(Originally published in my Mombian newspaper column.)
Jerry Mahoney’s Mommy Man: How I Went from Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad, is a wonderful addition to the growing genre of LGBT parenting memoirs, not only because of its sharp writing and smart humor, but because it shows us an aspect of LGBT parenting we haven’t seen in a book-length memoir before — two men pursuing parenthood through gestational surrogacy.
Mahoney is an award-winning comedy writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Westchester Magazine as well as his own parenting blog, Mommy Man: Adventures of a Gay Superdad. His book is as funny as one might expect, but also conveys a deep warmth and understanding of human relationships.
The two most widely known previous memoirs by gay dads, Dan Savage’s The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Go Get Pregnant and Dan Bucatinsky’s Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight?: Confessions of a Gay Dad were both by men who had created their family through open adoption. While all three have some similarities—great writing, wicked wit, and an exploration of the relationship between the dads and the birth mother, among others — Mahoney’s sheds light on the experiences unique to those going through gestational surrogacy, in which a woman carries an egg not her own, fertilized with one of the men’s sperm.
He begins with his own adolescence as a self-proclaimed geek and a highly closeted teen, showing us the tension that remaining closeted created through his college years and on into film school. “I didn’t have any role models or road maps in the gay world. I didn’t know what my goals would be or where I would end up,” he writes. He then shares some of his wanderings on the way to discovering that: coming out, dating (not always successfully), meeting his now-husband Drew, an executive at MTV, and their decision to become parents. After that, of course, came the question of how.
They rejected the idea of international adoption after noting the “inverse relationship between the size of a country’s orphan pool and their tolerance of gay rights.” When it came to domestic adoption, however, they were intimidated by the number of would-be adoptive parents all carefully crafting “Dear Birthparent” letters in the hopes of being chosen. Gestational surrogacy seemed a more certain way to proceed.
Certainty turned out to be relative. Thus began their adventure with a surrogacy agency, sperm counts, and finding the perfect surrogate and egg donor. Alas, the agency was incompetent and potential surrogates all came up short for various reasons. The men panicked when they realized they were woefully slow in finding an egg donor. Just when it seemed they couldn’t proceed, Drew’s sister Susie offered to donate her eggs.
Susie’s offer set off a long round of family discussions — about Susie’s relationship with the future child, her own mental and physical health, and the likely responses from extended family and the world at large. They persevered, however, eventually finding a surrogate as well (whom I won’t name, in order to maintain the surprise for readers).
Mahoney shines when showing us the special bonds that can form among all those who come together to create a family. Of Susie’s relationship with their surrogate, he observes, “Their bond was one none of us quite anticipated or understood, but it was definitely unique. They were two women from opposite sides of America who had come together to help Drew and me make a baby.” Mahoney’s deep respect for the women is evident throughout. He feared that surrogacy “would turn having a baby into a business transaction,” but after first introducing Susie and their surrogate, realized, “This was bigger than us, bigger than the baby, too.”
He steers us through their mutual family journey, showing us the emotional ups and downs of trying to start a family while in the background their home state of California debated Proposition 8. He includes just enough politics to put his story into context in a world where same-sex parents cannot escape the political overtones of our families’ existence.
Mostly, though, he gives us a view not of politics but the pursuit of parenthood through gay-colored lenses. When their surrogate goes for her ob-gyn visit, they wonder if the doctor will be homophobic. When they visit the hospital before the birth, they must negotiate so both dads can be in attendance. When he and Drew go to a baby store to register, he observes, “It was like getting a one-time pass into the magical world where straight people live. Procreating was the key to a fantasyland full of free stuff most gay men would never know.”
Some things, of course, may look the same through both gay and straight lenses: worrying about the health of the pregnant woman and the baby; choosing baby names, waiting anxiously through the delivery. The blend of engagingly told common experiences with the particulars of this family make Mommy Man a compelling read for parents and prospective parents of all types (and a great Father’s Day present). Above all, it shows that those who help us create our families can be very much a part of our families. This does not diminish the roles of the primary parents, but rather ensures their families are full of even more love.
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