Two Dads and a Little Miracle

Curtis and Josh’s story began with a simple swipe back in 2016. From the moment they exchanged their first messages, it was clear that fate had brought them something extraordinarily special. After several years of dating, they married on September 4th, 2021, and began exploring options to expand their family.

Curtis and Josh had always known they wanted to be fathers it was just a matter of when. Early on in their relationship they talked about how to navigate the path to parenthood and agreed that they wanted biological children, which was especially important to Josh who was adopted and held a strong desire to have a genetic tie.

They started with preliminary research, Googling costs, requirements for a gestational carrier, and top clinics for LGBTQIA+ couples using a third party (i.e. donor and gestational carrier). In the initial searches, they came across Fertility Centers of Illinois (FCI) as an option to help them on their journey.

Unsure of where to start the process, they sought clarity from an attorney specializing in laws regarding assisted reproductive technology and third-party reproduction. However, the legal consultation presented them with more questions than answers about what the next steps would be. “The attorney asked us which fertility clinics we were working with, which agencies, but essentially said she can’t really do anything with us yet because nothing’s in place.” Curtis explained.

Coming to Fertility Centers of Illinois

Encouraged by glowing endorsements from friends, including an OBGYN with personal success through FCI, and the attorney they had consulted with in the beginning, the choice became apparent. “We kind of knew that FCI was the route we wanted to go because everybody else had such success with it,” Curtis recalled. “We have some close friends that have kids who are now five and seven, so it’s been a little bit for them, but they had resounding reviews for FCI. So, it almost seemed like the only option.”

Next, they had to choose a doctor to assist them on their journey. In their research they came across Dr. Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron on the FCI Instagram page and felt she would be a good fit for their personalities. After consulting with Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron and completing fertility testing, they were ready to start collaborating with FCI’s third-party team who assist intended parents with using a donor and/or gestational carrier during treatment.

Finding a Gestational Carrier

Curtis and Josh entered a new phase of research to find an agency that could help them identify a gestational carrier for their child, a process that can take upwards of a year.However, their journey took an unexpectedly personal turn when a close family friend—who played significant roles in their lives because she also owned the venue where they got married—stepped forward with the offer to become their gestational carrier. The decision to transition from seeking an agency’s assistance to accepting a friend’s offer was laden with emotional complexity. Curtis and Josh were acutely aware of the potential for complications that could jeopardize their friendships.

Nevertheless, the emotional weight of their surrogate’s offer, driven by her heartfelt understanding of their situation, presented an opportunity too meaningful to pass up. Curtis recalled receiving the emotional text offering to carry their baby saying, “She heard about our story and messaged us and said that she knows there’s a lot happening, there’s a lot involved with it, but she just felt the need to do it and wanted to. And then just kind of opened it up for us to say yes or no to it. It was very heavy text to get, but it was awesome.”

Navigating this path was not without its pressures, though. Due to the unique circumstances of their gestational carrier who runs a wedding venue, Curtis and Josh faced an unusually narrow window for conception. The need to align the pregnancy with the off-season of the wedding industry meant they had only about two months to achieve a successful embryo implantation.

Finding an Egg Donor

With no time to waste, Curtis and Josh began their search for an egg donor which introduced them to a new aspect of their journey that would be filled with complex emotions and challenges. When considering the characteristics of a donor, they aimed for a donor with a similar genetic background to ensure some resemblance to both of them. At the onset, Curtis and Josh were expecting a vast catalog of egg donors to choose from, but soon discovered the unexpected limitations in their options. This led them to explore several egg banks, adjusting their expectations along the way.

They also had to choose between a frozen egg donor and a fresh one. Their goal was to have two biologically related children with one embryo from Curtis and one from Josh. After considering the costs and their desire to split the egg lot between them, Curtis and Josh decided that a fresh donor was the best route.

Unfortunately, their journey took a challenging turn when their egg donor withdrew after initiating the preliminary steps. This unforeseen moment was devastating and felt like a personal blow. Curtis shared his disappointment saying, “That really threw us for a loop. It’s something that hit both of us hard for a while.” It also put Curtis and Josh under pressure because they needed to find another egg donor swiftly.

In the end, Curtis and Josh found a silver lining. The second egg donor they selected turned out to be more aligned with what they were looking for and had a proven record of success. This turn of events reinforced the notion that sometimes unexpected changes lead to more fulfilling outcomes.

Making a Baby

When it came time for the egg retrieval, their experience kicked off with a promising start. They yielded an impressive 32 eggs, 30 of which were deemed viable for creating embryos. Yet, as Curtis and Josh quickly learned, the reality of the ‘egg trickle off’ phenomenon soon set in.

They split the viable eggs equally, leaving each of them with 15 eggs. In the end, Curtis and Josh ended up with five embryos each. They were thrilled to have ten total opportunities to grow their family from the single egg retrieval but were still anxious about the unpredictable outcomes of implantation and pregnancy. Curtis described their apprehension, saying, “I think even though we were kind of warned about the funnel of egg trickle off, it still shocked us a little bit. We had heard horror stories of people needing to use five or six different embryos to get through the process and even using three or four different gestational carriers to do it.”

