An American father has been raising his baby, Carmen, in Thailand over the past six months, praying every day that he will finally be able to bring his daughter home. His only obstacle is the Thai surrogate mother, who is refusing to sign the papers necessary for Carmen's departure.
"I can't leave without Carmen, because she is our daughter," said Gordon Alan "Bud" Lake III, an American who is legally married to Spanish national Manuel Santos.
The couple came to Thailand six months ago with the hope of completing their family with a daughter. Santos and Lake already have a son through an Indian surrogate mother. The problem now is that Carmen's birth mother changed her mind at the last minute, thwarting their hope of taking the child out of Thailand.
According to Lake, he and his partner spent more than Bt1 million (S$39,000) for surrogacy services in Thailand. The process had gone smoothly initially, when the surrogate mother signed her consent for them to take the baby out of the hospital and put Lake's name down as the child's father.
But she stopped cooperating after learning that Lake was married to a man, seeking help from different agencies in a bid to take Carmen back. Under Thai law, Carmen belongs to her mother - a fact that Lake is finding difficult to accept.
"She did not want the baby from the beginning. It was us who wanted to have a daughter. We are trying to build our family," Lake pointed out.
The story hit the headlines after the surrogate mother turned to the media for help. She has been saying that the two men may not be good parents, and after discovering that they had made a surrogacy deal with another Thai woman, she now says the couple may be human traffickers.
"This has made me decide to reach out to the press too, because what she says is untrue. We are not human traffickers," Lake said.
He said they had not gone into two surrogacy deals simultaneously, explaining that the initial embryo transfer with the other woman was unsuccessful.
In May, Lake's family and friends launched an online campaign on Facebook and via change.org called "BringCarmenHome", which have been gaining attention from people in Spain, the United States and Thailand.
Though a US citizen, Lake moved to Spain to live with his spouse as same-sex marriage was legally recognised there since 2005. Lake and Santos married three years ago, planning to build a family together.
"Our family is big. Twenty-five members of our family get together every week to eat paella together. It's wonderful and we have a good family," Lake said. He and Santos live in Valencia.
Though he misses his family back in Spain, Lake said he is grateful for the support he is getting in Thailand.
"Thais are amazing. They send me personal messages, offering to help me around the house, with language and some have even offered to help me financially. I am overwhelmed with their support. They are very important to us," Lake said. Their "BringCarmenHome" Facebook page has earned more than 56,000 likes and the change.org campaign has over 80,000 signatures.
Despite being unsuccessful in his negotiations with the surrogate mother, Lake refuses to give up.
"Every single day, from the beginning, I have been hoping that she will come, sign the paper and let us go home together," he said, adding that he will never leave without his daughter, not even if he loses his job in Spain.
"I will stay put and try to find a job here, so I can raise my daughter," he said.
Asked if he ever thought of giving up now that this second surrogacy is posing so many problems, Lake replied, "No, I will never change my mind, because this surrogacy has given us our daughter Carmen. Surrogacy is wonderful. Our daughter is a gift and the surrogate mother is also wonderful, she made this miracle happen."
Now, he said, his only wish is for a "second miracle" from the surrogate mother - that she signs the paperwork so he can fly to Spain with his daughter to celebrate his son's second birthday, which is a week away.