At First Sight

Hello Mr. Magazine - - AT FIRST SIGHT - text by Tom Mcll­roy pho­tos by Ru­bi­idesign

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.

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