This is chapter three in a series written by Andy (Mac's dad). To catch-up on the previous chapters please click here.
I can't imagine what Katy and Emilce must have thought, arriving in the blank light of dusk to a room full of wanna-be dads, all turning to stare back at them at once. But I can tell you what the wanna-be dads were probably thinking: jackpot!
"Sorry we're late," said Katy, all golden-brown hair and radiant sparkle, with a figure like the Venus of Willendorf. I've never seen a more fertile-looking person in my life. Emilce was darker and more petite, preoccupied with a whimpering dog she had brought in a soft travel case.
We quickly made room and decided to go around the circle and introduce ourselves, in what I dreaded was going to be a recurring theme in this process. One guy used his hello to share horror stories of the years of "dating" he'd already endured with various women and couples, and to remind us of everything that could possibly go wrong, from break-ups and custody battles to miscarriages. Charming. Another couple – who mirrored each other in every detail, from the gum chewing to the sweaters knotted loosely over their shoulders – used their introduction to complain about the high cost of surrogates. Delightful. A third candidate took this opportunity to share his strong belief that a child should be raised by a man and a woman. Unexpected.
By the time it was my turn, Emilce had quietly slipped out of the meeting. Katy remained, looking hopeful, polite, undaunted. Rather than try to explain ‘Special Guest Star’ in an introduction, I offered that I was hoping to be a dad by name, but play more of a ‘fun uncle’ role. Katy perked up. "That's what we're looking for," she said. Her enthusiasm was all the go-ahead I needed. When the meeting ended, I gave her my email and biked away quickly, lest it turn into mingling.
Our emails were filled with smileys and exclamation points, and soon we were making a date to meet on the weekend. They would be coming in from Bay Ridge, the Saturday Night Fever neighborhood (Realness!) to shop for jewelry-making materials. (Creative!) They worked for the same special-needs adult care facility (Nurturing!) and had both grown up in New York – Katy upstate (Friendly!) and Emilce nearby in Dyker Heights. (Authentic!) We met at a restaurant near my place, and together they couldn't have been more than 10 feet tall combined. (Petite!)
My head swelled when they told me that they had spotted me right away. Emilce explained that she'd only left early because of the dog. We ordered iced teas and had a laugh about the guys with the knotted sweaters. I already felt like part of the team.
Like me, Katy and Emilce were completely surprised and thankful to find out about the Center and the Co-parenting group. Before this they had been thinking Sperm Bank, but found the reality to be too cold and impersonal for their tastes. "Choose your donor's desired eye color. Choose your donor's desired height," Emilce mocked in a fake computer voice. "It was like Gattaca." (For those of you who don't remember Gattaca, it’s a movie about a society with such high standards that it rejects Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman for not being perfect enough.)
They liked my height (Tall!) and they loved the fact that I was a train ride away, (Manhattan!) a fun-uncle dad who was a writer and loved to travel. (Special Guest Star!) Their plan was to each carry a child with the same father, Katy first since she was a little older at 33. This all sounded great to me.
The next week I made my first visit to Bay Ridge. Their apartment was in a beautiful old building filled mostly with women living on their own, who kept each other informed about a shady neighbor they all feared would climb in through the balcony. “I think he’s running a meth lab!” and other such speculation greeted us in the lobby and on the elevator with each visit. Katy and Emilce’s place itself was cozy and cluttered with books and boxes of Emilce’s research for her dissertation, Katy’s sprawling house plants and beta bowls, and furniture draped in sheets to protect it from a spastic chihuahua and a tired old cat who just wanted to sit in the sun.
|Beautiful Bay Ridge and the Verrazano Bridge|
At brunch, Emilce told me about her close-knit family. Her mother wanted grandchildren desperately, and was thrilled to discover a home insemination kit in one of their boxes while helping them move. Katy asked me about my family, and I told them my heritage was Euro-mutt, and that I mostly took after my mom’s Slovak/French side. “Oh, you’re Slavic too!”
|Andy's grandparents on the French/Slovak side of the family|
She told me that her last name – which looked like a typo, or maybe a phylum of jellyfish – was actually pronounced something like ‘Smudge.’
This took me a moment. Her name started with a string of random consonants, and ended in ‘y’. I come from a family of sound-it-outers.
I smiled, sparing a thought for what school might be like for a child called ‘Smudge’. Maybe totally normal. Cecilia Smudge. Nope, she’d run off to get married at 13. Jeff Smudge. Last to be picked, for sure.
I shook it off. It was fine. Maybe they’d want to use my last name, anyway. I hinted at it, with the story of how no one ever just calls me “Andy” in New York – always “AndyHall.” New Yorkers love saying it. I think it reminds them of Annie Hall.
They laughed at my cute story, but that was it. I left it at that, and switched to something much more important. Every time Katy looked at me, it was with something like a schoolgirl crush – not romantic, but an “I’m ready to be pregnant” look, and all her charms were in full effect. Emilce, the quiet one, the Brooklyn native, was much harder to read. It was important to know that she wanted this, too. I asked her, “How do you feel about all this?”
