In this turbulent era, life can feel overwhelming. At Expectful, we do our best to support users in challenging moments and celebrate them in happy ones. Luckily, June brings us two reasons to celebrate — Father’s Day and Pride Month! We recently had the great pleasure of sitting down with one inspirational gay couple, Alfredo Rabines and Philip Donaldson, as they were in the midst of preparing for a baby.
Before Preparing For a Baby…
The couple met through Facebook and clicked immediately. But they didn’t schedule their first date until Alfredo, an emergency room doctor, posted a photo in his scrubs. Upon seeing the picture, Philip conceded,
“Okay, well played. When’s our date?”
Their romance deepened over several months. Philip recalled a time earlier in their relationship when he returned home from a nasty bike accident,
“Alfredo stood on my doorstep with balloons, two dinners, and a bottle of wine. He would wrap my arm every single day for several months to make sure it was healing properly. I felt like the luckiest guy in the world.”
The feeling was mutual –
Alfredo said about Philip, “When you think about someone constantly like that… you just know.”
At Christmas, Alfredo traveled to the UK to meet Philip’s family for the first time. (And secretly get their marital blessing.) Philip’s parents were delighted so Alfredo promptly, and quite romantically, popped the question on a bridge in the center of London.
Fast forward several years later to 2020, when the two dads began preparing for a baby. (Adorable spoiler alert: they had a girl and named Fay Rose in September of 2020!) Alfredo and Philip generously discussed their surrogacy journey and hopes to become dads-to-be during the COVID-19 era in the following interview.
Read on for their story, and don’t forget to check out Expectful’s one-of-a-kind Dad Sleep Story — dedicated to Fay Rose!
Family Building for a Gay Couple: An Interview with Two Dads
Q: How did you begin the process of thinking about having children?
Phillip: I loved that Alfredo was very upfront about what he saw in his future. We were very much on the same page. We always knew we wanted a family.
Alfredo: At first, it was challenging because the first step to preparing for a baby means figuring out what is financially feasible. And for same-sex couples, that’s something that needs to be considered far in advance. Once we knew we could manage it financially, the next step was selecting an egg donor.
Philip: We had a jam-packed two-hour informational meeting with an agency. You meet with a lawyer. You meet with a social worker. You meet with the head of programming. It’s this strange dichotomy of so much love, excitement, and hope mixed with the practicality of the financial logistics. You can’t allow yourself to get too carried away because you’ve got admin to do.
Alfredo: Although we did get carried away!
Q: What were your next steps to preparing for a baby as a gay couple?
Philip: We picked an egg donor and flew her to New York. It was a great meeting. She was wonderful and had been a surrogate before, but this was her first time as an egg donor.
Alfredo: Our doctor took her blood levels, but she had a low anti-müllerian hormone (AMH) level. This meant she would be a suitable donor for one carrier but needed a higher level for twins. So unfortunately, we had to look for a new egg donor. It was so exhausting we had to take a week off.
Philip: Yeah, we tabled it for a week. I think we were both upset. And that was only hurdle number one. But then, while we were on our honeymoon, we got an email saying, “We’re ready to match you with a surrogate.”
Alfredo: And she was equally wonderful to the first we had met. But she had high blood pressure. The doctor said, “We can’t take a chance because you’re hoping for twins, and hypertension is more challenging in any pregnancy, but even more so for twins.”
Hurdle number two. But after that, we finally matched with our surrogate.
Q: Did you have the opportunity to connect with your surrogate?
Philip: She had never been to New York, so we arranged a whirlwind “here’s New York City in 24 hours” experience. It was quite magical. And then the next day, we joined her in Massachusetts for the embryo transfer, which was incredible. We were in the operating room with her.
That was a big moment of realization.
Alfredo: At that point, we wanted to introduce two embryos. The game plan was to have twins.
Philip: We were due to find out in roughly two weeks.
Alfredo: So Christmas Day rolls around…
Philip: Our surrogate made it really special for us. Via FaceTime, her daughters unwrapped a present for us under the Christmas tree. It was a positive pregnancy test!
We were beside ourselves. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things people might not know about surrogacy – you often match with an entire family. And they’re incredible. The daughters know why their mum’s doing what they are doing and they feel like an extended family.
When we got the news in January that we were pregnant with one instead of two, it was bittersweet. Our surrogate and her entire family cried because they knew how much we had wanted twins.
Alfredo: Our surrogate is a teacher so she delivered the difficult news in a very gentle, yet matter-of-fact way. We were very grateful.
Q: Have you experienced other challenges along the way as a gay couple?
Alfredo: As a gay couple made up of two dads, there are always people asking: “who’s the biological father?” It seems irrelevant. The child will grow either reminding me of my family or grow up reminding me of my husband – and both are wonderful! But that’s a strange element to navigate.
Philip: I wish people wouldn’t ask that. Because when a woman is pregnant, no one asks her husband: “Are you the dad?” Parenting literature primarily addresses mothers. People write about the maternal instinct with such richness – what does that mean for our family unit?
We watched a Netflix documentary which examined the brains of 80 new parents, 48 of which were gay couples. We learned there’s a section of the brain, the amygdala, that grows more active during pregnancy and after birth for both parents, but more significantly for the mother. The oxytocin level increases were the same for mothers and for gay caregivers, which led to an equal increase in amygdala activation. I thought that was the most incredible thing!
