From the start of their 27 years together David and Shawn desperately wanted to have children.
For gay couples choosing biological parenthood over adoption, going through layers of bureaucracy, mounting a million hurdles and laying out piles of cash is the norm.
You need to select an egg donor, locate a suitable surrogate and manage a range of other logistics. It can be a maddening process with agency representation but without it you may go insane.
In 2014 David and Shawn (last name withheld), having procured eggs from an Alaskan woman, engaged Planet Hospital, a Calabasas surrogacy agency operating in Cancun that purported to offer a trouble-free route to parenthood.
“Initially, everything went smoothly, but then we started getting delayed responses. Things were suddenly on hold,” David says.
“The owner abandoned the company and we were essentially left with frozen blastocysts (a fertilized embryo), and no surrogate.”
The couple, along with several others, were in danger of losing their embryo, their dream jeopardized.
Though a legal battle ensued, David and Shawn did not participate, focusing their energies on quickly finding a suitable surrogate.
David says they were feeling hopeless until a woman who had worked for Planet Hospital told them she knew other surrogates.
Planet Hospital was forced into Chapter 7 bankruptcy after clients demanded $79,000 for services that Planet Hospital allegedly failed to perform. The owner was sentenced in San Diego to two years in prison and fined $10,000 for defrauding clients, bribery and interstate wire fraud.
Working with the former employee of Planet Hospital was risky, David admits: “We were working on completely blind trust.”
But the surrogate, living in Cancun, Mexico, became pregnant instantly.
The couple stayed in constant contact with her, communicating via Skype, terrified they were being scammed.
But Sebastian was born in October 2014 and is now a beautiful, bright, blue-eyed child who has abundant curiosity and nuclear powered energy.
“Sebastian has been a dream child and it’s a love I’ve never felt before,” said David.
And so David and Shawn decided it was time to give Sebastian a sibling. They had been, after all, hoping for twins when Sebastian was born, so a second child was always part of their dream.
They pursued it and after several failed attempts with surrogates, they ran out of embryos.
Because they had hoped Sebastian would share a maternal link with his brother, they reached out to the donor who’d provided Sebastian’s embryo for new eggs, but that effort failed.
They found another donor in Mexico City and a surrogate near Mexico’s southwestern coast.
Since Sebastian’s embryo was fertilized by Shawn, this one, the couple decided, would be fertilized by David. If their bond as siblings could not be genetic, it would at least reflect the love shared by their fathers.
The surrogate became pregnant on the first try and the couple was given a due date of Oct. 6, 2017.
One month before the baby’s due date, David and Shawn, emotionally exhausted from all the twist and turns, vacationed in Spain with Sebastian.
But news of an 8.1 quake near Mexico’s southwestern coast on Sept. 7, with an epicenter near the surrogate’s hometown, shocked them.
They tried to reach their surrogate but wound up speaking to her doctor, instead.
“As a result of the quake, she entered premature labor. Her water had broken at 36 weeks, and an emergency C-section was required,” David says.
Shawn immediately flew to Mexico City and David soon followed. Healthy baby Seth was born Sept. 8, weighing 6 pounds.
A DNA test was taken to prove the biological paternity for the birth certificate, a critical step that would allow him to be taken home to the United States.
“But the birth certificate contained an error that needed to be corrected by the physician,” David says.
Days later, snafu resolved, the couple attempted to register the baby, but the offices were closed. Without registration, David would be unable to establish legal paternity and leave Mexico with Seth.
David said, “I was thinking what the fuck could go wrong next?”
The new family was enjoying lunch at an outdoor cafe near Zona Rosa when a powerful 7.1 earthquake struck, sending Mexico City into utter chaos.
“It was a frightening experience. Everyone ran into the streets. We were two blocks from a building that collapsed near Condesa,” said David.
The couple, terrified for their children, was unable to return to their hotel and the temperature outside soared.
Shawn entered the hotel alone and climbed the stairs to their room on the 14th floor. The room was nearly destroyed, ceiling cracked, floors flooded with water from burst pipes.
He grabbed their belongings and managed to move the family to a newer hotel nearby.
But by the time they checked in, after an entire day waiting outside, they noticed the newborn was behaving oddly.
“He was having trouble breathing, spitting up his food, choking and his color was off. The hotel paramedics took us to spend the night in the emergency room. He was dehydrated,” David says.
Days later, registration resolved, they went to the U.S. embassy and found it closed. It would be another week before things in the city were back to somewhat normal.
Finally, after two weeks of waiting, Seth’s DNA test accepted and the embassy granted him an emergency passport for travel to New York.
“Sebastian was not too keen Seth was coming home with us,” David said. “He tried to ignore Seth on the plane but he seems better. But he gets really sweet and asks us to send Seth back to Mexico.”
His advice for future parents looking to go this route is to visit the agency you opt to work with.
“Meet the people you’re working with in-person. If I had listened to my instincts, I would have not pursued the original option, though it worked out for the best,” he said.