Megan’s tuft of brown hair flips forward as she sneezes hard, firing her pacifier onto the carpet. Ken Wehking, her laid-back father, attends to his newborn in the living room.
Four months prior, Ken brought Megan home after a 16-hour birth. He even cut the umbilical cord. Normally, that’s no big deal, but in this case the woman involved wasn’t Ken’s wife or girlfriend; Ken is a middle-aged, single guy. The woman at the Colorado Springs hospital was his hired surrogate.
At 46, Ken is part of a growing group of straight single men who go through fertility clinics to have children. “My mantra for the past couple years has been that life needs to be experienced,” says Ken, sitting at his kitchen table. He’d wanted a family for a long time. More so, he wanted to be a child’s primary father figure—a desire he found tough as he sought to date women within his age range. “Most women over 40 either already have kids or have no intention of having kids,” he says. “Those are the two categories that I found.”
"My mantra for the past couple years has been that life needs to be experienced."
In 2012, Ken started researching single-male adoption, and became convinced the cards were not in his favor. Many men, he felt, were discriminated against, perceived as inept caregivers. “It just seemed like a lot of hurdles,” he says. “I was already 43 when I started this thinking, and didn’t want to be part of something that might be a five-year process.”
The following year, Ken decided to go solo and find a gestational carrier. Earning a software engineer’s salary made the arrangements—lawyer, egg donor, surrogate, background checks, fertilization, doctor visits—feasible, though the process was costly, leaving him with a bill of nearly $150,000. But a Vancouver sailing trip helped to solidify his decision. Money, he thought, should be used to experience all that life has to offer. For Ken, a child was a priority, and surrogacy—an at-times tedious process—is a viable procedure for the many heterosexual unmarried men who desperately want to experience the joys of fatherhood.
“She only cries when she’s hungry,” says Ken, cradling Megan (her name has been changed for this story) inside her Scooby-Doo-decorated room as a sound machine emits bird tweets. Just then, she gurgles. “Yeah,” Ken says, looking down at his swaddled-up daughter, “that’s the closest you’ve come to some baby talk.”
This fatherhood trend is a “pretty recent phenomenon,” according to Diane Hinson, founder and owner of Creative Family Connections, a law firm that pairs intended parents with potential surrogates. The descriptor single father generally brings to mind a widower rearing a child alone, or a divorcé with custodial hangouts. Yet changing ideas of what constitutes a traditional family have helped some single men who want babies accept adoption or surrogacy as an option. “If you go back to 2005, we had none” of these clients, Hinson says. Today, they have several. And, according to Texas-based Simple Surrogacy, in 2002 their company arranged 10 such births. Last year, they arranged 55.
But Ken still had to find a willing egg donor. Some candidates rejected him, as they do all single men. “For men, it’s often seen as socially unacceptable to have a primary caregiver role in a family,” says New York clinical psychologist Gregory Payton, a board member of the peer support network Men Having Babies. As a gay father of two, Payton is familiar with the stigma of men being seen as incompetent at parenting and providing nurturing resources. Men also have to struggle with societal fears that children raised in such a household are at greater risk for sexual abuse and pedophilia, according to a paper published by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s ethics committee in 2006, which also mentions that the American Psychological Association found those claims to be baseless after reviewing the available data.
Although Ken was confident he’d go through the process successfully, he enlisted a Colorado-based fertility clinic, An Eggceptional Match, to connect him with egg donors, draw up contracts with the help of a recommended lawyer, and find a willing gestational carrier. Through the clinic, Ken was introduced to a military mom a couple of miles from his Colorado home. When the two met—her husband and three kids in the room—she was a little awkward and shy. This was her first time being a surrogate. But Ken and the gestational carrier grew close over time, exchanging text messages. He accompanied her to doctor visits where they talked about raising an infant. “Now she’s almost like an aunt,” says Ken, who’s visited with his gestational carrier several times since Megan’s birth.
Two weeks after Ken sent an email to his co-workers telling them that he was having a baby—“I could hear the jaws dropping,” he says—there was a baby shower, or, as he calls it, baby celebration. It was a chance to introduce his friends to the gestational carrier, as well as gauge how they felt about the overall idea. Ultimately, the celebration relieved him of some of the same social pressures Payton touched on. Things felt normal. The celebration was held in Ken’s backyard, picnic style; he was gifted a drawer-full of clothes, toys, and other items from his baby registry like a front carrier, which he uses to take Megan on bucolic trails. These days, a neighbor babysits Megan three times a week, and other friends constantly offer to watch her.
In the months leading up to Megan’s birth, Ken took All About Baby classes, rented handfuls of baby DVDs off Netflix, and attended Daddy Boot Camp, where he was given a quick and dirty guide to first-time parenthood entitled Crash Course for Dads-to-Be. He also practiced changing diapers on real babies. “That was the first time I ever handled a baby,” he admits.
The day Megan was born, he sat with her in the hospital’s Mommy Room, letting her hear his voice and feeding her the gestational carrier’s breast milk. As he held Megan, the sense of responsibility sank in. Sitting at his table now, he confesses, “I’d like to say there was this flood of warm feelings.” But really it was more like, “What do I do next?”
“I’d watched as many videos and had as much training as I could stand," he says. “I made sure I could do the motherly things—.” He stops himself. “I don’t think it’s fair to call it ‘motherly.’ But I think we associate those caregiving traits with mothers. I think all fathers are capable of it, but we’re taught to turn it off. It’s still there.”
Ken is determined to be more present than his father was. Every night, he and Megan are developing their own rituals, which include reading Sherlock Holmes stories at bedtime. On bath nights, it’s not uncommon for Megan to “squeal with delight” as he dries her with a towel.
Afterwards, he takes Megan on his lap and combs through her tangled hair. Everyone has remarked on how long it is for a baby. Even Ken’s gestational carrier got her a onesie that jabs at Megan’s perpetual bed-head. It reads: “Daddy did my hair.”
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