We Are Family Podcast, Episode 3: Papa, Dada, and Babies Make 4
Co-host Shaun T, creator of the Insanity workout and dad to twins with his husband Scott Blokker, opens up in episode three all about his family's long, winding path to parenthood. In a celebration of diverse LGBTQ families all Pride Month, Shaun and Scott discuss with co-host Julia Dennison, executive editor of Parents.com and single mama, exactly what it took to have their twins—Silas and Sander, now 2.5—and complete their family.
After five years of trying and "twelve tries, six egg donors, five surrogates, two doctors, one miscarriage," Shaun and Scott got the call of a lifetime. From a perfect first date to TTC ups and downs to a surrogate who's now become a lifelong friend, this story shows that happy families really do come in all shapes and sizes.
Want more LGBTQ stories for Pride? Go back and listen to episode two, where Shaun and Julia chat with The Breakfast Club actress Ally Sheedy, her son Beckett Lansbury who is transgender and was assigned female at birth, and the journey they've been on as Beck has transitioned and Ally has found new ways to be there for him.
Upcoming episodes and topics this season include:
- Chosen family
- Foster Care
- Parenting with disabilities
- Divorce, co-parenting and blended families
- Single-parent households
- Multicultural parenting
- The family you didn't know you had
Listen to episode 3 right now: Parents.com/FamilyPod-Ep3
Plus, follow along here:
Shaun: You look like you're about to give a speech to a whole bunch of people
Sander: But I'm gonna talk to people
Shaun: Yeah, what are you gonna say to them?
Sander: I'm gonna say Trust and Believe to the people
Shaun: You're gonna say trust and believe in who you are?
Sander: Trust and believe in who you are
Sander: You can do it!
Sander: Make it happen!
Sander: Let's goooo!
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Julia: Hi, I'm Julia Dennison…
Shaun: And I'm Shaun T…
Julia: And this is We Are Family, a podcast from Parents magazine. This show is all about celebrating the different ways there are to build and be a family—and how beautiful that diversity is.
Shaun: And guys, it's Pride Month! I may be recording this podcast in my closet with you Julia, but I am out and proud! We're celebrating Pride by sharing stories about LGBTQ families, including mine. My husband and I have twin boys, who are two and a half:
My name is Sander.
Sander: [Knock knock..]
Julia: Oh, they're sooo cute.
Shaun: Well, SOMETIMES they're cute, Julia. You're a mom, you know what I'm talking about.
Julia: Totally. So in our first episode, you heard a bit about Shaun's path to parenthood, but we wanted to get his husband Scott's side of the story too.
Shaun: We're also going to talk to a very special person who helped make our family possible: our surrogate, Ashley.
Julia: But first, I think it would be great for our audience to learn a little more about you and Scott. So here we go:
Julia: I know you guys are both fans of TikTok. I feel like I probably have no business being on TikTok at 37, but I love it. So I don't know if you guys are familiar with the TikTok, TikTok couples quiz.
Um, J.Lo, um, and A-Rod have done it. Normally on TikTok it would be a visual thing. So you would have your blindfolds and then you would raise your hands. But because this is a podcast and it's audio, I'm going to do quick fire questions and then I want you guys to say which of you, you think it applies to. Who initiated the first kiss?
Shaun: Oh no, it was Scott. Scott. It was definitely Scott.
Julia: OK. Who apologizes first after a fight?
Julia: Who is the funny one?
Julia: Who is more romantic?
Julia: Who is the most patient?
Julia: Who is the better cook?
Shaun: Ss.. Shaun.
Scott: Yeah, it's on the cusp.
Julia: That's good.
Scott: It's "Scaun." How about Scaun?
Julia: It's "Scoan." With currants, and butter. Who said, I love you first?
Scott: Shaun, I think.
Julia: Who is the bigger baby when sick?
Scott: When we were first together, he was like, I'm just letting you know that when I get sick, I turn into the biggest baby and you will want to, you know, I'm just giving you your out right now. We can stop dating, but when I get sick, it's horrible. And. It is 100% truthful.
Julia: That makes me laugh so hard because as a mom who's dating now, to me that would be a huge deal breaker. Cause I'm like, I already have a baby. I don't need another baby to look after.
Shaun: Oh my god! Julia, we wouldn't be good in a relationship!
Julia: I'm telling you, I'm telling you. Once, you're a parent and you're like, no more babies who aren't babies. Alright, now let's get into the more serious questions. How long have you guys been married and when did you meet and how did you meet?
