Double Income Kids is a documentary by director Hendrik Schäfer that follows two Israeli gay men on their rollercoaster pursuit of parenthood through surrogacy in the USA. The documentary was part of the recent UK Jewish Film Festival. Director Hendrik Schäfer’s work has focused on gay experience and identity in the past, making use of both experimental approaches and a variety of genres. In comparison, Double Income Kids uses simple documentation of a pregnancy journey, as if to aesthetically mirror its protagonists' pursuit of normality.
The viewer is introduced to Motty Garcia and Alon Gvili, a young gay couple living in Tel Aviv, Israel, as they embark on the first steps of surrogacy. In Israel, surrogacy is state-organised and generously subsidised. The law, however, bans single and gay men from accessing surrogacy, creating a deep sense of unfairness and forcing large numbers of intended parents to pursue parenthood abroad. Even internationally, there are not many options available for gay men, thus making the USA a rare but expensive option.
The initial stressful wait to confirm a pregnancy is, through a video call showing two heartbeats on the ultrasound, turned into the joy, excitement and also anxiety of knowing they will soon be parents to twins. The surrogate, Krista Soto, who already has a child of her own, is a source of excitement and support to the two dads-to-be. The prospect of becoming parents to twins can be daunting at the best of times. Garcia and Gvili have the additional worry of the vast physical distance, the additional logistics and the financial impact that having babies through surrogacy involves.
Following the pregnancy, birth and first few months of the babies' lives, the documentary is notably upfront in its depiction of the ambivalence of expectant parenthood and the reality of stress and sleeplessness that newborns bring. Throughout the film, Schäfer resists the temptation to portray Garcia and Gvili as perfect parents in order to help legitimate their quest for fatherhood and that of gay parenthood in general. Instead, it shows the couple having the same doubts, fears and difficulties that heterosexual parents face. In the face of enduring attacks on gay relationships and parenthood, such vulnerability takes considerable courage.
Indeed, throughout the film, we are presented with snippets of the everyday reality that homosexuality is still far from universally accepted. Even the couple's own parents have struggled, even continue to struggle with the idea of their son being gay. The documentary culminates with a speech by Garcia's mother at Garcia and Gvili's wedding. She explains that when she found out her son was gay, she always accepted him for who he was. Instead, her main worry was that he would not be able to live a normal life. She expresses her relief and gratitude at the fact that she is now speaking at her son's wedding, in the presence of his two beautiful babies.
For Garcia and Gvili their twin babies did not just offer the gift of family and parenthood but with it also the opportunity to re-join the cultural, religious and national narrative to be fruitful and multiply. This sense of being able to move forward on their expected life course, something that coming out as gay had threatened to undermine, is shared by Garcia and Gvili's parents, who now have grandchildren and thus affirmation of future generations.
Overall, Double Income Kids is an educational, touching and entertaining account of surrogacy that will be of interest to policymakers, researchers and those considering surrogacy, but equally so for the general public. It is also a powerful story of the quest for normality and acceptance by those for whom it is often denied. The crucial role that income has in making this quest successful, so overtly referenced in the title, does not, however, get as much examination in the documentary as one might have hoped. There are mentions of the fact that the process is expensive, but Garcial and Gvili can clearly afford it. What about those who cannot? In offering the option of parenthood to gay men, surrogacy in the USA goes a long way towards righting the wrong of discriminatory exclusion based on sexual orientation but in doing so it also introduces another one: that based on economic privilege. This important point is never really addressed. It could be an accidental omission or perhaps simply another chapter in this complex story, left for others to tell.