David and Matt Siegel traveled to Mexico City in 2017 for the birth of their twin girls via surrogate. Their medical journey was fraught, but 18 months later, they’re sharing their story – and El Camino Hospital’s part in it – to help others.
Their babies – Cecelia and Gabrielle, nicknamed Cece and Gabby – were born at 32 weeks, requiring a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit. Cece, who weighed 4 pounds, 3 ounces at birth, was discharged first, and Gabby, 3 pounds, 4 ounces, remained in the NICU. In the predominantly Catholic country, homosexuality is openly frowned on. Only one dad was allowed in the NICU with the recovering Gabby – Matt sat with the newborn while David cared for Cece, and vice versa.
In more ways than one, finally bringing the twins back to their Santa Clara home was a huge relief for the new dads. While they had been in contact with the girls’ mom, whom they still send pictures to via WhatsApp, and suspected the babies may come a few weeks early, there was no way of planning for the call they received with news of the impending births.
“We got a call first thing on a Monday morning,” Matt recounted. “We had turned our phones off overnight. … We just packed up our stuff and caught a flight.”
By the time the Siegels reached the hospital in Mexico, they had missed visiting hours. When they finally met their girls, they learned that Gabby, born first, and Cece, who came minutes later, had been delivered via cesarean.
There was a 23 percent differential in the girls’ weight. El Camino Hospital clinical nursing manager Jody Charles, who received a phone call from the Siegels requesting help with next steps, explained that’s normal with twins. Cece was likely closer to the food source. What happened next with the babies’ care, however, was not normal – at least not by U.S. neonatal standards.
“When we got a call from the (international surrogacy) agency they were working with there, our care coordinator said to me, ‘Do you think we can transport twins from Mexico City?’” Charles said. “At the time, I thought, ‘I’m sorry, what?’”
While babies had been transported to El Camino before, this was a peculiar case for Charles. Cece and Gabby were separated when Cece was discharged after just a few days. The Siegels were encountering the first experiences of parenthood in a hotel room at the JW Marriott in Mexico City, one tending to Cece while the other traveled back and forth to the hospital to monitor Gabby’s progress. The couple needed advice as they learned to care for their 2-week-old twins.
During the Siegels’ initial call to El Camino Hospital, it became clear to Charles that the NICU staff in Mexico City had cared for the girls but gave no after-care instructions to their dads; they didn’t know they were supposed to be monitoring Cece’s weight, temperature and feeding patterns regularly.
By the time they got the right equipment, Cece registered a 91-degree temperature. Take her to the emergency room, Charles advised, trying her best not to “freak them out” about how dangerous the number truly was.
Cece spent another week in the hospital in Mexico City, and Gabby was transferred to another facility so that the Siegel family could finally function out of one place. Matt and David took turns taking care of the tasks that would enable their girls to be airlifted to El Camino Hospital. Surprisingly, the Mexican Embassy waived the DNA test usually required to prove paternity. The girls were issued birth certificates and emergency passports; though expedited, the process took weeks.
“I just went to renew their passports and it’s funny to look at them now,” Matt said last week. “They were in the NICU, and that’s where they took the pictures, with the cords and everything.”
A new life
Once Cece and Gabby were airlifted to the NICU at El Camino Hospital’s Mountain View campus, they spent just over a week under the care of Charles and her staff. Repeating their history, Cece was released prior to Gabby.
Once they had all the resources they needed, the twins’ growth accelerated quickly, David said. Charles predicts it will always be this way; Cece weighs more, but Gabby makes up for it in personality, the twins’ parents joke.
Both dads credit the NICU team at El Camino for welcoming them and inspiring confidence that they could take care of their daughters.
“We learned to do so many things here; we learned how to give them a bath,” David said.
Now, the Siegels split their time between strengthening their young family and sharing their story for other families like theirs.
Matt, who used to work for the nonprofit Silicon Valley March of Dimes, felt his world come full circle when he, his husband and their girls were chosen to be the 2019 March for Babies ambassador family. The March for Babies walk, which took place in History Park in San Jose in April, raised more than $300,000 for research and advocacy for the health of moms and babies.
“They’re in the monkey phase now,” Matt said of the nearly 18-month-olds, as Cece showed off her best downward-facing dog yoga position.
“I had a very active second child, who at 3 years old found her way to the roof of the house,” she said as she observed the girls during their first “social visit” back to the NICU. “She was very, very strong.”