For a gay couple working and living in Belgium, the answer to having kids came thousands of miles away through a married Stephens County woman raising three children of her own.
Dan Sobovitz and Gregory Merly had explored fatherhood options for several years, finally settling on the surrogate arrangement in February 2018.
As Europe largely bans the practice for different reasons, the two men’s journey led them to Kristina Brady, who delivered their sons, Yuli and Theo, on Father’s Day, June 16, at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville.
Born prematurely, both newborns have spent the week in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit.
“This has been the most intense 24 hours of my life,” Merly said on Monday, June 17.
The babies being moved to the NICU “was a huge blow,” Sobovitz said. “Everything was so perfect until now.”
In an interview before the births, the two men chronicled their steps to fatherhood.
The process was long and complex, but basically, Brady ended up pregnant using two eggs from a biological mother who remained an anonymous donor in the process. One embryo contained DNA from Sobovitz and the other contained DNA from Merly.
“Today’s science allows us to separate them, so (the surrogate) knows from the very start that it’s not her kids,” Sobovitz said.
Brady “came in almost at the end of the process, so she had to go through a whole range of regulatory requirements to see that she’s emotionally, psychologically and financially stable,” he said. “There are many requirements before she can be accepted as a surrogate.”
Surrogacy in Europe is largely “forbidden because it’s considered a form of exploitation,” Sobovitz said. “It’s a way of protecting women from being pushed into doing it for the wrong reasons.”
It can be allowed “as long as it’s altruistic and there’s no exchange of money, but even in those countries, the surrogates still have rights over the babies and can change their mind and keep them.”
What brought the couple to Northeast Georgia is their surrogate, who lives in Eastanollee southeast of Toccoa. They were matched with her through an international program.
“Only after we said we liked her and she liked us, she went through all the tests,” Sobovitz said.
Brady, who runs a day-care in her home, said she originally had planned to serve as a surrogate for a friend, who later changed her mind. Still, the experience inspired her to eventually agree to be a surrogate for Sobovitz and Merly.
“I felt like I had my three, and I couldn’t imagine … wanting a baby and not being able to get pregnant,” she said in an interview Monday in the NICU.
The arrangement with a same-sex couple wasn’t an issue at all for Brady.
“There are straight couples who have babies and they aren’t good to them,” she said. “If they’re going to have babies and they’re going to be good to them, that’s all I ask. I don’t care.”
The babies’ arrival on Father’s Day wasn’t meant to be symbolic.
Brady had “a few obstetric complications that require us to induce the babies a little bit earlier,” said Dr. Brett Barger before the births.
Sobovitz, who is a native of Israel, also noted that it’s LGBT Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of an uprising at Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City where bar patrons and area residents clashed with raiding police officers.
“For me, it’s quite astonishing to see the difference between one generation before us of gay men and what they had to go through — stigmatized and dying like flies from the HIV/AIDS epidemic,” he said.
“We are privileged men being able to have a family, to have healthy normal lives.”
Merly, a native of France, added, “We have to face the exact same anxiety as a straight couple … here in the waiting room of (the hospital).”
“For us, this is very symbolic and very meaningful,” Sobovitz said.
The process, which has cost the two men about $130,000, isn’t over. Next up is introducing the boys to both men’s families during a stay in France before settling permanently in Berlin.
“We have chosen a city that has a very good quality of life,” Merly said.
“It’s super baby-friendly,” Sobovitz added. “It’s like the baby mecca.”
They said they also won’t forget Brady, whom they’ve named the babies’ godmother.
“We grew so close to her that we want her to stay in the children’s lives,” Sobovitz said. “She is such an altruistic and excellent role model for them.”