Q: Was there a moment when you felt like you transitioned from “dads-to-be” to being “two dads”? Or is that moment still to come?
Philip: You know, as soon as the baby comes, we’re going to have to introduce ourselves again to each other as parents. Who are you as a parent, Alfredo? Who am I? For example, I’ve already noticed that I’ve got some helicopter tendencies. I’m reading about those now, so that gives me a chance to get rid of those tendencies as soon as possible!
Alfredo: I think it’s hit us at different times because, in our reality, we’re watching our surrogate from afar as she experiences pregnancy. We’re in New York and she’s in New Hampshire. I think at one point while preparing for a baby, everything switched – you hear a heartbeat, you see the baby moving, and then you’re like, “oh my God, this is really happening.”
As I experienced that reality check, I began wondering, “How am I going to be as a father? Do I know how to take care of her?” We’ve read books and we’re trying to educate ourselves. But ultimately, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready until I officially go from “dad-to-be” to “dad.”
Philip: It’s a long process for us. It’s been a year and two months since our first meeting with the agency. And we’ve got another four months to go before our baby girl arrives. We’ve experienced many energy peaks and levels of discovery.
With COVID-19, we haven’t been able to do things like feel our surrogate’s belly and speak to it, or sing our daughter a song. These are things we would have done by now in a different time – at least a few times!
Q: That brings us to the pandemic-sized elephant in the room. Did COVID- 19 impact your thinking as a gay couple preparing for a baby?
Alfredo: One hundred percent. As a doctor, I’m so nervous about how much contact I can have with our newborn once she’s born. In March, I contracted COVID myself while caring for patients. So it’s constantly on my mind.
I think to myself, “I’m going home like a Petri dish of bacteria and viruses,” which parents worry about even in ordinary circumstances. But this is a different level altogether.
Philip: When we had COVID and Alfredo was recovering, he was itching to get back to the hospital. I think there’s a particular type of mindset among first responders. He just couldn’t wait to get back so he could help people again.
We knew we were going to get COVID. It was just a matter of time. I’m glad my symptoms were less severe than Alfredo’s so I could look after him.
Timeout: Mindfulness as a Doctor and a Parent
Q: Science shows us the many health benefits of meditation. Is mindfulness helpful for doctors as well as patients?
Alfredo: Certainly. I work in emergency medicine, which requires fast-paced energy. I’m in a critical patient mindset all the time. I don’t know what’s coming in the door at any given moment. I don’t know what emotions I’ll experience.
So each time I’m about to enter a patient’s room, no matter what kind of day I’m having, I take a moment to take deep breaths and hit the reset button. When I walk into a new patient’s room, they will react to my personality, delivery, and questions. And I want them to feel a hundred percent comfortable. I want them to feel informed and safe. There has to be some way for me to recharge and be mindful of that. Tactics like meditation can help.
(This works great for parenting too!)
Philip: Case in point: an attending physician recently shadowed Alfredo at the hospital. She wrote the program this beautiful letter and said one of her biggest takeaways was the power of Alfredo’s bedside manner. It’s okay for me to say this – I was so proud. It’s a testament to the mindset I mentioned earlier. He wants to help as many people as he possibly can. The way he’s able just to stop and breathe and make sure his patients get his full attention… that’s invaluable.
Back to Preparing for a Baby
Q: When raising Fay, are there parenting tactics you’ll borrow from your families?
Philip: We both had incredible grandparents. My grandfather taught me so much. Like when he brought me to school as a child, he had me add up all the numbers on license plates to help me learn addition. He taught me how to swim, how to tell time and generally made learning fun. So I’ve been thinking a lot about that as a dad-to-be.
Alfredo: My father wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s very comforting and I hope to be similar when I’m one of Fay’s two dads.
And in this quarantine environment, I’ve been learning to cook Peruvian food. I kept thinking to myself, “What kinds of traditions do I have to offer my child?” Now I have a repertoire of six delicious dishes. Mainly because I’ve had great teachers – my mother and father have given me details over the phone! When I first started, I was so nervous. Cooking was never my thing. But I didn’t want these traditions to end with me so I knew I had to figure something out. Now I think I’m ready for my next six dishes. I can’t wait to show Fay.
Philip: Coming from Wales and Peru, I think we both have very rich cultures. We love where we come from and are very proud. So we can’t wait to celebrate those differences.
Q: Which traits from your husband would you like Fay to inherit?
Alfredo: I would love Fay to have Phillip’s sense of humor and his creativity.
Philip: For me, I really hope our children adopt Alfredo’s compassion and ease with people. At a dinner party, I’ll have barely taken off my coat before someone runs up to me saying, “Alfredo is amazing!”
My second hope is practical. When he’s in go-mode, Alfredo whips our house into shape. I know I need to step up in that area because having a baby will be a full-time job.
Q: And which traits of your own would you like to give Fay?
Alfredo: I would love Fay to bring an element of passion and shine to whatever job she has. No matter what she wants to do, I want her to feel confident enough to let the world see it.
Philip: For me, it’s about creative milestones, which mirrors what Alfredo said. It’s nice we’re on the same page! I’m at my happiest when I get to create. I hope she finds excitement inside the small things and infuses creativity into the mundane. That’s something that gets me through my day.