First Name: Rich
Partner’s First Name: Dustin
Age: 30 & 34
Hometown: Just settling into our new home in Nashua, NH
Number of Children: Two active 8 & 9 year olds, with baby number 3 on his/her way, due April 2013.
Names of Children: Our oldest, a son, Liam and our youngest by one year and one day, our daughter, Naomie. We are legally bound by Indian Law to never be aware of the child’s gender prior to birth- we don’t care, we just want a healthy baby.
When did you decide you wanted children?
My parents tell me that have more maternal instinct that any woman they know. Along with that, I do have equal shares of paternal instinct. For as long as I can remember I have always wanted a large family. I always thought international adoption was going to be the route, but that door slammed in my face, and maybe even left a side profile etching on the door. I believe UNICEF’s push for The Hague [ed:The Hague Adoption Convention put rules in place concerning intercountry adoption in order to protect children involved from corruption and exploitation), is making perfectly good adoption programs more complicated and impossibly regulated.
Prior to meeting Dustin, I was in a same-sex relationship and eventual marriage for close to 12 years. We had spoken about having a family on and off for a few years – I think we were both scared to begin a process and stick with it. We ultimately decided that following our 2001 wedding we would start off with domestic surrogacy. After researching for over a year, we decided to move forward with Mid Atlantic Center for Surrogacy, owned and operated by Len Brooks. To make a long story short, the surrogacy agency we used was not reputable or legal and they were eventually investigated by the federal government.
Wrecked emotionally, traumatically and financially wiped out; we were not in the position to start surrogacy again. That’s being said, we were never opposed to adoption. Then, one day in February 2004, I sat down at my computer and inadvertently reversed the order of my emails (instead new showing first, oldest shown last.) There it was, a response from an orphanage in Antigua, Guatemala dated several years earlier. I took a chance and emailed the sender, within 3-4 minutes she instant messaged me, pre-screened us and emailed us the paperwork necessary to proceed!
I divorced my long-time partner and other parent to L. & N. in 2007.
How did you decide to either biologically have a child or adopt a child?
Initially, biology did not really matter much to either of us; we just wanted the best chances to at becoming parents of a new baby, any race/gender. When we opted for surrogacy, we mixed our samples together so that the biological parent would remain unknown until the child needed to know. Through our research in the early 2000’s, surrogacy was really our only option, because we did not both meet the statutory age minimum of 25 years for international adoption (this rule is only in effect for “singles.”) After the ordeal with our agency, we saw a light at the end of the tunnel.
In my second marriage, the choice was made for us. We found domestic adoption in the U.S. to be near impossible; the rate of child placement is low, and it’s expensive and risky. Although I had successfully adopted from Guatemala for my first two children, Guatemala closed its doors to the US in 2007 while over 5,000 children were in the process of being adopted. My former partner and I were adopting our third child at that time from the same agency we used to adopt our son and daughter, Casa Quivira. When the Orphanage owners were accused of child trafficking, coercing birth-mothers, stealing babies, fraudulently using stolen identities, I went from no one special, to one of the “monsters” adopting from Casa Quivira. I want to be clear, speaking for my former partner and I, if anything they were accused of was known to us, we would not have adopted with them, we had NO idea of any of the accusations.
Aside from this traumatizing experience, I believe international adoption is nothing but a mess right now. In many cases, UNICEF does not encourage International adoption because of the Hague Adoption Treaty (creates transparency in all adoptions for the protection of orphans and illegal abducted children). Guatemala closed on August 12, 2007, and continues to remain closed. UNICEF advocated for domestic adoptions (Guatemala to Guatemala). The 2012 estimate for domestic adoptions is 35. This is in comparison to the availability of nearly 32,000 legally free children ages newborn to six (85%) six to fourteen (15%.) These are preliminary estimates, 2012 has not ended as of this time.
We researched every available country, and even countries where there is not an established program and the requirements are broad, not specifically stating a marriage requirement, heterosexuality etc At this time, The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the only available non-treaty country placing children. I predict they will become the new hot spot for another year or so, and then they will succumb to political pressure and sign the Hague Treaty. The number of orphans in The Congo is approximately 15% of their population of 68 million, that’s an estimated 10,200,000. Closure of inter-country adoption would more than likely cause the demise of the already hunger and disease consumed nation.
