By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Andy Bludworth-McNeill, scrubbed in and wearing hospital blues, entered the delivery room of a Panamanian hospital. It was just before 11:30 p.m. November 8, and he took a seat next to the pregnant woman he had met only briefly before.
The pristine room was a sprawling ocean of sterile hospital fabric. Waves of turquoise sheets covered the woman's petite body. Four doctors with sea-foam surgery aprons, pale-blue scrubs, and matching surgical caps hovered over her. A parting in the sheets revealed a wide slit across her belly, ripe with Andy's children. He held her hand tightly as doctors prodded at the incision with shiny tools and suction tubes. The what if thoughts that expectant parents try to keep at bay rushed through Andy's mind as he watched the doctors nimbly maneuver clinking instruments. The doctors pushed on her belly with the confidence and intuition of talented improv theater performers who have worked together for years.
Less than five minutes after Andy entered the blue room, the doctor to the woman's right pressed his forearm on the upper part of her stomach, leaning over her torso and pushing down with his body weight as the doctor on her left reached within, coaxing out a tiny head, then shoulders, then a body. The woman on the table closed her eyes, breathing through pursed lips. The newborn boy's mouth opened to cries, and a pair of doctors carried him to a table also covered in turquoise sheets. Another push by the doctor on the right gave way to another tiny head, then shoulders, then body, wailing and squirming like the first. Doctors whisked the baby girl to another sheeted working table.
The children's cries synced, resulting in a harmony of wah-ing, pleasing only to the ears of a new parent, and Andy's anxiety gave way to excitement. Doctors gave each of the newborns a dose of oxygen from baby-sized masks that instantly turned their complexions from gray to pink; they checked the babies' vitals, took footprints, and wheeled them out of the delivery room and into the nursery.
Andy left the room to tell his partner, Todd Bludworth-McNeill, the news that their family had healthfully doubled in size. The couple, who own a Fort Lauderdale-based event and meeting planning company, anticipated this day since deciding they wanted a family almost three years ago.
Since only one of them had been allowed in the delivery room, Todd had waited down the hall and wrote in their journal: "It's kind of weird in the waiting room. I think I am in here with the surrogate's family. They keep staring at me. I think I might recognize her cousin, but not sure."
As Andy told Todd about their children, doctors stitched the surrogate's womb. With the money from her pregnancy, she would buy plumbing for her home to provide a better life for her own four children. The newborns were a couple of weeks premature and both over five pounds. They had to stay in the nursery to receive oxygen since they were born early and light therapy as treatment for jaundice. The surrogate recovered in the hospital for three days after the C-section, but she was kept separate from the babies to avoid attachment as hormones and emotions ran high.
Andy and Todd bore no scars, needed no physical recovery, and, with nowhere else to go, walked from the hospital to their temporary home, a nearby rented condo. They couldn't see Samuel Robert and Annabelle Rose until visiting hours the next morning, when one of them could enter the nursery. With the birth behind them, more challenges were ahead, including proving their paternity to immigration officials and bringing their babies home safely.
Having children this way was an unconventional process in the formation of a new kind of family. When Andy and Todd, who were legally married in Vermont, started the surrogacy process, it was illegal for gay couples to adopt children in Florida. Last September, a federal appeals court overturned Florida's law banning gay couples from adopting, but state law still requires legal marriage for surrogacy and does not recognize gay marriage. Andy and Todd found that one of the surest paths to starting a family involved traveling more than 1,000 miles to a Third World country and putting their faith and money in a process as uncertain as it is scientific.
Andy and Todd used an American egg donor, and both contributed sperm, meaning they could have each biologically fathered a child or one could be the biological father of both. The surrogate who gave birth shared no DNA with the twins, but in Panama, she was still considered the mother as indicated on the tags posted on the nursery baby beds, even though she signed paperwork outlining Andy and Todd's parental rights. A surrogate could, conceivably, demand that the children belong to her, but it is not clear whether that would stand up in Panamanian court.
"It's not an easy process," Todd said. "Straight folks don't know how good they have it... there's always an extra layer of paperwork for us that other people don't have to deal with."