‘Papi y Papa’: A Cuban-born gay cou­ple’s jour­ney to fa­ther­hood

Miami Herald - - Opinion - BY ANA VE­CIANA-SUAREZ

Though he had a mea­ger mem­ory of his own fa­ther, Ar­mando Lu­cas Cor­rea dreamed of be­com­ing one at an early age. Even as a boy he knew that home and hearth, the com­fort of fam­ily, was what he most en­joyed.

Achiev­ing fa­ther­hood proved a chal­lenge. As half of a long­time gay cou­ple, Cor­rea was con­strained by tech­nol­ogy and money, but nei­ther would stop the ed­i­tor of Peo­ple En Es­panol from achiev­ing his life­long dream.

His jour­ney of dis­ap­point­ment, sur­prise, heart­break and, fi­nally, tri­umph serves as the nar­ra­tive for his poignant Span­ish-lan­guage book, En Busca de Emma: Dos Padres, Una Hija y el Sueúo de una Fa­milia. ( In Search of Emma: Two Fathers, One Daugh­ter and the Dream of a Fam­ily; Rayo, $15.99.)

And yes, the Emma of the ti­tle is his daugh­ter with Gon­zalo Her­nan­dez. “For so long I had wanted to be a fa­ther,” says Cor­rea, 49, who came to Mi­ami from New York to visit his mother and pro­mote the book. “It was some­thing I knew I was born to do. And with Emma, even be­fore we had her, I could smell her. I could touch her. I dreamed of her. I dreamed of my­self as her fa­ther.”

There’s an ad­den­dum to the happy end­ing that be­came Emma, now 4. Cor­rea, known as Papa, and Her­nan­dez, known as Papi, are ex­pect­ing twins, a boy and girl, at the end of De­cem­ber with the same sur­ro­gate who car­ried Emma.

Emma’s take on this de­vel­op­ment is de­cid­edly up­beat. “She’s very ex­cited about hav­ing a lit­tle brother and a lit­tle sis­ter,” Cor­rea says. “Ev­ery night she wants to talk about the ba­bies. She never gets bored with that.”

Emma was con­ceived through in-vitro fer­til­iza­tion with a pro­ce­dure in which a sin­gle sperm from Cor­rea was in­jected di­rectly into a donor egg. That em­bryo, helped along with a spe­cial hatch­ing process, was frozen for three months be­fore be­ing im­planted in the sur­ro­gate womb. Cost: $125,000, a dizzy­ing sum the cou­ple was able to pay only by sell­ing their New York apart­ment.

“The sad thing about this is that it’s a lot of money, and the per­son who makes the least amount is the one who makes the most sac­ri­fice, the sur­ro­gate,” Cor­rea says. “The bulk goes to le­gal trans­ac­tions and medicine.”

Cor­rea and Her­nan­dez main­tain an ex­cel­lent re­la­tion­ship with Mary Sal­fiti, the Cal­i­for­nia woman who car­ried Emma and now the twins. Sal­fiti, who has two chil­dren of her own, took an in­stant lik­ing to Cor­rea. “He was warm and kind and I knew he would be a good fa­ther,” she says.

Cor­rea and Her­nan­dez stayed in touch with Sal­fiti af­ter Emma’s birth, so when the cou­ple de­cided to have more chil­dren, she was the log­i­cal choice. “I told them I would help them com­plete their fam­ily,” she says. “It’s good for them and it’s good for me.”

In this sec­ond go-around, three em­bryos from the orig­i­nal pro­ce­dure were im­planted, only to be lost a few days later. The cou­ple found a new egg donor and be­gin the process again with a new batch of em­bryos, which even­tu­ally re­sulted in the twins.

Cor­rea says Emma’s fa­vorite bed­time story is En Busca de Emma‚ a shorter, sim­pler ver­sion he wrote for his daugh­ter chron­i­cling her ear­li­est ex­is­tence, from con­cep­tion to birth. Pho­tos, in­clud­ing ones of her birth, ac­com­pany the text.

The preschooler knows about the egg do­nated by Karen and the womb be­long- ing to Mary. She knows, too, how Cor­rea cut the um­bil­i­cal cord and wept with hap­pi­ness in the de­liv­ery room.

“From the very beginning, we’ve told her about how she was con­ceived — in ways she could un­der­stand, of course,” Cor­rea says. “You can say that her story has been an open book.”

She al­ready knows, he says, that other chil­dren have one fa­ther and one mother, or only a sin­gle mother or fa­ther, or maybe two moth­ers.

“I be­lieve chil­dren should grow up with the truth and that it’s never too soon for them to learn it. Her truth, her re­al­ity, is what she has, not an­other. The most im­por­tant thing is for a child to grow up sur­rounded with love and in the pres­ence of God.”

Cor­rea, a play­wright and an art and the­ater critic in Cuba, is a well-ed­u­cated man who speaks in mea­sured tones. He and Her­nan­dez, a pho­tog­ra­pher, have been to­gether since 1985, or, as he points out, “half of our lives.” They have worked out a typ­i­cal child-care ar­range­ment: Her­nan­dez, who earned less, has stayed home with Emma.

Af­ter arriving in Mi­ami from Cuba in 1991, Cor­rea worked briefly for El Nuevo Her­ald be­fore mov­ing to New York.

ALEXIA FODERE/FOR THE MI­AMI HER­ALD

AND BABY MAKES THREE: Ar­mando Lu­cas Cor­rea, cen­ter, and Gon­zalo Her­nan­dez with daugh­ter Emma, 4. The cou­ple is also ex­pect­ing twins by De­cem­ber.

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