In my second marriage, we had hoped to adopt, either domestic or international. In the past, there was a small network of individuals that knew one another through referral only who helped someone obtain a psychiatric clearance letter, alluding to the lack of homosexuality. Home studies were completed in several parts. I know someone who was handed a stack of manila envelopes that held the multiple versions of the home study. One for the Guatemalan court, showing a single heterosexual male living along, a second home study where it was written regarding a same sex couple seeking to adopt, and a third copy, identical to the Guatemalan released home study from earlier, with an added addendum adding the second adult to the home. Once adoptions were closed in Guatamala, however, this type of rule-bending was no longer available to same sex or straight couples.
We called and interviewed with 14 different placement agencies to adopt from The Congo, all were totally fine, excellent really. BUT we needed a single person home study, and here is where my connections dried up. None where willing to help us. The result was that The Congo, who needs families to adopt, was out. It was upsetting to say the least.
Then, without any notice or clear reason why I had thought about this, I began to look into international surrogacy. I remembered watching a specific Indian Fertility Nobel Prize winner for his work in the field of on The Oprah Winfrey Show who had a Fertility Clinic in India and was helping Americans with IVF, Gestational Surrogates etc. So I began immediately to search for this MD and anything written by him, for him, or about him. I had my own statistics chart that I rated MDs and he was, and we soon found out he was number one.
After searching for surrogacy arrangements for individuals or couples who do not have the liquid cash available to finance the average cost agreement start to finish, we found out the cost would be about $120,000 (with successful attempt on first IVF, self eggs, mother below 35.)
Incredibly I located an MD in India, who instantly made me feel comfortable with her smile. Not two to three weeks later, we were in India. We were asked to prepay as this is customary, so we complied. She said that she wanted to help us very much, and she had a special running; work with two surrogates, 99% chance of live birth or money back. So, we agreed. We paid to have our semen kept separate so that the egg donation could be split between the two of us. Me with surrogate A, Dustin with surrogate B, we split the cycle of eggs at 9 each. ICSI, direct sperm injection was to be implanted, and a few days later, we would find out. Oddly, there was no call or email. As it turns out, there was no egg donor, there was two surrogates, or office staff members pretending when I met them. We had given her 1,168,750 INR/ $21,000 USD; now she claimed we never showed up, one donor never produced, the other donor is infertile. Then upon return to NH, I received a telephone call from India, she had charged our room, transportation, meals etc.… to the tune of about $6500. Again, this was odd, since the trip was all included in the price. Months later and we are still dealing with this loss with our credit card company.
So where is the rainbow with the pot of gold in this story? Well in New Delhi, India of course! The MD I spoke about who I saw on Oprah years prior, returned my email, had read over our application and invited us out to see his clinic, meet the staff, and his wife- who co-operates the clinic along with himself. Let me first say, we do not remember anytime in our lives where we have been treated so well!
We gave semen samples twice a day for five days, then we went home to wait for results! It almost seemed too easy, but it worked. On August 12, 2012 we learned we were due IN APRIL, 2013! DNA serves a purpose, however, in our situation, whomever provided the DNA is irrelevant. We had ICSI done, following with both of our genetic material mixed. We just pray for good health, happiness and hope he/she does not mind (we are running on fumes when it comes to waiting on finding out the gender, it’s Indian law, no way around it). This will be the first real surprise either of us has ever encountered. We just hope that the baby doesn’t mind if we combine trips, it’s a long flight! If all goes well with babies birth and development, hopefully we will be returning to India about nine months after the first birth!
Did you share your journey with your family and friends? If so, have they been supportive?
When we started the adoption process, the largest and most uniform response was “wow.” We did have a few individuals who were concerned we may bring an African American child home, we just decided to sever ties with those individuals.
When Dustin and I started surrogacy, people’s reactions where quite optimistic.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced raising a child/children as a LGBT person? How have you overcome those challenges and what advice would you give new parents in a similar situation?
