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
The night before leaving for Panama, both men relaxed in the living room of their quaint two-bedroom Fort Lauderdale home as they recounted the years of leadup to the next morning's flight. Buddy, their mini-Dalmatian, rested on the couch, blissfully unaware that his canine antics would no longer be the center of their lives.
"It's really cerebral still. I don't think emotionally it's hit me yet," Andy said that night. "We're just really anxious at this point."
The expectant fathers had two binders heavier than newborns full of the paperwork and research they had prepared. Instead of spending the gestational period feeling the baby kick, Andy and Todd mulled over egg donor and surrogacy contracts with lawyers and spoke to another gay couple in Miami who had undergone the same process months earlier.
"I was sick the whole nine months — no, even before that," Todd said. He experienced his own nausea that was not limited to mornings.
"Todd's a worrywart. It's pretty much a miracle that I got him to do this," Andy said. If Todd is the worrier, Andy is the researcher, but both have the enviable quality of appearing well-rested even after a long day's work. Andy listens pensively and speaks in a manner both engaging and self-aware, while Todd draws people in with a wide smile and big hugs. "Put it this way: I'm the brains of the relationship. Todd's the heart of the relationship," Andy said. "That's just how we are."
Two large rolling suitcases sat by the front door, the way an expectant mother keeps a prepared overnight bag. Both pieces of luggage brimmed with bottles, diapers, clothes, and supplies.
The nursery in the next room gave way to their almost palpable anticipation. Two matching yellow-ducky robes hung in the corner. Above the crib, two colorful wooden cutouts with animals arranged around them read "Samuel Robert" and "Annabelle Rose." A plush rocking chair sat in the corner, waiting, and a soft carpet with zoo animals warmed the tile floor.
Throughout the process, they had a lot of firsts: decorating the nursery, buying bottles, seeing a 3-D sonogram. They admitted neither of them had ever even changed a diaper. "Ne-ver," Todd said, laughing. Their first baby shower, their own, with about 120 people, was shortly before Halloween with the theme "It Takes a Village People." Andy estimates that having twins required the direct help of about 45 others, not quite an intimate experience.
Less than a three-hour flight from South Florida, Panama is poised to increase in popularity as a destination for reproductive tourism. Surrogacy in India has already become so popular that a Today Show segment referred to it as a "commercial industry often described as 'wombs for rent,'" but it's a smaller, more understated industry in Panama.
Exact numbers are not recorded, but a State Department official noted an increase in Americans traveling abroad for what is called Assisted reproductive technology. The State Department must verify that children born from surrogates are biologically related to an American citizen in order to issue an American passport. The department's website has a page dedicated to international surrogacy that details risks, including that a disreputable clinic substitutes genetic material and the children bear no relationship to the prospective parents. This scenario, while extremely unlikely, could render the child stateless, neither an American citizen nor a citizen of the birth country.
Websites warn that in Panama, largely a Catholic country, same-sex couples may be turned down, but like the couple from Miami, Andy and Todd were never questioned or treated differently.
Laws governing surrogacy in the United States vary from state to state, but Florida law explicitly favors the couple who commissioned the process and excludes gay couples by not recognizing same-sex marriage. Even so, certain in-state in vitro fertilization clinics have a loose "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but others do not. Still, Panama is a significantly less expensive option and provides a degree of separation throughout the process.
As many couples do, Andy and Todd began their search for an egg donor online. They interviewed several women by phone, but one stood out to both of them, an American living and studying in Canada. The young woman, who is now 24 and asked that her name not be used for this article, reached out to them through a blog they had created to document the process of starting their family. After corresponding online and talking on the phone, Andy and Todd traveled to Montreal to meet her at an Ethiopian restaurant that she suggested.
"Loved her, absolutely loved her," Todd said, impressed with her confidence and lighthearted personality. The day after meeting her, they called and said they would love for her to be the biological mother.
Months later, after she had taken daily hormone pills to stimulate egg production, Andy and Todd flew her to Panama for the egg retrieval, a process by which a long instrument is inserted into the cervix and an attachment removes the eggs. Andy and Todd rented her a condo in the same building as their own and grew close to her over the ten-day trip. They admired her free spirit as she went through the process without hesitation, and they appreciated that she would answer questions quickly and easily.