By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
The surrogacy process is reliable enough that it is gaining popularity but risky enough that the "what ifs" are still plausible. The couple from Miami who had already gone through surrogacy in Panama helped Andy and Todd through the uncertainty, passing along advice about everything from paperwork to the laid-back approach of South American medical professionals.
One of the men, Jack, a doctor, asked that his name be changed because he had adopted a child as a single father before the ban was lifted on gay couples. He explained that at first, he and his partner were uneasy about using a surrogate in Panama. "Even when we flew down there the first time... we weren't a hundred percent sure it wasn't all a hoax," he said. They had to pay more than $10,000 before the procedure began. "You have to take a leap... It wasn't until the first ultrasound that I really believed it wasn't some big, elaborate scam."
Surrogacy in Panama has one major advantage: It costs about $50,000 less than surrogacy in the United States, both couples estimated. Jack said that the whole process cost $85,000 but that he didn't choose Panama simply for the lower cost — the distance between the couple and the surrogate makes everything "a little more transactional," he said. He also knew that the money would vastly improve the surrogate's life. As it worked out, their surrogate was the same woman who would later give birth to Annabelle and Samuel. Doctors told Jack that she used the money from the procedure to buy a home — the same home for which Andy and Todd's surrogacy check furnished plumbing. Jack was also comforted by seeing that Punta Pacifica Reproduction Center is a top-of-the-line facility similar to the best American hospitals, with a well-educated staff and new medical equipment such as the 3-D sonogram.
He and his partner simultaneously pursued surrogacy in Panama and adoption in Florida. When Jack filled out adoption paperwork as a single man, it was hardly a lie, since Florida does not recognize the couple's marriage performed in California. Forty-five days before their surrogate gave birth in Panama in the summer of 2009, a Florida adoption came through, and they became fathers to a baby girl.
Soon afterward, they went to Panama to bring home her sister. When it came time for them to work with the U.S. Embassy to obtain a passport for their newborn, the process was more cumbersome than they had anticipated. Embassy officials told them they were the first couple to reenter the country with a child born this way, and they got the feeling that the State Department was developing the rules as it moved forward. Without warning, they were told they needed a paternity test. "You feel like a little demeaned by it," Jack said. "Like it's not good enough to say, 'This is my child.' Let's say some crazy mishap happened; she's still our child, so what was the point of the test?" Jack and his partner were clearing a path for couples like Andy and Todd.
Two days after the birth of Annabelle and Samuel, Andy and Todd returned to the hospital, and, finally, Todd held Annabelle in the nursery. He brought her up to the window for Andy. She was almost ready to come home. Samuel still needed oxygen in the incubator. He was improving day by day, but the fluid in his lungs at birth developmentally set him two days behind his sister.
Three days after the birth, Annabelle was discharged from the hospital. A nurse entered with a wheelchair to push Todd outside with the baby. "I was like, 'Do I sit? Do I stand?'" Todd said, recalling being treated like a new mother. He stayed awake most of the night with Annabelle, and Andy took over next. During their first morning as a family, Andy, who rarely cries, broke down. All of the buildup and worry seemed distant for a moment.
But with Annabelle in the condo in Panama, Andy and Todd became anxious about Samuel, still in the hospital but breathing better and becoming stronger every day. Andy still had not held his son. Finally, two days after Annabelle, Samuel joined his new family in their temporary home. Andy documented the babies' personalities in their journal. "Sam, quiet confidence, very sweety, snuggler... Belle, energetic, lovable, would sleep through a concert... "
The family, now complete, lived in limbo as they applied for certificates of birth abroad, social security cards, and passports and had to prove their paternity with DNA tests. The surrogate signed a form relinquishing her rights and allowing the children to obtain an American passport. If Panamanian authorities were to ask Todd if the children belonged to the surrogate before the paperwork was complete, he said, "I didn't know how to answer that."
Next up was the DNA test to prove that they fathered the twins. A week after the birth, Andy and Todd, with the babies in carriers, entered a space in the U.S. Embassy as small and stark as an interrogation room. A Panamanian lab technician swabbed their cheeks while an embassy official watched from behind a window. The tech passed the DNA samples to the official, who packaged them accordingly and sent them to an American laboratory to determine paternity.