Billboards that read One Man, One Woman, Yes on 36 lined the gorgeous farmland of Marion County, Oregon during the fall of 2004. Proposition 36 called for a vote to change Oregon’s Constitution. The initiative eventually passed by a vote of 57% to 43% in the 2004 general election, and the Constitution was amended to define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.
At the time, Mark and I noticed the irony of our situation as we drove our newborn daughter around Silverton, Salem, and Portland. The anti-gay signs were large, loud, and angry – but our experience over a few days in this otherwise charming part of the United States was free of negativity. In contrast we witnessed a remarkably generous woman give birth to our daughter in a very welcoming environment.
The birth took place in Oregon because Jessica (our surrogate) lived there and the state’s position on gay second parent adoption was slightly more liberal than California’s at the time. Jessica chose Silverton Family Birth Center considering its small size and proximity to her home. I didn’t take notice of the word ‘Family’ in the title of the facility until days after the birth. Upon reflection of our experience, I realize the center’s atmosphere and service affirm its name.
Portland’s Hotel Lucia had chilled Domaine Ste. Michelle waiting in our room when we arrived in Portland, a few days before the birth. The note read, “Congratulations! We wish you the best of luck. Enjoy your time in Portland.” Apparently Mark let the staff know about our cause for celebration. The following day, we went with Jessica for her weekly check-up and she decided to induce labor the next day because dilation and contractions had started.
The day of the delivery, everything was very clinical and the staff was upbeat, happy, and professional. Jessica’s husband was with us and he added humor to the experience. Pitocin was administered mid-morning and Chloe was born at 8:14PM. I cut the cord after the birth, then a nurse rapidly cleaned and swaddled our newborn before placing her in my arms for her first feeding. Mark was recording everything on video but he lightly pried his daughter from my arms for his first fix.
We introduced Chloe to Jessica within minutes of the delivery, so she could also marvel at her accomplishment. Surrogate and child shared a few precious moments before Mark and I followed a nurse as she took our daughter to the nursery. We trailed in a state of bliss and shock. We couldn’t look away from the miracle who’d just entered our lives. Nine months prior, I witnessed a few quivering cells under a microscope, and Chloe had become a breathing, screaming baby!
The hospital staff encouraged us to bond as a family by offering a quiet room with chairs, a bed, and a TV. We spent most of two days at the Center sharing the bed and watching our Chloe’s facial expressions change from minute to minute. American League baseball was muted on the TV, which added a bit of testosterone to the experience. Several nurses stopped by to demonstrate the proper way to swaddle a newborn (there seem to be 4 or 5 proper ways). We also watched and learned during her first bath. Each member of the staff was warm, welcoming and helpful. We never sensed homophobia, and employees didn’t overcompensate with extra attention as if our situation was extraordinary, different, or the least bit queer.
Jessica stayed at the hospital one night after the birth and Baby stayed two nights. Her husband assured us Jessica was feeling optimistic but melancholy about leaving Baby behind. We felt the sense of sadness from Jessica as she took photos of us and said goodbye before leaving the hospital, but we promised to share pictures and updates to keep Jessica somewhat tethered to this person she’d grown to know during the pregnancy.
Over a week’s time our family traveled along central Oregon’s Interstate 5 several times from our hotel, to our attorney’s office, to the birthing Center. We didn’t passively drive by the political signs – we drove through them as if they stood in the path of our progress. We learned that billboards don’t speak for everyone in a community. Pockets of friendly and progressive people exist in every corner of our country. Our family doesn’t rely on a majority vote to live our lives. Regardless of the political outcome of Oregon’s Proposition 36 – and other anti-gay maneuvers like it – Chloe, Mark, and I will live our lives as if the results don’t matter. There’s no other choice for us. For our family, there’s no other way to live.
Originally published December 2004