Well for the most part my family just tries to blend in, we honestly we do not have the time or energy to devote to any negativity. I thought for certain that Kindergarten registration was going to be a challenge at a Catholic School, except, to my surprise, they welcomed my family with open arms. For the longest time we were constantly asked, well who is the father, I need to list a father and mother on virtually anything. Back in 2004, after registering for almost an entire day at a local babies chain store, we were asked to select a “mother” because it was required. However, now that marriage is legal in our state, all subsequent forms must apply, I reminded the store clerk. He called back a few days later; titles had been altered to registrant/co-registrant and most places seemed to follow suit.
My advice is to research thoroughly. I cannot stress this enough. I am literally the most organized, well thought out person and even I was blind-sided by our first agency. Actually, our second agency ended up in some hot water themselves (this was during the beginning stages of our third inter-country adoption). Also, you must be real with yourself. Ask yourself the tough questions, because the agency will ask even tougher ones. A big hot-button issue for us, for example, related to transracial adoption.
Other advice: Never share “good” news until it is concrete, good news. Always proceed with caution, ask yourself questions about this person or agency – if the answers come too easy or sound rehearsed, think twice, beware of false prophets, and remember if something sounds too good to be true, it generally is. If you decide to adopt, gather all necessary documents pertaining to the type of case and ALWAYS OBTAIN TRIPLE ORIGINALS of each and ever document, eyes may get rolled, however, this is part of being prepared. Set up a will and testament naming your partner as the legal parent if something should to happen to yourself. At the beginning it may seem like overkill to obtain three employment letters (if your employer asks, just say they are going to three separate places! Notaries: Be sure your initial seal (the notary) has at minimum one calendar year remaining on their certification. Certification of the notary (make sure things are written legibly, and if you have to, say it’s really important you spell out your full name to the notary. Lastly, if you are going the international adoption route, MOVE NOW. the same piece of paper that was notarized, certified now needs to have an Apostle stamp from the governing nation you are adoption through (in my case, adoption from Guatemala.) Again, as excited as you are or might be, nothing is ever guaranteed; try to keep individuals who know you are trying to adopt to a minimum. Adoption comes with many bumps along the ride, and sometimes that means disruption (birth-mother or family member opts to parent the child, this can occur in domestic and in some international adoption.)
I have been asked, when did it start to feel like Liam was really going to be my son, I almost always reply two ways: 1. I knew when I looked into his eyes, he was meant to be my baby boy. 2. When we entered the US, handed over paperwork to officials and I touched his tiny socked feet to the ground.
Have we encountered issues? Yes. Because same sex marriage is not federal, a certain social agency that assigned numbers to each of us refused to list my former partner and I as the legal parents, saying that their computer system is able to recognize male and female names, and automatically refuses two names of the same gender. Seriously, was this the best excuse he could come up with?
A lot of family shows have integrated same sex families, such as Modern Family. I let my 7 & 8 year old watch it specifically for the character of Lily. Course I also made them watch Sesame Street non-stop when Veterinarian Gina travels to Guatemala to adopt a baby.
What do you wish you would have known before you started?
I adopted internationally, and in my case Guatemala; I would have liked to know the agency I used was being investigated for ten separate charges, including trafficking. My two cases are clear, and legally bound and certified, so in that respect I am grateful. Recently, it has surfaced that Casa Quivira was investigated in 1993 for an alleged abduction of an female infant who was adopted by an unsuspecting US couple. A book has been written, Finding Fernanda, about a Guatemalan mother who never gave up her search for her missing child. She was located and returned to her biological mother after 14 years in the US. Then in 2012, a documentary was created exposing the what is now called the baby-broker business. In my opinion, Clifford and Sandra took advantage of unsuspecting, desperate people who wanted children more than anything, and found Casa Quivira to be their savior.
I suppose we wish we had our eyes opened up wider when we started out in India, we believe all things happen for a reason. Our original agency in India, Surrogacy Center India, owned and operated by Dr. Shivani Sachdev Gour, was exposed in an associated press related article originating from the LA Times. We had read an article about the agency in India prior to our departure, however we were assured that in any company or organization, there is bound to be a complaint here and there. Which we agreed, and everything else we read was positive. We too fell for a scam that cost us more than a lot of money, but drained our spirits dry.