Shaun: We got married in 2012. We met in 2010. We met on what was somewhat of a dating app, and I'm just going to use that term. You know, that's when, when online dating and quote, unquote meetings started happening and uh, so, you know, we, we connected and talked for a little bit and you know, decided to meet at midnight.
I was walking on 58th Street toward Ninth Avenue because I was like, I want to see him before, you know, he sees me.
Shaun: And I saw him sitting on the window sill outside of CVS and you know, I really couldn't see him that well. I just saw like a hat and he had a black North Face jacket on and he had some jeans.
And I was like, Oh my God, he's so cute. And then. And then we just, you know, I went up to him, we started talking, and then, you know, we just started walking and it was so crazy. Literally, three steps in, and most people think, this is weird, but three steps into meeting Scott I was like, I'm going to be with this person for the rest of my life. And then he told me later, he felt the same way.
Scott: 100 percent. It was the weirdest thing. I don't necessarily believe we've met in the 1800s or whatever, but when I met Shaun, I felt to myself, this aura like I had met him before. I had known him in a previous life, and I don't even, like I said, I don't even go there. But I knew within three steps that I was going to be with this person for the rest of my life.
Julia: Cute. Oh my God. Dating goals. So now. Whose idea was it to have kids? Scott, I think I heard that at one point you told Shaun that you wanted to have something like 11 kids. Is that true?
Scott: Very true. Uh, it was my idea to have kids. Growing up being gay, I didn't think that I would ever have the, the, the marriage, the house, the 2.5 kids.
Because when I was growing up, uh, no one was gay. No one who was gay was allowed to be married and they definitely weren't having kids. And so, um, for me, when I had met the person I was going to spend the rest of my life with and we had spent uh, you know, a good portion of the beginning of the relationship doing things that we've always wanted to do together. It felt like the natural progression was to say, Hey, uh, what do you think about having kids?
I wanted to be able to raise humans with this amazing husband of mine. And so, yes, originally I wanted to have 12 kids because I was a professional soccer player, and I wanted my own team. Uh, but we are definitely not having any more than two. I have found that twins is extremely challenging. It is, it is different than I've ever, ever, ever experienced in my life. And I don't need to go down that, uh pre-two year old uh world again.
Shaun: I actually didn't want kids because my mom had a daycare center out of our home and I just was like, I can play with them, I can watch them, but I do not want to have this as a 24 hour job. So when I met Scott and he said he wanted 11, I was looking at him like, you, you must've never babysat a kid before. Like I was just like, this is so crazy. And so when he said that, I was like okay, well, I don't want to have one, so I'll settle for two because 11 to two I think is a really good compromise. [Laughter]
Julia: That's meeting in the middle alright.
Shaun: For sure, because I knew how crazy it was.
Julia: So Scott and Shaun reached out to a fertility doctor and started trying to conceive. The plan was to use their sperm, donor eggs, and a surrogate to carry the twins. And that's eventually what happened—but it took five long, stressful years.
Shaun: January of 2013 is when we really started this entire process. You know, we went into the situation like, Oh, you know, we're healthy, we have good sperm, uh, the egg donor, we, we're going to choose, we felt would be amazing. And then S H I T hit the fan.
Julia: Their doctor had told them it might take a while.
Scott: He said to me, so I'm just going to let you know that it doesn't always happen on the first or second try. And I remember thinking to myself, get the F…, get outta here. Like, there's no way what, maybe two, maybe three tries. And we will have the family we've always wanted.
And I always say that to anyone now who wants to have kids I'm like, yeah, don't think that you have control over the situation because you don't, it's going to happen when, when whoever is in charge of this is wants it to happen.
Julia: I love that. And I think that's just so true across the board. I think parenthood is such a great experiment in the fact that as a human race, we have so much less control over our lives than we think we do for sure.
As the process of trying to start a family went on, Scott and Shaun settled into different roles based on their individual strengths. Scott handled the business side of things: the paperwork, the contracts, the emails, and the money. Shaun took the lead on the interpersonal element: forming relationships with egg donors and surrogates.
Shaun: Now, it started to get really tough when we started having, you know, failures if you will. It was just super highly emotional. It was kind of like the blame you, blame myself game started to happen. Blame the surrogate, blame the egg donor, blame the doctor, blame the embryologist. And when you start going in that tornado of it's someone's fault, it creates havoc. It is the worst thing you could possibly do. And it took us a while to learn that.
Julia: But finally, after years of trying, Scott got a phone call that would change their lives forever. More on that after the break.
