In 2008, when my partner and I began to explore options for creating a family, we leaned toward adoption. We sought out a well-regarded adoption agency and attended its prospective parents’ required weekend. We were the “gay couple” competing with lovely straight couples for a child. After hearing harrowing adoption stories, we began to have doubts about the process, and then, out of the blue, a female friend offered to carry a baby for us.
Excitedly, we switched to traditional surrogacy and began preliminary discussions. Laura (not her real name) was eager to carry but not raise a child. She aimed, in her words, to be an “involved aunt” in the family. But a trip to the doctor determined that her eggs were not viable. Together, we explored in vitro fertilization (IVF) and sought out an egg donor. We met an Israeli woman who ran an egg-donor business. We were shown a rather odd video of a dozen or more Israeli girls posing in Central Park — girls whose eggs were “on the market.” Choosing among the donor candidates felt like choosing a woman in a bordello. We felt queasy. Then, Laura began to express the desire to be more than an “involved aunt.” When she shared her preference to be called “Mom,” we realized that, despite her good intentions, the fit wasn’t right.
We felt both defeated and confused. But when we considered letting go of our fantasy, we realized that we were determined to keep trying. Our family histories and eagerness to shape some sense of Jewish continuity played a role. For Jews, children provide the promise of covenantal continuity. Jesus makes disciples; Jacob and his four wives make babies. The stubbornness of the body, the capriciousness of reproductive capacity, as Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel discover, can make this cultural expectation a heartbreaking one, but it is foundational nonetheless.
We also felt that parenting would enrich us. I hoped that parenthood would call forth in me new resources — a deeper maturity, wisdom, and a capacity for love.
An Israeli friend told us about a reproductive clinic in India. The expenses, including all the travel costs, were a third of what surrogacy would have cost us in the United States. We explored the agency and learned that all the women hired for surrogacy had other children. Moreover, what they earned was equivalent to three years of salary. The schooling of their other children was covered during the process, and all the medical services for a healthy pregnancy
and delivery were near Western standards.
In July 2009, we traveled to Mumbai to begin the process. (Unfortunately, India’s new government recently banned clinics such as the one we used from working with gay couples.) Adorning the front door of the clinic was a big Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, son of Shiva, remover of all obstacles. A mezuzah was affixed to the door’s frame. We spent a week in Mumbai to deliver our “genetic material” and become acquainted with the city.
After making arrangements at the center with a woman who would serve as our surrogate, we returned home to the United States to await news of the pregnancy.
Though the first IVF attempt failed, the second one was successful. With anticipation mounting, we boarded a plane for Mumbai on November 10, 2010; three days later, our daughter, Amalia Dvora Chayn, was born. Her name is packed with personal meaning: “Amalia” means, “God’s work” in both Hebrew and Urdu. “Dvora” honors my partner Steve’s father, Dov Baer, and “Cheyn” honors my great grandmother, Chana.
Parenthood is an identity maker. For both of us, it has redefined what gayness means. Yes, we are a same-sex couple, but the bigger story is that I’m “Abba” and Steve is “Daddy.” Parenthood may not have made either of us much wiser, but we are both often caught by surprise at the depth of love that parenthood has fostered in us. We look at Amalia and at each other in disbelief and profound gratitude. For all the human generosity, ingenuity, and guts that drew this soul down from heaven, and for the unique turning point in law, culture, and religious sensibility that appeared just when we needed it, this child is truly God’s work.email print