For One HIV-Positive Dad, a Journey Through Science and Surrogacy
November 15, 2014
Richard "Rick" Nadan is the father of four kids -- Keith and Savannah are both 7, while Calista and Elizabeth are both two-and-a-half. Rick found out that he was HIV positive 10 days after his first surrogate was impregnated. What followed was a crazy journey with different doctors who had different opinions. However, after the first set of twins, Rick went on to father a second set of twins -- again with a surrogate.
This interview was conducted along with Brian Rosenberg, CEO of Gays With Kids. TheBody.com is proud to present this interview as part of a series of interviews with HIV-positive dads done in collaboration with Gays With Kids for World AIDS Day 2014.
Mathew Rodriguez: Rick, had you always wanted to be a father, growing up? Is this something that you always saw yourself doing?
Rick Nadan: Pretty much as long as I can recall. I would say at least since later on in high school, I just assumed it wasn't going to happen.
Mathew Rodriguez: And you had assumed it wasn't going to happen because ... ?
Rick Nadan: Well, I graduated high school in '88. Back then, the only type of surrogacy or [viable] way of having children was the case of Baby M or the famous test-tube baby. So I never really thought too much about it, or looked too far into it. And I assumed nobody was going to be allowing a gay parent to adopt, at least at that time. So I pretty much assumed it was never going to happen -- until I had met a friend that had twin daughters of his own, and it opened up a whole new world, at that point.
Mathew Rodriguez: After you were first diagnosed as HIV positive, and after you dealt with everything that comes with being newly diagnosed, what did that do to your hopes of becoming a parent? Did it make you doubt that it would happen?
Rick Nadan: I basically had found out that my surrogate was 10 days pregnant when I got my diagnosis. Going into the whole process, I was negative. They were born through gestational surrogacy in California. So the initial sperm banking is that the sperm is banked for six months before they can fertilize the eggs and transfer the embryos.
The embryos were transferred, and 10 days later I had gotten my diagnosis. So timing was literally everything. Because had the diagnosis come in just before that, I don't think the eggs would have transferred. Because the initial response from the fertility endocrinologist was not a very positive one.
Mathew Rodriguez: What year was this?
Rick Nadan: December 2006. It was during the first twins.
Mathew Rodriguez: Given your experiences, what would you say to other HIV-positive men who want to be parents?
Rick Nadan: Now that I know enough about it I would just say, if you have the money, go ahead and do it. Because a big part of it is having the finances to just get through the gestational surrogacy. I joke all the time with my family, you know: it's the quarter-million-dollar family.
The overall risk factors and everything for anyone involved are probably about as close to zero as anyone could say risk factors are. If I didn't know that at the time, my thoughts would have been different and I may not have pursued it. But I was kind of thrown into the fire and was forced to educate myself real rapidly. Because the initial response from the endocrinologist was, "We have to terminate the pregnancy."
I didn't know if that was accurate or not at the time. My first thoughts were: Did I put the surrogate at risk? What about my kids? What about her family? So at that point I basically went into high gear and started contacting every IVF [in vitro fertilization] specialist that I could think of, anywhere.
Fortunately, at the time, when I was working, I actually worked in infectious diseases. So I had a lot of resources at my fingertips to go ahead and do that. And my own HIV doctor really stuck his neck out for me, too, in calling the fertility endocrinologist in California, and trying to calm her down and bring her up to speed with other stuff, as well.
But I probably contacted about 10 to 12 different specialists, and people who've worked with serodiscordant couples, and things along those lines. One, just to calm myself down -- because I didn't know what I had gotten myself into at that particular time. But then also just to calm the fertility endocrinologist down, and then to figure out, what are we going to tell the surrogate so she didn't flip out.
Mathew Rodriguez: How did the process change the second time, when you were going through the second gestational surrogacy with Calista and Elizabeth?
Rick Nadan: Completely different.
I don't know if I want to call it a no-brainer, but to me it was almost a nonissue, for two reasons. One, part of the process during the first twins is, I had met a doctor -- her name is Ann Kiessling -- who is up near Boston. Her company, basically, had developed a way to do semen and sperm testing. So I was able to get a sample of the banked sperm and have it sent up there for testing. And she had said that that was negative.
So one assumption was that, going into this, the samples being used were not positive to begin with. But even if they had been, the actual chances of transferring HIV were close to zero. So my thought in going into it was that it shouldn't be any different than any other in vitro fertilization process. The question was just going to be in finding a surrogate who would have been comfortable in knowing that. Because I at least felt it was important enough to let a surrogate know who I was, going into it.
And the second surrogate, she did some of her own research and, when she spoke with me and the surrogacy agent, was fine with it and said, "Let's go ahead and do it." So the experience the second time around was completely different, because that whole stress factor was removed from it.
Mathew Rodriguez: Do you talk to your children about your HIV status, and what it means to live with HIV? I know they're still a little young, but --
Rick Nadan: No. It hasn't actually come up or been discussed with them at all at this point. I just didn't think they're old enough to comprehend.
Brian Rosenberg: Rick, are you on meds?
Rick Nadan: I am, yes. I take Atripla [efavirenz/tenofovir/FTC].
Brian Rosenberg: Do they ever see you taking your medication? Because so am I. And my kids see me taking the medication.
Rick Nadan: They do. And they just know that I take my medicine every day. But when Grandpa and Grandma were around, they saw them take medicine every day. So they don't associate it with anything, in particular.
My son has ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], so he takes his Ritalin [methylphenidate] every morning before school. So for them it's just like, OK, this is part of our morning or evening routine. And this is what we do.
But other than that, I haven't gone into any great depths to explain anything or talk about it with them. But I would never do anything to hide it if they were old enough to have the conversation; I would just be very matter-of-fact about it.
Brian Rosenberg: You're the same exact as me. I actually did have one more question: You found out you said right after the first implantation?
Rick Nadan: Ten days after the embryos were transferred, yes.
Brian Rosenberg: Don't you get a blood test for HIV before you do that?
Rick Nadan: I did. My last test was on Nov. 16. It was negative. Everything was fine. They started to give the surrogate and the egg donor all of their drugs, did everything. And on Dec. 10, embryos were transferred. It was around Dec. 21 or so I got my diagnosis -- because I had donated blood on Dec. 7.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Mathew Rodriguez is the community editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.
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