It’s June and that means barbecues, baseball and Father’s Day. ConceiveAbilities is proud to help so many men achieve their dreams of becoming a dad and building their family.
One dad that we are honoring this Father’s Day is Dr. Joshua Stewart, a renowned reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert in New York City who has helped thousands of families become parents. He joined All Things Conceivable: A Surrogacy Podcast recently to talk with Nazca Fontes, founder and CEO of ConceiveAbilities, about infertility and also his own journey to become a father through surrogacy. As we recognize World Infertility Awareness Month throughout the month of June, we are grateful to Dr. Stewart for his courage in sharing his own story and, more broadly, his work with so many deserving families.
NF: Tell us about your surrogacy journey.
JS: It’s a unique experience to have both personal and professional experience with different fertility treatment options. My husband and I started trying to build our family about four years ago. I am an optimist, so my glass is always half full and hopefully that will come through in what I’m saying today. The stories that we tell are often when everything has worked out perfectly and there’s a baby to take home. I have to share today that we still don’t have a baby, which has been difficult. But I want to try to use that as encouragement to people to keep going and to be persistent. We began our surrogacy journey as two guys. There were certain things, such as a uterus or eggs, that we couldn’t bring to the table so we had in our minds that it was just logistics and bringing pieces together. I’m a reproductive endocrinologist and fertility specialist so we thought that it would just be smooth sailing ahead. I wish I could tell you that it was, but it really was one obstacle after the next. There were unforeseen medical issues and some logistical issues, one of them being the COVID pandemic.
NF: What are some of the obstacles you have faced in your surrogacy process?
JS: Unfortunately, we had a failed embryo transfer and some difficulties being able to do another embryo transfer; that was very disappointing. We also made the very painful decision to rematch with a different surrogate. It was also very disappointing to our first surrogate because she obviously wanted to help us build our family. We made the shared decision together to move to a different gestational carrier and struggled to find another surrogate who we had the right fit with again. I’m pleased and very happy to report that we’ve again found a surrogate who is a great fit for us.
NF: Why was being compatible with your surrogate so important to you?
JS: One of the big things that I’d like to convey that I think is so important about the surrogate process is the fit between the intended parent or parents and the gestational carrier because it’s all about trust. We go through a rigorous process of medically screening surrogates and the embryos to make sure that everything is safe for the gestational carrier and the surrogacy journey will be successful and there will be a happy, healthy baby. There’s also this really important part of finding a great fit because that helps build a relationship of trust between everybody that’s involved. We found that. We matched with a gestational carrier who we really just meshed with so well and we felt so comfortable with her and her family.
NF: How has New York legalizing surrogacy affected your surrogacy journey?
JS: I live in New York City so New York’s Child-Parent Security Act about gestational surrogacy changed everything. It has made a profound impact on so many people’s family building and I’m a perfect example of that. We were able to find a surrogate that lives in the New York area, which was very convenient for us because we really wanted to be involved with the process and be able to support the gestational carrier at doctor’s visits and delivery.
NF: June is also pride month. ConceiveAbilities is proud to be an LGBTQ-friendly surrogacy agency. The normalization of gay men having children via surrogacy has made a great impact on increasing surrogacy awareness. I know that LGBTQ reproductive services is a high interest of yours. How are you involved?
JS: The landscape of fertility and family building is really changing and evolving. The much broader acceptance of the different ways a family can develop has been very powerful. As a society and as a community, we are also moving forward and spreading the access to these services to everyone including the gay community. It really starts with awareness and patient education as to what their options are. It is so important to understand what the route forward of conceiving with donor sperm and intrauterine insemination is, to know what’s involved with matching with an egg donor, and to have resources and access to gestational carrier agencies that are able to provide the right fit for intended parents and surrogate.
NF: What was one thing that surprised you about your surrogacy journey?
JS: The one thing that really caught me off guard, and catches a lot of my patients off guard, is the timeline. I would encourage people who are utilizing third party reproduction for their family building to start researching the process before you think you really might actually be ready. There are some building blocks that you can put in place that really set yourself up to be prepared for those timelines. Make that appointment with a fertility specialist to get testing. There’s a lot of anxiety about finding out bad news but I would encourage people that it’s the exact opposite. It may sound cheesy, but the information really can empower you to understand your fertility status and map out a course. It is a critical first step to set you up for success.
NF: How has your path to fatherhood changed you as a fertility doctor?
JS: It has certainly given me a new perspective as a clinician. It has made me much more sensitive to timelines. I’ll never forget getting the first call after that embryo transfer did not work. I knew all of the statistics from being a doctor. I knew what pregnancy rates should be with a genetically tested normal embryo and a gestational carrier. So obviously there was some disappointment there, but as the dust settled, what really became apparent was the timeline, which was also painful. My husband and I, like so many couples that are using third party reproduction with donor egg, donor sperm, or gestational carriers, realized that it’s going to be a process.
NF: What advice do you have for other intended parents in a surrogacy journey?
JS: It’s okay if it doesn’t work out quite as smoothly as you think it will. I have friends and patients that have gone through the process and it really is smooth sailing. But if it doesn’t, it will work out and it’s important to stay persistent. It’s really important to have a team of support behind you including medical professionals, the surrogacy agency and your personal support system as well.
To all of our dads and dads-to-be out there like Dr. Stewart, Happy Father’s Day!