KIEV – For parents Jose Perez and Flavia Lavorino, the wait is finally over. On Wednesday, the couple from Buenos Aires met their baby son Manu for the first time, 71 days after he was born to a surrogate mother 8,000 miles (12,875 km) away in Ukraine.
“Joy, excitement, happiness, accomplishment,” a beaming Perez told Reuters, when asked how they felt.
Lockdowns and closed borders imposed by governments around the world to contain the coronavirus pandemic had prevented the parents from travelling to Kiev to pick him up until now.
Before Wednesday, Perez and Lavorino had only seen Manu, short for Manuel, in videos and photographs as they waited for special government permission to travel.
Now Lavorino can cradle Manu in her arms. As Perez kisses his head, the baby gives a little yawn.
Taking two flights with a layover in Madrid, the couple brought clothes, sneakers, blankets and a soccer T-shirt from Argentine Club Atlético Independiente with them. Lavorino worried the tiny socks for Manu would no longer fit.
“Everything was a struggle … I don’t have many words to describe just what I feel inside, there is so much emotion,” said Lavorino.
The Argentine couple was among dozens in Europe, the United States, China and elsewhere whose babies were stranded at the BioTexCom clinic in Ukraine.
Perez, a 47-year-old doctor, and Lavorino, a 41-year-old social worker, had been trying to have a child for years before turning to surrogacy, which is legal in Ukraine.
“Every year is hard, but each year you also have the pain of the previous one,” Perez said. “It costs you more to keep your hopes up. You are worn out physically and mentally, so the last years were even worse than the first ones,” Lavorino said.
They arrived in Ukraine at the end of May, along with eight other families from Argentina whose babies had been born or are due to be born at the clinic.
On arrival, Perez and Lavorino were placed under quarantine for seven days at a hotel in the suburbs of Kiev before meeting Manu. They were not allowed to leave their rooms, and meals were left on a table outside their door.
“The coronavirus has shown that there are many things in life that can make you stronger – hugs, kisses, the touch of those you love – these things,” Perez said.
“This pandemic has shown us that these things are feelings you have to hold onto more closely.”