I met James last year when I lived in Toronto. He hired me to be an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for the company he managed. We clicked right away. We were both from the East Coast, we completed our ESL training through the same school, and we both taught in Korea.
As I grew to know James he started sharing some of his personal life with me. One day he pulled me into his office, so excited he was bursting from the seams.
James told me how he had been going through a long and tedious process to legally become a father with a surrogate.
“All I have ever wanted, since I was 15, was to become a dad. I just never thought it would be possible because I am gay.” He shared with me the moment when his dreams had become a reality: James just found out that his surrogate, a woman he had known since university, was pregnant with his baby.
His story really spoke to me. I too had grown up in a small Catholic town, and although times have started changing, I wondered how accepting and welcoming people would be to an ‘out’ gay-father-by-choice.
When you live in a small rural community like we did, everyone knew everyone and beliefs were deeply ingrained.
I knew so many youth living in these rural communities, and beyond, could really benefit from his story of making the impossible, possible.
I sat down with James over a Skype date, his beautiful two-month-old baby boy, Spencer, in his arms.
“He might be fussy,” James warned me, expressing those new parent concerns I knew all too well.
With Spencer in tow, we began our conversation:
James, I remember when we first met you told me that your dream in life, since a very young age, was to become a father, but that you did not think it was possible. Can you tell me about your experience?
I grew up in a very small rural town in Newfoundland, with less than a thousand people. The idea of being gay and open, was just such a foreign concept for people in my community. It was very difficult to come to terms with my own sexuality at the time because of society and where I was living.
Back then, the thought of being openly gay, was difficult enough; let alone the thought of being a parent. I think for me the driving force for me came from a situation I had experienced as a teenager. I dated girls in high school and there was a girl that I got pregnant, and she had a miscarriage. It was really at that turning point where my determination to be a father someday kicked in and nothing was going to stop me. There was disappointment in that situation, but I was still so unsure about my own sexuality. It was a very difficult and awkward time for me.
At the same time the education was just not there in regards to homosexuality and lifestyle. That gay people could have normal lives was not a common discussion.
When I left Newfoundland I went to Halifax and this city was so much bigger than my community back home. It was really there that I was exposed to a different world. I met openly gay people for the first time. People seemed to have more understanding towards life as a gay person. Things just really started to happen with the people that I met during that time in my life.
At the same time in University I also traveled quite a bit, moved to Banff and Lake Louise, and it was there that I really became educated in the big wide world. I backpacked through Europe then found my way back to Halifax. It was then that I realized from all the people I met along the way, that dreams are really possible.
Connecting yourself with the right supportive people and disengaging yourself with people who do not move forward. People can easily get wrapped up in friendships and relationships for all the wrong reasons and those really hinder on you achieving your dreams. I realized this at a very early age and just went with it.
Tell me about some of the obstacles you faced in deciding to become a parent with a surrogate.
There are a lot of obstacles when going through this process. You have the emotional obstacles, because the process can be quite long and daunting, that really do play on your emotions.
When you are going through medical assessments, psychological assessments, to deem you as a good father or parent to this child, those can be very emotionally draining. So many people can go out, have sex, get pregnant and have a child. The process alone, of deeming fit, can be very cumbersome.
The other thing that was an obstacle for me at the time was also the financial obstacle. It is quite financially draining, but as long as you prioritize things, you can definitely do it.
You may not necessarily have the lifestyle that you wanted or that you had in the past. Spoken as a gay man, I know gay lifestyles, and a lot of gay guys, a lot of my close friends, enjoy their lifestyles. They can jump on a plane, go to Cuba for seven days, or have the life of luxury. Therefore a lot of people don’t have the same sense of growth in their lives.
Learning the difference between selfish acts verses selfless acts can also be an obstacle, because so easily you can back out of the process. But there were never times that I wanted to back out. I have had friends who have gone through it and they just stopped the process because it becomes so emotionally draining. Finding the right surrogate, finding an egg donor, going through the process, finding the finances, adapting to a different change in lifestyle, it’s all very challenging.
The other obstacle for me was my dating life. When I was single, I decided I would do this as a single father. I had two failed relationships on the basis that I was so far into this process and they were not ready to become fathers.
One day I just had this epiphany that I wasn’t going to sit around and wait to find this perfect partner to do this with. I am just going to have this child myself because that was the one thing that remained constant for me: that I wanted to be a father.
After I gave up, and focused only on the process of becoming a dad, that was when I met my fiancé. I was always open and honest with everyone I dated that this is what I wanted, to have kids, it’s something that’s never going to go away, and it’s something I would rather them know earlier than later so they can back out if they are not interested.
How did you choose the surrogate to carry Spencer?
I actually didn’t choose her, she chose me. I met the surrogate in university and we became very good friends. She was a very significant and pivotal part of me coming out to my parents. She was my biggest supporter.
So back then, in university, she always said that if and when I decided to have a child that she would volunteer to be the surrogate.
At the time she was single and I was leaving for Korea to teach English as a second language, so we lost touch for a couple of years because I was living so far away.
When I returned to Halifax she was married. She told her husband before marrying him that she had volunteered to be my surrogate and he respected her decision and promise. It was at that point, with their full support that I decided to start the legal and medical part of the process.
So her husband was supportive of this decision?
Oh yes, 110%! He had to sign the contracts with her as her husband.
Actually there was a funny moment, because he has an absolutely amazing sense of humor. One day I get a Facebook friend request from him with a message that says, “Seeing as my wife is having your baby I thought we could be Facebook friends.”
So how does your fiancé feel about welcoming Spencer into the world and becoming a father?
That was the thing that attracted me to him at that beginning; he wanted to have children. We have very similar family upbringings– very strict Catholic families. We are both very close to our siblings, so being family oriented was very important to both of us. So he was very on-board with the whole process right from the beginning.
At this point in time [he] is not on the birth certificate simply because we were too far into the process medically and legally that we couldn’t adjust it, or we would have to start from scratch. So once we are married he can legally adopt Spencer, but he currently has parental rights living in the same household as Spencer.
For him he is already a dad to Spencer, paperwork or not. He’s doing three a.m. feedings, he was in the delivery room with me, and to me that is really what makes a parent.
Youth have a lot more opportunities than we did when we were younger, but they face different obstacles. How do you think your story encourages youth?
I think the encouraging factor in this story is that you can make anything happen with perseverance and patience.
Whether its people questioning their sexuality, or trying to decide the kind of life that they want, everything is possible and I am living proof of that. I myself didn’t think I could achieve the things I wanted in life because I was a gay man, but even during the difficulties I never gave up. As long as they dedicate themselves to really making it happen and continually surround yourself with people who are supportive. With that combination, anything is possible.