By John Jericiau
My partner Alen and I are in the unique situation of having had one child through adoption and one child through surrogacy. Now we’re 34 weeks pregnant with another son through surrogacy. There are pros and cons to both options. Adoption is usually less expensive, but surrogacy provides a possible genetic relationship. Adoption is usually more white- knuckled; surrogacy gives you more of a chance to be at the birth of your child (although we were able to see both of our sons born and we cut the cords).
One other kind of big deal difference between the two options is the stage when you are declared “the natural and legal father of the child.” If you’re adopting in California, the birthmother has 48 hours after the birth to sign relinquishment papers – or change her mind and keep the baby. It’s an extremely nerve-wracking time, especially if you’re like me and your very first try led to a horrendous experience whereby the birthmother came knocking on my door (so to speak) 24 hours after I had my son Ryan home and dressed and burped and fed and rocked and loved, demanding him back. You come to realize that the horror stories you heard were true, and the scenario could easily be repeated with subsequent adoption tries.
Even if you are so lucky to have relinquishment papers signed and you are sent on your way, you know darn well that if the birthmother came back a week or two weeks or two months later, crying about the agony and the pain of losing her child and she can’t take life another second without her baby, you’d be screwed. You couldn’t rightly say “a deal is a deal.” This is a baby, not a car.
If you can bypass that scenario you’re left with waiting about a year until your court date comes up and you are finally legally Daddy. Mind you, you’ve been told all along that the child is already yours and even if a previously unknown father or grandmother comes out of the woodwork at the last minute, he is already yours. The court date is just a formality. A party. A happy day. However, when you’re in court that day and you watch your attorney finally breathe a sigh of relief and seem so happy that this day has come, you realize that things were probably not as final and irreversible as you had been led to believe.
Also, after the birth at the hospital you were handed a birth certificate that had the birthmother’s name as the parent, which we kept filed until the “happy day.” You’re also kept in limbo with regard to a passport, social security number (you’re given a temporary one), and even with travelling outside the USA.
The situation with our son through surrogacy was a breeze compared to all that. About twenty weeks into the pregnancy, we simply sent our attorney a $2000 check. She filed papers in court herself, and a few weeks later we received the judgment stating that Alen and I were the legal parents. And I thought voting by absentee ballot was awesome! We were now fathers, and the first and only birth certificate right out of the hospital at the time of birth would reflect that. We could immediately get his social security number, passport, and travel to Fiji to celebrate if we liked. It was seamless, smooth, and effortless.
Four and a half years have gone by, and so far – with Baby Boy #3 – everything has proceeded in much the same way as our previous surrogacy. That is until this past week. Our attorney finally got around to telling us that due to some type of “surrogacy fraud”, it is now the law that Alen, myself, and our friend/surrogate must all make an appearance in court to settle the parental rights.
The “surrogacy fraud”, I learned with my friend Google’s help, involved an internationally renowned surrogacy attorney in San Diego who used numerous surrogate mothers to create an inventory of unborn babies that she would sell for more than $100,000 each. U.S. surrogates were sent to Ukraine be impregnated with embryos from anonymous donors. When the women were in their second trimester, the conspirators offered the babies to prospective parents, telling them the developing fetuses were the results of legal surrogacy arrangements in which the original parents backed out. The attorney had used her knowledge to work the system in California — the hub of the surrogacy industry — and to dodge its progressive laws designed to protect surrogate mothers, prospective parents, and babies.
So we had to hire (and pay for) our attorney, an attorney for our friend/surrogate, and an attorney for our unborn son, and we would all rendezvous at the court on the scheduled date. All of us had to take the afternoon off from work and be pulled out of kindergarten to make this happen, but if it had to be, so be it. Total cost: more than $5000.
I was told by our attorney to expect a call from our unborn son’s attorney, and he rang us up a few hours later. I was literally in shock when he listed some of the things we had to prepare for the court date.
Seven pictures of our home, including the outside as well as a picture of our unborn son’s room. Sorry, but that’s not set up yet. I’ve been washing the hand-me-downs and the stroller and changing table and boppy for the last two weeks, but haven’t gotten around to tackling the crib. Also, we’re doing a ton of home improvement projects at the same time, so the house is kind of a mess.
A copy of our latest tax return to prove our financial stability. That’s fine, but please please don’t ask us for our American Express bill! If you knew how many times we’ve gotten a massage lately, or how much we spend eating out for breakfast in Santa Monica, you’d surely question our sanity!
At least three letters of recommendation from friends and colleagues referencing our character. Whoa! Do you have any idea what you’re asking? Most of our friends are parents. There is no way that in three days they can sit down and spit out a well thought-out letter and get it back to us. Not with the start of school barely behind us and the fact that we’re all schlepping our kids to soccer and swimming and Spanish, with just enough energy at the end of the day to climb into bed.
Even though we survived the day and have in our hands the judgment declaring us the legal parents of Baby Boy #3 (which we will give to the Birth Certificate issuer at the hospital whenever he is born), I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. Although it appears that the procedure has nothing to do with us being a gay couple, but rather a couple using surrogacy, I can’t help but feel that once again we had to prove our suitability and worthiness as a candidate for the role of parent, in a world where most can hook up and make a baby in gangnam style with little or no afterthought.
When the judge has us in his court making comments such as “Oh, great. You’re a doctor” to Alen, followed by a warning that he should not be playing a part in our friend/surrogate’s health care during the procedure, it’s enough to make your blood boil. When our friend/surrogate is asked why she would consider doing this out of the goodness of her heart for “mere nonrelatives”, it blows you away. And when you’re sitting in the court listening to a diatribe of your life, adding some details (if it would please the court) about your victories as well as some explanation about your traffic infractions, you can’t help but wonder if they’ve taken this one step too far.