Like any young couple who love each other, Aaron* and Jesse* wanted to have a child. Being gay, there were obvious physical limitations when it came to having their own baby so they turned to surrogacy. Aaron was willing to answer our questions and share the couple’s experience thus far to help other couples in a similar situation.
Aaron (29) has lived in South Africa his whole life “in a Sandton Bubble”, as he puts it. He was raised Jewish and is an interior architect. He met Jesse (33) when he was 19 and Jesse was 23, and they became close friends at the time. Jesse was also born in SA but grew up living in Brazil and SA. Jesse is also Jewish and works as a strategist.
Interestingly, Jesse’s stepmom lived next door to the house where Aaron grew up. Jesse would always visit their house until he was about nine to see his stepsister. Aaron’s family never really spoke with the neighbours then but they always knew who they were (the permanent residents). When the couple met for the first time for drinks, they didn’t put two and two together until Aaron invited Jesse to meet his family. It turned out that Aaron’s soul mate had been next door the whole time, but it took them 19 years to actually meet!
After five years of friendship, Aaron proposed to Jesse. They tied the knot in 2015 in a small, intimate ceremony at a lovely Muldersdrift (Johannesburg) venue alongside a gently flowing river. After four years of marriage, the couple is happier than ever and look forward to growing old together.
“As with any ‘normal’ marriage we have our arguments (one of us is always wrong and the other is always right) but we love to have a good shouting match, cool off for five minutes and apologise after every fight,” says Aaron.
He adds, “We have two amazing cats which honestly are like children to us; however, Jesse and I needed to take the next step. After we both agreed, we could not delay any further and we are now having a baby with our own DNA.”
BabyYumYum wanted to know:
1. When did you first realise you were gay?
I knew when I was 16, but my family said they’d assumed since I was a kid. Jesse realised around the age of 12 years.
2. Was your family supportive at the time – are they today?
At first, they weren’t sure how to be supportive but realised that there was nothing they could do. They learnt to accept it and have always supported me since. Jesse’s mother wasn’t happy at all but she came to accept it as she didn’t want to lose her son. Today she is proud of him and has accepted me as her son as well.
“Should anyone seriously considering surrogacy wish to talk to us, we have kept detailed records of the legal and financial process and will happily share these and help them the best way we can.”
3. Have you ever had a relationship with a girl or a woman?
Yes, in school before coming out but never anything serious. I came out at school at 17 and, strangely, was met with a lot of respect from all the guys at school. Jesse had relationships with a few girls before he came out at the age of 18, but also never for long periods.
4. What were the biggest struggles you encountered as a young boy coming to terms with his sexual identity?
The biggest struggle is opening up to people around you and being yourself. To be honest, nowadays it’s so ‘normal’ it’s become a lot easier to be gay in public and around people. We both still have the same mentality that not everyone is accepting so we tend to not be affectionate in public.
5. How would you describe each other?
We are very much like every other married couple. Jesse is OCD and likes to keep things clean and organised, whereas I like to be a boy. I miss the wash basket and leave my socks wherever I like. I make a mess and forget to clean up after myself every now and then. We fight about silly things but we get over them and move on. Our most important rule is to never go to bed angry. One of us needs to say sorry to the other (that’s generally me, because Jesse is always right!).
We’re a bit like yin and yang. Jesse likes to stay in the background, whereas I like to be the centre of attention. I always say that Jesse is the brains in our relationship and I’m the brawn. Together we get things done. We enjoy spending every moment together and have never wanted time alone. In fact, it feels really unsettling and lonely without each other. After all the arguments, there’s still no one we would rather be with than each other.
6. Have you experienced any prejudices and how have you dealt with this? How do you communicate as a couple to overcome these kinds of experiences?
We haven’t. We stick to circles we trust and have been friends with for a long time. People who show prejudice towards gays have their own insecurities and we don’t have time for other people’s problems.
