Jerry Mahoney felt a punch in the gut at Modern Family’s mockery of how his children were conceived.
I guess there’s one episode of “Modern Family” I won’t be showing my kids after all.
In an episode from February of this year, Mitchell, Cam, Phil and Claire all got really drunk, and Claire came up with a crazy proposition. What if she donated an egg, Cam fertilized it and a surrogate carried the baby? Then her gay brother and his partner could have a child who was related to both of them. It sounded so beautiful.
It was all very familiar to me, because my partner Drew and I had the exact same idea a few years ago. We debated it and dismissed it, but then Drew’s sister Susie came to us independently with the same suggestion. What if she gave us her eggs? Hmm… what if?
On “Modern Family”, the notion didn’t seem so perfect once everyone had sobered up. They decided not to go through with it.
As for Drew and me, our twins will be two and a half years old this Friday. They were conceived using Susie’s eggs and my sperm and were carried by a surrogate.
I always knew the decision Drew and I made (not to mention Susie) wouldn’t be right for everyone. So why, when it wasn’t right for a group of fake people on a TV show, did it feel like such a punch in the gut?
As the episode, titled “Aunt Mommy”, unfolded, the characters used words like “creepy”, “inbred” and “freak show”. I turned to Drew and said, “They’re talking about us.”
It’s hard to accept that anyone might judge our family because of the way we created it. Harder still to see that judgment coming from such a progressive, gay-positive TV show.
And it hurt.
We never get reactions like that when we tell people our story. It doesn’t matter if they’re close friends or complete strangers. They always remark about how wonderful it is, how moved they are by Susie’s gift and how lucky they think our kids are. That’s what they say to our faces, at least. Who knows how they really feel?
I will say that there was nothing that came up on “Modern Family” that we didn’t ponder ourselves before we decided to have kids in our nontraditional way. And, given more than 22 minutes to ponder the topic, our soul-searching ran a lot deeper. We went through all the same emotions and fears – Was this creepy? Was it fair to Susie? To Drew? To the kids? Drew’s own brother told us that having a baby with Susie’s eggs would be “effed up”. That alone almost made us reconsider.
We kept talking about it, though. We wrote Susie a heartfelt letter laying all our feelings bare. We flew her out to LA to have therapy with us. We obsessively dissected every angle of the scenario we were creating:
Would Drew feel like less of a dad because we used my sperm and not his?
Would Susie have trouble watching us raise a child she was biologically bonded to?
Would the kids feel that Susie was their mom and Drew their uncle, because that’s what biology seemed to suggest?
How would the world see us? Would people be uncomfortable with our story or, worse, with our kids?
I wish I could say that talking everything through brought us complete clarity, and that’s why we decided to go ahead and make our babies together. But that’s not true. We knew that making a baby this way would be messy, that we were venturing into uncharted territory. We feared we were doing the wrong thing.
We also thought there would be something very special about our family. We liked knowing that we could someday tell our kids the unique, incredible story of how they were born. We imagined how special they’d feel knowing what Aunt Susie had done for them, how wonderful it would be to create life out of such a pure gift of love.
Drew’s brother came around eventually. Susie convinced us that she was emotionally prepared for what lay ahead. And in the end, with our families’ support, I guess we rolled the dice.
As a result, there are two tiny human beings who live in my house. They fight and cry. They sing songs from their dads’ 80s mixes and songs they’ve made up in their heads. They pour yogurt in their hair. They make us laugh. They cost a fortune. They’d eat cupcakes 24 hours a day if we let them. They hug and kiss and say, “I love you.” They’re ours.
And they wouldn’t be here if not for my love for Drew, and Susie’s love for her brother.
That doesn’t make the doubts go away. In some ways, it makes them worse.
Every day, I feel guilty that Susie doesn’t get to be our kids’ mommy. I see bits of her in our children – their features and their personalities – and I feel like she deserves more than our arrangement provides her. I struggle wondering about the pain she must feel when she says goodbye to them, when Drew and I make different parenting choices than she would and about the tiny sting she must feel when the kids call her “Aunt”.
I feel bad for Drew, too, like I got something that he didn’t get, a bond he might not feel quite as strongly as I do. I worry that the kids will treat us differently when they’re old enough to understand how they came into the world. I fear that they’ll view Drew as less of a dad.
I fear for my kids, too. Have we doomed them to being outsiders, anomalies of nature the world will never fully appreciate or understand?
These aren’t issues we addressed and resolved. They aren’t emotions that will ever go away. They’ll be with us forever. It’s the path we chose, and a bit of ambiguity was part of the deal.
I don’t know how my family will evolve over the next 5 or 10 years or how my kids will feel as they grow up. But I know they’ll always be loved. If there’s one thing I can do, it’s to make sure they know that.
… and also, to do my best to educate everyone else. As long as anyone out there thinks we’re “creepy” or a “freak show”, I need to keep sharing our story. (Say what you will, but we’re not inbred. Susie isn’t even my sister-in-law, let alone my sister. Drew and I aren’t legally married. Thanks, Prop 8.)
My family may not seem normal to everyone else, but it’s our normal, and if it wasn’t how we were, we wouldn’t be us. I never have a moment of regret for how our kids came into the world. I’m grateful for it every day. We’re not perfect, and at times things still get a little messy, but we’re a family.
I guess, in the end, a post-Modern one.
Photo courtesy of Jerry Mahoney