A San Francisco couple are building a following on Instagram with their adorable photos of themselves and their baby daughter. She was born September via surrogacy.
The men behind @papaanddaddy are James Loduca, 43 (‘Papa’) and Charlie Smith, 33 (‘daddy’).
Charlie is an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Several of his films, such as The List Series, have appeared on HBO.
James works at Salesforce, a San Francisco-based global technology company. He tells GSN he’s super grateful for the company’s inclusive parental leave policy which allows him to take up to six months off to bond with and care for his newborn.
Their family consists of 11-week old daughter, also called Charlie, and two rescue dogs: Hayden & Boomer.
How they met
The men met in 2013 at AIDS/LifeCycle, the 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS. They say they spent a couple years as close friends: ‘While there was an obvious attraction it wasn’t until 2015 that we were both single and able to explore a relationship,’ says James.
Part of the reason they were able to explore a relationship is because James wanted to be a parent.
‘James has always wanted to be a dad,’ says Charlie. ‘His first marriage ended in part because his ex-husband decided he didn’t want to start a family. When he hit 40, he decided to start the process on his own.’
‘Coincidentally, Charlie had a long-time partner of seven years and the relationship also ended in part because it didn’t seem like it was headed in the direction of starting a family,’ adds James.
Mutual desire to start a family
Fortunately, since he and Charlie had been close friends for some time, Charlie knew James was starting down the road to parenthood and was glad to join him on it. Charlie is a proud and involved uncle with his four young nephews, and was eager to be a dad himself.
‘There were many twists, turns, and disappointments in the journey to us finding one another and deciding to start a family together. But from where we stand now, it’s more clear than ever that everything happened exactly the way it was supposed to,’ says Charlie.
‘We both finally understand if it weren’t for our crazy individual journeys we wouldn’t be here right now – and we wouldn’t trade this for the world.’
‘The process of having a child via surrogacy also brought its share of surprises, challenges, and disappointments,’ says James.
The surrogacy journey
‘We went into the process thrilled to be entering an exciting new chapter, but lacking the awareness for how complicated that next chapter would be.
‘We worked with one of the best agencies in the country. It was nevertheless a trying experience marked by several false starts egg donors, mismatches with would-be surrogates, and what felt like lots of miscommunication from people managing the process on our behalf.
‘It took us 2.5 years from the day we first signed up with the agency to the moment when Charlie entered our lives. The process really challenged our patience and resilience, which is probably not that different from straight couples trying to have a baby – and great practice for parenthood.
‘Not to be trite, but it really does take a village to raise – and in our case make – a child. We like to say there is one thing that Charlie will always know… she was wanted and we fought hard to have her.’
‘The one bright spot in the process was matching with our incredible surrogate, Kristin,’ says Daddy Charlie. ‘Everyone’s relationship with their surrogate is different, and we’ve heard stories from friends on both ends of the spectrum. We hit the jackpot.
‘We couldn’t have imagined a more loving, thoughtful and kind person to carry our child, and consider ourselves lucky to have developed such a wonderful relationship with Kristin, her husband Robbie and their three beautiful children.
‘They are extended family and look forward to always having them part of our lives.’
Inspiring other would-be parents
As for sharing photos of their family life on Instagram, they believe it’s important to put images of gay parenting out to the world.
‘We talked a lot up front about how much of our journey and our family we wanted to share with the world,’ says James.
‘Social media is a wonderful platform to connect with people around the world, but in can also feel invasive. And lately it seems especially polarized and filled with vitriol.
‘So the natural instinct is to want to protect your family, your privacy, and your child. We understand and support parents who take that position. But we’ve also both been deeply involved in the equality movement and recognize the importance of personal storytelling to winning hearts and minds.
‘After much debate, we realized that if we could play even a small role in changing the way people think about the LGBT community, or inspiring other would-be parents, we had a responsibility to share our story.’
Advice for others
What advice would they offer to other men thinking of starting a family through surrogacy?
‘The most valuable conversation I had came at the very beginning of my journey,’ says James. “A friend asked me: Why do you want to be a dad?”
‘It triggered some soul searching and a lot of reflection. Ultimately I realized that for me, it was what I needed to feel deep purpose and meaning in life. It helped me be certain that I was doing it for the right reasons.
‘My advice is to examine what is driving you, and make sure that you feel confident about the reasons. The journey definitely isn’t easy, and it’s going to require a lot from you. You’ll need that confidence to get you through to the other end when your child finally arrives. And of course that’s just the beginning.’
Inappropriate surrogacy questions
Charlie adds: ‘Babies universally bring people together! Strangers will come up to you and congratulate you, coo over your baby and yes, offer unwelcome advice.
‘Sure, not everyone has the appropriate language. The most common question we get is “who is the father?” or “so you know whose sperm it is?” but remember, most always there is no offense in these questions.
‘People who are engaging with you are genuinely interested and excited for you. They just don’t have the language for it. So don’t shut down the conversation, lean in to it and apply a measure of grace.
‘Establish the type of response you want to want to have with your partner – if you have one – and let people in to celebrate your journey because it’s awesome.’
These are the awkward questions gay dads get asked by strangers