Gay Dad Finds Parenting Confidence After Doctor Said He Lacked "Maternal Instincts"
Name: Nick He
Location: Seattle, Washington
Occupation: I work in real estate investment and property management. I’m also the author of the Amazon best seller Two Dads and Three Girls.
Family situation: Got married to husband Bryan Koehler in 2013. We have three daughters through surrogacy: Phoebe He-Koehler was born on November 2, 2015 and our twins Hanalei and Chelsie He-Koehler were born on May 29, 2017. Our jobs are flexible so we stay at home when we need to. My parents moved in with us from China to help take care of the twins since they were born as preemies and required a lot of extra care. Our older daughter Phoebe goes to daycare during the week.
Parenting “philosophy” in a sentence: Find the genius in each kid and let them flourish.
What was your journey to having the family life you have today?
I was born in China, and in a way, I feel blessed to have grown up there because I never had to address my sexual orientation. As a child, all my parents cared about was my education and I didn’t know anything about the LGBTQ community, so it wasn’t until middle school that I realized I might be gay. Over the course of my adolescence, I went through many different and painful experiences trying to figure out my sexuality.
Years later, after college and after I had moved to the United States, I met my current husband Brian on Craigslist. We talked for hours and eventually decided to meet up. We were attracted to each other but it was complicated. He grew up with divorced parents, didn’t believe in marriage and wanted an open relationship — which was complicated, because after we met, we basically spent every day together.
Early on, before Brian and I got serious, I decided to book a trip to Europe to explore and learn more about gay culture. I called it my “gay education trip.” I used the CouchSurfing website to book my entire stay with gay couples for three weeks. During my trip, I saw so many different gay couples, including one couple in Belgium, when I realized I really wanted what they had. Their relationship inspired me to text Brian to tell him that I wanted to be with him. Then, when I got back to the U.S., I ended up moving in with him and we’ve been together ever since. We had a courthouse wedding in 2013 and a year later, I started to explore the idea of adoption.
I first went on findsurrogatemother.com to see if I could find a surrogate but I wasn’t having much luck. Then, a woman from an agency called Tiny Sprouts reached out to me; I felt so connected with her and we decided to work together. After about a month or two, she helped us meet our surrogate mother Chelsea, who gave birth to our oldest daughter Phoebe; now Chelsea has basically become family. After Phoebe was born, we asked to work with her again. The second time around, we used Brian’s sperm with an egg from a second egg donor and we used my sperm with an egg from our original egg donor so our twins, Hanalei and Chelsie, look completely different. One is a blonde, white girl and the other is a mix of Chinese, Spanish and Irish.
I am thrilled to have my own family, but I feel like there’s still a lot of judgment in the world right now. For example, when we were at the hospital in Fresno, California, and we were ready to take Phoebe home, everything checked out fine until the doctor realized we were two gay dads. He said that she had a heart murmur and since we didn’t have “maternal instincts,” we couldn’t take our baby home yet and if we tried, he would call Child Protective Services. I was completely shocked and furious. We started doing frantic research and found that heart murmurs that are found in newborns usually go away within seven days, so we tried to talk to the doctor again but he would not allow us to take her. After Phoebe spent an extra day at the hospital, the doctor finally released her and the first thing we did was take her to Fresno Children’s Hospital so another doctor could look at her. Our new doctor was also shocked at what we had experienced and the whole situation made me realize that I needed to protect my kids. Thankfully we live in Seattle, where it’s a lot more liberal, and safer for us and the girls.
Phoebe, who is now three-and-a-half, is already at an age where she’s asking where her mommy is. She’s become more curious after watching TV and going to daycare, so I have these long discussions with her about why she has two dads and how people can also have two moms and one mom and one dad as well. I always try to just shine the best possible light on having two dads so she knows it’s normal and we’re just like any other family.
How did your upbringing influence your parenting style?
I feel like there are several things — good and bad — that I’ve taken from my parents. In Chinese culture, it’s normal for parents to tell their kids what to do but I decided that I didn’t want to choose that path. I’d rather learn what my kids want to do and then explore options with them. I do, however, like how hard work is always enforced in Chinese culture because it’s important for my girls to understand that nothing comes easy.
My parents have both come a long way with accepting the fact that I’m gay. My parents used to visit me in the states every summer, and once I moved in with Brian, I decided to write them a letter and it was a disaster. My mom came to visit but then changed her flight to go back to China early and cried every single day. When she was at the airport ready to leave, she said she never wanted to visit Seattle again; that broke my heart and we didn’t talk for almost a year.
She slowly started to talk to me again after she had tried to learn more about gay culture; she told me she watched movies where gay guys killed themselves because their parents didn’t accept them. I told her that I would never do that and she understood, but it wasn’t until after we had our kids that my parents completely changed.
I realized then that I don’t think it was really about my sexuality but more about the fact that they thought I wouldn’t be able to have a family, which made them sad. Now, they tell all their friends that I’m gay and that they have three granddaughters. Even my 93-year-old grandma back in Hunan, China knows I’m gay and she’s proud of me and my family.
This taught me that you have to have confidence in your parents, and give them some time. Don’t just imagine that they won’t accept you or they won’t be able to change. The relationship that I have with my family is the main reason why I’ve decided to share my life and my journey in a book that I wrote called Two Dads and Three Girls. I’d like for people to read my story so they can see that anything is possible as long as you communicate and show compassion to those who may not understand your journey at first.
What’s your favorite thing about parenting?
My favorite part is picking up Phoebe from daycare every day and then going home to see the twins. I love how they run to me and then yell, “Daddy!” It erases everything; All my troubles melt away. Even thinking about it makes me tear up, I just enjoy those moments so much.
What’s the hardest part?
Since I’m an only child, I got all of my parents’ attention. Now that I have three kids, I have to think about how to balance each relationship with each daughter. I also think being a parent challenges us by bringing out our weaknesses. When I get stuck in a stressful situation, I feel like it brings out the worse in me. I can be a workaholic so I’ve been trying to learn how to balance that part of my life as well. The last thing I would add is that being a LGBTQ family while traveling can have its challenges. We’ve gotten stopped at immigration in Japan and also in Thailand and people were just looking at us and laughing at our situation. I know we live in a great community in Seattle, where people love and accept us, but I know I have to be stronger for my family when we go on trips.
What’s the best advice you can share with new parents?
My first piece of advice is not to be scared, especially for LGBTQ parents. I was terrified after that doctor told me that I didn’t have “maternal instincts” and I started to doubt myself so much. Even though I felt crushed, I learned that I definitely have instincts to take care of my own kids and I’m glad I didn’t let his words get to me. I also truly believe that it really does take a village to raise children. I’m thankful that my parents can help us out and give us advice when we need it.
What would you want your kids to say about you as a parent?
I would want them to say that I love and support them every day. I hope they feel like they can be whatever they want to be because Brian and I will always have their backs, no matter what.
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