A Gay Couple’s Guide Through Surrogacy
reviewed by Judith E. Beckett, R.N.
written by Michael Menichiello
The Haworth Press, New York, 2006.
Michael Menichiello wants to have a baby and there’s no stoppin’ him. It could be the biological clock thing. He’s the right age. He’s just celebrated his thirty-seventh birthday.
But he writes that it was the terrorist attack on 9/11 that caused him to finally take action:
“It wasn’t just the horror of watching the planes strike the towers: all those people got up that morning, showered, shaved, got dressed and headed off to work never knowing …I couldn’t help but wonder how many decisions they had been putting off …”
It wasn’t the ideal time, if there is such a thing. His partner, David Menges, was in his first year of residency on his way to becoming an OB/GYN, working long hours, not home very much. But they were in a stable fifteen year relationship, financially secure, and knew they would be wonderful parents.
So Michael started to do some research on adoption on the Internet. He soon found they didn’t fit the description of the parents most of the agencies were seeking. Then, reading ads in the back of The Advocate in the bathroom one night, he stumbled across two agencies that handle surrogacy arrangements.
“There are actually agencies that do this kind of thing?” he thought.
After convincing David it was a good idea, Michael picked one of the agencies in the magazine, they signed a contract, and paid the agency $10,000. Then they waited … and waited … until Michael gave up and found Michelle, a surrogate mother advertising on the Internet. They got to know each other via e-mail and came to an agreement to create a baby together. This is called a “match” in the world of surrogacy.
Of course, it wasn’t that easy. There was so much to learn and many, many decisions to be made before a contract could be worked out. For instance, who would go first? This is a question straight couples never need ponder, but it was an easy one for Michael: he would go first. The decision was ostensibly based on child care being available at his workplace but, ironically, by the time Lilly was born, that was no longer true.
Were they looking for a traditional or gestational surrogate? Married or single? First time or “experienced”? How much should she be paid? How much were they willing to pay her? What were they paying her for?
“It’s for pain and suffering,” Michelle told them, “It’s all related to carrying your child, not mine.”
The issue of baby buying and selling haunted them throughout Michelle’s pregnancy. In the final hour of negotiations, they got hung up over her demands that they pay for her mileage to and from her health care provider.
“What are we doing? … I am crazy! This is crazy! Are we doing the right thing?” Michael wrote in his journal in April 2002.
Fortunately, Michael has a wonderful sense of humor in spite of all the stress he’s feeling. Early on, he notices that friends and co-workers are staring at his face. “I would run into the bathroom to make sure I didn’t have something stuck in my teeth.” Finally, a co-worker dubbed him “Twitch” because his eye: “… well …it moves,” she told him. He’d developed a nervous twitch, he wasn’t sleeping and he was grinding his teeth.
Sperm and FedEx in the same sentence are funny to me anyway but the first time Michelle received Michael’s sperm from FedEx and defrosted it, she reported to the guys that it was “messy, yucky and runny”.
“Well,” Michael writes, “if we have triplets I don’t have to worry about names, now do I?”
Michael’s dry humor shows itself even in some of his more serious journal entries reflecting the soul-searching that their decision evoked.
In November 2002, he wrote in his journal, “How am I going to explain this to our kid someday? Well, you see dear, we ordered a kit through the mail and Daddy did his thing and then we sent it off to Nevada on a FedEx truck! That, my little dumpling, is how you were conceived.”
So this is a fun book to read but it’s also thought-provoking and important. Like most heterosexual fairytales, it ends with a wedding and the birth of a beautiful little princess. This little princess, however, has two gay daddies, a surrogate mother, and two half-siblings. Michael sums it up in his journal with two words: “Holy crap!”
While it isn’t a surrogacy how-to primer for gay guys, it is an honest account of the pleasures and pitfalls of every decision Michael and David had to make from finding Michelle, through the first unsuccessful insemination attempt, to Lilly’s birth and beyond. Reading it will help you to identify and answer many of the questions you will be asking if you choose surrogacy.
For Michael and David, conceiving and birthing Lilly was not just a journey to parenthood. It was a hadj, a trek, an expedition. Very little went right. How happy were they with the surrogacy experience they chose? In the last chapter, we find them planning to conceive a second child with Michelle, this time with David’s sperm.
I can’t wait for the next book.
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