The decision to become parents was an easy “yes” for Jonathan Rollo and Joey Gonzalez. The couple have been together for a decade and legally married in California and New York well ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that recognized same-sex unions nationwide.
“Obviously, if you grow up with a great family that is supportive and shows unconditional love,” says Gonzalez. “That’s something that most people feel passionate about passing on themselves.”
The bigger question for the would-be dads was how they would go about having a baby.
Gonzalez, 37, is CEO of Barry’s Bootcamp, an international fitness boutique concept with locations throughout the United States and Europe. Rollo, also 37, is a chef, owner and founder of Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, a chain of organic restaurants in California. With 14 nieces and nephews between them, “we both have always wanted kids,” says Rollo of the couple, who split time between N.Y. and L.A.
Their desire launched them last year on an emotional journey through intense, complicated discussions focused on finding an egg donor and then a surrogate – discussions that put them at the front of two emerging trends.
From 2000 to 2010, the number of same-sex couples raising children more than doubled from 8 percent to 19 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And for those couples – as well as straight couples and single people both straight and gay – surrogacy is on the rise, says Stuart Bell, co-owner of Growing Generations, a California-based agency that assisted the couple.
“Twenty years ago, infertility was such a cross to bear,” says Bell. “There was kind of this shame around ‘I can’t have a baby.’ ” Although it’s still a topic of legal and political debate in parts of the country, surrogate contracts are now recognized in at least 17 states. And as surrogacy is discussed via social media, “Women now realize, ‘I’m not alone,’ ” he says.
Celebrity attention hasn’t hurt. Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband, Matthew Broderick, welcomed twins by surrogate, as did Neil Patrick Harris and his husband, David Burtka. “Mitt Romney’s son used a surrogate,” says Bell. “When we first started 20 years ago, we only worked in California. Now we work in 30 other states. Every year we see four or five new states come onboard. They are starting to understand that it’s not harming anyone involved. This is something that’s building families in a positive way.”
“As there’s more of us and we’re talking about this,” says Bell, himself a gay dad with a 7-year-old son via surrogate. “People are accepting it more.”
Researching Their Options
Surrogacy is expensive, plain and simple. Growing Generations tells clients to budget $150,000 to $175,000. Costs include the egg donor fee of $15,000 to $16,000; surrogate fee of around $35,000; the expense to create and implant embryos; allowances for the surrogate’s maternity clothing, travel and medical monitoring; plus legal and insurance fees, on top of the matching agency’s fee.
For those who want to be a surrogate, there are medical tests, psychological evaluations and background checks. Growing Generations – which doesn’t advertise but accepts online applications – says just 10 percent meet initial qualifications. From there only 1 or 2 percent proceed through review that looks for, among other qualities, empathy, stability and “women who like to be pregnant,” Bell says. “They know what it’s like to have children and how much it’s meant in their life, and getting to share that for another person is important for them.”
For Dayna – the surrogate who is now carrying a daughter for Rollo and Gonzalez – the decision to embrace surrogacy took hold after she and her husband, who’ve parented two biological and several foster children, vetoed any more of their own.
“We’re kind of done raising babies,” says Dayna, 35, a stay-at-home Pennsylvania mom of five kids ages 5 to 18. “Having children come in and out of the house kind of gave me that ability to disconnect a little bit.”
But the surrogate experience is a first for her, too.
“I’ve never given birth and handed it over before,” she says. “Growing Generations has support calls and support groups and therapists we can speak to, but there’s also Jon and Joey. Joey wants to do anything and everything to make sure that I’m okay at the end of this. Knowing the baby’s going with a great set of parents, my mindset right now is, I’ll be okay.”
She had already answered on the surrogate agency’s questionnaire that she had no concerns about working with a gay couple. “Whoever you want to be with in life, as long as it makes you happy and that person treats you well, then it’s none of my business,” she says.
“I love Jon and Joey. When I think about giving birth and placing her in their arms, that’s what it’s all about for me – their joy, their emotions. That’s what’s going to get me to the end.”
The Process Begins
Rollo and Gonzalez started by contacting surrogate agencies and egg donor banks based on the experiences of friends. The anonymous egg donors presented them with countless options, as catalogued in precise detail by donor banks.
“There’s no way of getting around how awkward it is,” says Gonzalez. Unlike the impromptu attraction that might yield a life mate, “In this scenario, you actually are able to check the boxes: physical attributes, height and hair and eye color, how long their grandparents had lived,” he says. “You can definitely make sure the donor has gone to college, but what does that mean? It’s still nature versus nurture.”
