Becoming first-time parents in "normal" times is challenging enough, can you imagine becoming a parent during a global crisis? New dads Tyler and Eric share their winding journey through surrogacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, how it affected their timeline, and what it's been like to learn to see the world through their baby girl's eyes.
Meet Tyler & Eric
Having grown up as a gay kid in a conservative corner of rural Oklahoma, Tyler says that having a family always felt so far away, like it was just out of his grasp. For many years, LGBTQ+ television icons like Will & Grace and Ellen Degeneres were the only representation he saw. "In my tiny little town, I didn’t see any families that looked like what my future family might look like. So, I put it in the back of my mind," says Tyler.
He wasn't sure he would ever have a family of his own - until he moved to Washington, D.C. and met his husband Eric. This big shift from a rural Midwest state to a diverse metropolitan city helped change his perspective. "It opened my eyes, because I did see families that looked like what I wanted to have and I started to believe it was possible - especially after I met Eric," he says.
When it came to having kids, Tyler and Eric were open and honest with each other from the start. "We’ve literally been talking about being parents and building a family since Day 1," Tyler says. "We broke all of the rules and actually talked about it on our very first date nearly ten years ago!" Over dinner, they both shared that they'd like to have a family someday. Knowing they both had this strong desire to become parents eventually led them to pursue adoption.
An Unexpected End
"Our path to surrogacy actually started with adoption," Tyler explains. "Unfortunately, our adoption fell through on the day the baby was born and we were left devastated." After the pain of losing the child they had been dreaming of for months, they kept their eyes open to other possibilities.
A few days after their disrupted adoption, Eric saw an ad on Facebook for Gay Parents to Be. Dr. Mark Leondires was hosting an information session just a few blocks from their apartment in Manhattan, and they decided to go. "After meeting him and learning more about RMA of Connecticut and Gay Parents to Be, we knew surrogacy was the best way for us to build our family," Tyler says.
And so it began...
The Road to Hazel Lou
The transition from adoption to biological family building was an adjustment for them, but a positive one, says Tyler. "Coming from an adoption journey, which is based almost exclusively on feelings and emotions, surrogacy felt very different and much more scientific."
Whereas they had little to no control over many things in the adoption process, surrogacy gave them so many opportunities to be deeply involved in the birth of their child. First up? Finding an egg donor. "Choosing an egg donor is a bit like online dating but similar to dating, when you find the one - you just know," Tyler says. When they found their egg donor, they felt confident in their decision and were excited to see what came next.
The second big step felt monumental: choosing their gestational carrier (or surrogate). After Tyler and Eric matched with their surrogate, they quickly felt a level of comfort with her that assured them they'd made the right choice - yet again. "Meeting and getting to know our surrogate, who is now a very close friend, was incredibly meaningful," Tyler shares. "We were able to go on this journey with her, side-by-side."
While COVID-19 made everything a bit more difficult, with the help of FaceTime, both Tyler and Eric were able to at least be virtually "present" for their first embryo transfer (and even more exciting - their first transfer was successful).
Leading up to the birth of their daughter, Hazel Lou, the dads and their surrogate all shared in the ups and downs of pregnancy together. "This was just such a beautiful gift that Dr. Leondires and the entire team at RMA of Connecticut and Gay Parents To Be made possible," he says.
Thankfully, Tyler and Eric were able to be in the room for the birth of their baby girl. "We were standing right next to the bed when our beautiful daughter was born," remembers Tyler. He says the high point of this entire journey was Hazel’s birth and bringing her home, which involved a 16-hour drive from Florida to DC! They were so happy to finally be a family of three.
Want to learn more about surrogacy timelines?
How COVID-19 Impacted Their Journey
The unfortunate low point of their journey was dealing with delays and challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Dealing with COVID-19 "was probably the lowest low," says Tyler. "It interrupted our embryo transfer and delayed us for a few months!"
It also meant they were forced to get creative and "go virtual" to be able to participate in all their doctors' appointments and important check-ins during the pregnancy. Even though that was very challenging, the biggest bummer was not being able to spend a lot of time in person with their surrogate, says Tyler. "She and her precious family are just wonderful people and COVID definitely robbed us of that time during the pregnancy - but we plan to make up for it in the future!"
Adventures in First-Time Parenting
When asked how parenthood has been so far, Tyler and Eric are honest about the good and the bad! "It’s exhausting, it’s exciting, it’s emotional, it’s evolving," says Tyler. "It’s so many things."
He admits: "I’ve never smiled so hard or worried so much!" As most new parents do, Tyler and Eric had lots of normal concerns in the beginning, and it took some adjustment, but they eventually found their groove as a family of three. "I think I held my breath for the first two weeks after Hazel was born because I was so busy making sure she was breathing," says Tyler.
"Now, I balance my time between celebrating milestones (she rolled this week!), trying not to squeeze her too tightly, giving lots and lots of kisses, getting sleepy snuggles, and worrying that every decision we’re making is going to have some dramatic impact on her future," he says. But for all the stressing and worrying they do, when their baby girl smiles or giggles, it all just melts away.
Tyler's favorite part? "I absolutely love getting her up in the mornings or from naps because once she sees my face she gets the biggest smile and lets out a little giggle - there’s just nothing better in the world than those moments!"
Their Plans for the Future
After their parental leave came to an end, they found a nanny share for Hazel, which they're settling into. While Tyler admits that this transition is definitely sad in some ways, and they wish they could have stayed home with Hazel forever - they are still excited to move into this next phase and see what life has in store for them as a family of three, for now...
Another big change on the horizon? This fall, they're planning to start the process to add Baby Boy Dashner to their family! "It might seem soon," Tyler says, "but this process takes some time!" And with surrogacy journeys sometimes taking up to two years to complete, it makes sense that they're planning ahead.
Advice for LGBTQ+ Parents-to-Be
Now that they've been through the process of having a child via surrogacy, Tyler and Eric have some wise words to share:
"Go in with an open mind and know there is a path for you," Tyler says. "Your journey is yours. It doesn’t have to look or be like anyone else’s journey!" Exploring all of your options and trusting your intuition about which path to take is essential.
Tyler and Eric also recognize the tremendous privilege they have in choosing surrogacy, as it remains a very costly option that's out of reach for many families. They know that while surrogacy may have been the right fit for them, it may not be the right path for all LGBTQ+ folx. "But we also know that no matter where you’re at on your journey to parenthood, there is a path that is yours," Tyler says. You just have to keep looking until you find it.
His final piece of advice? Be patient! Things often take much longer than you initially expect, so do your best to trust the process and lean on your support team, no matter which pathway you choose. Your story is your own, and only you know what's best for you and your future family.
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Sierra Dehmler is the Content Marketing Manager for Gay Parents To Be and its partner clinic, Illume Fertility. She is also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other hopeful parents by providing family-building resources that educate, inspire and encourage.