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SA

Two men and a baby – building a family in a new way

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TALI FEINBERG

“Like any couple deciding to have a baby, this was a decision that came from the heart,” says Ross Levin, who lives in Cape Town with his husband Nicholas Markovitz.

The couple’s path has been anything but ordinary. Ross “came out” after a long marriage and two children, and the two men got engaged on stage at an Adele concert. They followed this with a surprise wedding, and the decision to have a baby together was the next obvious step.

While they may have followed an unconventional road up to this point, the Jewish values of the centrality of family, a loving home, and being part of a community, are an essential part of their outlook.

Looking back, Levin recalls, “After having two children who are now teenagers, I never thought that having more kids was part of my future path. But Nic hadn’t had children, and it was something he really wanted, so we investigated the prospect even before we got married, and after more thought, our desire to start a family came from the same place.”

Levin’s greatest fear was how his two teenage children would react to their decision, and to the rollercoaster ride of creating a baby in this way. For these reasons, he told them he was having a baby only once the surrogate was pregnant.

“My ex-wife gave me good advice – that we are on this earth for only a short time, and the more we leave behind, the better.” This is the approach he took to telling his children. His daughter was thrilled, while his son took a little longer to come around to the idea. “Since then, they have embraced and supported my decision, and it has brought us even closer.”

So how does one start such a journey? “With an attorney,” says Levin, explaining that a High Court order is put in place to define who the parents are, and the rights of everyone involved. “Previously, one had to formally adopt the child after birth, and that created a lot of problems,” he says.

Then it was on to an egg-donor agency, where one can choose a donor as if from a catalogue. “You get to see their school reports, their family background, everything! It can get overwhelming and drive you mad. So, we asked the owner of the platform to make the choice for us, just ensuring that the donor had a healthy background, and looked similar to us,” says Levin.

The couple found their surrogate easily, and felt an immediate kinship with her. Although she did not live in the same city as them, they flew her to Cape Town for scans and were in close contact with her throughout the pregnancy.

The question the men are asked constantly is which one of them is the sperm donor. “To this, I often answer, well it’s not yours!” quips Levin. Legally, one has to know who the father is, so the couple do know, but they prefer not to share it as they feel that they are equally her father.

Levin points out that most straight couples are not subjected to such curious questions, and that there were many similar indignities on this road.

“For example, the hospital didn’t know whose name to put on the baby’s wrist. It wanted to use the surrogate’s surname, but we reminded it that there is a High Court order to use our names. It played out on every form we had to fill in asking for the mother and the father, and at every appointment when there were two chairs instead of three [for us and the surrogate], to everyone who asked who the mother is. Surprisingly, Home Affairs didn’t blink, and gave us the birth certificate with no questions.”

Thankfully, their surrogate became pregnant on the first try, and with only a small scare, it was a smooth pregnancy. Levin at first feared the reactions of family and friends, “But like everything we have done, it has been a unifying, not a dividing experience. We feared judgement, but everyone proved us wrong, and we have received nothing but support and excitement. Some people asked why we didn’t adopt as there are so many children in the world who need a loving family, but you could ask the same question to a straight couple. It was a ‘heart decision’, and to have our own baby was first prize.”

The support the couple received from Orthodox Jews and rabbis throughout their journey continued, and they have experienced no backlash. “They may not open their arms, but they don’t turn their backs,” says Levin, who recently spoke at a Cape Jewish Board of Deputies event on being gay and Jewish. Events like these, he feels, demonstrate that the community is introspecting on how to embrace all Jews.

Levin and Markovitz plan to raise their daughter with a strong Jewish identity as they are proud Jews, and they feel it is an essential part of family life.

They know she might have questions about her family being different, and they plan to answer these questions with age-appropriate, honest, and open discussions, and with the many children’s books that are now available on the topic. At the same time, the situation feels natural for them, and they hope Willow will feel the same way. “We will explain what it takes to have a child, but that the most important ingredients are love and care.”

In spite of the distance between them and their surrogate during the pregnancy, both men bonded instantly to Willow when she was born, as if they had always known her. They chose her name because they loved the symmetry of the letters, and because the tree provides gentle shade, calming light, and deep roots.

Markovitz has taken a few months off work to care for their daughter at home, and Levin has found it incredibly meaningful to see him as a first-time dad. For his part, he has enjoyed being an older parent, panicking less, and enjoying it more. The couple has a lot of support, including their helper Blessed, who they hope will be a strong female figure in their baby’s life.

Reflecting on the moment Willow came into their world, Levin shares that she was born via a natural birth. “It was much grittier than I expected,” he says, as his other children were born via caesarean section. “It showed me that even at the beginning of life, we are challenged. Birth is messy, painful and tough, but it is also a miracle, reflecting the cycles of life.”

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Sherwin Lundall

    Oct 25, 2018 at 7:31 pm

    ‘Wow, beautiful and amazing story and journey. You guys are certainly blessed. Have a beautiful life. As you said life is short and should be treasured and full of happiness and creation. ‘

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