The New York Post’s Jane Ridley meets Dr Conrad Cean, a 44-year-old pain management specialist from Harlem, whose desperation to have kids led him to hire a surrogate to fulfill his dreams.
Sitting on the sofa a few minutes after midnight, I cradled my newborn babies, one on each knee, as I tried to feed them both at the same time.
“I wonder when they’ll be old enough to hold their own bottles?” I thought to myself, my arms aching from the awkward balancing act. “It has to get easier than this!”
But I couldn’t feel sorry for myself for long. After all, regular nighttime feedings were just one of the things I’d signed up for as a single dad of twins — along with the multiple diaper changes and permanent spit-up stains that paled in significance to the wondrous moments I’ve experienced watching them grow.
I’d been longing for a family for years and, not having met Miss Right, decided to go down the surrogacy route to attain my goal of fatherhood around the age of 36. People might think it’s unusual — but why shouldn’t straight, single guys have the right to raise kids, just like everyone else?
My biological clock was ticking
That feeling that my biological clock was ticking kicked in during my mid-30s, when physiologically a man’s sperm is already past its prime. Also, I didn’t want to postpone fatherhood until my 40s or 50s, when I worried I might be too old to be an active, hands-on dad.
And while I knew I wanted a son or daughter to call my own, I didn’t want to rush into finding a wife or girlfriend simply for that purpose. Because of my job as a doctor, I was working upward of 100 hours per week, and didn’t have the time to meet lots of different women.
And so, in 2011, I started to research surrogacy — having a woman give birth to a baby made from my sperm and the egg of a donor, so that the carrier is not biologically related to the child. I briefly considered adoption but heard it’s not easy for a single guy to adopt in the US. Besides, I wanted children of my own flesh and blood.
My parents took a lot of convincing
My parents, who live in Queens but are originally from Haiti, took a lot of convincing because they’re very traditional and expect kids to be born to married couples. But they’ve always respected my decisions and eventually came around to my way of thinking. Meanwhile, my four younger sisters were very supportive.
In fact, nobody directly criticised me, but I heard a few negative comments secondhand — mainly about there being a lot of beautiful black women in New York City looking for husbands and men to father their children. But mostly, I found that people, especially women, were delighted that I was willing to take on such a responsibility.
I contacted a few surrogacy agencies in the US to start, but hated how lawyer-driven it was. I wanted to be able to talk to the OB-GYNs directly about the surrogate’s pregnancy and the birth. Having lawyers as middlemen seemed like an expensive inconvenience.
I found that overseas doctors were more amenable to this, so I started looking outside the country. I also knew that if I paid a woman $30,000 to carry a baby for me in a place like India or Colombia, that kind of money could really change her life. I liked the idea of helping someone buy a house and maybe putting her kids through school.
Conrad with his gorgeous kids Kennedy-Josephine and her brother Konrad.
The third time worked like a charm
My first attempt at surrogacy was just outside of Mumbai, India, but the implantation failed. Then, in 2012, I worked with a Johns Hopkins-affiliated hospital in Panama City and found a young, college-educated Panamanian donor and a surrogate, who was already married with two children of her own.
After two more failed attempts, the third time worked like a charm. Two embryos were implanted in the hope I would have twins, and, amazingly, both of them took. I was finally going to have the family I craved, even though it ended up costing me about $300,000 after all the various hospital and legal fees and airfares across the world.
Kennedy-Josephine and her brother Konrad were born at 32½ weeks on Aug. 30, 2013. Unfortunately, I missed the birth by 30 minutes because of having to travel last-minute, but the moment I saw them in the NICU, I immediately bonded with them, and held them for the first time at four days old. After six weeks, I was able to bring the twins home after securing their paperwork and American passports at the US Embassy in Panama.
Back in New York, it was a love fest. We had a baby shower on Long Island with 200 people when the kids were 2 months old. It was hilarious, because nobody told the DJ that I was a single father. In the middle of the party, he went up to the microphone and said: “So let’s hear it for Conrad and his beautiful wife!” Then, everyone who wasn’t in the know was searching for the missing mom!
Conrad at the epic baby shower when the twins were two months old.
And then along came a new beau!
Funnily enough, I met my current girlfriend, Shawna Thompson, 37, just four months before the twins were born. She’d been a friend for a while and we moved in the same circles. I finally plucked up the courage to tell her about the surrogacy arrangement on our third or fourth date.
At first, she didn’t know what to make of it. But she went with the flow, and now the kids call her Mommy and adore her. As far as they’re concerned, she fits right into that role. She doesn’t live with us at the moment and I employ a full-time nanny, but she looks after the children whenever she can because she loves them so much.
Now the kids call Shawna their mum and simply adore her.
Single men should consider surrogacy
Kennedy-Josephine and Konrad will be celebrating their third birthday at the end of August, and we couldn’t be happier. The main thing is that we’re a little family.
I definitely think more single men should consider surrogacy, but I realise it’s very much a personal choice and, if a guy wants kids, adoption is another route, too. To the naysayers, I say we all have our different beliefs, but I haven’t done any harm by creating these beautiful babies.
When they are older, I will tell my children exactly why it happened like it did: “Truth is, I wanted you, I didn’t want to live my life without you, and it’s a blessing that you’re here.”