Thomas Banks Family

Two Dads and a Little Lady: Surrogacy Brings Tennessee Couple the Love of Their Lives

By Beverly Prince-Sayward

Left to right, Robert Thomas, Heiress Thomas-Banks, and Dell Banks. Photo by Amanda Beyer

Left to right, Dell Banks, Heiress Thomas-Banks, and Robert Thomas. Photo by Amanda Beyer.

As gay men turn towards parenthood, many are choosing the route of using a surrogate.  But where do you start?  How do you choose a surrogate? Well, meet Dell Banks, Robert Thomas, and their beloved daughter Heiress Thomas-Banks, age 7. When Dell and Robert decided they wanted to be dads, they chose to use a surrogate and here is how it all happened.

Gay Parent Magazine (GPM): How did you start the surrogacy process?  Did you use a service?

Dell Banks and Robert Thomas (Thomas-Banks): We pretty much handled the surrogacy on our own. We did all the research from how it works to where to locate a surrogate. We ultimately used an online site, which was setup much like an open forum or discussion board to find our surrogate. At the time, we were concerned about how an agency would perceive our relationship and how that would affect the process as a whole.  We felt it would be best to do as much as we could without any obstacles.

GPM: How did you choose a surrogate?

Thomas-Banks: She was a part of the discussion board site we were on and we approached her. We had several lunches and dinners, cookouts and meet-ups, and we finally agreed on proceeding with the process of surrogacy.

Angela became our best friend, or even more like a sister, during and after the pregnancy and birth of Heiress. We had always agreed that we would be open about the process with Heiress when she was old enough to understand. We knew from the beginning that we would want Angela and Heiress to have the opportunity to get to know each other. We are firm believers that being open and honest about life’s happenings with our child will make room for open communication, and remove the element of fear and misunderstanding as much as possible.

Heiress and Angela have bonded. Angela has 3 other children and Heiress affectionately knows them as her brother and sisters. Recently, we took a trip up north to Michigan. Angela made brunch for us and Heiress got a chance to play with her siblings and take photos. To us all, it’s like an extended family.

GPM: You mentioned that it was “taboo” in your community to pursue surrogacy in 2007. Can you explain more about that?

Thomas-Banks: At the very beginning of our surrogacy journey, we were contacted by an African-American woman who was having a tumultuous time with the father of her unborn child. The father of the child told her to have an abortion and she didn’t want to go through with it. She reached out to us based on our ad on a website for surrogacy interests and we got truly excited, to say the least. We felt it was a blessing not only for us, but also for the child whom may not have had a chance at life in any other case. Long story short, the mother told the father what she planned to do and he was totally against it and stated he would rather terminate the pregnancy than have his child raised by two gay, black dudes.

We were in talks with several other surrogates of other ethnic communities and we never experienced any kind of backlash or discrimination. It was only from our own African-American community that we experienced negativity. We finally realized, the hard way; this sort of thing just doesn’t happen in our own community. To this day, we still get “looks” and “questions.” However, the good always out-weighs the bad.

GPM: Tell us about your family and what it is like having two dads and one little girl.

Thomas-Banks: Our family is certainly not the usual “make-up” but we’ve managed to make what we have great!

Robert aka “Poppo” works from home for a large health insurance provider. He enjoys cooking, eating, traveling, bowling and anything else that involves family quality time.

Dell aka “Daddy” is a self-published author and playwright who is the epitome of a DREAMER! [Dell Banks has published “Shady: A Novel” in 2011 which was then transformed into a stage play and just recently published “Shady 2:Pitch Black” with a release date of October 31, 2015.  After seeing her daddy write a book, Heiress wrote her own book “The Adventures of Milo” which her daddies had illustrated by Aja Butler to be released December of 2015.]

Heiress is our 7 year old cheerleader with tons of energy…tons. She’s a second grader who reads on an advanced level and loves Elsa from Frozen.

In a nutshell, this is the make-up of our multi-racial, sexually diverse, unusually normal family.  Like most families, we have homework time, dinnertime and bedtime.   On weekends and during times when there is no work and/or school, we play board games and have bowling competitions on XBOX.  Heiress often tries to out-dance her Poppo on the dance video games…and she’s usually successful.  We have moments of fun and laughter and also moments of teaching and discipline.

The fact that there are two dads and one little girl never becomes a factor.  When we have questions specific to raising a little girl such as proper hygiene techniques, what to expect and when, we look to our supportive families. Heiress affectionately calls Robert’s mother Nana. Dell’s mother is her Grammy. Robert’s grandmother is her GiGi. Dell’s grandmother is her Granny. With their support, we’re quite all right.

GPM: What was it like when you first realized that you were going to be dads?

Thomas-Banks: We were ecstatic and over the moon. For Robert, it took a while for it to really sink in. It was unreal! Holding her for the first time was beyond what words could explain, there was a joyous outpouring from our souls. That feeling of first holding her is something that can never be forgotten. It was the start of the greatest gifts of our lives.

GPM: You mentioned that your parenting style could be considered “Honest Rules”. What does that mean to you?

Thomas-Banks: Being honest and upfront is the key to a successful parenting journey. There are so many children being born into situations based and built upon lies and deceit, which makes room for a lot of pain and grief. We could have created some grandiose story for Heiress about how she got here and how she has two dads. We chose not to because when she gets older and wants answers, our credibility would already have been shot because we parented her based on lies; it’s selfish, heartless and flat out wrong. So when our daughter asks questions about anything, we tell the truth.

GPM: Is there any advice you would give to other gay couples or single men wishing to pursue surrogacy as a route to becoming parents?

Thomas-Banks: The advice we would give is to make sure that you’re ready financially, physically, emotionally and socially. Surrogacy can be a great and rewarding experience if it’s well planned. There are so many kids being brought into this world without people considering the aforementioned elements. It takes a lot to raise a child; no child deserves to be brought into an unstable environment. Be honest and upfront with all parties involved; make sure your wants and desires are thoroughly discussed before going into any situation…this is a lifelong commitment.

This article was first published in Gay Parent Magazine’s January-February 2016 issue #104. Order a single issue or subscribe.