This is the first part of a four-part feature.
Long-term expat Craig Watts first came to Asia in 1989 as a university student in Taiwan. Though his heart was set on China, the Utah native lived in Japan for several years before moving to Shanghai and then Beijing in 2001. Watts is a single gay dad with thee biological sons (including a pair of twins), all under the age of 3 and all born through in-vitro fertilization (IVF) in Thailand. In addition to being a busy dad, Watts has a full-time job working for advertising giant Group M. During our visit to the family’s hutong home, the twins were just getting over a cold. The smallest of the brood, Gary (16 months), clung to Dad while big brother Ezra (age 2) was all smiles. With both a full-time and a part-time ayi there to help, we were able to chat with Watts about what it’s like to be a single gay dad living in Beijing.
Tell us a bit about the process of finding an egg donor and a surrogate.
I worked with one agency for all three kids. I found agencies through online research and met with four or five that made sense and were willing to work with gay people. We used a separate Thai egg donor and surrogate, but genetically [the boys]are full brothers.
The agency gives you a basic profile [for each egg donor]: height, weight, education background, a couple of pictures, and from there you choose. The donor wanted to be anonymous but the agency says when the kids are 18, the mother is open to meeting if the kids want to.
Getting the egg donor, the embryos, the egg retrieval, and the fertilization in the test tube is the first step. Once that’s done, they prepare the surrogate’s body to accept the embryos and hope she gets pregnant. They freeze the embryos for the second or third try in case the first time doesn’t work or if [they]have a miscarriage.
Were you surprised to find out you’d be having twins?
When they told me it was two boys, I thought, “I can’t believe this!” I thought two was going to be a handful. All of a sudden I’m going to have three and I’m on my own in China?
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
[The twins] were born two months premature so their lungs aren’t too good and it’s easy for them to get pneumonia. It happened to Joe already and he had to stay in the hospital, so we try to keep them from being exposed to too many germs.
What kind of support network do you have in Beijing?
My network is gay men who don’t have kids and don’t really understand what I’m going through, Chinese mothers who have one child and are kind of awkward about coming over here and talk more to the nannies than to me, and that’s it – that’s my network. I should try to make bridges with Western mothers, but I don’t know how to make that initial contact and I’d have to ask them to come over here. If we were in the same complex, it would be a lot easier. I’d be interested to know if there are other gay men who are like me in Beijing. When you’re a gay parent, it’s like you’re in a different category. Maybe they don’t exist here.
My parents have been amazing. They wish they could be here more and help out, but they’re a little older now. During the births, they flew over and were here for three or four months.
As a gay parent, what has been the general attitude of local Chinese people toward you?
They wouldn’t know I’m gay and I don’t bring it up. In China, I feel like it’s sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” If I were to hire a nanny and tell her I’m a gay guy with kids, she wouldn’t come work for me. I think it can create some disadvantages because of prejudice in people’s minds about being gay. I would love to be really open – and I think at some point I will because some of my nannies are really cool – but part of it is that I have to protect my friends because most of my [Chinese] friends who come over are all gay too. If the nanny knows I’m gay and thinks they might be gay, they won’t come over because they feel they’ve been “outed.” It’s a big deal to them if it another Chinese person knows they’re gay – it’s a threat.
The thing that’s great about China is if I’m asked where the kids’ mom is, I can say that she’s overseas and they don’t ask more, because it’s quite common for Chinese couples to be in separate places because of work or economic necessity. It doesn’t seem strange to them.
What kinds of reactions do you get from other expats?
My circle of friends has gradually evolved towards Chinese because expats come and go. But I’ve got three or four close expat friends who know everything and they’re totally fine. To the cool people, it doesn’t even matter. It’s more like, “Three kids, how are you going to do this?” They come and change diapers and help keep me sane so I have someone to talk to.
What do you think it would be like to raise the kids in the US compared to China?
Just things like having space, grass, family nearby, a house with a yard, and more kids around. If I were in the US, I might be a more attractive partner and the fact that I have kids might not be a big problem. But here, it’s hard to explain.
The main thing here is pollution. When you’re a parent, you start making decisions for other people. When they have a cough, you just start thinking … you know, you might be hurting someone else. On the other hand, while I might have relatives nearby and a partner, the thing I wouldn’t have [in the US]are cheap nannies. I’m always kind of weighing the trade-off – especially when it’s 3am and I can’t sleep – but I feel like I’m still making the right decision [at least]until they’re a little bit older.
Can you offer advice to other single LGBT parents?
Get a partner – seriously! Don’t get a partner just to do this, of course; you want to be with someone that you get along with. But if you’re on your own, you really need to think twice if it’s more than one child. Don’t overestimate your power to handle this, because it’s nothing like a challenge in your career or moving to a new city – forget it, it’s not even the same category. I think gay people tend to think we can do anything because we’ve been on our own a lot.
For me, it’s also really important to work near where I live because my job is busy, I don’t have much time, and I’m always hurrying back home to be with them. A lot of times during lunch break, I have to choose whether I’m going to work out or get a nap, depending on what happened the night before. You have to find ways to [do]what needs to get done and I have to sleep sometimes at lunch because I’ve got to stay healthy. It’s not even about luxury; it’s that I have to keep from getting sick. As my friends will remind me, “I’m all [the boys]have.”
This article originally appeared on page 64-65 of the April 2015 Issue of beijingkids. Click here for your free online copy. To find out how you can obtain a hard copy, contact email@example.com