Starting a family
1. Was surrogacy your first option when it came to having a child or did you consider fostering or adoption?
We have been asked this question so many times, so we return the question to you and ask if you wouldn’t do everything in your power to have your own child before considering other options. When we looked into it, we thought, yes, the costs are extremely high and the likelihood of finding a surrogate nearby was unlikely but we had to at least try. If this failed, we would have then considered the adoption route and created a secure home for that child.
2. Is it more difficult for same-sex couples to go through the process?
Funnily enough, it’s actually easier. In South Africa, surrogacy is fairly new and every application is met with additional formalities. As we understand it, the court states that any persons wanting to attempt IVF via surrogacy have to first eliminate or be tested for any causes that prevent them from carrying their own child. Only after they’ve done this can they then step into a contract with a surrogate.
With same-sex couples, the reason we can’t fall pregnant is quite obvious and as long as you are financially stable and mentally fit as a couple or person, there should be no reason to stop you. We know a couple that went through eight IVFs and struggled for years until they finally fell pregnant. They’re trying for a second using a surrogate. It’s such a hectic process and it takes a toll on your mental state the whole way.
“With same-sex couples, it is quite obvious that there is one reason we cannot fall pregnant and so as long as you are mentally fit as a couple or person there should be no reason to stop you.”
3. Explain your surrogacy process.
- We approached the fertility clinic to have a better understanding of the process and were informed that we needed to find a surrogate. They have a list of willing surrogates but it may take several months to get one. The surrogate we were introduced to was not a friend nor a family member, although this is an option if you have one. She was a complete stranger.
- We decided to proceed with a gestational surrogacy, meaning we would obtain an egg from an external source and transfer it into the surrogate’s uterus. An egg donor is chosen from an online portal with hundreds of anonymous donors. We were shown a picture of her as a baby/toddler and given an in-depth document of her family background such as diseases and genetics.
- The eggs extracted from the donor were shared 50/50. Jesse and I each supplied a sample of our sperm and the donated eggs were fertilised and kept separated. After five days, only the strongest eggs survive and the fully formed embryos (called blastocysts) are ready for implantation. Two eggs were placed into our surrogate via in vitro, one of mine and one of Jesse’s. The procedure took five minutes. Two weeks later, we had a pregnancy test done at the clinic to find out whether or not the eggs had stuck and if we were pregnant.
- Unfortunately, the first transfer did not take but the second time around thankfully did and we were finally pregnant. However, like with all pregnancies, you should wait the full first trimester as it was still no guarantee. From then on, we attended all the antenatal scans to see the progress of our tiny little bean growing inside our surrogate’s womb. It was sad to know that they had put two eggs in and only one took, but we were so happy to know that we were pregnant and having a baby that we quickly got over it. Whose egg took? We have no inclination to find out.
- The hardest part of the process from that moment on was knowing that we’d created a life that was growing, but it wasn’t our body and we had no control of that. There’s no way we could force our surrogate to take the correct vitamins. So, we would provide the prenatal vitamins for her at every scan and she assured us she was taking them. You can only trust that your baby is in good hands for the next nine months.
4. Were there any blastocysts left over? If so, what did you do with them?
Yes, we do and they are frozen until such time as we want to try for another baby – which we hope will be soon.
5. What is the law in South Africa when it comes to using a surrogate?
I stand to be corrected, but a surrogate has to have had at least one or two children of her own [she needs to be a mother and her pregnancies need to have been uncomplicated]. This is so that, should she become infertile after your pregnancy, she cannot hold you accountable for her infertility.
We used a surrogacy lawyer who is familiar with the law and very equipped to deal with the court’s questions. Both parties enter into a contract which covers both the commissioning parents, as well as the surrogate mother. The court order states that we only pay a certain amount of money a month to cover the costs of feeding and caring for a woman who is pregnant. This list was compiled by the surrogacy lawyer involved and includes things such as maternity wear, medication and maternity vitamins, meals, etc.
Unfortunately, in reality, she can do what she pleases with this money so, as with the prenatal vitamins, we have to trust that she is adhering to our agreement. It is a big misconception that you pay the surrogate money or a salary for the service that she is doing [commercial surrogacy is illegal in South Africa and is viewed as the modern-day version of human trafficking of women and children]. Surrogacy is supposed to be a volunteered act of kindness.
