A Story of Perseverance and of a Tiny Country’s Very Big Role in Changing a Family’s Life.
In May and July of 2023, the Platt/Whitelaw Architects’ second generation grew by two. We’ve celebrated many Platt/Whitelaw babies over the firm’s 60+ years, but Andrew and Emma had extraordinary journeys into this world.
Building Family Through Surrogacy
These tiny architects-in-training (we can dream, right?) were born to the same parents, one-and-a-half months apart from one another, with help from two Georgian surrogates. Not Georgia the U.S. state, Georgia the country.
Each year, thousands of would-be parents for whom pregnancy is biologically prohibited or unsafe medically, turn to surrogacy. Dr. Barry Witt, a reproductive endocrinologist, OBGYN and Medical Director with WINFertility, told The Today Show that an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 babies are born through surrogacy each year in the U.S.
It’s an emotionally taxing and deeply personal journey. Platt/Whitelaw Associate Thomas Brothers is sharing about it for two reasons.
First, it’s kind of cool. “Not everyone gets to live through this alternate reality and also spend time in a fantastic country on the other side of the world,” he said.
Even more important is Thomas’ second reason.
“People go through struggles in life, but with help and support networks, you get through them. That’s worth sharing. If you’re open to help and people are open to helping, you can get through some pretty dark things.”
So, this is the story of some dark things and the many lights at the end of the tunnel.
The Leap of Faith
It didn’t take long for Thomas and his wife to learn that staying in the U.S. for their surrogacy journey would cost well over $100,000, with little to no help from insurance. It was a blow, but they started researching surrogacy in other countries. They were very careful to search for a country that protects its surrogates from exploitation.
They learned about Georgia first from a family friend, then from an article written by an Australian who used a Georgian surrogate. The author was pleased with the support and communication afforded to all parties.
Even better, they learned of Chachava Clinic, a delivery/fertility hospital in Tbilisi that also offered surrogacy services to foreigners. Through Chachava, they were able to match with two surrogates. They were also part of a WhatsApp group with the surrogacy agency and their gestational carrier. (Gestational carrier means when the egg is not the carrier’s own egg.)
They chose two surrogates simultaneously because they wanted two children, and implanting more than one embryo can put the carrier and fetuses at risk. Accordingly, Georgian medical standards limit transfers to one embryo when embryos have been pre-tested, as theirs were. With the cost of travel and temporary residency in another country, they knew their overseas surrogacy journey would happen only once.
Thomas and his wife also needed to account for the possibility of multiple embryo transfers being needed and the cost of shipping the embryos to Georgia from the U.S. in the first place.
Here, again, they found help online. Through various chat rooms and social media groups, they found another family to team up with to ship embryos to Chachava, and thereby reduce the specialty shipping fee for each family.
Ultimately, Thomas and his wife were fortunate that both of their surrogates became pregnant, though 1.5 months apart. Now, they would need to arrive in Georgia a safe distance before the first due date but stay through the second due date — and the time it would take to process all the paperwork required to leave the country with their children.
Paving the Path Forward
Knowing all that would be required of them once the due dates neared, Thomas and his wife decided to take a scouting trip to Tbilisi well before the due dates. While there, they identified temporary living quarters, got to know the city and its resources, went through their documentation with the lawyer at the clinic and met both surrogates.
They also got to meet up with a group of foreigners who were at various stages in their surrogacy journey. It was a valuable exchange of information and emotional support.
The couple spent months planning their experience, including learning about wait times and information that would be required to secure birth certificates and passports after the kids’ births. They were ready.
Hitting the Ground Running
They arrived in Georgia for the second time two weeks before Andrew’s due date. Flying halfway around the world is grueling, and the time change is impactful. As soon as they reached their rental home, they fell asleep.
They awoke the next morning to a message that Andrew was on his way, two weeks early! They arrived at the clinic just after he was born and then spent a few days in the clinic with Andrew and their surrogate partner. They returned to their Tbilisi home and spent six weeks as a one-baby family… until Emma was born early, too!
“Ultimately, we spent more than two months living in a bubble in Tbilisi,” said Thomas. “We established a routine. Then, five days after Emma’s passport interview, we were on a plane back to the U.S.”
Things certainly didn’t slow down when Thomas and his family arrived home.
Sleeping is hard. The babies haven’t been on the same schedule at all and are at different developmental stages.
“You’re more aware of every developmental step because it happens twice but close together,” Thomas said, adding that, although it comes with challenges, this is one aspect of parenting he enjoys most.
He’s grateful to work at a family-friendly firm and can take time for family obligations. In addition to working up a reserve of vacation time before the birth of his children, Thomas was able to work remotely.
“Platt/Whitelaw made sure I had a laptop and helped me set up a VPN so I could work in Georgia,” Thomas said. “Our leadership let me know that I had a safe landing space when I was ready to come back. It was tremendous to have that security in such an otherwise stressful time.”
Thomas is grateful to Georgia, also. In addition to the wonderful people involved in their surrogacy journey, they developed a love for the country.
“Georgia is a tiny country that’s fiercely independent,” Thomas said. “It has its own language and alphabet, and a whole lot of spirit.”
Lessons Learned for the Surrogacy Journey
For Thomas and his family, there were many lights at the end of the tunnel, with Andrew and Emma being the brightest, of course.
He hopes everyone turning to surrogacy can receive the support along the way that he and his wife did.
“My best piece of advice is to get into support groups – online or on social media,” Thomas said. “You get important access to people going through the same thing and pooling resources. The surrogacy journey we took can feel lonely, scary and overwhelming, and you don’t know how or when it’s going to end. It’s painful but also an opportunity if you let yourself be open to it.”