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Shaun: Welcome back to We Are Family, a podcast from Parents magazine. I'm your host, Shaun T.
Julia: And I'm your co-host, Julia Dennison. Today we're talking about LGBTQ parenting, and specifically about Shaun and his husband Scott's experience starting a family. They'd been trying to have kids for a LONG time.
Shaun: Twelve tries, six egg donors, five surrogates, two doctors, one miscarriage.
Julia: For any couple, trying to conceive can really put your relationship through the wringer. Shaun and Scott were about four years into the process—and on a trip to Miami—when they had a huge argument.
Scott: We had just been told that our, our fourth surrogate wasn't going to work…
Shaun: He and I had gotten into a fight before I left the hotel because of just the stress of, you know, having the kids. Oh my God, I'm getting emotional. You know, just because of the stress of like really wanting to have kids…
Julia: And then Scott's phone rang. It was Ashley, the third party coordinator at their fertility clinic, calling to say they had embryos ready to transfer. But remember: they'd just learned that their surrogate wouldn't be able to carry a pregnancy.
Scott: She said to me, you know, she said, what are you going to do now? And I said, I have no effing clue.
Ashley: Like it almost kind of the words just came out of my mouth before I could even really think about it. Um, because now we have embryos, we're ready to do this. And I just felt like I could do it. I could. And I did.
Shaun: Ashley told Scott she wanted to be our surrogate. But when I came back to the hotel to talk to him, I had no idea.
I got on the phone with Ashley recently and told her what that moment was like.
Shaun: His energy had changed a little bit. And I can tell he had been crying and I'm thinking, you know, he's crying because of our fight and he's actually crying because he is about to tell me that you, you know offered to be our surrogate. And it was just such, this like, amazing moment. And I'm thinking today like how special you are. And you know, even, I hate that our kids wake us up in the middle of the night. It's so thankful, you know, that you did that for us. I'll thank you a million times.
Ashley: You don't have to. I don't know, I just felt, I can't even explain it. I just felt like I wanted to help.
Shaun: I know and that's what's so special about you. And that's what's so special about surrogacy in general.
Julia: So, Shaun and Scott had the embryos—created with donated eggs and their sperm (remember the "inspiration room" we talked about in our last episode?)
Shaun: Ugh, don't remind me.
Julia: The next step was to have the doctor transfer those embryos to Ashley's uterus — and then wait and see if they implanted successfully.
Shaun: It was my birthday and we were on a tennis court and we had my phone sitting out or Scott's phone sitting out, waiting for the call to see if our pregnancy test came back positive.
And so. Ashley, I think sent us a text message. And we walked off the tennis court and we call Ashley and she's like, we're like hi. She's like, hi guys. And so we're thinking that we have another, you know, negative pregnancy test. And she got, and we were like, OK, so how's it going? And what was your response? Do you remember?
Ashley: "I'm super pregnant."
Shaun: And tell people what you mean by super pregnant.
Ashley: Um, so nine days after a day five embryo transfer, we check the HCG levels, um, with a blood draw —
Shaun: That's Human Chorionic Gonadotropin—aka the "pregnancy hormone."
Ashley: And it tells us anything greater than five is considered pregnant. I would say like a good normal first number would be like 20 to 50. Mine was 250.
Uh, so usually, uh, I mean, we don't really know until that first ultrasound, but, you know, the higher the number, the more we start to think, maybe there's two.
Julia: Two embryos. Twins.
Shaun: Ashley had wanted to be a surrogate for a while. Her husband Michael wasn't thrilled with the idea at first, but eventually he came on board. She'd been watching from the sidelines, as she put it, while working in the fertility clinic, so she understood the process. And she already had five kids of her own, so she knew pregnancy was something she enjoyed.
Ashley: Um, the twins are 17, Caleb and Colin. Um, and then we have Gavin who is 10, Casen who is 8, and then the baby Adelyn is 6.
But it was different this time around. She's a stepmom to twins, but she'd never carried two babies at once.
Ashley: Um, I think one thing that I didn't think about, um was like the day to day activities. So going to the grocery store being big, huge and pregnant with five kids tagging along and the way that people would look at me and just assume, Oh my gosh, she has five and now she's pregnant again. Like people would just stare at us walking around and I didn't really prepare myself or my children for that.
I had no idea how much I would need to slow down and adapt to being pregnant with two versus my normal go, go, go. I'm on the go all the time routine.
