“The process had a lot of highs and lows, there were times when you just wanted to scream at the world and felt like you were at a point of no return,” says Aaron Elias. By “process”, he’s talking about the emotional experience of bringing his and partner fashion designer Jayson Brunsdon’s beautiful two-year-old son Roman into the world via surrogacy...
It’s a journey they’ll never forget. At times, it was overwhelmingly challenging. And at others, brought them more happiness and joy than they’d ever experienced before. The lows will stay in their minds forever. Lows such as when they tried to leave Thailand with their newborn son and they were stopped at the airport. “It was one of the most awful moments of our lives, in fact we have never been so terrified and vulnerable. We were shaking so much, it was almost like we were on the verge of having a heart attack. It was gruelling. It was also upsetting that we were discriminated by airport staff for our sexuality and then treated as criminals,” says Elias. The highs? The moment Roman was born; the time Elias’s cousin Rebecca said she would be the couple’s donor mother; the moment the doctor told them that they were expecting. And of course, the day they brought Roman back to their apartment in Sydney’s Potts Point, knowing that he was finally theirs to keep. Elias has documented the entire process in an emotive new book, Designer Baby: A Surrogacy Journey from Fashion to Fatherhood, out now. Read on to find out more about this stylish couple and their remarkable journey bringing Roman into the world. Photography: Grace Alyssa Kyo | To buy the book, click here
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Aaron: Creative, eccentric and hopelessly romantic. Jayson: Creative, sensitive and wise.
Describe Roman in three words…
Aaron: Lovable, curious and busy.
What has fatherhood taught you so far?
Aaron: It has taught us to be calmer, and that nothing else in this world is more important than to ensure love and a healthy upbringing for our son. Fatherhood has certainly taught us to forget and sacrifice all the little things that we could do before like going to a late-night movie, a party that involves a bender and travelling long distances with him.
How did you handle sleep deprivation/getting up in the night?
Aaron: We didn’t! At least for the first 8-10 weeks. It was very hard at first but we ploughed through. It was a matter of getting used to it and we took turns. Fortunately we had a great mothercraft nurse who helped us get him onto a routine; he started sleeping through after 2.5 months. What a good baby.
Growing up, did you always want to be a father?
Aaron: I remembered holding and loving the babies my mother looked after when we were young. I would play pretend father to my sister’s dolls like telling them off for being naughty. I was only six years old, and already I wanted to replicate my own father.
Can you talk us through the early days of looking for a surrogate to carry your child…
Aaron: At first our knowledge of surrogacy was very minimal. In fact we didn’t really know much about it until we saw 60 minutes and watched a brave couple’s journey (Trevor Elwell and Peter West) who went to India to start a family through surrogacy. Guess that was the turning point for us! We were so inspired that we contacted them and they helped us start our own family and gave us advice, support and strength. The process had a lot of highs and lows, they were times you just wanted to scream at the world and felt you were at a point of no return. They were challenging times – like when only one of your embryos worked just before insemination, the travelling to Thailand bearing the heat and traffic for weeks, being isolated in a country with no support and no means of help from family when really it should be a time that this was imperative. The outlawing of surrogacy in Thailand and being told we may never be able to bring our biological son home. These were few of the dramas we endured.
What were the highs of the whole process?
Aaron: Nothing beats the moment he was born, seeing him in front of our eyes and his gaze later. It was truly the highest point of our lives. Meeting amazing people, courageous professionals that have only grown to be friends for life. The time my cousin Rebecca said she would be our donor Mum. The moment the doctor told us that we were expecting. And the day we brought him back to the apartment and knowing that he was finally ours to keep. My most vivid moment has to be the minute I saw him when he was born. I was numb and felt like I was in another dimension. Nothing will ever replace those vivid moments of meeting him for the first time.
Would you go through surrogacy again?
Aaron: We wouldn’t say no to it again, but we would definitely say no if we had to travel away from home to do it again. But at the end of the day, we feel so blessed with Roman that for now, he is really enough for us and we want to enjoy every moment with him.
Talk us through the experience of having a Thai surrogate carry your child…
Aaron: We have been blessed with the most lovely human being in this world, Roman’s surrogate mother or as we call her his ‘birth mother’. Porn is a devote Buddhist; her reasons specifically motivated by her Buddhist beliefs and the teachings of Buddha – to be kind to others and to give life to this world. It was a big decision she made, after much consideration with her family. We kept in contact with her throughout the pregnancy through our agent Kay and we checked on her constantly. In return Porn kept telling our baby about us, who we are, and that we are from Australia, fashion designers, ‘super dads’ she called us. Parents who love him so much and can’t wait to see him. She was always a transitional role and that her role was to bring him into this world and let his “intended parents” do the rest. It was difficult considering that Porn was a 10-hour flight away from Sydney but we knew our baby was in good hands and that she had the best medical professionals to care for her. She is a very wholesome woman, a mother herself of two kids and she took very good care of him in those 38 weeks.