We placed our surrogate onto medical aid as well as a short-term life cover should anything go wrong during the pregnancy. We pay for any other costs such as medical bills and items that would affect her due to the pregnancy.
The contract states that the baby does not belong to the surrogate and it’s quite clear that she hands over the baby on delivery. She can, however, decide midway through the pregnancy that she wants to abort if she has a change of heart. It makes no difference that this is our process and she signed a contract. At the end of the day, it is her body and she has the right to abort.
No social workers are required as the baby will not be adopted. The baby was conceived by us (the parents) with our own sperm, and eggs that we paid for. We will both be registered as the parents and no parenting plan is required as there is no issue of access to the child.
6. What kind of response did you have from family and friends when you announced your decision to have a baby using a surrogate?
Our parents, family and friends were only too thrilled! Most people were more intrigued by the idea and always wanted to know more. Regardless of the feedback we received, we both have been through a lot to get to where we are today and even if we did receive negative criticism, we would just brush it off as they have not walked our path and should rather not comment.
7. What discussions have you had with each other about how you will raise your child to understand that their family dynamic is not the typical mommy/daddy?
We honestly haven’t thought too much about it yet and will address it as it comes. We have teased each other, making a few funny nicknames for “dad” because how will we know who our child is calling for when he calls for Daddy?
8. How would you describe your parenting philosophy at this stage? Have you defined your parenting roles yet, or will you take it as it comes?
Jesse is more maternal than I am as he has more experience with babies and kids, but we believe that parenting is not only for the person who is more maternal. We both need to support each other throughout the years. When one of us does the night-time feeds, the other should be there to support them if they are too tired, just like any other couple.
9. What kind of support structure do you have?
We are blessed to both have such supportive families and know that should we need any help or just a break, they would be there to jump in.
10. How are you going to manage paternity leave?
Our labour law [Basic Conditions of Employment Act, Section 25] has recently been amended when it comes to parental leave. Jesse will be taking four months commissioning parent leave [in the case of surrogacy] and I’ll be taking 10 days’ paternity leave. My company is also really supportive and are allowing me to stay home thereafter when and if need be.
11. Have you had any major roadblocks along this journey, and what were they? What advice would you give to any couple interested in going this route?
Luckily, we haven’t. However, if we have to give advice to another couple it would be to not give up. Although every step feels like a hurdle, you will get through them. Be prepared and save enough money to cover the whole process and then some in case there are issues along the way with different procedures. You are guaranteed to have an unexpected obstacle somewhere along the way.
Should anyone seriously considering surrogacy wish to talk to us, we have kept detailed records of the legal and financial process and will happily share these and help them the best way we can.
12. How long until your baby arrives? Are you willing to share the gender and do you have a name picked out?
We are due mid-July and we are so excited to be having a little boy! We have chosen a name. However, in Jewish tradition, the name is only revealed at the bris (traditional circumcision) when the baby is eight days old. This will be the first time anyone will find out his name.
13. Is there a birth plan and will both of you be present?
Because natural birth is such an intimate bond between mother and baby, it has been agreed via court order that the baby will be birthed via caesarean. Both Jesse and I will be present in the theatre waiting for the doctors to deliver our baby from our surrogate’s womb. We will have a skin-to-skin moment and then our baby will be taken back to the maternity ward with only Jesse and myself. The surrogate is taken immediately to recover in the general surgical ward, where we will allow her to see the baby the following day.
About surrogacy in South Africa
Surrogacy in South Africa is governed by the Children’s Act, Act 38 of 2005. It is illegal for anyone to be paid to profit from being a surrogate; however, the commissioning parents are legally obligated to cover the medical expenses of their surrogate. Visit the Surrogacy Advisory Group at www.surrogacy.co.za for more information.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the baby. Aaron and Jesse want to share their story with their child when they feel the time is right.