Navigating any surrogacy journey is challenging, but what does it look like to embark on one during a global pandemic? In this blog, new dads Robbie and Mackenzy share what it was like to become parents during the COVID-19 crisis, how they maintained a connection with their gestational carrier long-distance and everything else they learned along the way.
Meet Robbie & Mackenzy
"Mackenzy and I always knew we wanted to have a family, but those feelings increased when saw the families that our siblings were building - we knew we wanted that as well," says Robbie.
They took a big first step when they attended a Men Having Babies conference in New York City, where they received lots of helpful information about the surrogacy process – how it works, typical steps and stages, financial and legal impacts and other vital details.
During one of the breaks at the conference, they spoke with many of the surrogacy agencies that support or sponsor the conference, including having a great discussion with Dr. Mark Leondires and our partner clinic RMA of Connecticut's team.
"He wasn’t pushy and talked more about the process and RMA of Connecticut," recalls Robbie. "We felt very comfortable with everyone we met at RMA of Connecticut – like they were truly supporting us and cheering us on to help make our dream of starting a family come true."
They also loved that Dr. Leondires is a gay man himself and has also been through his own surrogacy journeys. Robbie and Mackenzy felt that like he understood surrogacy in a different way, having experienced it firsthand. "It just added a little more personalization to the process," Robbie says.
Beginning their Surrogacy Journey
After they determined that surrogacy was the right path for them and selected RMA of Connecticut as their fertility clinic, Robbie and Mackenzy dove headfirst into the process. "It was a little overwhelming," admits Robbie. "We knew what surrogacy was before we started...but not in such great depth!" They were amazed by the science behind surrogacy and couldn't wait to grow their family.
"We received a lot of upfront information about plans and cost (i.e. what is guaranteed versus what isn't) and you can easily get lost in negative aspects of the process," he says. They tried to focus on the positives and stay hopeful, despite any potential roadblocks that arose.
Robbie and Mackenzy's favorite points of the surrogacy process were the big milestones they celebrated together:
- Looking through RMA of Connecticut's egg donor database and finding a match they really liked
- Their egg donor's retrieval day and the excitement of finding out they created twelve healthy, mature embryos
- Finding a great surrogate with the help of Worldwide Surrogacy
- Having their very first embryo transfer be successful
"The good news, at least for us, was that there were many more high points than low points in the process," says Robbie. He knows how lucky they were to have a fairly smooth surrogacy journey, and he and Mackenzy are grateful for the people that supported them through the process.
Navigating Surrogacy During a Pandemic
Even though the process itself had no major hiccups, Robbie admits that there were some huge financial, logistical and emotional challenges. The big financial impact of the entire surrogacy process and having to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic alongside surrogacy and pregnancy left them feeling like they had no control sometimes.
"To see the world shutting down because of the pandemic in a way you have never experienced created even more anxiety for us," Robbie says.
However, counting down to Beckett’s arrival was something so joyful to look forward because it helped provide a little escape on their hardest days – especially for Mackenzy, who was on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic as a Nurse Manager in the Cardiothoracic ICU at Mount Sinai in New York City.
After their successful embryo transfer in New York, which happened five days before the city and travel shut down, Robbie and Mackenzy were sadly unable to travel down to Mississippi (where their surrogate lived) to visit her or attend any big milestone screening appointments during their pregnancy.
"Thankfully, we have a good relationship with our surrogate and FaceTime helped us 'be there' without actually being there," Robbie says. "And we were able to get down to Mississippi for the most important part – labor and delivery!"
Reflections on Their Surrogacy Journey
"I feel very grateful for the journey we had," Robbie says. "We took things slow because it made it easier to understand and prepare, both mentally and financially." From start to finish, their journey took around 2 1/2 years. "The great thing was that RMA of Connecticut didn’t rush us at all and actually welcomed us doing this step by step," he says.
This what Robbie and Mackenzy's surrogacy timeline looked like (in a nutshell):
- Chose RMA of Connecticut as their fertility clinic
- Found an egg donor, had their egg retrieval, and created embryos between August 2018 and January 2019
- Began working with Worldwide Surrogacy in May 2019
- Matched with their surrogate Angela in August 2019
- Angela completed her surrogate screenings and got the all clear
- March 12, 2020 - they had their embryo transfer, and as Robbie says, "The rest is history Beckett!"