What happened when you tried to leave Thailand with Roman?
Aaron: Arggghhhhh – it was one of the most awful moments of our lives. In fact we have never been so terrified, vulnerable and were shaking so much – it was like we were on the verge of having a heart attack. It was gruelling. So upsetting that we were discriminated by airport staff for our sexuality and then treated as criminals.
Tell us about your new book…
Aaron: Roman inspired the book. It is dedicated to him. It has been two years in the making. At first, it was written as a journal. Important documented facts about his conception, dates, everything I never wanted to forget so when he one day asked those questions, I had it all in front of me. But it developed into a manuscript especially after we felt that it was a conversation that needed to be heard. It was a subject close to our hearts, revealing, very private and in fact invasive but it was also important for everyone to know what truly went on. It is about love, love of parents and no doubt every mother, parent, woman, man needs to read. It is really about believing in one’s dream, not losing sight of what is important to you and staying true to your beliefs. It is the untold true story of our family.
What’s your favourite chapter and why?
Aaron: My favourite chapter is Chapter 35 – Mothers. It is dedicated to Porn, my mother Matilda, Rebecca (Roman’s biological mother) and every mother in the world. It is about the infinite bond that every mother feels for her child. It also touches on the very first time Roman meets Porn. It is emotional, strong and powerful and to this day whenever I read it, I can’t help but be moved by the events that took place in Bangkok that afternoon when we said goodbye. In many ways, I felt very privileged to write about those emotional moments that will stay true to my heart to this day. They will be embedded in our DNA and one day when my son reads it, he will understand what a special woman Porn is for giving him the gift of life. He will champion her forever like we all do.
Do you recall the moment you first met Roman? How did you feel? Were you there at the birth?
Aaron: We were told that only one of us could enter the birthing suite. It was difficult because we both wanted to be there but Jayson sacrificed the moment for me. I was trembling when I heard his first wail, his loud screams echoing as vibrations inside me. I was blind with inexpressible happiness. When I held him, I promised him that I will never be far from him. My emotions were so wild, trembling I must add. I can’t believe he is in my arms, and that I was holding my son for the very first time.
Do you stay in touch with Roman's surrogate often?
Aaron: She will always hold a very special place in our family and her family make up part of our family tree. Roman knows of her existence and when he is old enough to understand who she really is, we want him to meet her again. We talk on the phone, she sends photographs of her family and we do same of Roman. They are extended members of our family.
How would you describe your parenting styles?
Aaron: We are easy going parents; we don’t believe in punishing or smacking or anything like that, only talk. When he has done something wrong, we have a discussion. He understands. We are big on routine, and when it is meal time, we all sit-down and eat together. When it is sleeping time, we bathe, read, milk and lights off. We believe every child needs a lot of love so that is our main focus, to give him abundance of it. He is only told the truth with educated words to equip him for the future. For example – we tell him he is special every day because he has two dads, one mama, one birth mum, three sets of grandparents, and three siblings, plenty of godparents, all who love him unconditionally. Only the truth prevails for his upbringing. We don’t follow textbooks, we read a lot to gain perspective, especially if he is unwell and we need to know what to do. We have a wonderful mother craft nurse who helped us put him into a routine at the beginning. Kids need routine, makes life easier for everyone in the family.
How have your own parents influenced your approach to parenting?
Aaron: We both grew up in families that were very closely knit. My parents taught us to be good people, the importance of giving, sharing and being kind to others. I grew up in an environment where poor kids, orphans and children who needed help came to seek refuge. My mother always tells me that it is important to give and help others. We had so much love growing up. My father always instilled a good education. Jayson: It is important those values are given to him, to teach him not to take granted the simple things in life. Like not to waste food or throw your food on the floor because other people in this world need it and you have it right there in front of you. Not that it always works especially with spaghetti Bolognese… it always lands on the floor in the end.
Did fatherhood change the way you felt about your career? Were you more or less determined/ambitious?
