Brian Steinwasher and David Lederman first met about a decade ago through mutual friends at an Irish pub on the Upper West Side of New York City, where they were all watching a New York Giants football game.
“He and I just hit it off,” Brian said, smiling at his husband. “It probably helped that the Giants were doing well that night! We started talking then, and we just never stopped.”
Flash forward to August 2021, the couple are now married and have been celebrating their gorgeous daughter Vivienne’s first birthday in NYC. But getting to this joyful milestone has been no easy feat.
“We realized the adoption process is very different, but there are still just as many stressors there for gay dads as well,” David explained. “I think we gravitated to surrogacy because we both felt that we wanted to have a biological connection to our child.”
The couple eventually decided to talk to a fertility specialist about in-vitro fertilization (IVF). Eager to become a grandmother, Brian’s mom recommended Illume Fertility where she had heard about founder Dr. Mark Leondires, a gay dad who had also gone through surrogacy to form his own family.
Although some dads-to-be choose their surrogacy agency first and then default to the agency’s recommended IVF doctor, David and Brian went about it a slightly different way.
“We heard about Dr. Leondires so we were introduced to the Illume Fertility IVF doctor first, and he walked us through it from the IVF perspective,” Brian said. “We decided we liked his success rates, so we were set on going with him, and then we almost went backwards to look for an agency to find egg donors and surrogates.”
Once they had chosen an egg donor, the husbands both decided to donate sperm for embryo creation.
David said they both really wanted to have sets of embryos from each of them in order to form their family.
About a year later, in early 2019, the couple got the terrific news that their surrogate had a positive pregnancy test. They started preparing for a baby to join them at the end of the year.
Sadly, that summer, at 19 weeks pregnant, their surrogate suffered a miscarriage.
“It was not an easy path for us,” Brian said. “We lost our first child in utero to an extremely rare and unpredictable pregnancy complication. It was incredibly difficult. We also had to find a new surrogate, after forming a strong connection with the first.”
Through the awful loss and heartache, Brian said they did manage to grow closer as husbands. They decided to continue along their journey, find a new surrogate, and try with another embryo. However, the world soon hit them with yet another hurdle.
“Our surrogate came to Connecticut and we were there for the embryo transfer, and we had lunch with them after,” Brian said, referring to their surrogate’s husband. “That was the first time we met them in person, in the middle of December 2019. The first week of March we went to a doctor’s appointment, and that’s the last time we saw her. Then, the pandemic hit.”
From mid-March onwards, COVID-19 quickly shut down New York City, followed by the rest of the U.S.
Meanwhile, David and Brian waited patiently for any communication or news from their surrogate and her family, who were stuck in Chicago.
They received photos throughout the pregnancy, but they weren’t allowed on video chats during their surrogate’s medical appointments. All they could do was wait.
“We didn’t see our surrogate again until the birth,” David said. “She has four kids of her own and was very busy. Our work lives and hours were different from hers, so it was hard to find time to communicate, and we couldn’t hop on a plane and visit her in Chicago, so that was tough too.”
They may have missed most of their pregnancy, but the dads were at least able to be at the hospital for the birth.
Their first daughter Vivienne came into the world happy and healthy at the end of August 2020.
Since then, the dads have spent the last year raising their little girl in their apartment in NYC, and trying to find a work-life balance.
David said it has been an “interesting” experience.
“It’s been a pretty dramatic change,” he said. “It’s still hard, and Covid still affects things. Raising a kid in NYC, it’s impossible to not work a million hours a day just to make it. Some days we only see her for an hour in the morning and an hour at night. But we try to check out as much as possible on the weekends, we figure out how to do that.”
As for advice for other expectant dads, David and Brain said that patience is truly the key to getting through both the pregnancy and early days of fatherhood, because it may take longer than you expect.
“We thought we’d have a baby within 20 months after starting the surrogacy process, which was in the range the IVF clinic gave. But we didn’t have Vivienne until around two and a half years after starting the process, so be patient through all that,” Brian said.
“Yes, we’re sleep-deprived. Yes, our former lifestyle has been upended,” he added. “Yes, raising a baby in an NYC apartment is not the easiest. But we wouldn’t trade this for the world.”