Sometimes, “it takes a village” just to have a child, nevermind raise one.
Luis Pagan and Lisette Nieves, who live on E. 156th Street, have reached out to the village for help — the entire village of the Bronx. Nieves had a hysterectomy in 2007 after being diagnosed with uterine cancer. Prior to surgery, Nieves had the foresight to have her eggs harvested and frozen, so that one day she and Pagan could have a child.
Now that Nieves has turned 40, they’re ready and eager to have that child, but they’ll need a surrogate, and the cost is daunting. “Surrogacy is ridiculously expensive in the U.S.,” said Pagan, “and we’re not Mark and J.Lo.”
That was how he and Nieves came up with an idea. It would force Nieves to be very public and open about her personal life and medical history, but they would ask Bronxites — anyone and everyone — to donate so that they could afford a surrogate.
They scheduled a large fundraising event at The Gallery Lounge on Bruckner Boulevard, and launched a web site, which they named Celebrate Vida.
“I had just gone to an anti-gun rally, and the slogan was ‘celebrate life,’ which I really liked,” recalled Nieves. “So we embraced the name because I’m a cancer survivor and because, hopefully, we are celebrating the life that we will bring into the world.”
After looking into options, the couple found that surrogacy is illegal in New York City, so their U.S. option would be to go to New Jersey, where they’d pay $75-100,000 for the service.
After more homework, they learned India has a great service for surrogacy, at a third of the cost.
“Still, $30,000 is nothing to sneeze at either,” said Pagan.
A fundraiser seemed like a no-brainer, since it would allow them to pool their resources. Nieves, a community leader working at BronxWorks, has a number of friends all over the borough, while Pagan, an artist, would be able to cull other artists who wanted to show their work.
The fundraiser happened on Friday, August 14, and the results astounded them.
“Honestly, I had no expectations. The event exceeded anything we could have hoped for,” said Pagan. A silent auction was held at the event, with artists selling their art for no profit. Two thousand dollars in art sales all went to the couple. Cash and check donations separate from the auction brought Pagan and Nieves’ take to $6,000 from the 150 people that came out to The Gallery Lounge to help out.
“We made the theme a white party, because it’s kind of spritual,” said Nieves. “Everyone wore white and we also sold T-shirts and had 32 pieces of art on the wall, and we feel so, so grateful.”
One of the 150 attendees was Nieves’ college rommate from freshman year at Wesleyan, Melissa Doty, who flew from West Virginia just to donate. The two had not seen each other in 18 years.
“When I got the invitation for their fundraiser,” Doty said, “I knew if I could support her in her journey to motherhood, why wouldn’t I? I’m a single mom now, so I can identify with giving up your pride and asking for help.”
Nieves and Pagan are now well on their way, and whether they make the entire $30,000 with donations or not, Nieves said that this is happening for sure.
“Before the party, we had $5,000 for this, and now we’re up to nearly 12,” she said. “We may have one more fundraiser at the end of September, but after that, we may take out a loan. This will happen. I know that I will either have a baby or have one on the way by the time I am 41.”
In the months to come, Pagan and Nieves will keep reaching out and, soon, will plan their trip to either New Delhi or Mumbai.