Johan Holmgren, 42, and Jakob Bruntse, 41, longed for years to become parents, but they weren’t sure it would ever happen for them.
“I’ve sort of wanted to become a dad as far back as I can remember, but I almost gave up the dream when I realized that I was gay,” Bruntse wrote in an e-mail to The Huffington Post. “Fortunately, I fell in love with Johan who didn’t only share my dream; he was determined to make it come true.”
The couple eventually settled on a plan of building their family by using a surrogate. They worked with an agency in the United States, as surrogacy is discouraged in their home country of Sweden. After a year-long search to find their perfect match ― Alexandra Burns, 24 ― followed by a devastating miscarriage, the thrilled fathers finally welcomed their baby girl, Ellen, into the world last month.
Kansas-based birth and family photographer Tammy Schmit of Little Leapling Photography was on hand for the birth (as well as pregnancy and newborn sessions), and the emotional images she captured are proof that there are many ways to become a family. Congrats, all!
Johan (right): We talked loosely about becoming parents for years, but we really started getting serious about our options about five years ago. A couple we are friends with had two babies with a surrogate in the United States, which inspired us.
Jakob (left): We contacted an agency that helped connect us with our wonderful surrogate. It took almost a year to get the perfect match. She is not the biological mother. We used an egg donor from Kentucky. We now know her well, and keep in touch.
Johan: Before the birth, I was super excited, almost ecstatic. And, to be honest, I was quite nervous, too.
Jakob: I was surprised it was so un-dramatic. In movies, births are often panicked situations, with all of this extreme pain, and screaming and doctors and nurses running everywhere. Of course, it was far from painless for our surrogate, but she was so calm.
Alexandra: Johan and Jakob were wonderful. They were trying to make sure I was comfortable, but I told them that of course they should be in the room and close to me. There was no way I was not going to have them in there while I had their baby.
I had hoped to give birth without pain medication, but it was just too much for me. Before I got the epidural, there was a moment where I was freaking out, and I did have them leave for a little bit. I was overwhelmed. But as soon as it was time to push, I wanted them there.
Johan: She was amazing. She actually calmed us both down. At one point, she jokingly said to the doctor: “This one knows what he’s doing,” pointing to Jakob. And then, pointing to me she said: “This one might faint.” She was right!
Alexandra: The pregnancy was hard. I had really bad morning sickness to the point where I couldn’t even really eat for a while. But the birth was so easy — easier than the births of my own children. Once I got the epidural, I was able to rest. I fell asleep. When the doctor came to check me and told me it was time, I was like, “Really? I’m not ready. I was taking a nap!” Johan was standing behind me, maybe a little more freaked out about the stuff that was going on. But Jakob grabbed one of my legs. He was right there.
Jakob: I can’t really pinpoint any one detail from the birth, but I do remember the whole day so vividly. It’s almost like I can rewind the whole thing and play it again in my head. I do clearly remember when I saw the top of our daughter’s head appearing. I think that was the moment I truly understood that she was here, for real.
Johan: I clearly remember our daughter’s first cry. It came seconds after she came out — at the same moment when I started to cry!
Johan: I couldn’t believe that she was finally here after all the years we’d spent longing for her.
Alexandra: I’ve wanted to be a surrogate for a while, but I’d been told I had to wait until I was done having my own kids. My daughter is 5 and my son is 2, and they understood what I was doing. My son wasn’t that happy with the idea of me having another baby, but my daughter adored her before she was born.
Alexandra: My interest in becoming a surrogate came from my ex-stepmom. She had breast cancer and before she started treatment, she froze some of her eggs. Even after she beat it, they told her there was a chance she wouldn’t be able to conceive, so I offered to be her surrogate if she wanted. She said she was really grateful, but she really wanted to carry her own child if she could, which I completely understand. But it made me think, like, if I can’t do it for her, I can do it for someone else.
Johan: In Sweden, we generally like to think of ourselves as super progressive and open-minded, but when it comes to the different ways of becoming parents, the United States is in the lead in many ways. Imagine, surrogacy is still not possible where we are from!
Jakob: We have experienced such openness and kindness here. I’m already looking forward to traveling back here with our daughter when she’s older to visit the woman who carried her for nine months.
Alexandra: The first transfer we tried resulted in a miscarriage at seven weeks, and it was awful. I remember telling the fertility clinic because I didn’t know how to tell the guys. It was sad, and I was worried they’d blame me or something.Of course, they didn’t at all. I’m so happy we tried again, and that it worked.
Alexandra: I loved being a surrogate. I did tell the guys that if they wanted to try for another baby, I would for sure do it.
Jakob: I don’t know if I dare say it, but life with a newborn has been surprisingly easy so far. She is so calm and seems to be in a good mood all the time. We might not be getting the sleep we’re used to, but getting out of bed in the middle of the night to make her happy is no problem at all. We almost compete to be the first to get to her!
Captions have been edited and condensed.