On Father’s Day in 2015, life looked pretty different for Anthony Szabo and Kirk Shepard. And not just in the “not in a worldwide pandemic” sense. At the time, the Oregon-based couple was launching a crowd-sourced fundraising campaign to help them cover the cost of having a baby. After weighing the options of adoption and fostering, Kirk and Anthony decided they wanted to try to use a surrogate to have a child.
But surrogacy is expensive, they’d learned after some research. It would cost them around $120,000 (£96,000), maybe more.
“The cost can be absurd,” Kirk says.
"Insurance didn't cover anything in terms of fertility treatments," Anthony adds.
“We came up with that number, and made the fundraiser all or nothing," Anthony says. "So if we didn’t make the full amount within a certain period of time, we’d give it all back… It was an ‘if we can’t meet our goal, we can’t move forward’ situation.”
In the six week period during which their campaign ran, the Supreme Court ruled that LGBTQ+ marriage would be legal across all 50 states. They only raised about $20,000 (£16,000). They went back to the drawing board.
The couple met in 2008, through OkCupid. At the time, Kirk was working at a lodge in Alaska for a season, and Anthony was in Portland. At the end of the season, Kirk packed up his Honda Civic to drive back to Oregon, where he was based. When he got into town, he went directly to his first date with Anthony at a restaurant. He didn’t even stop home to shower, he says. The two met up at a restaurant called Sapphire Hotel. “I was so nervous,” Kirk remembers. “I was starving. I had been driving all day, and I ordered enough apps to fill the table."
When Anthony arrived, Kirk had plates of charcuterie, olives, and chicken pate sitting in front of him. Sheepishly, Kirk asked, “Are you hungry?” he remembers, laughing.
The two hit it off over olives, and, soon enough, they were having the “wanting kids” conversation. “It came up pretty early on that we'd both always wanted to be parents,” Anthony says.
“In the queer community, the reality of it is, it’s not a natural consequence of the relationship," Kirk adds. “So if you want to have kids, you have to be super intentional about it.”
Kirk says he and Anthony got really serious about surrogacy after he witnessed one of his good friends have a water birth at home “in a pool in an apartment above a pizza shop.”
“I watched it and it was the rawest, wildest shit I’ve ever seen in my life," he says. “It was so magical. I shared it with Anthony and was like, listen: If we’re going to have a baby, we should start talking about what it’s going to look like for us.”
After the Indiegogo failed, it was time to buckle down and find another way. “Kirk and I balance each other out, because he’s the idea generator, the big thinker, and I’m more methodical and want to have a plan and make sure we can do this and also be in a place of financial stability,” Anthony says.
But the financial burden wasn’t the only struggle they’d face.
“Ultimately, we chose surrogacy because I had the drive to have a biological connection,” Kirk says. “You know, I felt shame about that for a long time. I wanted that and it felt difficult to say that out loud. But I realised: It’s okay for me to want that. Part of me felt like, well, there are so many people on the planet already and overpopulation and climate change. There were all these intersecting values that I hold. It felt difficult to come to terms with: Oh, and here I am wanting this heteronormative thing — to have a biological connection to my child.”
There was also pressure coming from people they knew. “People were like, ‘Well there are plenty of children who need homes, and if you really wanted to be a parent, you should just go through the foster care system,’” Kirk says. “That’s not fair to put that on just us. The responsibility to care for our greater community of children should fall on all of us.”
"Same sex and opposite sex couples who can't have biological children, there's an assumption that's made that you should 'just adopt,'" Anthony says.
"But every journey to parenthood is different and you don't 'just adopt,' it's also an extensive process and is in depth and complicated," Kirk adds.
All told, it would take Kirk and Anthony six years to make their dream come true, eventually laying out a solid financial plan, finding an egg donor, and being matched with a surrogate. Things really began to turn around for them when they were connected with Men Having Babies, a New York City nonprofit organisation, which helped them get a grant and connected them to some pro bono and discounted fertility clinics and lawyers.
Ultimately, their daughter Harper was born in early March of this year, amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Their gestational carrier was scheduled to be induced into labour on 13th March — right as the US was beginning to be hit with a host of Covid-19 cases. “Harper must’ve known travelling was about to get tricky,” the couple says now. “She came a week early.”
Now they’ll be celebrating their first Father’s Day together in a changed world. “Here we are five years [after the Indiegogo campaign] with a three-month-old in the midst of a global pandemic and a civil uprising to dismantle white supremacy,” Kirk says. “Truly, a wild ride.”
On the day their daughter was born, Kirk and Anthony caught a red-eye flight from Portland to Illinois, and made it just in time for the birth.
Kirk vividly remembers the moment Harper came into the world. “She’s covered in all the vernix stuff, and Anthony cut the cord… I was shirtless and they laid her on my chest,” Kirk says, crying a little in remembrance. “They just laid her on my chest and there was this instant feeling of, oh, we belong to each other in a way I’ve never felt before. That was a moment where I felt the weight of my life changing.”