By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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A paperwork misstep could set them back days or even weeks, and they hoped to make it home for Thanksgiving. They were down to less than a week.
They tracked the FedEx package of their DNA on its route to the laboratory, followed up to make sure the lab received it, asked for the results to be expedited, and tracked the package of paternity paperwork back to the embassy. It was the day before Thanksgiving when the package arrived.
Andy went to the embassy to find that the gates were closed early. Knowing that the DNA results were there, he would not accept that they must wait four more days until after the holiday weekend. A few employees were still in the building, so Andy dialed the emergency number and explained his situation.
His persistence paid off, and an embassy official reviewed the test results. The twins were granted American passports. They were cleared for their trip home.
They booked a direct flight to Miami for the next day, Thanksgiving. Cautious not to get too excited, Todd worried that their documentation would be questioned at the airport. Every step of the surrogacy process had unexpected blips; surely the flight home would too.
They boarded the plane without issue, and the babies slept throughout most of the flight. As they exited, an American customs official told them, "Welcome home."
Todd's parents and Andy's father and his girlfriend greeted them at the airport. "You just want to cry," Todd said, his voice wavering. "You're done. You're emotionally just exhausted, tired, excited."
It had been Andy and Todd's eighth trip to Panama. "Panama and the whole process went into the back of my head — at that point, you're just dad," Todd said. When they finally arrived at their home, the same neighbors who hosted their sendoff breakfast brought over a turkey dinner.
After Thanksgiving, Andy and Todd were immediately engulfed by fatherhood, preparing for the babies' first Christmas with everything from silver pine cones hanging from the beams of the living room to a tall tree covered with colored lights. A week after Thanksgiving, they took the newborns for photos with Santa.
"Oh my God, we couldn't get to Santa," Andy said as he sat on their patio one Saturday in early December as Annabelle slept on his stomach in one of their matching Baby Bjorn carriers a friend bought them. "We probably had six or seven individuals or couples stop us, ask us about the kids, congratulate us, and we're a same-sex couple, so it's definitely — they know it, but they don't want to ask."
Todd continued, "This one Italian lady, she goes, 'How's the mama? Is she sleeping?' [Andy] goes, 'No mama. This is the other dad right here.'"
"This light went off in her head; she's like, 'Ohhhh, mazel tov!' She was funny," Andy said.
"They must know how much more work it is for two guys to have babies than it is the traditional way," Todd added, laughing.
"Pregnancy is certainly cheaper. There's no question about that," Andy said. The entire process cost them about $100,000, compared with the $150,000 he estimates it would have cost in America.
"Anybody who could have a baby should realize just how lucky they are," Todd said. "It's amazing."
The next day, Andy and Todd took Samuel and Annabelle to a holiday party for gay couples and their children at the Pride Center at Equality Park in Wilton Manors. On the drive there, Todd sat in the back seat of their jeep between the two car seats in his crisp, light-pink, buttoned-down shirt with a wide smile across his face. They were one of the first families to arrive at the crowded event, juggling baby carriers, a diaper bag, and a turkey Todd prepared for the potluck.
While Todd and Andy sat anchored at their table by the two newborns who slept through most of the party, a parade of parents approached them to peek at the 1-month-old babies. "Can I touch her? I promise I'll be very gentle," one woman asked Todd, fussing over Annabelle. "Of course," he told her.
A more popular question that afternoon was, "Adoption or surrogacy?" The families traded tales of adoption as single parents, adoptions that worked out last-minute without warning, and long-term foster care as the children danced, played, and ate dessert, most of them too young to possess an awareness of what their parents went through to have them.
On the drive home from the party, Andy and Todd went a few blocks out of their way to pass a four-bedroom home in Wilton Manors that they were interested in buying. It was on a very pleasant block with a small park nearby and quiet streets so suburban that they looked perfectly fit for strollers and training wheels. The Bludworth-McNeills had outgrown their quaint downtown Fort Lauderdale home and would close on the home in Wilton Manors two weeks later.
When Andy and Todd pulled into their driveway after the party, the same neighbor who had hosted the breakfast when they left for Panama walked over to visit the babies. She stood in front of the two carriers guessing which newborn looked more like which father. Todd and Andy looked at each other and smiled as they laughed off the implied question. They knew the answer but couldn't care less.