It was a sunny day in April, and she waited while the waitress cleared the plates before answering.
“I feel ready. I mean, ideally I’d like to be finished with school, but...I just know she’ll be a great mom.” With that, she took Katy’s hand, and the way they looked at each other, all my doubts were put to rest.
We all smiled and kind of stared at each other like, now what? I told them I would ask Skyler, the woman in charge of the meetings at the Center, for advice on what newly matched co-parenting partners were supposed to do next.
Skyler was thrilled to hear the news.
“That’s wonderful! Have you all worked out a co-parenting agreement?”
“Did you decide who’s names are going on the birth certificate?”
“How are you protecting yourself financially?”
Skyler said not to worry, but not to rush things either. She said she would send me a sample co-parenting agreement to download, and also a set of useful questions we could discuss together to help us align our vision for the arrangement. “Let me know how it goes!”
I started hanging out with Katy and Emilce more often. I tagged along when they went used-SUV shopping. Ever wary of getting ripped off, they were happy to have a big, corn-fed boy at their side who could talk maintenance and engines with those ‘shady’ salesmen (I faked it).
Andy being oh-so-helpful at the car dealership:
Another time, I brought over my new stud detector to help them hang the posters and paintings they had propped around the living room. I was careful not to overstep any bounds, but guys like to be needed, in even the smallest ways – we like to feel like we’re useful. They returned the kindness by offering to find a better string for my pounamu necklace, which was constantly slipping off my neck.
|It is still missing a string|
In June, I joined them for their local American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. We were there to support Katy, whose mom had passed away several years before. It was a big family event, and as we circled the track, I couldn’t help but smile thinking how one day soon it might be our teen out here, walking tirelessly with his Bay Ridge friends to defeat ‘can-suh’.
In order to be absolutely sure I was HIV-negative, I had to wait six months since my last possible exposure before getting tested. By July, my six months of abstinence was almost up (thank goodness!) and if all went well, soon we’d be able to begin.
|Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder|
I suggested we fill out the co-parenting discussion questions that Skyler had sent over, and meet to compare answers over margaritas. I filled mine out on a lunch break. Circumcision? Probably not likely in the all-gay family of the future. Religion? As long as you’re not pageant moms, I don’t care. How often should the dad visit? I’ll only be a train ride away! I looked forward to another fun date – it would be like taking a Cosmo quiz at a sleepover.
When we got together, Emilce hadn’t filled hers out – just Katy, and she’d be answering for both. Already not as fun as I’d imagined, but OK. First question? Circumcision.
“Definitely! I don’t want to have to clean it,” Katy said.
I was shocked. I looked at Emilce. She was Puerto Rican, surely she’d jump in.
“Studies show that circumcision reduces the chances of transmitting HIV.”
Wow. Not the answers I was expecting. I thought about mentioning female genital mutilation in Africa, but these weren’t those kind of lesbians. They just didn’t want to clean it. Period. I had never thought about it from a mom’s perspective before.
Deal breaker? Certainly not, but...maybe we’d have a girl.
We skipped down to a fun one. Names. I’ve always loved the name Josie, short for Josephine.
“Josephine? Isn’t she a harlot in the Bible?” said Emilce.
“We like the name Alessandra,” said Katy. “With two ss’s.”
Oh great, I thought. A first name no one can spell, to go with a last name that sounds like ‘Smudge’ and auto-corrects to ‘Crazy.’
I took a deep breath. These were just discussion questions. But suddenly everything they said was ‘we,’ as in, “we’ll need three months to bond before you can see the baby.” I thought the three of us were the ‘we.’ We were a ‘we’ at the car dealership, and at the walk-a-thon. I had felt it.
I was confused, but stayed calm. “It’s good we’re discussing these things,” I offered.
Later, I had time to think about things more clearly. I reminded myself that this was the plan. Two Parents and a Special Guest Star. I had gotten so excited about the prospect of becoming a dad, so happy to fit in to a little family and community, to be needed, that I’d forgotten that I was only signing up for a #3 roll.
So, OK, expectations adjusted. But something about our first-ever awkward afternoon together made me wonder just how distant that #3 role would be.
By the end of July, I went to have my blood work done. My favorite astrologist, Susan Miller, had already announced in her forecast that a series of eclipses was upon us, and Capricorns and Cancers were about to enter a period of profound changes in their lives over the course of the next two years. “Eclipses are capable of bringing significant, life-changing events that you long remember,” she wrote. As I waited for all my test results, I hoped that wasn’t what she was talking about.
Thankfully it wasn’t. When everything came back fine, I texted Katy to let her know I had a clean bill of health, and to say ‘hi,’ since I really hadn’t spoken with them since the questionnaire day. She texted right back – she’d been tracking her ovulation and could I get over there now, tonight?
Heart pounding, I ran to catch the train to Brooklyn. It looked like the profound changes were already under way.
To be continued...
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