It was almost two weeks between our first FaceTime meeting and when they contacted me again. J messaged me that they’d like to talk, and we were all available that night, so we set it up for after kids’ bedtime. They started out by saying that they would like to move forward with me as their surrogate. I was excited to oblige. They continued that they had talked with Sandy at NWSC and were pretty sure they would use them for their agency, but still wanted to check out some others. Then J continued that they had something else to talk to me about before moving forward…
“I’m HIV positive.”
J continued to explain that he had been positive for sixteen years. That he and A had been together for ten and it hadn’t been transferred. That he has been taking a serious medical regimen and has been undetectable for seven years. They explained the SPAR program to me, which I had previously researched when a surrogate acquaintance asked about it in one of my FB groups.
There is nothing that can prepare you for making that decision. I’d researched it before, and although it was at least a year previous, I remembered that what I found was encouraging. But it’s one thing to provide support and encouragement to someone else who is considering it and quite another to actually agree to do it with your own body. After we hung up, I spent over an hour researching online.
The SPAR program is operated through the Bedford Research Foundation Clinical Laboratory in Massachusetts. First, J would have to undergo a thorough medical examination, which would include continued determination of his undetectable status. With treatment, the viral load (the amount of HIV in a blood sample) is reduced; if it’s below 40-75, you’re considered undetectable, meaning your body is fighting the virus successfully and the chance of transmission is low. With doctor approval, a specimen is collected. Even if the viral load in blood is undetectable, it’s still possible that the semen has a detectable load, with some studies showing 5 to 10 percent of undetectable blood samples having detectable semen samples.
Some research indicates that HIV is carried in the semen, but not sperm. If the specimen contains any level of detectability, the entire collection is discarded. The specimen is then “washed” clean—the sperm and the semen separated, and the sperm tested for the virus. Through this particular clinic, as of June 2013, 178 clients had used the program and no mothers or babies were infected. Other programs exist, and it’s reported that in over 4,000 cases of sperm from and HIV+ man being used in assistive reproduction, there have been no cases of transmittal. In addition to J, the surrogate has to undergo additional medical assessment, even more so than the typical medical evaluations required, have a phone or in-person conference with the doctor of the SPAR program, and sign consent of understanding.
My husband was asleep and I wasn’t sure how to approach him about it anyway. So I did what I always do when I’m in a situation and need some solid advice—I called my mom. My mom had been with me at the conference in San Francisco and met J & A there. She really liked them too, and was excited about the idea of my working with them. We talked for quite a bit and I explained to her all the research I had done. She and I had the same trepidation—my husband.
Having a wife who is pregnant is a great source of stress for any man. Having a wife who is pregnant with another man’s baby is a source of even greater stress—the sort of stress of your wife being in danger but not for the benefit of your own personal family. Having a wife who is pregnant with another man’s baby who may or may not have passed an incurable and possibly fatal disease to her is a source of unimaginable stress. Our life contains a substantial amount of stress as it is. Convincing him to go along with a second surrogacy at all took some persuading. I had no idea how this would go.
I considered waiting a few days to talk to him and to try to find the perfect opportunity, but the truth is, I’m not good at keeping things from my husband. Maybe that’s why we’ve lasted this long. Even when it’s something I know he won’t care much about, my husband is my go-to person, the first person I want to tell everything to.
The next morning, I brought it up with him. Granted, I hemmed and hawed about what to say and how to say it and waited until just the right moment in the morning to tell him. When we were in the place where a great portion of our most significant conversations take place—the shower. When you both work full time and you have three kids, uninterrupted quiet time is difficult to come by. Some time ago we discovered that the best time and place to be alone and talk is during a morning communal shower. Plus, it’s much easier to convince your husband (or wife) to go along with whatever you’re trying to sell when you’re both naked. It’s a proven fact (and by proven fact I mean that I Googled it and deducted that it’s not all that uncommon for couples to shower together for more reasons than just sex).
I explained to my husband all the research I had done. He asked the standard question—the same question my mom had asked and the same question I had asked the guys: Why can’t you just use sperm from A? The answer is as simple as it was for my first IFs to decide whose sperm to use—because they both wanted to have and raise a biological child. Although they’d be content if it didn’t work out and they ended up only having biological children from A, like most couples, their ideal consists of raising children that are biologically related to each of them. As much of an ass as he so often is, my husband also manages to surprise me every now and again—usually when I least expect it and usually when it’s the most important to me. “Well, let’s talk with them about it more. I trust that the doctors know what they’re doing.”
That’s all I needed to say yes. I, too, trust that the doctors know what they’re doing. I trust that J & A are taking every precaution to ensure that this is done in the most ethical and safe way possible. But most of all, I trust my husband. Someone who has significant anxiety and worries about the most minuscule and ridiculous things, someone who I truly believe would be completely lost if anything happened to me. If he trusts in it and is willing to go through with this amazing experience, then I know it is right for us.
Follow Michelle’s HIV+ Surrogacy journey here: HIV+ Surrogacy
Michelle is a thirty-something married mother of three. She teaches special education at an alternative high school in rural Southern Oregon. Her first surrogacy was for a same-sex couple from Israel. When she’s not taking care of her own children or birthing them for someone else, she enjoys reading and writing and exploring Oregon.