In this turbulent era, life can feel overwhelming. At Expectful, we do our best to support users in tough moments and celebrate them in happy ones. Luckily, June brings us two such reasons to celebrate— Father’s Day and Pride Month!
This Father’s Day, we had the great pleasure of sitting down with two fathers-to- be: Alfredo Rabines and Philip Donaldson.
The couple met through Facebook and clicked immediately, but didn’t schedule their first date until Alfredo— an emergency room doctor— posted a photo in his scrubs. Upon seeing the photo, Philip conceded: “Okay, well played. When’s our date?”
Their romance deepened over several months. When Philip returned home from a nasty bike accident, Alfredo “stood on my doorstep with balloons, two dinners and a bottle of wine,” Philip recalls. “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.”
Alfredo felt the same way about Philip. “When you think about someone constantly like that… you just know.”
At Christmas, Alfredo traveled back to the UK to meet Philip’s family for the first time… and to secretly obtain their marital blessing. Philip’s parents were delighted, and Alfredo promptly popped the question on a bridge in the center of London. Fast forward several years later, and the couple is expecting a baby girl— Fay Rose— this September.
Here, Alfredo and Philip discuss their journey with surrogacy, their hopes for fatherhood, and their considerations as soon-to-be-papas in this COVID-19 era.
Read on for their story, and don’t forget to check out Expectful’s one-of-a-kind Father’s Day Sleep Story— dedicated to Fay Rose!
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 that we wanted a family.
Alfredo: At first it was challenging because the first step means figuring out what is financially feasible. 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 two-hour meeting with an agency—it’s jam packed with incredible information. 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 and 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!
What were your next steps?
Philip: We picked an egg donor. We 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 level. This meant she would be a good donor for one carrier, but needed a higher level for twins. So unfortunately we had to look for a new egg donor. We took a week off because it was exhausting.
Philip: Yeah, we tabled it for a week— I think we were both upset, and that was hurdle number one. Then, we got back into it, and found another equally fantastic egg donor. We were on our honeymoon when we got an email saying: “we’re ready to match you with a surrogate”.
Alfredo: And she was wonderful, but 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.
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 really quite magical. And then the next day we joined her up in Massachusetts for the embryo transfer, which was incredible. We were in the operating room with her. That was another 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’ time.
Alfredo: So Christmas Day rolls around…
Philip: Our surrogate really made it special for us. Her daughters unwrapped a present for us via FaceTime under the Christmas tree. It was a pregnancy test, and we were beside ourselves. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things people might not know about surrogacy— you often match with a family. And they’re incredible. The daughters know why their mum’s doing this. 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 wanted twins. It feels like an extended family.
Alfredo: Our surrogate is a teacher, so she delivered the difficult news in a very soft, yet matter-of-fact way. We were very grateful.
Have you experienced other challenges along the way?
Alfredo: With two fathers, there are always people who ask: “who’s the biological father”? Which seems irrelevant. The child will either grow up to remind me of my family or grow up to remind me of my husband— and both are wonderful! But that’s a strange element to navigate.
Philip: I wish they wouldn’t ask. Because when a woman is pregnant, no one asks her husband: “Are you the dad”? Parenting literature primarily addresses mothers. The maternal instinct that people write about 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. 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!
Was there a moment when you felt like you became fathers, 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? Who am I? For example, I’ve already noticed that I’ve got some helicopter tendencies… that I’m now reading about, so I can get rid of those 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 in New Hampshire. I think at one point 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 are trying to give ourselves an education. But ultimately, I don’t think I’ll ever be ready until it happens.
Philip: It’s a long process for us. Since our first meeting with the agency, it’s been a year and two months. And we’ve got another four months to go before she arrives. So we’ve experienced many energy peaks and levels of discovery. With COVID-19, we haven’t been able to go and feel the belly and speak to the belly and sing our daughter a song… which we would have done by now, at least a few times!
… Which brings us to the pandemic-sized elephant in the room. Has COVID- 19 impacted your thinking as soon-to-be fathers?
Alfredo: One hundred percent. As a doctor, I’m so nervous as to 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 certain type of mindset among first responders— he just couldn’t wait to get back so that he could help people again. We knew that we were going to get COVID. It was just a matter of time. I’m glad that my symptoms were less severe than Alfredo’s so I could look after him.
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 a 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, my delivery, and my 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 really help.
Philip: Case in point— an attending physician recently shadowed Alfredo at the hospital. She wrote the program this beautiful letter, and said that 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 that I mentioned earlier. He wants to help as many people as he possibly can. The way he’s able to just stop and breathe and make sure that his patients get his full attention— that’s invaluable.
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— on the way to school I had to add up all the numbers on license plates in order to 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.
Alfredo: My own father wears his heart on his sleeve. He’s very comforting, and I hope to be similar as a dad. 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!
Philip: Coming from Wales and Peru, I think we both have very rich cultures. I think we both love where we come from, and are very proud— so we can’t wait to celebrate those differences.
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 that our children adopt Alfredo’s compassion and ease with people. At a dinner party, I’ll have barely taken my coat off 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 is going to be a full time job!
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 that 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.
Follow Alfredo and Philip on their Instagram accounts: @DocfredoED + @PhilipDonaldson