Out Milwaukee Police Officer Mike Kuykendall, 39, went to great lengths to become a father. He went all the way to India.
“I’ve always wanted to be a parent since I was a kid,” Kuykendall said. “But being gay, it was something that was hard to do.”
Kuykendall planned to wait until he’d found a partner with similar dreams of parenthood. But asking a date if he might someday want to have kids together can be a non-starter, he said. As the clock ticked and no prospective co-parent appeared, Kuykendall decided to take matters literally into his own hands before he grew too old for parenthood.
Kuykendall’s first plan was his best woman friend, who generously offered the use of her womb. But before that scheme got underway, his friend learned she had to have a hysterectomy.
“That left things at a dead end,” he said.
Then a lesbian friend offered to have a child with him. But she wanted to be the primary parent, “and I wasn’t cool with that,” Kuykendall said.
He looked into adopting a child, but quickly determined that “the Wisconsin adoption rules are a joke,” he said. “They make you run through too many hoops.”
The next strategy Kuykendall investigated was surrogacy. A company in California offered to coordinate the process for him – for a fee of $130,000. Even though the company provided financing, Kuykendall decided to pass.
“They could (determine) the gender, the eye color and the hair color of the baby,” he said. “I thought that was like playing God.”
While doing a Google search, Kuykendall stumbled upon a company in New Delhi, India, that offered surrogacy services for international would-be parents. “SCI (Surrogacy Centre India) had a beautiful website and a lot of videos,” Kuykendall remembered. The website included stories and videos of people expressing their gratitude to SCI for making their dreams of parenthood come true. Many of them were same-sex couples.
Kuykendall also was impressed with the philosophy of Dr. Shivani Sachdev Gour, the founder and director of SCI Healthcare.
About half of Dr. Shivani’s clients are gay, he said.
The cost of surrogacy through SCI was $28,000 – a relative bargain, even though it didn’t include airfare, hotel and other expenses.
Before long, Kuykendall found himself on a plane bound east.
The low cost and India’s excellent medical facilities had made the nation one of the world’s top destinations for people seeking surrogates – until the government issued a ban on providing such services for gays, singles and unmarried couples late last year. Kuykendall’s experience preceded the crackdown on the industry, but he nonetheless planned ahead. He obtained a medical visa rather than a tourist visa and armed himself with a story about being a widower who wanted to become a father in order to avoid anti-gay discrimination by authorities.
On his first visit to the clinic, Kuykendall gave a sperm sample. His egg donor provided 24 eggs, 20 of which were fertilized. Four were implanted in the surrogate, and two of them “took in the first two weeks,” he said. “Then one passed and one remained.”
And so Kuykendall’s experience as a parent began.
The first trimester he received a sonogram every two weeks, and afterward a sonogram monthly. During the 25th week of his surrogate’s pregnancy, he got a 3D ultrasound. “It was surreal,” he said. “It made everything even more real.”
While Kuykendall was waiting for the birth of his first child, he met Curt Villalobos, 33. The two men were drawn to each other, but Kuykendall was afraid Villalobos would run the other way when he learned that Kuykendall was going to be a dad.
Fortunately, it turned out that Villalobos wanted to be a parent, too. “He was two months into the process, and he told me the first day we met,” Villalobos said. “I was like a little nervous about it. He caught that in my face reaction. But I stuck with Mike, because I always wanted a child myself. As months went on, we started (preparing) together. The people at work did a baby shower for us.”
Kuykendall also found acceptance among his colleagues in the police department. “Everyone at work knew I was doing this. They were very supportive of it,” Kuykendall said.
He’s been out at work since joining the MPD nine years ago. While attending the police academy, he was asked if he was gay and said yes.
“My mom always told me you can never lie at work,” Kuykendall said. “People can take everything they want from you but they can’t take your word. Once you’re known at work as a liar, then you’re known as a liar.”
The baby was due Jan. 11–Feb. 1, and “we figured she’d be born around Jan. 22,” Kuykendall said. “We had planned on leaving the day before that. Early in the morning on Jan. 14, my phone was just ringing off the hook at 6 a.m. Finally by the hundredth call, I answered.”
On the other end of the receiver was Dr. Shiva, as she is known, congratulating him on the birth of a baby girl. He burst into tears, and said, “I’ll be there tomorrow.”
When he went to pick up Isabella, as he and Villalobos named the baby, Kuykendall insisted on a meeting with his surrogate mother.
“They frown on it, but I had a feeling that this woman took care of her body so I could have this beautiful girl, and I felt like she should be able to see her,” Kuykendall explained. “The nurses at the clinic allowed a meet-and-greet, and I let her hold (Isabella) and talk to her. We both cried. She didn’t know any English. She made me promise that (Isabella would) go to college and she’d be very well taken care of. I told her I already had a college fund started.
“We’re not allowed to keep in touch with them. She had three children of her own. (The women do it) for money to support their kids so they can go to college. Shivani looks after the women. She sees that the women get the money in bank accounts in their own name.”
When Kuykendall got off the plane, “it was surreal,” Villalobos said. “It really happened. I was happy. He had me hold her before I got in the car.”
Kuykendall took family leave from the MPD to care for Isabella. He dreaded the day when he’d have to return to work and leave her with his mom.
“That was the hardest thing – going to work that very first day,” he said. “I called my mom four times that day.”
But six months later, the two dads and baby Isabella are a happy, thriving multicultural family suitable for framing.
“She feels like she’s mine,” Villalobos said. “She’s been with me since the beginning. My family and friends all look at her like she’s my daughter. Over time I’d like to adopt her.”
“Everyone thinks she’s Curt’s baby, because Curt’s Mexican,” Kuykendall laughed.
Kuykendall is active on a blog used by thousands of people who’ve become parents through surrogacy in India. They share their stories, advice and pride in their kids.
The online community is up in arms about India’s discriminatory move to block singles, gays and unmarried couples from surrogacy service. Not only has the move proven to be a major blow for would-be parents like Kuykendall, but it’s also hit the Indian economy.
According to various sources, India’s surrogacy industry generated an estimated $2.5 billion annually in revenue for the country. An estimated 25,000 foreign couples visited India annually for surrogacy services, resulting in more than 2,000 births.
“The doctors (in India) are fighting (the new regulations) because it puts surrogates and egg donors and others out of work,” Kuykendall said. He’s written letters and lobbied in whatever ways he can for India to change its new rules. He’s hopeful that the law will change soon.
“I spent $40,000 in their country,” he said. “I just provided people in their country a job.”
In return, his lifelong dreams of parenthood came true. Now he and Villalobos are thinking about a little sister or brother for Isabella.