You don’t have to watch Modern Family to know that domestic households no longer meet a one-size-fits-all template. Stats vary, but the Australian Institute of Family Studies estimate that about 11 per cent of men in same-sex relationships now have kids.
Gay dads must, of course, contend with fatherhood’s usual trials and tribulations from having to operate on three-and-a-half hours sleep to learning to type emails one-handed while being puked on. But they also face a barrage of additional challenges.
Brett Baillie-Galvin is the director of PR firm, The Mint Partners, and last year he and his husband, Stuart Baillie-Galvin, had a son (Findlay) through a surrogate birth. Here’s what they learned along the way.
START FROM A STRONG FOUNDATION
“If you plan to have kids, make sure you’re in a really solid relationship with your partner because it tests every single aspect of it,” Brett says.
He’s not wrong. The tangle of red-tape surrounding adoption makes it a long-shot for any couple, same-sex or otherwise (adoption rates have declined by 60 per cent over the past 25 years in Oz).
The surrogacy route meanwhile is a challenging journey from the start. First you have to find someone willing to donate their eggs; then you have to find someone willing to lend out their womb for nine months and give birth. Both are easier said than done. Brett and Stuart eventually created embryos in Los Angeles with a donor egg and then found a surrogate in Vancouver. “That process probably took about two years,” Brett says.
All that is before the emotional roller-coaster of the IVF process even begins. “We were really lucky first time,” he explains. “But it could take seven or eight times, which can be a real disaster financially, while emotionally it can also take a massive toll.”
In recognition of all this, anyone considering a surrogate birth in Australia must undertake psychological counselling before getting the green-light to proceed. “And I absolutely agree with that,” Brett says. “The whole surrogacy journey puts you through the ringer. So you need to be strong and solid.”
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
“It’s just like any pregnancy,” Brett says. “You have to be prepared for anything.”
Brett and Stuart were lying on Bronte Beach one weekend when they suddenly got the call: their baby was going to arrive early. Very early. The surrogate had been diagnosed with preeclampsia and required an emergency caesarean. The boys immediately jumped on a plane to Vancouver and arrived at the hospital just 20 minutes before their baby was born.
Findlay was born at 24 weeks and weighed just 495 grams. Brett and Stuart instantly committed to stay in Vancouver for the next four months so they could stay by their son’s side in the hospital. “In the neonatal intensive care unit, I think that there was an expectation that we would probably just leave, go back to Australia and then come and collect him when he was ready,” he says. “There was no way in hell that was even a possibility.”
Things were still touch and go at this stage – Findlay’s condition meant he was on oxygen for the first 90 days. The couple had to cope with this harrowing situation in an alien country without their support network of family and friends to help them through. “Findlay was just so fragile,” Brett recalls.
THERE’S A SHIT-LOAD OF ADMIN
Adjusting to life with a new baby is always demanding. But gay dads also have to navigate a bureaucratic labyrinth that’s still relatively unchartered.
Having a surrogate birth overseas is a legal and administrative minefield. The logistical challenges include egg retrieval, insemination, donor travel expenses, embryo storage, legal fees (both overseas and at home), visa applications for your baby, plus the subsequent rigmarole of negotiating access to parental leave and benefits. It’s a draining process in terms of both time and money.
“There’s so many steps and layers,” Brett says. “The whole surrogacy journey is a bit of a work in progress. Plus no one lawyer can give you exact advice or a definitive answer on anything because they just don’t know – everyone is still fumbling their way through.”
Forewarned is forearmed: tackling this process requires Olympic levels of patience and a well-stocked bank account – additional expenses will hit you in the pocket along the way.
SHARE YOUR STORY
Had your baby? Great! Now say goodbye to any hope of family privacy. Any time you run into any form of bureaucracy effectively demands that you explain the whole “two dads” scenario to complete strangers.
“You basically have to come out every time you talk to these people,” Brett says. “If we’re meeting a new paediatrician it’s always like, ‘I’m Brett and this is my husband, Stu, and we have a child through surrogacy.’ You have to explain the whole journey every time to give context and background. Thirty seconds and it’s done.”
If this sounds like an unwelcome imposition, then it probably is. But it stems from the fact that parents in this situation have broken the mould to broaden the idea of what it means to be a gay man. As pioneers in this space, gay dads are compelled to be advocates too. “I don’t always want to have to explain my complicated situation to every passer-by,” Brett says. “But it’s something you have to accept.”
YOU’LL GET A LOT OF
Blame it on thousands of years of patriarchal society. Or just men’s inability to breast-feed. Whatever. Caring for small children is still traditionally viewed as a woman’s domain.
As a result, when he’s out with Findlay, Brett often cops well-intentioned but patronising comments on his willingness to take on the “baby-sitting”.
“People will say: ‘Good on you, dad! Giving mum a break!’”
In addition, gay dads should brace themselves for a mountain of unrequested parenting advice on how to “do it properly” on anything from folding a pram to changing a nappy. “Little things like that drive me nuts,” Brett admits. “It’s like, you know what? I’ve absolutely got this.”
Despite the irritation, Brett’s advice is just to stay calm. “Those comments are usually meant as a harmless thing so all you can really do is throw love at it. When I get that response now I just feel like, “Ok then, we’re just going to prove what really great parents we are.”
AND A LOT OF DUMB REMARKS
Many people struggle to fathom that being a gay dad involves an alternative parental dynamic. “You do get a lot of well-meaning, stupid questions. ‘Who’s the mother?’ ‘Which one of you is the father?’ People are desperate to know.”
Brett finds the best response to either question is simply to explain: “We are”.
The truth is that in a gay relationship the emotional and domestic duties of “mum” and “dad” tend to be shared. “I guess it’s the same as a heterosexual dad taking parental leave and being told: “Oh, you’re being mum!” It’s like, “Well, no, I’m just being dad at home with a baby.”
“We got a lot of false compliments from people. It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re good doing that.’ Well, no, we’re just the parents.”
IT’S TOTALLY WORTH IT
Fatherhood is never straight-forward. But becoming a gay dad brings a shed-load of extra financial, emotional and social challenges. Yet the ultimate pay-off makes it all worthwhile.
“Becoming a dad has just been really magical,” Brett says. “I always knew that I would really like being a dad and that it would be this really heart-warming thing. But I didn’t realize the strength of it and how much love you can have for another human being.
“I take Mondays off to be with him and it’s my favourite day. I just get to hang with my little fella. It’s the best thing.”
At a time when traditional gender roles no longer exist, becoming a gay dad makes greater sense than ever before. Sure, it can be a bumpy ride to get there, but the reward is the most profoundly fulfilling experience available to man. Even on three-and-a-half hours sleep.
For more info go: http://gaydadsaustralia.com.au/