Over the cooing sounds of their three-month-old baby, we recently spoke with new dads Jimmie and Marco Chavez-Lopéz. Their journey to fatherhood has included two very consequential visits to the Men Having Babies/ OFC Surrogacy Conference and Expo, now in its 5th year and taking place this upcoming weekend, January 13th and 14th, at San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel in the Union Square area. The speed of their journey went from moderate – they’d known each other for ten years before beginning to build their family – to high speed, as of last year’s Surrogacy Conference and Expo. Read on for more…
Polly Pagenhart, Our Family Coalition: How long was this journey, from having the twinkling of the idea in your head – like “Oh, we can do this, we’re gonna be dads!” – to now, when your baby is in your arms and you’re launched into fatherhood?
Marco and Jimmie Chavez-Lopez with baby MariElisa.
Marco Chavez-Lopéz: I think it was about 18 months. But the fun thing that I like to tell people about this wonderful conference is that we went to the first one years back, in 2014. It was very overwhelming and not at all what we were expecting. We didn’t hear the word baby a lot, and it was like sticker shock, terminology shock.
Jimmie Chavez-Lopéz: We were getting married that year, so it was really just to get baseline information. And then we skipped 2015 and went 2016, and it was during that conference that we organically met our surrogate.
OFC: Wow, at the conference? That’s wonderful.
Jimmie: I think what was really different about the 2016 conference for us was that we were able to hear stories. For us, being able to listen to multiple surrogates giving their descriptions of their experience was very different. Jokingly I said I would love to work with (one we were listening to) – and ultimately we chatted, and that’s kind of how it worked out.
I think at that point just after that conference is when we decided, “We’re doing it now!”
Marco: And along the lines of going to that second conference: we were more ready. We had gone through finally getting married, and major things in our life that we needed to get through, and we were like, “The conference is back, let’s return.” It was a different feel, a different set-up. We heard a lot of engaging stories and at that point we were like, “There are so many different ways to create a family. Look at all these choices. Look at all these options.”
The break-out sessions were great. This time we were much more organized, and had a much more structured look at what we wanted to get out of this conference. And because we met our surrogate and listened to her story, and just by chance that worked out, we seemed to really be lucky through our entire journey.
Starting off with meeting our surrogate and just by chance creating a relationship with her – whether or not we ended up being on that journey together, she was a great resource from the beginning. She was going to help us get there no matter what – if it was her or someone else. So we really lucked out.
Jimmie: Just going into contract and identifying an egg donor, that went really fast as well. We had met Dr. Bankowski of Oregon Reproductive Medicine (ORM) also at the conference. We had already taken a look into the the different clinics that were going to be there and some clinics that weren’t; looked at their success rates and estimated costs, so for us we were determining if we were willing to pay a little bit more for a higher success rate, knowing that it’s possible, that one way or the other, we might not get pregnant right away.
Ely, our baby MariElisa, actually, was (conceived on) the first transfer.
So in January we met our surrogate; I think we were in contract officially around April or May, and then we were pregnant the next January. Our embryo transfer was actually the same weekend as the conference. We got pregnant exactly one year later. It gives me all the tingles.
This little nugget was definitely meant to be ours.
OFC: Did you feel that right away, when she was in your arms?
Jimmie: Yeah, we did. I had never even changed a diaper before until she got here. But I’ve always known that I wanted children. When Marco and I first met, I was like, “I don’t want to scare you away, or ask you to marry me or have kids, but I don’t want to spend time with someone to find out later that kids are absolutely off the table.”
When Marco and I first met, I was like, “I don’t want to scare you away, or ask you to marry me or have kids, but I don’t want to spend time with someone to find out later that kids are absolutely off the table.”
We were together for about nine to ten years before we started officially talking about it. It’s just been wonderful. And we are gearing up to start a second journey, hopefully, later this year. So, we will probably go to the conference!
OFC: What were the things that you were most worried about that turned out the most different? Fears, concerns, natural things you were obsessing would be a problem but actually weren’t? What were your biggest discoveries?
