As It Happens

This couple travelled 3,000 km and went into quarantine to witness the birth of their child

We’re all waiting for a return to normalcy. But Joe Zee and Rob Younkers are waiting for something else entirely. The safe arrival of their first child — born to a surrogate, 3,000 km from home.

'She'll know that she came in this world at the most trying time,' expectant father says

Joe Zee, right, and Rob Younkers are soon hoping to meet their first child, whose ultrasound image is shown here on the left. (Submitted by Joe Zee)


Rob Younkers and Joe Zee's daughter won't be able to say her dads never did anything for her.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Los Angeles couple travelled 3,000 kilometres to await her birth via surrogate in Minnesota. 

"The fact that she will know how much we loved her, wanted her, and have done what we can to protect her — long before she came into this world — is something that's important to us," Zee told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Zee and Younkers started the surrogate process 18 months ago and are expecting their surrogate mother, who lives a two-hour drive from St. Paul's, Minn., to give birth at the end of April.

The distance between the couple and the surrogate was challenging before the pandemic, Zee said. Now, it's even more so.

As is the case globally, travel restrictions and widespread lockdowns are in effect across the United States to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. 

The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. stood at more than 40,000 as of Monday — the highest in the world — with over 750,000 confirmed infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. The true figures are believed to be much higher, in part because of limited testing and difficulties in counting the dead.

Dr. Wendy Whittle, head of labour and delivery at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, talks to Front Burner about handling the pressures of being an expectant parent during this pandemic. 3:56

"It's surreal within surreal," Younkers said.  "Originally, the two of us were thinking about a surrogate in another state and what that all looked like. And now, it's all of that within a pandemic."

In consultation with their pediatrician, the couple decided it would be safer to fly in for the birth rather than drive. They arrived early so they could quarantine for 14 days and ensure neither is infected. 

Zee is a Canadian fashion stylist and personality. Younkers is a fashion designer and associate professor at the New School. 

Zee, left, and Younkers are in quarantine after traveling 3,000 kilometres for the birth of their daughter. (Submitted by Joe Zee)

Provided they are healthy and neither shows any COVID-19 symptoms, Younkers said he and Zee will be allowed in the delivery room for their daughter's birth. 

When the child — whose name is a secret right now — gets older, "she'll know that she came in this world at the most trying time," Zee said. 

"I think it also speaks to the strength of the person you become." 

Written by Justin Chandler. Interview produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.

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