We were told for years how hard it is to be a parent, but we had no idea how hard becoming a parent would be. As full-time performing artists in New York City for over 20 years, we were both used to the hustle to make our careers happen. Perhaps that determination is what drove us to finally make the journey to parenthood. We officially completed that journey in March by welcoming our son, Maverick, and the payoff so far has surpassed our wildest dreams. As performing artists on Broadway, our lives have been filled with persistent ambition, and the road to parenthood was no different.
Let’s set the scene: We met in 2007, both newly sober and reinventing our lives in the Big Apple. While we both struggled with addiction differently, we found a solution and each other “in the rooms.” Being able to unite our lives together with the spiritual path is what we believe has helped us stay together as long as we have. It wasn’t always easy, but it was worth every twist and turn.
About 2 years into our relationship, Bret first mentioned to Stephen that it would be fun to raise a kid together, but we never put much thought into how to make it happen. At that time, it only seemed like gay couples could have a family if they were wealthy, had steady jobs (not freelance), or were incredibly generous enough to journey through the foster care system.
It’s true, most people say you’ll never be “ready” to be a parent, but we weren’t sure if that applied to same-sex parents as well. There’s never a perfect time to start a family, and so we decided we would just start one step at a time. There are some amazing resources for same-sex families out there, and we started with an organization called Men Having Babies. They had a large conference in NYC providing resources for men to learn about their options regarding starting a family.
After weighing our options for a long time, (perhaps a year?) we decided to go the route of surrogacy. It was through a meeting with Dr. Leondires at Illume Fertility, a gay dad himself, that we knew we had found the right fertility clinic. Until that meeting, no one had told us that we didn’t have to pay for the surrogacy process all at once, that we could start the process in simple steps. That gave us the confidence we needed to move forward.
The first step we took was simply getting our sperm tested, one of the only things that our insurance would actually cover. Once we addressed the strength of our swimmers, we moved on to the next step in the process which was to find an egg donor.
We really tried not to overthink this, as we know how picky it can get to find the “perfect” egg. We used the donors that our fertility clinic offered and we learned one piece of important advice: Before you dismiss a profile, make sure you READ, WATCH, and LOOK through it thoroughly. We dismissed the first profile because we thought, “Oh, she has Italian heritage and neither of us are Italian." But when we went back and saw that she had a video we decided to take another look.
The video on the profile of our egg donor was like it was made just for us! She had a twin brother (Bret has a twin brother!), her husband was raised by gay dads, and she was a ballet dancer (Stephen is a ballet dancer!). We cried watching it and decided BOOM this was her.
Creating the embryos and freezing them seemed so easy compared to what came next. We needed to find a surrogate, but we weren’t quite sure that we wanted to pay for an agency, so we decided to find a surrogate on our own. Bret was confident he could find one via Facebook groups. Others had found success, but it’s a bit of a wild, wild west experience. We do not recommend this.
So much happened in the four years it took us to finally meet our baby. In 2019, our first surrogate (found through the above method) bailed on us right before we signed the legal paperwork – yes, you have to have everything lined up legally and signed before you ever do an embryo transfer. We were devastated and as per usual, we used it as a sign. Perhaps God had other plans?
In December 2019, a month after losing our surrogate, we were at our best friend’s birthday party in NYC when a mutual friend said to us, in a red-wine tinted voice, “I would carry your baby.” Sure enough Krystle validated her statement the next day and we couldn’t believe it. By March 2020, after getting new legal work documented, we were ready for our team day, where we all got together at the clinic with our surrogate for a day of social work, blood work, and more.
We were both working in theater full-time and, due to Covid-19, our industry completely shut down the week before the scheduled embryo transfer date. Another blow! Another sign?
There we were, ready to go and we couldn't move forward – it was so frustrating. Krystle lived in Orlando, our fertility clinic was in Connecticut, and we were in the process of moving to Houston, TX because, by some miracle, Stephen booked a job in Bret’s hometown of Houston.
From then on, all of our doctor’s visits were virtual. In February 2021, we were able to finally get Krystle to Connecticut for an embryo transfer – almost ONE YEAR LATER! We were so excited, only to find out that, at Krystle’s 8-week scan, there was no heartbeat. Talk about another devastating blow. Please do not dismiss a dad’s grief during a miscarriage. It was painful and took us months to recover.
We were able to get another transfer in the books and this time it took! Who would have thought you could get pregnant over Facetime?!?!
When you have been trying to have a baby for four years it feels like the most natural event to finally hold that baby in your arms. We prepared and prepared and prepared, and now our miracle has happened. We aren’t sure when we will actually feel like a Father – is it a moment, an event, or do we just evolve into it? But every single day we look at our son and know that he is a part of us.
This story was written by Bret Shuford and Stephen Hanna (the Broadway Husbands) for our Hello Parents series. Our mission is to create a community of extreme inclusivity. Appreciating what makes us different and what we all have in common. No judgment. Just a village of support.