Aaron: I would say yes, fatherhood changes people – for the better, that is. But the shift in me made me realise one important thing about myself. I am no longer the same person. The remnants of our Peter Pan syndrome left us for good. You become his unconditional love, for life, and he belongs to us. He is by far the most meaningful thing in our lives. We have been waiting for him all our lives, now everything else seems a little on the backbench and not as important. Though our career is still somewhat integral because our passion is still alive, it allows us to raise him adequately in the future. But he is the reason, we are motivated, inspired and go forward each day with our work. There is not a day I don’t wake up and thank the universe for him.
What kind of clothes do you love to dress Roman in?
Jayson: We like to get him a few really nice quality and well-designed pieces and mix them in with easy styles. It’s the same as adults. A bit of Burberry, a little Gucci, some COS plus lots of good finds from H & M, Seed, Zara and Target. You soon realise that kids get dirty quickly so we stick to the great basic cotton tees from Target in navy and grey. I try to steer away from the printed pieces because most of what you find in the stores with prints are not very nice. Stripes and classic prints are easily coordinated tonally with neutrals. I think it’s important for Roman to be dressed well because at his age he takes in everything visually and an attractive sense of style will stay with him. His favourite colour, however, is pink! It’s very difficult finding pink clothes for little boys. I’m always on the prowl for a pale pink tee or shirt.
What life lessons will you teach Roman?
Aaron: To be a good person, do good, karma is cosmic. What you give, you will get back. What bad you do to others, will one day come back and bite you. Never take anything for granted, be educated, honest and live life to the fullest.
What has been the most challenging part of being a father?
Aaron: The most challenging part would be to deal with close-minded individuals, bigotry and hate from some. Not long ago, we became subject of cyber bullying, trolls who questioned our parenting skills and with bad language I couldn’t even comprehend saying to anyone for whatever reasons. It was heartbreaking and it hit me hard, simply because I couldn’t understand why anyone would be so awful and live life with no respect and tolerance for others. It was heartbreaking, challenging because I don’t want my son to ever be exposed to such hate and to feel he is lesser than any other child because he is a surrogate child that comes from a different type of family. And the challenging bit as a father is to have to explain to him in some form that it exists and how to deal with it. I mean if it affected me in some ways, imagine how a kid would feel. Jayson: A complete disregard for one’s self. That was challenging but you very quickly realise that the overwhelming love you feel for your child negates any selfish actions. It’s a 24/7 commitment and your life revolves around your child’s well-being which rewards a parent with so much love. It’s also character building! You change into a better version of yourself and that’s the moment you become a parent I think.
Jayson, what did your experience with cancer teach you about life?
You come out of surviving cancer with a different view of people’s actions. It’s difficult to find the patience sometimes to deal with “small ” issues and I found it challenging to step back into the fashion world. But I eventually approached it with greater clarity and realised that one never knows what’s around the corner. When you embrace that concept you can move onwards with a clearer sense of “calm”. Fashion doesn’t understand calm. I guess I stepped away from that world and was ready to accept a much more enriching life as a father.
How do you juggle fatherhood with work?
Aaron: Jayson and I are hands on and we take turns quite a bit on the days he is not at daycare. But lately Jayson has been more at home with him. Mondays – he’s at home with Jayson until I get home at 5pm and then pretty much look after him until he goes to bed… Mornings – Jayson is pretty much on the go, I am not a morning person much. Daycare on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, Fridays he is with his mum. Weekends, we are both home and it is the best days of the week.
What have been some of your biggest career highlights?
Jayson: Dressing Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and meeting her for the very first time in 2005. Her impeccable sense of style, regal, it inspired us so much and we feel privileged for dressing her over the years. The other was our first show in New York in 2007 at Bryant Park. We were so blown away to be recognized for our work and to be showing on the coveted international fashion platform.
What kind of role model do you want to be for your son?
Aaron: We want to be fathers our son will be very proud of. We never want him to grow up to feel that our love is not legal in the eyes of our country. Bring on Marriage equality!!!!
Jayson & Aaron’s little list of loves:
‘My adventures with Peter Pan’ – A book Uncle Raphael sent about Roman’s adventures with Peter Pan. It had been rewritten to include Roman and it brings me so much joy when he attempts to read it to me. He memorises the words and before I can finish the sentences, he does. Our limited edition Autumn/Winter Collection which is available exclusively on wwww.jaysonbrunsdon.com. Jayson’s beautiful illustrations. I get at least two new ones everyday. The art is so surreal and the subjects feel so real. www.jaysonbrunsdonartist.com – coming soon. But do check his work on Instagram, @jaysonbrunsdonartist Jayson’s new Rado watch- absolutely timeless, classic piece that we both love. Nothing beats a good timepiece especially one made with superb flawless finish. Heaven!