What was your biggest setback in the process?
During our third adoption, a biological sibling adoption, we attempted to stagger his process a little longer (by about two weeks) for financial reasons (adopting and having the money is one thing, adopting out of the blue is a nightmare: “let me see, how can I scrounge up an extra $29,900.00? 1. No more Starbucks, 2. I will make my lunch each day, 3. Cancel any premium channels…. These are a good start, but you may, in my case, have saved under $200 in a month, and if you need more like $15,000 to start, that is equal to 75 weeks. I recommend websites like smart-pig, where you can do daily, weekly, biweekly etc.… withdraws. You need to save those pennies.)
Be proactive about researching adoption grants, funding, scholarship, 401k, preset amount of $ going directly into your savings each pay period, sell stuff on ebay (we made nearly $6500) Amazon (nearly $4800) Alibris ($15-$200 per month.) There are places that buy old dvds, cds, swap to generic one week at a time if you cant handle doing it all at once…. The key is to put this money aside, for the adoption, not to save the money, and then spend it on other stuff. We do this stuff now, however our first and second time, we did not. Also, check into any clubs, sports associations, groups, heritage organizations, charities, state subsidies, federal tax incentives, employer re-reimbursements, change your payroll deduction, and save the difference. Cancel anything that you can read online or at work or an office visit. If you take a daily medication, for whatever reason, ask your doctor to change it to a 90-day prescription, generally with a 90 prescription you pay two months co-pays and the third is free.
What was the funniest thing that happened along the way?
Surrogacy: There was no air conditioner on the floor where the “deposit of a sample” was made, adding to that there was a long line of men from across the planet all holding a brown bag, yellow slip and a sterile cup inside. I know we all knew what was going on inside that room; it was a little awkward to say the least. OH, and on my final day, stopping by one the way to the airport, I decided that we should leave one last sample for good luck. We were in a rush though, and had to go separately. As I entered the little room, I was told to hurry up, you always make us late! About four minutes later the door flung open and a janitor was there to empty the bucket. There I was, my pants pulled down, the door wide open, I am sure you can guess the obvious.
Did you ever consider giving up?
Surrogacy one- yes
Adoption one- no
Adoption two- yes
Adoption three- yes
*we are hoping to go again, right away!
How has your life changed during this process? Before having kids and after having kids?
Before: I was a geek, I will admit my friends would come over and get me all dressed up to head to Boston for a fun night of dancing and hanging out. I had my eye set on Medical School (OBGYN- High Risk.)
During: I learned the type of person I am, and who I want to be. I was once a holder of many possessions, now I am a minimalist, I want to believe that the things I experienced in Guatemala and India created a better person, one who is altruistic, a caretaker. My career choice is changing from Registered Nurse, to Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Though I experienced good and bad, as Anne Frank wrote in her journal, “Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart.” So, when I complete my Advanced Nurse Practitioner program, I hope to work with families, all families, and help them achieve their dreams of parenthood.
After: As much as I hate to admit this, having a family has become a business for many people. I know that there are individuals that have the very best intentions, and others who see dollar signs alone. Any research on the fastest growing industry will show, making people parents is the growing occupation. I guess it takes personal experience to really understand how desperate some people can be to hear themselves called “Mommy or Daddy,” and with that in mind, someday pray I can make a difference in another person’s life, and still look at myself in the mirror. I have learned to appreciate the people in my life a great deal, the gifts and opportunities God has given me are precious, “An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstance. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”
Lastly, I have learned to appreciate sleep, self-sufficiency and the hour I get to myself each morning when I wake up and the house is still quiet, because everyone is still asleep- precious moments!
How much did you budget for the process? How much has the process cost so far? What were the actual costs and how were they different from what was planned?
Adoption internationally is generally “standard fee “ across the board, then fees to various professionals who assess every aspect of your life. One thing I know for sure, by the end of your home-study, nothing is private anymore.
Surrogacy (#1) approximatly $60,000.