They opted to get their embryos genetically tested to ensure they were transferring the best embryos and increasing the chances of a successful pregnancy. With the ticking clock of their gestational carrier’s timeline in the background, the tension was palpable.

In an almost serendipitous turn of events, they received their results a week early, on the very day they needed to make their decision. They felt a mix of relief and apprehension because they needed to rapidly determine which embryo to transfer, pushing them to make a monumental decision within a matter of hours.

The couple initially planned to use one of Josh’s embryos for their first child and one of Curtis’s for their second, but nature’s lottery added layers of complexity to their decision-making process. They always dreamed of having a boy first and then a girl, but Curtis had only one girl embryo which was also graded the lowest in quality. Josh, on the other hand, had three girl embryos to consider.

In a last-minute decision, they decided to transfer one of Curtis’s embryos. While scientific advances gave them the opportunity to choose which embryo to transfer, Josh recognized the dynamic nature of gender saying, “With gender being such a spectrum, we obviously can’t fully predict what we’ll have between our current son and his future planned sibling. However, since we have the resources to increase the odds to further diversify our family makeup, we certainly want that.”

The Two-Week Wait

The wait to find out if their gestational carrier was pregnant was fraught with anticipation and nerves. Their carrier, eager to share the journey, offered to take at-home pregnancy tests before the official blood test. Curtis and Josh were on board, clinging to every update, watching the test lines grow darker each day, signaling stronger signs of pregnancy.

The two weeks leading up to the blood test were a roller coaster of emotions. It had been almost two years from when they started their family-building journey to now. Given the circumstances, the stakes were high, and they were cautiously optimistic, “We felt like we had all of our eggs in that basket, financially even. Had we been so unlucky as many that the first two or three didn’t take, that likely would have paused our dreams to begin our family for some time.”

Once the pregnancy was confirmed through a blood test, relief washed over them. “It was an incredible weight off of our shoulders,” they shared. This significant milestone marked the end of one chapter and the beginning of another as they waited for the arrival of their baby boy.

The 9-Month Wait

For Curtis and Josh, the road to meeting their baby boy was paved with anticipation, excitement, and a unique set of challenges. “I think for us, the hardest part of being two men in a pregnancy was not having any constant validation in the house. If you’re carrying the baby [or living with someone carrying the baby], you have the constant reminder for nine months, your life kind of changes a little bit leading up to it.”Curtis explained. Their journey took a tangible turn when they completed their baby’s nursery. “It made it a little easier once the nursery was finally together,” added Josh.

To prepare for their new roles, Curtis and Josh sought resources that could offer insight into what to expect during the pregnancy. However, they found a gap in available content. “We tried to find podcasts about what to expect, listening to ‘What to Expect When You’re Expecting’ a lot, but many were very focused towards being the mother and being the pregnant one,” said Curtis, highlighting a need for more inclusive parenting resources that address diverse family structures and experiences.

Welcoming Baby Theo

As her due date drew near, they kept busy by enjoying their final moments as an empty nest while anxiously awaiting a call that their baby was on his way. At midnight on a Wednesday morning, they received a call that their gestational carrier was headed to the hospital.

Despite their worries about traffic and timing, they made it to the hospital with minutes to spare before the birth. The hospital staff quickly ushered them into a recovery room to wait for his arrival and within a few minutes, they were being called in to meet their son. Curtis recalled the emotional moment, saying, “And then hearing him cry. We got to go in, see him on the warmer and count his little fingers and toes. That was cute.” Seeing their son for the first time and even Josh’s poignant moment of cutting the umbilical cord was filled with overwhelming love and gratitude, not just for the birth of their amazing son but the gestational carrier who helped them on their journey.

The days that ensued were a whirlwind of activity. The arrival of their son marked a period filled with sleepless nights and strong emotions, especially during the initial three days, which both fathers agreed were the hardest. Support from their family, particularly the invaluable assistance from Curtis’s parents who stayed with them for the first couple of weeks, eased this transition.

Both fathers discovered that their paternal instincts kicked in sooner than anticipated. “Very quickly, and as soon as we were out of the, I don’t know what I’m doing, I can’t change a diaper phase every day got a little bit better. We found a routine sooner than I had thought,” Curtis said, reflecting proudly on the strides they made together.

Every new day brought about a noticeable change in their son, and with it, a new learning curve. By the seventh week, their son began sleeping through the night, a milestone that significantly lightened their load and was a cause for celebration. Reflecting on life as dads, they shared how the journey and the sleepless nights were all worth it, saying, “It’s been fun. I think he started recently, like making eye contact and smiling. Both of us are just really excited for a laugh out of him.”

Josh and Curtis’s journey to fatherhood is a testament to the power of love, the importance of a shared dream, and the incredible options available to turn those dreams into reality. In sharing their story, Curtis and Josh hope to inspire others walking similar paths by offering a glimpse into the emotional depths of their experiences, and to celebrate the beautiful, diverse ways families come into being.