Sebastian Barleben and Johnny Lee with son Vaughn. | Photo: supplied
Gay couple Johnny Lee, 37, and Sebastian Barleben, 40, from New York City were ready to give up surrogacy altogether after three failed attempts.
In fact, they said if the fourth time didn’t stick, they’d quit trying and pursue another route.
The pair have been together for 12 years, since they first met at the Roxy club in New York City.
Sebastian is originally from Essen in Germany and had just moved to New York to attend NYU Stern for business school. But Johnny was actually leaving New York to attend UCLA Anderson, California.
They only had a short time to connect while in the same city, then their relationship developed while living on opposite coasts.
Disowning a gay son to ‘save’ his soul
When Johnny came out to his own family right before college, it caused a ‘rift that ripped apart their relationship’ for over a decade.
He comes from a ‘very conservative, evangelical home’ where being gay was a sin and homosexuality was unacceptable to his parents.
His parents were even willing to disown him in order to ‘save his soul’, creating a relationship that was ‘dramatic and full of scars’.
It wasn’t until the day of Johnny and Sebastian’s wedding that Johnny’s family came to terms with his sexuality.
For this reason, Johnny wanted to create a family of his own, making sure he shows them nothing but love.
In fact, Johnny and Sebastian were one of the first ever gay couples to marry when it became legal in New York City in 2011. They had a formal wedding ceremony a year later.
In fact, the pair knew they wanted to start a family very early on in their relationship.
Johnny told Gay Star News: ‘That said, we wanted time to enjoy each other first and our relationship.’
The couple set out researching every possible avenue and decided on surrogacy.
‘We finally made up our minds three years ago and hired a surrogacy agency to help us start the process,’ Johnny said.
‘It was very emotionally and physiologically draining’
On the surrogacy process, Johnny said the gay couple had ‘quite a bit of difficulty’ through their journey.
Their first three attempts at transferring embryos in order to get pregnant resulted in only one viable embryo each time.
‘We had to start all over with a brand new donor during all of those previous attempts,’ Johnny said. ‘It was very expensive, very time consuming and very emotionally and physiologically draining.’
But on their fourth try, they miraculously got nine viable embryos – two of which they implanted into their surrogate.
Both embryos ended up sticking so they were elated to be having twins.
However, disaster struck in the ninth week with one of the embryos stopping development.
‘That was incredibly agonizing news and it made us incredibly nervous about the pregnancy,’ Johnny said. ‘At that point we had been through so much and our track record was so low that we feared the worst.
‘The first trimester was very nerve-wracking for us,’ he said.
But they had nothing to fear because baby Vaughn Everett Barleben-Lee was born earlier this year.
He’s now four months old and the couple say they’re happier than ever.
Surrogacy advice for gay couples
On advice for gay couples looking into surrogacy, Johnny said his best advice is to research what route is best for you. It’s also important not to get overwhelmed by it all.
Johnny said: ‘Find your personal support group and reach out to as many other gay families and parents as you can.
‘Had we not done our research and fully committed to the process from the beginning, we would most likely have quit after the second or third failed attempt at surrogacy.
‘We didn’t know much about how to be a dad and how to take care of a baby. But we surrounded ourselves with experienced parents and we found the right support.
Johnny added: ‘Get help – and don’t be afraid to ask for help either.’