'I tell it like a fairytale,' says Stuart Gent, with his daughter Lucy, 2, whom he regards as priceless.
'I tell it like a fairytale,' says Stuart Gent, with his daughter Lucy, 2, whom he regards as priceless. Photo: Meredith O'Shea
A single gay man who paid a Californian woman to carry his child does not shirk from explaining the story of his daughter's conception and birth.
STUART Gent hopes his daughter, Lucy, will grow up believing herself blessed, a girl conceived and born with love in mind and with the greatest care and deliberation. She was no accident or afterthought.
At two years, seven months old, she knows she has a ''tummy mummy'', a biological one and a dad who adores her. The planning of her life began in London; the first steps to conception were taken in Boston; she was born in California; she is being raised in Melbourne.
''Lucy knows,'' says Mr Gent, 38, who is gay.
''I tell it in the way of a fairytale. I tell her that I wanted to have a little baby girl and that I went to a big land called America … and they were able to help me find a nice lady who helped me have my little girl, and there was another lady who gave me the seed. The story changes, it gets more elaborate as she gets older. It's part of her story. It's really important that they don't get a surprise or a change of circumstances when they get older.''
It's a foundation built on solid ground: his long-standing desire to have a child, and his determination to fulfil it. He estimates the surrogacy process cost him about $US175,000 ($A177,000), every penny worth it when he considers the priceless result. He is speaking about his experience publicly at a moment when surrogacy - specifically commercial surrogacy, which is illegal in Australia - is again in the headlines. Last week, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban announced they had become parents via a surrogate mother in the US. At Christmas, another entertainer, Elton John, and his partner, David Furnish, revealed they had become parents in the same manner.
Mr Gent hopes his experience sheds light on a controversial practice in which the world of money collides with the human business of having a baby.
He had been living in London for a decade. A five-year relationship ended and it was then, in his early 30s, that he pondered his future. He considered adoption, ''but the red tape involved for a single person, a single guy, wouldn't allow me to do it. Then the surrogacy route came up.''
He contacted a surrogacy agency in Boston run by two gay men. The agency matched him with an egg donor, then with a woman to carry the child. Everyone involved - father, donor, surrogate - had compulsory psychiatric and medical tests. He first met Lucy's ''gestational carrier'', Stacy, and her husband at a Californian diner and the match seemed perfect. ''He was about six-foot-six, an ex-Marine - and Republican - that might have been the only difference we had, politics.''
It was Mr Gent's sperm that fertilised the eggs, which were implanted at an IVF clinic. ''They've got an ultrasound screen … I said, 'I saw a little flash', and the doctor said, 'That's the start of life.' The flash is actually the air that's behind the embryo, but he said, 'We like to say that's the start of life.' ''
Result: pregnancy. Nine months later: Lucinda, born in California in July 2008.
Her dad missed the birth, stranded in London, when she arrived a few days early. He crossed the Atlantic to reach the hospital in Bakersfield. ''I went up to the nursery and they said, 'Which one do you think is your daughter?' and I said, 'The little one, frowning'. And I was spot on. I just knew.''
Mr Gent brought her home to Melbourne a month later. He was never overwhelmed by the journey. Nor did he fear disapproval. His family was supportive. Friends rallied around.
He now has a partner, Craig Swain, though they live apart.
''I'm a single father, that's it,'' Gent says. ''I just happen to be gay. I might be a single parent, but she has a family who love her and she was one of the most desired children there could be. It took three years for me to become a father. It's not as if I just woke up one morning and it happened. There's a lot of love goes into that.''
It had been agreed that egg donor and carrier would have contact with the baby. ''We stay in contact by email and Facebook.'' But under the contract, as allowed under California law, her father is the only parent on the birth certificate.
He knows some will disapprove. ''People have their opinions, and that is a right we all have,'' he says. ''But people need to put themselves in another person's shoes. If they have a very strong opinion but they've never had one-to-one exposure then I believe they need to educate themselves. They need to meet us.''
He hopes his story can help. ''I think any awareness is good.''
Of Lucy's future, Mr Gent believes her beginnings should never matter, as long as he does his job as a parent.
''My objective is to give her as much courage and confidence as I can so that if there are any problems she can weather them. … It comes down to the amount of love you give to a child, and she has plenty of love.''