The Broadway Husbands Talk Surrogacy and Dad Life
Bret Shuford and Stephen Hanna are Broadway actors, Broadway husbands and now Broadway dads. The triple-threat twosome recently talked to The Bump about their journey becoming parents via surrogacy, and shared some words of wisdom (and inspiration) for other LGBTQ+ hoping to grow their families.
The Bump: The surrogacy process is daunting. When you decided you wanted to embark on this path, what was the first thing you did? How did you navigate the whole journey?
Bret: Up first was finding a fertility doctor. And we did that through an organization that helps gay men navigate this path. It feels reassuring to find an IVF clinic that’s going to be inclusive. Our doctor is the one who really guided us. We got our specimen tested, and then we went for a “team day” where they basically did a physical and all the genetic testing.
TB: You had a lot of hurdles on this journey to parenthood. You had a surrogate that didn’t work out. It’s been a rollercoaster journey. What words of wisdom do you have for other LGBTQ+ couples on this path to becoming parents as they experience setbacks?
Stephen: It’s so much easier said now than it is to hear when you’re on the other side. It’s going to happen. If you want to have a child, it’s going to happen. There will be setbacks. But, in the right moment, it’s all going to work out. You just have to keep believing and taking the necessary steps to move forward.
Bret: Let go of your own timeline. It’s going to be frustrating, if you’re trying to hold on to some sort of deadline. If you’re moving forward, you’re moving forward. You’ll eventually get there.
I also think, specifically for LGBTQ+ people, it can feel very lonely when you’re on this path—especially if you’re surrounded by a lot of heterosexual relationships and families. They’re not going to understand all that goes into this [process]—and expecting them to have some sort of compassion or understanding is setting yourself up for disappointment. As much as you can, let go of needing outside validation.
TB: So where did you find that support system and sense of community?
Bret: I think we were for each other—really just allowing ourselves to strengthen our relationship so we knew we had each other’s backs. We understood what we were going through, and we were able to share that together. I actually felt really safe with our doctor; when we would talk to Dr. Leondires [at Illume Fertility], I felt like he got it. He’d been through the journey too. Also, the [practice] provides great resources—therapists and social workers. And then eventually we had our surrogate—we were supporting her, and she was supporting us.
TB: You talked a little bit about how your doctor played a big role in your journey. Not everybody finds that affirming and inclusive care. In your experience, did you ever come across care that didn’t feel welcoming?
Bret: I think the only time that we maybe felt a little bit of exclusion was at the hospital when we went to deliver. There’s this [laboring] woman and her husband—it’s very confusing. And, you know, the security guard isn’t in the loop. It’s not their fault. But I found there were moments—especially being in Florida, where we delivered—I just felt a little tension. But it was nothing that was intolerable. Make sure you have everything legally written down, and take the contracts to the hospital. Without that documentation getting to the head nurse, I don’t know that we would have been in the delivery room.
TB: Certainly, there’s a lot of fine print. The legal side is huge—and the financial side is also massive. As people are deciding whether they want to embark on this journey, what advice do you have about planning from a financial and legal perspective?
Bret: Just be prepared—it’s going to be more than you think. You don’t have to have a big lump sum upfront. We were able to do it in pieces. That made it tangible for us. Legally, just know that each state has its own laws, and those laws are changing all the time. You’re going to have your own lawyer, and your surrogate will have their own lawyer (even if you know your surrogate and you’re friends). Make sure you’ve got everything situated to protect yourself. Things can get very emotional, and if you don’t have it written down, there can be a lot of confusion. And it’s not worth sacrificing relationships for that.
TB: Here you are, a year into parenthood. Tell me, what has been the biggest learning curve for each of you so far?
Bret: I underestimated how challenging the process of re-parenting myself as a new parent was going to be. The journey I have gone through in the last year of reliving past childhood traumas, and trying really hard to set up a different set of patterns for my family. That’s been a big learning curve. For me, just to be able to process and grieve some of that old stuff, let it go, move on and be present for my son.
Stephen: In the beginning, before he was born, I was so excited. But I can remember talking to my therapist and just saying, “I want to be as happy as I can be all of the time so that I can make him happy.” Letting go of that, and then just being authentically [myself] with baby—that’s probably been the biggest thing for me.
TB: Everybody also dwells on how hard that first year with baby is, but what’s come easily for you? What’s been a pleasant surprise?
Stephen: Maverick was a good sleeper from like 3-and-a-half-months on. So we were really fortunate. We also kind of stuck to a really strict routine with him, and he loves it. So that’s one thing that’s been super easy. Sleep hasn’t been an issue.
TB: What have you both learned about yourselves as parents in the last year? How has your relationship grown or evolved throughout this journey? And how do you work out when conflicts come up around parenting?
Bret: The first part was to learn about ourselves. I have a lower tolerance now for BS. I just don’t have time for it anymore. My son deserves better, and I’m going to set some hard boundaries. For me, learning boundaries wasn’t something I was raised on. I think a lot of people of our generation come from family systems that don’t really have that. Every day I’m setting a boundary.
Stephen: As far as conflict resolution, in the beginning, it was really rough. I think because we’re two men we had a hard time not falling all over each other trying to do the same thing. I think we were trying to do all of it.
Bret: The lines aren’t quite as delineated. It took a minute for us to kind of go “Okay, you’re on duty these hours.” And that definitely works beautifully.
TB: You’ve been sharing your story, which is so empowering and helpful for other people. I’m sure it also makes you feel very vulnerable, and I imagine that comes with plenty of its own challenges. What has been the biggest reward of sharing your journey, and what’s been the biggest downside of being public with your story?
Stephen: I think the biggest reward is that we’ve gotten to know and meet so many other same-sex parents, especially two gay-dad families. One of the biggest rewards is getting to know other families and just having their support.
Bret: But I do think that the challenge with social media—especially when you get into parenting—is that everyone has an opinion. We’re constantly having to remind ourselves that our child is an individual. So I think that the biggest challenge there is just constantly letting people’s opinions kind of slide off our backs, and not take anything as a personal attack. I think that some things work for some people, and some things work for others, and we’re going to find our own path for ourselves.
TB: What does parenting with pride mean to you?
Bret: Just being together! The feelings that I have when we’re all together—and how proud I am of us as a couple, and then how proud I am of us as a unit. I sense that Maverick feels that as well. Parenting with pride for me is really about knowing that all families are different—all families look different. And finding the space to hold love and affection for all of those families. I know that that day is going to happen. Family values aren’t exclusionary. Family values are inclusive—and our family matters. Our family is equal and belongs, and I look forward to the day where the rest of the world sees that as well.
TB: As the Broadway Husbands, what Broadway show are you most looking forward to taking Maverick?
Stephen: I think we’d both say the same thing: Annie.
Bret: I want him to see ‘Dada’ on stage. So he can be like, “My dad can do that!”