At First Sight
Jeremy James holds his five-week-old daughter Leni almost effortlessly, supporting her tiny body with his left hand and cradling her head in the fingers of his right.
The new father of twins admits to fleeting lapses in confidence.
“I was never really a person to pick up other people’s babies or be really at ease holding children,” he says.
“People told me I would have to get used to it but I knew I would be fine with my own babies.”
Along with partner Jay Chapman, the 27-yearold is adjusting to being a parent after undertaking a commercial surrogacy process through a clinic in New Delhi, India.
At home on the outskirts of the historic gold mining town of Bendigo, in southeastern Australia, the couple are just like any new parents – doting on Leni and her brother, Otto, and remaking their lives as a family of four.
Changes in Indian and Australian surrogacy laws mean the couple were some of the last to be able to commission surrogacy there.
Since their twins arrived at their new home in Australia in late July, James and Chapman have been engaged in a quiet campaign to raise awareness of the laws blocking other same-sex couples and singles from using commercial surrogates.
In a room with vintage Danish furniture, toy elephants from India, and children’s books handed down from James’ family, Leni and Otto “squeak like babies do” while their fathers juggle aroundthe-clock demands.
The large windows of the family’s home look out onto the Victorian bush landscape of their large block of land but the lives of both men are considerably busier.
James runs a successful hair salon in Bendigo and Chapman, who does more of the talking, recently sold his own business.
“I called my mother while she was at work and asked her if she was sitting down because we had some news,” the 28-year-old says.
“She joked, ‘ Oh my god are you pregnant?’ I laughed and said we might be one day soon.”
More than ten years after they met, the couple began to explore surrogacy after hearing of another couple in Bendigo going to India.
Chapman was introduced to the new parents through a mutual friend in mid-2012 and a week later began filling in forms and arranging medical tests and airfares.
“It all happens quickly if you want it to,” he says. “Once you’ve selected an egg donor, the clinic books you in and starts the process immediately. You can pick a surrogate mother, but we allowed the doctor to do that for us.”
Paying a few thousand dollars for a deposit, the couple used an Australian-based advisor connected with the Indian clinic and after fertility testing, decided Chapman would be the biological father.
They met their surrogate a week before the process began, guided by a convention to keep the relationship business-like rather than personal.
On their fourth try the surrogate mother be-
came pregnant with twins. At 33 weeks in the cycle, the soon-to-be fathers were asleep when the phone rang late one night.
The surrogate’s high blood pressure threatened complications and the babies were delivered an hour later via Caesarean section.
Despite being seven weeks early, the twins were a healthy weight and soon their fathers were on a flight to New Delhi.
“Obviously India adds a whole other aspect to what is always going to be an emotional and scary process,” Chapman says, “but we definitely wouldn’t change anything now.”
Both men have fielded questions from friends, family and colleagues about their unusual road to parenthood, but dismiss the objections of “the one percent who don’t like how it happened.” Talking of weekends away with other surrogate parents and accepting a persistent friend’s offer of overnight babysitting in Melbourne, Chapman and James say their lives have been enhanced beyond expectation.
Assisted by family around the corner, both men share the fundamentals: feeding, changing, watching over the babies, with Chapman often up at night and catching up on sleep when Leni and Otto do.
James says he quickly learned that every parent is eager to offer advice to a new father. “They always say you should do what you want to do and not to listen to other people’s advice, but then say… ‘If I could tell you two things,’” he laughs. “What I didn’t expect was that while your own babies are for you, they also give so much to your family,” James says. “It has been so important for my parents and my one sister, which is such a nice part of becoming a parent.”
If this road to parenting leaves any room for misapprehension, neither shows it. “I know you are basically buying children, buying a life, but it is a still very emotional process to go through,” Chapman said. “You think about how they will fit in with your family and whether you should even be parents, but once you’ve got your children you don’t give a shit about that. You just get on with it.”
Both men seem comfortable with the inevitable conversations in years to come. “We will tell the twins the truth about how everything happened,” James said. “It involved a few more people than usual, but I think that’s just it.” Chapman said he has sometimes dealt with probing questions about his new family and doubts about how they might grow up in a conservative provincial city. “People think because it’s a different way to have children, it’s not as sensitive so they ask questions about every detail. Inappropriate questions have been one of the things I have struggled with.”
Like many surrogacy advocates in Australia and around the world, both men proudly boast of the joy it has brought to their lives, eager for others to be afforded the same opportunity.
In Australia, still without laws permitting same-sex marriage but where five states allow same-sex adoption, the reality is same-sex couples continue to create informal parenting structures.
Despite being easy to carry now, it’s clear Otto and Leni are handfuls for their parents. “No one can tell you what to expect when you have children but I feel like it was a switch that just went off,” James says. “You are absolutely in love with them and know they’ll be there everyday, all the time.”
James said that with Chapman, that moment was the end of one journey and the start of another. “It happened the minute we saw them.”
Tom McIlroy is a journalist in Canberra, Australia. Melbourne-born, Tom has worked in Melbourne; regional Australia; Washington, DC; and on Twitter @TomMcIlroy.