Shaun: Scott and I were in touch with Ashley constantly throughout the pregnancy, flying to Texas where she lived for doctor's appointments, and just generally texting her all the time. Remember, one of our surrogates had a miscarriage before, so we were pretty paranoid. But so far, so good.
Julia: OK, so you know how we were talking earlier about the fact that parenthood shows us that whatever your plan is, you are NOT the one in charge?
Shaun: Oh yeah. The twins came on their own time.
Shaun: Scott and I were basically about to go on our babymoon. We took off work. We had seven weeks to just play and travel. One of our friends, uh, bought a bell and we were going to her house and we were allowed to ring the bell and she was going to wait on us for like three days. And then all of a sudden, Ashley calls us in the morning and is like Hey, I'm having some trouble.
Ashley: Michael came home from work and I was like rocking on my hands and knees, like I had my elbows on the side of the couch and I was rocking back and forth because there was no position that could take, like I just had so much pressure in my back. It was weird. And I would wake up in the middle of the night and do the same thing on our bed. And so the next morning I got up for work and came in like a normal morning. I stopped at the back door and kind of like leaned against the wall and Ivy...
Julia: One of Ashley's coworkers.
Ashley: ...walks past me and she's like, are you OK? I was like, yeah, I have this like pain on my right side. I really thought it was my appendix. And I was like, Oh, I'm fine. I drank some water. Went to my desk and just started working. Um, Dr. Kaufman was seeing a patient and called me to the back and I tried to get up from my desk and I was like, Oh, that, Nope, not getting up. Sat back down and he came over to me and he's like, um, yeah, you need to go to the hospital.
And I was like, no, I'm fine. He wheeled me out of the front office, so through the waiting room. It was a busy IVF morning. I remember every chair along the wall being full. And he just rolled me out in my computer chair to the front seat of Ivy's car so she could take me over to the hospital.
Shaun: And by 5 p.m., that day, she's like, I'm having the baby tonight. So we didn't really have time to prepare, if you will. Um. We were about to be at the beach swimming or something, getting some Mai Tais. Well we were heading to the airport and we found out she was going to have the baby before we even got on a plane. And so we saw our kids born via FaceTime, which was crazy. And then we were in the NICU for three weeks. So I think that initially it was kind of exciting. We were kind of sleepy, but we could still go back to the hotel and sleep.
Scott: Of course the kids did not cry at all, the two and a half weeks that we were in there. And then the night that we took them into the room by ourselves, they've cried 80 percent of the night. And we're like, what is going on? And then Shaun unfortunately had a work trip that he had to go to, and I was fortunate enough to be able to check out of the hospital with them.
And it was, it just the ultimate in mayhem started, uh, you know, for me, thinking, you know, okay, we're going to have great kids. They're going to listen to us. They're not going to cry. They're not gonna have a mind of their own. You know, we're going to be able to help them develop into being amazing human beings.
And the kids were like, you are an idiot for thinking that. (Laughter)
Shaun: My book had just come out, so I was traveling for my book tour. We had one kid that just wouldn't eat. It took Sander an hour to eat every time. So by the time he finished eating, we had 30 minutes before Silas woke back up. And you're burping Sander. And so, you know, and then I'm traveling, and I feel really horrible. So the first three months were just really terrible because again, no one was sleeping. And it was just like, just a lot of angst and you know, who's right and who's wrong?
Scott: And I remember sitting down in the closet thinking, crying. I have, I have ruined my absolutely wonderful relationship with my husband.
And it was all because I wanted to have kids.
Shaun: And then, uh, and then around the four month mark, we looked at each other and was like we were like, we need help. And as soon as we got nannies we went on our first date night and our life got tremendously better.
Scott: Because if your relationship with your spouse or partner or whatever, is crumbling, that you will not be able to give a hundred percent to your child. And it was the brilliance of Shaun to say, you know, we need to focus on us again so that we can give the love that we want to give to our kids.
Julia: Speaking of staying connected, Shaun and Scott and their boys, Silas and Sander, have kept in touch with Ashley and her family.
Ashley: We still talk a lot.
Shaun: I think the only thing that's different is when you were pregnant, obviously we were chatting and texting every day through the process, but I think we've built such a great relationship that it's now like brother/sister kind of situation. Even though like I used to hate when you called me sir, you're like, yes, sir. And I'm like, Ashley, stop calling me sir. I'm not that old. I wasn't even 40 years old yet.
Julia: Ashley's kids even got to meet the twins.
