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 donor said she was exposed to the egg donation process when she was 16 and her mother's best friend could not get pregnant. "At the time, I really wanted to do that for her... but I was not old enough to do it," she said. Years later, she still felt strongly about helping couples have children. "I'm not using these eggs right now. The fact that I have that capacity — I feel really blessed and honored to do that," she said. She called "helping people" the ultimate reason for her choice but said that she would have waited until after college if it weren't for the money, which helped finance her education. Andy and Todd paid her $20,000.
Doctors at Punta Pacifica Reproduction Center in Panama City successfully implanted an egg in the surrogate. Andy and Todd told family and friends that the Panamanian surrogate was pregnant. Then in July 2009, less than two weeks later, Andy and Todd were in Vermont, where they were taking cooking classes for Todd's birthday. As they walked Buddy outside, the phone rang. It was their doctor calling from Panama. The pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage. They were stunned.
"It was enough to pique you with excitement and enough to completely disappoint you when it didn't take," Todd said. Once they regrouped, Andy and Todd flew the egg donor to Panama for another donation and used different surrogates for three more attempts, hoping for better odds. None of the implantations resulted in pregnancy. "We were really surprised how emotional it was for two guys who weren't physically having to carry a baby," Andy said. "That was really intense."
The thought of starting over devastated them, but Andy and Todd began the process once more, interviewing six egg donors, flying two to Florida to meet them. The next donor they found was a student at a university in the Midwest. "I really liked this intelligence and independence that she had. She was very confident. She had this great poise about her," Andy said. Though she declined an interview for this article, she agreed to meet the twins when they are older — something Andy and Todd required of their donor.
The first fertilization attempt with the new donor resulted in a pregnancy. "Our current donor — boom! — right away," Andy said. This time, Andy and Todd waited to tell their family and friends. A few weeks went by, and they told their parents, and then they spread the word gradually as weeks turned into months. Andy and Todd went to Panama at the end of the first trimester, when they met the surrogate for her sonogram. She was quiet and in good spirits, but Andy and Todd don't speak Spanish, and she didn't speak English, so they mostly communicated through facial expressions. Her 4-year-old daughter stayed by her side as Andy and Todd watched a 3-D image of their two children — a boy and a girl — floating in the woman's womb.
The doctor turned up the sound on the machine, and the unborn babies' heartbeats reverberated through the room. Then, that quickly, it was time to leave. Todd remembered feeling as though he were abandoning his children. "You feel just horrible that you have to get back on a plane," he said. Doctors called regularly to tell them that the pregnancy was moving along well, and Andy and Todd made another visit at the end of the second trimester, but they still felt disconnected, going about their lives while their children were developing so far away.
In the first trimester, doctors also conducted a prenatal blood analysis, testing for birth defects and abnormalities. The children were healthy and were developing normally, allowing the couple to exhale momentarily. But they knew that after the babies were born, they would face the challenge of getting them out of Panama and back to Florida. A laboratory would determine whose sperm fertilized which egg in order for them to prove their children's citizenship before they could bring them home.
The morning after the babies were born, Andy and Todd returned to the hospital. Since Andy sat in the delivery room, it was Todd's turn to see his children in the nursery. He expected to walk in and hold them immediately, but both Samuel and Annabelle were in incubators. "When I first walked in, it kind of takes your breath away a little bit," Todd said. "It was a little overwhelming to see them enclosed." The oxygen tubes, IVs, Band-Aids, and medical equipment struck him. It was not the ethereal scene he had anticipated.
Dressed in hospital scrubs to maintain the facility's impeccable cleanliness, he pulled up a chair between the two incubators where his children rested, monitored by machines and nurses and dwarfed by their Winnie the Pooh diapers.
Again, he had to cede control to the Spanish-speaking nurses, whom he had come to like but could barely understand. At the end of the day, he still could not hold either child and surely could not take them home.
Despite the uncertainties, surrogacy is becoming exponentially more popular, especially among gay couples, according to a Fort Lauderdale pediatrician, Dr. Amy Relkin, who said she has seen the number of same-sex couples with children in her practice triple in the past two years. Relkin, who cares for Annabelle and Samuel, said she has also seen an increase in the number of twins as a result of surrogacy, which yields a higher percentage of multiple births than traditional pregnancy.