Jimmie: I think for me, there were a couple of things. I thought it was going to take longer to get pregnant. I was afraid that – we are part of the MHB group, and we heard all of these stories, and some of them are heartbreaking to read – yet we had a relatively smooth journey, which I know that we are both really, really thankful for. But I think that getting pregnant on the first transfer – that was really surprising to me.
Even though we did our research – that’s why we went with ORM, because they had high success rates – I still thought we were going to be that 0.6% or whatever that’s not successful, and we have to be prepared for that. And I think in my mind I was ready to hear from them, “Oh, well it didn’t take. We’re going to have to do this again.” That we were pregnant just like that was fantastic.
Jimmie and Ely.
Marco: While you were asking that question, I was asking myself to come up with three. The first one would be this fear of her not being my biological child: “Will I bond, would she see me as her father?” And she does. She does.
Jimmie: We’re having a moment here already.
(warm laughter all around)
OFC: That was exactly my same fear because I’m in the same boat. Non-bio parent.
Marco: We talked about that a little bit. How do we share in this experience – not once she’s here but even just before – and how do we plan what this process is going to be like? So, one of the things we agreed on was that I was going to hold her first, just to try and find something to help get to that point. And that meant a lot. So, you figure it out.
OFC: Your naming that is so big. I feel like those of us who have gone on these journeys before our peers have learned things that are so important. I feel very, very similar. That the other (bio) parent and the child would have this deep thing and I would be on the outside waving my arms and crying or something.
Jimmie: Honestly, it’s kind of the reverse fear. Where I’ve been in the middle of the night, just crying, because Marco is a wonderful nurturer and soothes her so much easier than I can – and I have had such a terrible fear that I’m going to be a horrible parent, that she won’t love me. And by no means is that true. The times where I am not able to comfort her have been really overwhelming for me. She’s amazing and she knows that.
Marco: The second discovery that I think a lot of people can relate to I’m sure is that financial piece – how do you get there? The sticker shock is crazy, and then when you see how many options there are to get there it can be overwhelming. It is overwhelming. That part gets a little scary. When you were asking what kind of things we were fearful of, for sure, the financial piece was scary: the challenge, “How do we make that work?”
Jimmie: We didn’t qualify for any of MHB’s Gay Parenting Assistance Program (G-PAP), nothing at all, so we started our journey with $20,000 and I basically maxed out my credit cards with cash advances. We took out completely separate loans that we’re paying back every month right now. And we would do it all over again. I just wish that there were other options to help people – we were able to make it work, but I think that there are a lot of people who might not be able to make it work because of that.
Marco: I think the third discovery is that place you get to when you finally let go of so many expectations, because you have timelines. You set these arbitrary timelines, like, “We’re going to do this by June, then we’re going to move here by December.” Well, you have to let all of that go, because it’s going to happen organically, all by itself.
You set these arbitrary timelines, like, “We’re going to do this by June, then we’re going to move here by December.” Well, you have to let all of that go, because it’s going to happen organically, all by itself.
And when we had our first bump in the road that delayed us a couple of months, it was a clear reminder to just let things happen the way they’re supposed to.
Jimmie: And that delay ended up with the embryo transfer on the one year anniversary of when we all met! It happened how it was supposed to be; and it’s ok, because we weren’t ready until then. For whatever reason – we don’t understand – but we weren’t ready yet.
OFC: That’s really wise. You don’t know it in the moment, just feels like a bump and very scary. Having the transfer the very same weekend a year later is just really beautiful.
OK last question: If you had the chance to talk to yourselves years ago, what would be the most critical advice you’d want to give yourselves, with the insight you have now that you’re on this side of the journey?
Jimmie: Don’t be so scared of it, and maybe start a little sooner!
Marco: I have two pieces of advice – that letting go piece: it adds a little more anxiety than you’ll ever need. It’ll feel so much better if you just let go of those expectations. And, just trust yourself and your partner: trust that you’re making this decision together, and that you have each other, that your intentions are clear. And you’ll get there together.
The 5th Annual Surrogacy Conference and Expo takes place this weekend, January 13-14, 2018, at the Marines’ Memorial Club and Hotel, in San Francisco.