During their journey, they retrieved 36 eggs! Ultimately, 24 eggs matured, then 12 eggs made it to the final phase of development, leaving them with 6 eggs fertilized by Robbie and 6 eggs fertilized by Mackenzy. (Curious about how this process works? Check out this article!)
Robbie says that it felt like their journey really picked up steam once they matched with their surrogate and began the process leading up to embryo transfer day. "It was a surreal moment and to sit in the room and watch our embryo on the screen get transferred and implanted," Robbie remembers. "To go from 'we’re starting our journey' to 'we’re pregnant' is a huge change."
They were thrilled once they matched with their amazing surrogate Angela, who lives down in Mississippi with her family. She had been a surrogate once before and was great at keeping the parents-to-be updated, not to mention taking great care of their baby throughout the pregnancy.
Though they never got down to Mississippi to visit during Beckett's pregnancy due to COVID-19, they were thankful for the FaceTime updates and visits. Their surrogate Angela and her husband Terry even made sure to plan a gender reveal with true Mississippi flair! "They put blue chalk in the back of their pickup truck and with both Mackenzy and my family on FaceTime, Terry floored it down the street to show the blue chalk flying out the back of the truck!" Robbie remembers fondly.
Learn more about surrogacy for gay dads:
The Best Part: Becoming Parents
Beckett was due November 28, 2020, but Robbie and Mackenzy planned ahead and flew down to Mississippi three weeks earlier. The timing was perfect, as little Beckett was born only two days after they arrived! "The hospital and staff were extremely thoughtful and caring and made our stay very pleasant," Robbie says.
"Holding Beckett in our arms for the first time was surreal," Robbie remembers. "So was going from 'being pregnant' and the conclusion of our 2 1/2 year journey...shifting to what is now the beginning of our family of three."
But there was another milestone moment that surprised the new dads after Beckett's birth: "I joke that the most anxious moment was probably figuring out how to put the car seat in the car for the first time!"
"Parenthood is tiring, but I wouldn’t change it for anything," Robbie says. "You give up some of the liberties you had previously and things like travel become more complicated but it’s truly amazing to love someone so much and to have a bond with them that is stronger than anything you can imagine."
His favorite part? "When they smile when they see you or put their head down to rest on your shoulder, or say their first “dada” – it’s the best feeling in the world."
Looking Towards the Future
Robbie and Mackenzy are enjoying exploring different foods with Beckett and watching him learn new skills, like crawling.
"I once heard someone describe parenthood as 'the days are long but the years are short' and I think that’s very accurate," Robbie says. "We look forward to all the fun milestones that are ahead of us!"
As they round out Beckett's first year of life, they are enjoying their time together as a family and not planning too far ahead. They recently purchased their first house and are getting settled, hoping to make a lifetime of memories in their new home. "We’re hopeful that the pandemic will end soon so we can begin to have even more normalcy in our lives," says Robbie.
Advice for LGBTQ+ Parents to Be
Robbie's first piece of advice for other LGBTQ+ parents to be? Make sure you feel comfortable with the agency and doctor, and don't be afraid to ask any “silly” question you can think of.
"Try to understand the process and possible complications or challenges but not to get bogged down by the possible pitfalls," Robbie offers. "It’s a journey - and if you feel good about it, it will work out."
"I tell people that are considering surrogacy to try and pick the right agencies that are truly invested in them and will let them move at their own pace to help them pursue their dream of starting a family. "Cutting corners is not always the best way as you run into other challenges down the road," advises Robbie.
He also tells people to try and be a little more relaxed throughout the process. "Don't go into the process looking for the most perfect egg donors and surrogates," he says. "I know people who spent lots of money on those things who then didn't have initial success, which only adds to the cost and takes an emotional toll."
"If you told me our (amazing) surrogate would live all the way down in Mississippi before we started our journey – I would have said no way," says Robbie. "Just follow your pre-dad bod gut and enjoy the ride!"