Ashley: Yeah, so it was Scott's birthday and we got party hats and blowers and the kids had, you know, we had been showing them pictures throughout, but being in the NICU, they never got to see them and hold them and that moment and seeing their faces and how excited they were, and three, two years later, they still talk about them being their cousins. And do you remember that time? Like they still haven't forgotten.
Shaun: I remember it. I just think it's, it's amazing and incredible. I wish we could FaceTime more. Even the last time we FaceTimed, which was a couple of weeks ago, a few weeks ago, you know, just you can see in your kid's eyes how they stare at them because it's something really special, you know?
So how does it feel about the fact that you, number one, gave birth to our twins and how, how are we doing as you watched them grow up a little bit?
Ashley: So social media is amazing because, I mean, I do think of them and, you know, of you and Scott. And so I'm like, Oh, I wonder, you know, how they're doing. So I love that I can just like open up Instagram and oh, there they are. Look how happy they are. They're running around and playing.
Shaun: What would you say to anyone who's thinking about becoming a surrogate?
Ashley: Call me. Um. I mean, I talk to people all day long about wanting to be a surrogate. And I just, um, a few of the questions that I ask them is, you know, are you done building your own family? I've seen a lot of the worst of the worst happen. And I, I think it's very important for someone who wants to be a surrogate to be done building their own family in the event that the surrogacy takes away from them being able to build a family further in the future.
Julia: So Shaun, one thing I'm really curious about is how Ashley's kids understood what was happening when she was pregnant. Her daughter Addie especially was pretty little when she carried the twins. Did you guys talk about that?
Shaun: We did, Julia. And I was so touched by what Ashley said her kids learned from their family's experience with surrogacy.
Ashley: I think it really taught them that families can be of all shapes and forms and colors and genders, and they've never, they've never questioned like who or where, where Sander and Silas' mommy, like they've never said that. Never. And so they, they have a mom. My children, you know, have my husband and I at home.
But to know that Shaun and Scott are taking care of Sander and Silas, that's, that's just normal for them. They don't even question it. I think that's really cool because I know a lot of maybe kids in school, they're like, Oh, where's your mom? And they don't really understand, but to be able to show my children that families can be made with whoever you want to be your family.
Shaun: Yeah. That, that actually is, that makes me feel good because even though the world is progressing slowly and changing. At one point Silas and Sander are going to go to school and, you know, before that I'm already prepping how am I going to help them explain to, you know, a classmate or someone that says, well, where's your mommy?
I have a feeling that they're going to be able to answer that question without me even telling them what to say because they're just those two kinds of kids. But hopefully, you know, the world in the next three years kind of changes to the point where, you know people just know. But, hey, you always gotta be prepared for people who aren't open to to different types of families.
Ashley: I think it's going to continue to be more normal. Like Addie has a little friend and she, she referenced you guys whenever she was telling me about those friends' parents, and how she has two mommies, just like Sander and Silas have two daddies.
Like it was just normal for her and for her to remember and to bring it into her life and for her to be able to accept it, I just think is wonderful.
Shaun: I give mad props to you and Michael because that kind of teaching and open-mindedness and acceptance happens at home. You know, if, if kids hear like, Oh, that's bad, or that's not normal, you know, they hear it at home, they go to school, and then they make kids feel bad.
So hopefully there, there are more parents, like you and Michael out there in the world that help kids become accepting of different types of families because all families are different.
Shaun: Well, thank you.
Ashley: And yeah, thanks for having me in, Shaun. Thanks for thinking of me.
Shaun: Of course. We love you. I'm sure we'll be texting.
Julia: Shaun, that is so amazing. I love the relationship you've built with Ashley, between your two families. And it's so great to hear that for a lot of kids these days, the whole concept of our show is already obvious. Like, duh, why wouldn't you have two dads, or a single mom, or whatever?
Shaun: Totally. It's definitely a different world than what I experienced growing up gay. And I think sharing our story of how we became parents as a same-sex couple helps make it easier for everyone to understand how beautiful that is.
Julia: You are so right. For more great stories about LGBTQ families, check out Parents.com. And that's all for today's episode, but we've got more Pride content coming your way. Next week, we're talking to Michael Seligman, host of the podcast Mob Queens, and a producer on RuPaul's Drag Race, about adoption and found family.
Shaun: That sounds awesome. I can't wait.
Julia: And we'll catch you next time on We Are Family.
Thanks also to our production team at Pod People: Rachael King, Eliza Lambert, Susie Armitage, and Lene Bech Sillisen. This show was recorded in New York and Arizona, edited in New York City, and can be found wherever you get your podcasts.