Adoption (#1) $38,000 about (#2) $44,000 (#3) This adoption never happened, permanent moratorium, no refunds, approximately $325,000 from 2007 – 2011, none of which I can write off on my taxes. Surrogacy (#2) approximately $21,000 with not even an attempt toward becoming parents made, we were scammed. Surrogacy (#3) If you include airfare, hotel, food, travel etc… and of-course the fees to the clinic, we estimate under $30,000. In the end, once you are holding your baby in your arms, you forget about the sacrifices, the hurt, the uphill battle, the money, all become meaningless. Because you finally achieve the goal, and it is well worth it. With that in mind, we hope to pursue a second surrogacy with our current agency not too long after the birth of our baby in April. As my mother always told me “good things come to those who wait.”
Going through either situation again,I would budget based upon a fee schedule that will include:
Sign up fee, coordination of home-study between states (domestic cases) coordination of home-study between countries (international fee) acceptance of referral fee, agency fee-partial, triplicate originals of everything ($100. It will be the best $100 you ever spent if your case is in front of a judge who is missing paperwork! COMMON) So this number will be based on the agency or facilitator. As a rule of thumb I was ready to pay a 10% hike in fees if necessary- prices and conversions change minute to minute sometimes. The advantage we have found with pursuing surrogacy in India, or at least with our current clinic, we were given a contract that outlined all costs associated, they split these costs over a period of several months, and we found that although the dollar signs were in the thousands, it was manageable. Our doctor and everyone at the clinic have been amazing.
Was your state/location a challenge to the process? How did it impact your decisions, if at all?
No, because we were Massachusetts residents, and Massachusetts laws clearly outline adoption, marriage. We were open to the murky case/by/case decision that New Hampshire was making. Coming soon, we will be using our state’s laws of only allowing married couples to pursue surrogacy as a method of parenthood. In New Hampshire, married couples may proceed with a surrogacy, and we are legally married in New Hampshire. However, we have talked a lot about pursuing a second parent adoption and leaving it at that, case law is on our side with second parent adoption, and we are not sure if we want to be the “test” case for New Hampshire surrogacy/ same sex couples.
Will you prepare your children to answer questions about their biological parents?
I believe in honesty, with situational/age appropriate limitations. I have always told both my children they were adopted and explained it, I even searched for literally months for a Central American appearing Cabbage Patch Kid in both male and female. I explained adoption using the dolls, I never hid the word birth-mother or their names, I went to their school classes and read a book called “Daddy, Papa and Me, and How I Came To Be” and also brought snacks and a poster board/Family tree to explain how each child’s family is made up of a variety of people and circumstances. I must admit, the Catholic School pressured me to do this (for many teachers, my family was the first family they were involved in. I think they get extra attention because of being unique, by peers and staff.)
As far as the surrogacy baby, I think that I plan to handle the situation the same, when he or she is old enough, I will explain (to the baby.) Because my older children are so much older, I want to soften the potential blow they may feel, I don’t want them to think I didn’t like Guatemala.
Would you be willing to share the name of the agency/sperm bank/other resources you used and why?
Yes, I would be open to sharing the information.
Domestic Surrogacy: Mid Atlantic Center for Surrogacy, owned and operated by Len Brooks. This agency is no longer in operation, thanks to the Federal Government stepping in.
Guatemala: Casa Quivira in Antigua Guatemala (adopted in 2004 and 2005 successfully. Then attempted to adopt in 2007, however Casa Quivira and its owners Clifford Phillips and Sandra Gonzalez ended up defrauding over 40 families, including mine.)
First agency in India, Surrogacy Center India, owned and operated by Dr. Shivani Sachdev Gour.
Any other advice, comments, or misc. wisdom about the LGBT parenting process?
Any form of becoming a parent is tiresome, requires a lot of energy, anxiety, proactive nature on your part- I always say the squeaky wheel gets the grease. (I have a lot of sayings, but the proof of whether or not something works is evident in my first two adoption outcomes: L. age 8yrs came home when he was 89 days of age, followed by little sister N. age 7 came home at 89 days of age- according to the immigration officials, who did a double take when seeing the age of the baby coming home, it was rumored our son was the fastest completed and resigned to the USA adoption in history and the same for Naomie at 88 days.)