into the Quinn household, you feel subsumed by the patterns of the life there. And one can’t help but draw the parallel between that feeling of inclusion and Jennifer’s surrogate pregnancies. It is as if the pregnancies have dovetailed into the life that teems here, rather than the life altering to accommodate the pregnancies. Omer and Felipe had the same instinct about the Quinns the first time they “met” during a Skype conversation facilitated by a Boston-based surrogacy agency.
“We fell in love with the energy around them,” recounts Omer. “They are both positive and inspiring people with a lot of good in their hearts.”
We can frame the moment of the two couples meeting via an internet connection and two computer screens as a moment of distillation, a precursor to conception. And while the moment is indeed significant, for Omer and Felipe, it was yet another crossroads in an arduous and lengthy journey.
For gay couples or heterosexual couples facing infertility, the surrogacy process can be intense. Living in Brooklyn, New York, Omer and Felipe were able to become acquainted with the process through an advocacy organization called Men Having Babies. From there, they found a reputable Boston-based surrogacy agency that utilizes social workers to match intended parents with egg donors and ultimately surrogate moms. Along the way, Omer says, the storm of significant decision-making, paperwork, IVF clinic visits, expenses and legalese could be overwhelming.
“There are so many scary documents full of what if’s, what if’s, what if’s,” says Omer. “You have to think about all of these issues before any potential [birth] date. There are a lot of choices to make along the way.”
For women considering surrogacy, the process can be equally daunting. Most agencies have rigorous screening processes, including lengthy phone interviews and psychological and criminal background checks. There’s also some travel involved, as well as the initial medical procedures required to begin the pregnancy.
“Along with background checks, there are questions dealing with personal philosophies and religion,” says Jude. “If something were wrong with one of the [fetuses], the parents may decide to terminate.”
“They want to make sure everyone is on the same page before it comes up,” says Jennifer. “We want it to be as smooth and joyous as possible.”
After the agency paperwork is filled out, the intended parents and the potential surrogate decide whether they are a good match, and if so, the aforementioned Skype conversation happens. If all proceeds well from that point on, the process picks up speed. The couple meets with the surrogate, then the actual pregnancy—the physical part—begins. The communication between the surrogate and the awaiting parents is near-constant.
The expecting parents also travel to attend significant pregnancy milestones, like the second-trimester sonogram. Everything is readied, like during a traditional gestation period, except that this gestation is shared across miles, and formed over existing geographical and personal divisions. Throughout the process, the couples bridge gaps and find themselves developing a unique friendship, and one that tends to be lasting in a lot of surrogacy situations.
Sara Chinn, the friend and neighbor who introduced the Quinns to the idea of surrogacy, has been a surrogate mom four times. She still stays in touch with the first couple she delivered for because she is a part of the story of their children’s lives.
“They came into it wanting to maintain a relationship because they wanted to be able to show their children how they came to be and how they were wanted. It’s been nice to stay in contact with them,” says Sara.
One thing people outside the situation might expect is for the surrogate mothers to speak about a connection not just with the receiving couples, but with the babies themselves. But Sara and Jennifer explain that, emotionally and psychologically, a surrogate pregnancy is nothing like a typical biological pregnancy.
“You’re going into it to help another couple. As far as the emotional toll, I’ve never had an issue. You go into it knowing this isn’t my baby, it’s going to go home with its parents,” says Sara.
“From the beginning, it’s different. You don’t wonder what they’ll look like. When a baby moves, you text the dads and they get all excited,” says Jennifer. “You see the embryos before they go in. You don’t identify the same way you do if you know the baby is coming home and is yours.”
Both Jennifer and Sara talk about the feeling of being the babies’ protectors.
“I was actually more cautious and more aware of how I was feeling when I was pregnant with someone else’s child,” says Sara.
“I feel very protective,” says Jennifer. “Even more paranoid, actually.”
Sara and Jennifer both acknowledge that the physical toll is somewhat significant, but both have had a history of easy and healthy pregnancies. It’s one of many considerations going into the process.
Sara, who has four children of her own, has been pregnant eight times, but no one would be able to guess that just by looking at her. Sara is physically fit, and works out regularly.
“I have a good metabolism,” says Sara. “Afterwards, the weight has come off pretty easily. We have four kids, so just being active alone has helped. Physically, it hasn’t really affected me.”
Postpartum hormones flood the bodies of surrogate moms after childbirth, just as with a biological pregnancy. Jennifer and Jude talk about the time immediately following Jennifer’s first surrogacy labor and delivery as being a time of bonding between them and a time to appreciate and watch the couple receive the gift of parenthood.
“Your hormones are out of balance, they’re completely out of whack. You deliver and then you’re just in the room,” says Jennifer.
“It was interesting, because all those love hormones that would usually be directed at the baby were directed at me,” says Jude. “She was madly in love with me all of a sudden. It wasn’t the baby, it was me,” he laughs.
“The dads were in the room right across from me, and I could see them right across the hall. I didn’t need to hold the babies. I was proud and felt protective of them because I’d worked so hard to make them,” says Jennifer.
Ultimately, after the delivery, the two couples part ways. The surrogate family returns to its natural patterns, and the new parents return home to bond with their children and learn the ropes of becoming a family.
Surrogate mothers are compensated financially for the process, but both Sara and Jennifer say that the extra money is the icing on the cake.
“When I first started researching surrogacy, I had no idea there would be financial compensation, but I knew I wouldn’t be stuck with medical bills or spend a bunch of money on maternity clothes. When I found out [about financial compensation], I was pleasantly surprised,” says Sara. “You work with an agency. They handle all the financial stuff. You never have to talk to the couple about money.”
The pregnancy does require quite a bit of sacrifice, not just on the part of the surrogate mother, but also the family surrounding her.
“People worry the most that Jennifer is going to be emotionally connected to the baby. But the hardest part is taking time away from being with kids or going to a basketball game because she feels tired, because she’s doing something for someone else. It’s a sacrifice,” says Jude. “Short of giving your own life, you’re giving the greatest possible thing you can give, giving a child to a parent. You’re giving the gift of life, and I think it’s worth the slight inconvenience.”
The end result of all the paperwork, travel, communication, financial matters, physical gestation and delivery, is, of course, the children.
On the Friday evening when I reached Omer over the phone to discuss his path to fatherhood, he was with his family at an outing in the park in Brooklyn. He handed over Daniel and Benjamin, now 14-months-old, to Felipe to focus on telling his story. Omer’s voice sometimes quaked with emotion over the hardships of the intense two-year journey that culminated in meeting his sons in that Topeka delivery room last September. But his voice lifts perceptively when he talks about Daniel and Benjamin today. “Benjamin is a social butterfly, he makes friends with everyone,” he says. “And Daniel is very independent, focused on his own games. He likes to sing with me.”
But even in the hectic day-to-day of being a father to two growing toddlers, Omer thinks often of Jennifer and Jude and the incredible gift they gave.
“We had an amazing journey together, and I will forever be grateful to them,” says Omer. “They’re a part of who we are and what we are. There is always room in our hearts for them.”
Update: Jennifer gave birth to two healthy babies just a couple months after we published this piece in print. Born 12/31/2013, “Baby A”: 7 lbs 15 oz, “Baby B”: 6 lbs 13 oz.
[Winter 2013-14 XYZ | story by Leah Sewell | photos contributed]Share