Lis Regula Patient Story

Lis Regula's Story

My name is Lis (pronounced like “Lease”), and this is the fertility story of a trans man and two-time surrogate. After my dad's death from liposarcoma when I was 14, I made the decision that I would be child-free for my life. This was in part because of my fears of passing on bad genes that led to his cancer, and in part out of the fear of losing someone else that close. My mom’s response to becoming a widow was to drink heavily, leaving me in charge of my younger sister, and my grandmother and aunt’s struggles with mental illness were only secret from people outside the family. Quite frankly, I was afraid that losing a child was something that I wouldn’t be able to live through.

I continued with that attitude until at age 23 I had an unplanned pregnancy. That pregnancy was the product of rape, and despite my best efforts, I could not access abortion care in a timely manner. I went on to have a physically easy and emotionally tumultuous pregnancy and gave birth to my daughter on Christmas Day, 2005. She’s 17 now and the absolute best teenager that any man could ask for as a daughter. As much as I treasure her, I will forever be an advocate for bodily autonomy, because I know that acknowledging people’s bodily autonomy both saves and creates lives daily. It is the foundation of our being and the bare minimum in terms of rights - without it, we are all hurt in ways that we often don’t recognize.

Growing up, my mom regularly talked about her “good Catholic breeder genes,” and my pregnancy fit with her description of her pregnancies. Even though it was only me and my sister in our family, Mom had a lot of experience with pregnancies. Though they were easy, she did not often maintain them and besides us two kids she had seven miscarriages and stillbirths. Her pregnancies were easy enough that she would speak in the 80s of her desire to be a surrogate. At that time, the only thing she knew was traditional surrogacy, which was not much credible information - primarily stories that made headline news. The ignorance and misconceptions around surrogacy are things that we still struggle with today.

I am incredibly grateful for the progress that third-party reproduction and that infertility treatment has made up to this point and had made in the years between when I was a young boy and when I had my daughter. It was going through her pregnancy and participating in third-party reproduction that helped me to understand my gender and how I move away from gender dysphoria and towards gender euphoria. I will forever be incredibly grateful for the two families that I helped to create through surrogacy who have been with me through thick and thin. They might not know this, and they still helped me process some of my trauma around growing up as trans without the words to describe my experience.

After my daughter's birth, I did not have the stereotypically immediate parent-child bond that people said I would. She was an easy baby, has always been chill, and I enjoyed some of the community I found in being a parent. Parenting is a highly gendered space, and that part of it was not helpful for me. That gendering of prenatal care spaces was also hard to deal with and one of the reasons that I chose midwife care. I tried parenting her as naturally as I could - nursing, cloth diapers, attachment parenting, and so on.

When she was a couple of years old, my body was getting back to that space where it had been prior to my pregnancy, and I started realizing that I wanted the connection with my body that I felt while I was pregnant. I come from a very pragmatic family, and my history of childhood poverty taught me from an early age that you use what you have, appreciate what you have, and don't let things go to waste. I applied that to reproductive parts as well.  

As I learned about the struggles of infertility in those parenting spaces, I was able to connect it with that pain of wanting something so badly and not being able to have it. Frankly, it took me back to after my father's passing because he had been my absolute hero. I also became more aware of the LGBTQ+ community in that time. Parenthood for gay men was still incredibly hard from what I understood, and many adoption agencies did and do still discriminate. There is still a bias in society where men who want to have children are seen as suspicious and felt strongly that this was something that needed addressed.

With all this background, I decided when Vivian was about two years old to pursue surrogacy. I found forums where people were talking about this process and sharing their experience, strength, and hope. I went through an agency for my first surrogacy, and I made sure to state that I only wanted to work with gay men. I wanted to help people like me, although I don't know that I would have been able to articulate it like that at that time because I was still coming to terms with my identity. My first surrogate pregnancy ended July 22nd, 2008 and Ava was an amazing little girl. After Ava's birth, her parents and I lost contact for a while although we got back in touch when Ava was diagnosed with glioblastoma a few years later.

I still tried to stay connected to my body after Ava’s birth, and not always in the healthiest ways. I pumped milk and did egg donation within those first couple of years. I had gotten over my fear of bad genes through seeing my Vivian grow and become an amazing little girl. It did get to a point eventually where I wanted that experience of surrogacy again. There is something really satisfying and fulfilling and just magical about being able to hand a child to its parents knowing that you're giving them this gift.
For my second surrogacy I did not want the complications of an agency and gestational surrogacy and preferred the intimacy and connection that I found in traditional and independent surrogacy. That is a contentious choice within the surrogacy community and for us it was the right thing to do. That little girl - my younger daughter - was born on July 5th, 2011. As I'm writing this it is just a couple days before her birthday and the day after I've got to see videos of her 12th birthday party with her grandparents and the rest of her family over in Holland. She and her dads live stateside and are visiting their family abroad. For many reasons, including our shared desire to be sure that she has access to all family history that she might someday want, I have stayed considerably closer with my second surrogacy family.

Like any family, a family through surrogacy faces challenges, and the families that I helped to create have been there through mine as I have tried to be there for them through theirs. The first little girl died of her cancer, and her dads’ response to her passing helped to show me a way to turn pain and grief into something beautiful, which was what I desperately needed after the passing of my husband during COVID. About three weeks after my second surrogacy delivery, my sister passed away by her own hand. She was facing domestic abuse that others in our family were not aware of and thus could not help her. Losing her made me realize that I had to be true to who I am and take care of myself or else there was a good likelihood that I was going to end up like her. Kim's last act helped me to start my life as myself and as the man that I had always wanted to be.

Through all of this, my surrogacy families have been incredibly supportive and loving, and great examples in my life of what it means to be a queer dad in the world today. In my experience, those of us who have struggled the most often can show care more than people who have an easier hand. That's nothing against those folks with fewer struggles, it’s just that empathy takes practice. That's been the real gift in all of this for me - I've had the opportunity to learn and grow and be a part of something bigger than myself. Within the Jewish faith we have the term tikun olam or repair of the world. Practicing empathy and connecting with others is an underestimated way that anyone can help to repair the world, and what is third-party reproduction if not practicing empathy and connecting with others?

Third Party Reproduction cover

Third-Party Reproduction

The phrase “third-party reproduction” refers to involving someone other than the individual or couple that plans to raise the child (intended parent[s]) in the process of reproduction.
Patient Factsheet teaser

Counseling Issues to Discuss With Gay Men and Lesbians Seeking Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

More lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals and couples are deciding to have children. Many of these individuals and couples choosing to build a family through assisted reproductive technology (ART) have concerns about how to best nurture and protect their children.
Patient Factsheet teaser

Avoiding Conflict in Third-party Reproduction

Third-party reproduction is an arrangement where a person or couple receives help from other(s) to have a child. This help can be in the form of donated eggs, sperm, or embryos; carrying the pregnancy; or a combination of these types of reproductive assistance.
Gestational carrier vs. Surrogate

Gestational Carrier (Surrogate)

A gestational carrier (GC), also called a gestational surrogate, is an arrangement where a woman carries and delivers a child for another couple or person (intended parent[s]). When using a GC, the eggs used to make the embryos do not come from the carrier. 

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