Why Middleboro teacher decided to be a surrogate mom for RI couple

MIDDLEBORO — The gift of family was the only thing on Richard Pezzillo and Michael DeGrandpre’s wish list this holiday season, and one Randolph teacher from Middleboro made their dreams come true through surrogacy.

It’s been five months since the couple brought their baby, Charlie DeGrandpre Pezzillo, to their Warwick, Rhode Island home, and it’s been the most life-changing experience and a great accomplishment for the same-sex couple.

“Rachel gave us the biggest gift of the holiday season. It takes a special person to do something like this for someone else, especially a stranger,” Richard said.

The dads are thrilled to start this new chapter in their lives, and to the haters, they only have one thing to say.

It’s 2024, and “families look different.” Some children “have a mom and a dad, some have two dads, some have two moms,” Richard said.

A love story

Walking in love and acceptance is how they carry on, and they will teach Charlie that “love always wins.”

Their journey of love started when the couple took the leap of faith after meeting each other at a Christmas party in 2009. Richard felt it was an amazing friendship that blossomed into something more and they married in 2015.

This era was special, as same sex marriage was declared a constitutionally protected right for the first time in the landmark 2015 U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges.

Richard remembered how “the world felt like a different place” before the ruling but after there was a push for love to outweigh the judgment and hate.

Marriage has been blissful and building a family was one of their goals, Richard said.

Michael completely balances out Richard almost like “yin and yang.”

“He’s just the type of person that brings light to every room with his big personality and I can already see that in Charlie,” Richard said.

To them, starting a family was one of their many life pillars, and the journey has been a two-year marathon.

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How did the couple find a surrogate?

Rachel Mack of Middleboro, their “lovely” surrogate, volunteered to carry their baby to full term. Charlie is not genetically related to Mack as she carried the implanted fertilized embryo, but the egg is not hers genetically.

“My previous pregnancies were very pleasant and fairly easy and uneventful. I enjoy being pregnant, so when the opportunity arose to possibly be a surrogate and be pregnant again, I was honored to do it. I knew from past experiences it would be positive,” said Mack, who grew up in Randolph.

They were able to find Mack through a friend of a friend.

How did the couple find an egg donor?

The couple found an egg donor through a surrogacy agency, Vermont Surrogacy Network, which made the experience seamless by guiding the new parents each step of the way.

Surrogacy is often the “last stop” for people trying to start a family after exploring other methods.

How common is surrogacy?

About 750 babies are born every year using a gestational surrogate, the more common option, according to WebMD.

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Gestational v. traditional surrogacy

A gestational surrogate carries the baby but is not biologically related to the baby, unlike a traditional surrogate, who is the baby’s biological mother, according to WebMD.

What is the surrogacy process like?

Although there are many stereotypes and misconceptions about surrogacy, Vermont Surrogacy Network (VSN) is hoping to educate people on the process, especially when it comes to a same-sex couple looking to start a family.

One common misconception is the surrogate will get attached and not be willing to give up the baby, which Stumpf has never seen happen in the last 20 years of working at VSN.

Surrogates undergo mental health evaluations and genetic testing to make sure it’s a healthy choice for the carrier.

Surrogacy is expensive

When a couple begins the process of surrogacy, one of the first steps is financial planning because the process is expensive.

And to make it work, there are cases of intending parents who take out loans, add a second mortgage to their home, start a GoFundMe, or collect money from relatives to achieve their financial goals.

The surrogacy startup cost is well over $100,000, and to create embryos in a lab can range from $25,000 to $45,000, which is a separate cost, Stumpf said.

If you’re able to find a surrogate willing to help you out, it can alleviate some of the cost, but that is not the reality for everyone.

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“Hollywood portrays surrogacy as an easy journey, but it’s not as easy as it looks. A lot goes into it, from contracts and lawyers to genetic testing and the anxiety of trusting the process to go smoothly. Still, overall, it’s been an incredible process,” Richard said.

So far, fatherhood has been good for Richard and Michael.

“Realistically, all a child needs when he or she comes into this world is to be surrounded by love so they can grow and thrive,” Michael said.

An extraordinary gift

Last December, was baby Charlie’s first Christmas, and the couple took him to see various family members on both sides. In the future, they hope to travel to Italy and explore the world as a happy family.

The couple say they almost sees themselves in the show “Modern Family,” and think about how unique the “whole thing is,” and the best part about this is Charlie gets to grow up with lots of love and support from Mack and her family.

Having Mack in Charlie’s life is vital to Michael and Richard. They want Charlie to know how he was brought into the world when he gets older and how special Mack is to them.

She gave them a “gift” they can never repay, making it even more special.

“When Charlie came home from the hospital, words couldn’t express what you can only dream about when you hold your child. It felt magical, and the emotions I felt, I can’t even put them into words,” Richard said.