Then there were the intangibles. They scoured donor backgrounds – likes and dislikes, personal habits and listed hobbies – for signs of personality in the woman who would contribute half of their child’s genetic makeup.
“The process was a lot like a date,” says Rollo. “If you think about what you want your kids to be like, what you want them to look like, act like, what you want their inherent skill sets to be, you start looking at people in light of who would make a good partner. It was almost like we were looking for somebody we could get along with, somebody we’d maybe be friends with.”
Whittling from hundreds to dozens to a select few, “We ended up on someone where there was zero argument over whether or not she was the appropriate person,” says Gonzalez.
But while the egg donor stays anonymous, picking a surrogate is based on personal interaction and comfort – both for the men who fertilized the eggs to be implanted, and the woman who would carry them.
After lining up their donor from another agency, the couple signed with Growing Generations in October for a surrogate match, based upon guidelines the men set. “It was not so much about geographic location,” with Dayna in Pennsylvania and the couple primarily in California, says Gonzalez.
“We wanted somebody who has been through childbirth. Our preference was for someone who has been through it more than once, psychologically secure, who could go through this process of separating from a child. That’s obviously not an easy thing to do. We both wanted somebody incredibly maternal, somebody that we thought respected the process.”
“When they presented Dayna,” he says, “it was the best-case scenario. She’s the most maternal person I’ve ever met. She’s just an exceptionally sweet, loving person. You can tell that family is a huge priority for her.”
Building a Connection
For Dayna’s part, she received a packet about the couple prior to meeting them – not much on background or occupations, but with photos, ages, how long they’d been together, and snapshots of them with family and friends. “The one thing that stuck in my head,” she says, was a photo of a pajama party on Gonzalez’ 35th birthday, celebrated by a large group all dressed in matching red onesies.
“They have close-knit friends, they’re laid-back, they clearly liked to entertain,” she says. “That’s something that just felt right to me.”
Then, over a preliminary lunch in California with Rollo and Gonzalez that involved both Dayna and her husband, Gonzalez offhandedly mentioned his work with rescue dogs.
“We probably hit it off right there,” says Dayna, who also rescued animals. “That was my gut feeling that this was my guy.”
Says Rollo: “It was pretty obvious from the minute we met them. But talk about a nerve-wracking experience: ‘Hey man, do you mind if we borrow your wife’s womb for nine months?’ They were so calm and collected about the entire process. They were equally inquisitive about us. It was really an open interview. We were candid and honest, and we felt they were the same.”
“We immediately felt comfortable and knew she could handle the pressure of surrogacy.”
Then, the anxious 24-hour wait, as both couples separately conveyed their feelings – go or no-go – to the agency.
Gonzalez and Rollo heard back first. “I texted Dayna, ‘We’re so happy!,’ says Gonzalez.
Her response: “Oh, thank God.”
Before that meeting, she says, “I had hoped I would click with the people, have a great journey and almost create a friendship. The agency couldn’t have picked a better match, in my opinion.”
After what had been a six-month research-and interrogation process, science took over. The men, aiming for twins, fertilized eight eggs apiece. By day six, only three had survived – and genetic testing then revealed all to be female. One egg fertilized by each man was implanted that day last February in Dayna’s uterus.
About two weeks later, “We got a call,” says Gonzalez. “I already had a very strong feeling that we were pregnant, and it was only one. So it was more of a confirmation than a surprise. We would have been happy no matter what.”
And they are. “We’re going to be parents, and oh, my God, this is incredible,” says Rollo.
Neither dad-to-be is concerned about which one is the biological father. “Our position is that this baby is going to be our child, not necessarily Joey’s or not necessarily mine, but ours,” Rollo says. “Unless for a medical need we have to determine the paternity, we’re going to avoid that.”
Texts, phone calls and occasional visits keep the couple in close touch with Dayna, and she with them. They’ve shared ultrasound images and nursery plans. And not long ago, as a Father’s Day gift, Dayna presented the couple with a stuffed hippo – when squeezed, it plays the recorded sound of the baby’s heartbeat.
“I just thought it was so thoughtful and just so in line with the rest of her personality,” says Gonzalez. “We were really touched.”
The due date is Nov. 27.
“Yes, Jon and Joey could have adopted and they would have loved that child regardless, because I love my adopted children,” says Dayna. “But there’s just something about having that biological child.”
And this is only their first: “We always say kids,” says Rollo, describing their future family. “We feel incredibly fortunate to have one on the way. We can’t read the future, but it’s definitely part of our plan to have multiple.