Father shares his tips on navigating surrogacy

"I couldn't remember what was my big 'why' before the kids."

Hartouni, a Los Angeles native, and his husband, Asad, have three children: 7-year-old Zeus and 6-year-old twins Xena and Petra. The plan wasn't always to have children, however.

The couple was having lunch in Palm Springs one day when Hartouni, who was 29 at the time, wondered what their future would look like. He then received a call from his sister announcing that she was pregnant, and after they hung up, he realized he wanted that too.

"I was like, 'I really think I want kids,' and then I made that reality," Hartouni told "Good Morning America."

The road to becoming a parent wasn't easy. While the moment that sparked his desire for children happened out of the blue, actually getting there took dedicated effort.

Navigating surrogacy

Adoption didn't work out for Hartouni and his husband, who saw other gay couples adopt and later have their kids taken away.

"I had seen two people in my own office that their kids were taken away from them," Hartouni said. "I never want that to happen to me."

Instead, they opted for gestational surrogacy -- in which the surrogate and donor are different -- which came with its own set of challenges that neither expected.

Now, Hartouni is sharing his tips for others who are considering surrogacy.

Prepare for the full cost and save. The cost of surrogacy depends on a variety of factors. According to Circle Surrogacy, it can range from $80,000 to upward of $200,000. The cost includes the agency's fee, the surrogate's fee, medical and legal fees and insurance.

"We went back and I saved money; I cut so many expenses and we built it up," he said.

Some families might immediately rule out surrogacy based on the price tag, but there are ways to offset the cost. Some agencies offer financing programs, though families can choose to take out traditional loans.

More businesses are starting to cover fertility expenses up to a certain amount, so it's worth checking your employer's policy to see what's available.

According to a report by the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 31% of employers with 500 or more employees offered some form of fertility benefit in 2019, which is a 7% increase from 2016.

Several organizations, such as Men Having Babies, AGC and Journey to Parenthood, offer grants and scholarships for families looking to pursue surrogacy.

Don't wait too long. If you have the financial means to pursue surrogacy, Hartouni recommended not putting it off for reasons like wanting to buy a house or go on a vacation.

"You're not the one carrying," he said. "I will suggest, 'Don't wait -- it's nicer to be closer to the age of your kids.'"

Beyond waiting to begin the process, if you're planning to have multiple children, Hartouni recommended having them back to back. The children themselves will be closer in age and you won't be dealing with vastly different stages of childhood at the same time.

Give the surrogate mother space. While it's understandable to request certain things from your surrogate and want to monitor their progress, it's important to give them the space they need. Too much pressure can stress the surrogate out and negatively affect the pregnancy.

"It's better for the surrogate mother to be calm and happy to have a healthy child," Hartouni said. "Let them go through the process and don't modify it so much."

"When you control too much, they do less for you," he noted, adding that the more freedom they gave their surrogate, the more she was willing to do for them without having to ask.

Treating a surrogate with kindness and the understanding that they're taking on something life-changing on your behalf is also important, as well as showing that you value them as human beings.

"She did so much," Hartouni said of their surrogate. "We treated her as if she was part of our family."

Navigating fatherhood

Having children was life-changing for Hartouni.

"I have a desire to do so much in life and have an impact in my business and the people around me, and then my kids came and that got so much bigger, and I couldn't remember what was my big 'why?' before the kids," he said.

Quality time over quantity. As an entrepreneur and developer with his own real estate company, Hartouni is often busy. But one thing he's found is that what matters most is the quality of the time you spend with your kids. If you often spend time with your kids but they're just on their iPads the whole time, that's a no-go, he said.

"I think it's important to have a quality time versus having a long time but none of them quality," Hartouni said. "That's what we're trying to do to be good fathers, even if it's a shorter time versus all day being with them."

He and his kids will spend time outdoors together, do mentally stimulating activities like puzzles, and so on.

"It's difficult," he said, adding that he admires anyone who stays home full time.

Be honest with them. Hartouni has run into instances where he's been out with his family and received looks from others for just being gay and having children. He described a particular incident while he and his family were out of town having lunch with friends and a stranger described her surprise that he married outside of his Armenian culture.

"She then goes, 'Well which one is your wife?'" he said. "I said, 'Actually, none of them,' and she was like, 'Then who's the mother of this child?'"

When Hartouni told her that there was no mother and it was two fathers, he said she was "so disgusted."

While it's been easier to deal with incidents like that with other adults, Hartouni and his husband are faced with explaining things surrounding LGBTQ culture to their kids.

Just recently, one of his kids asked the question, "What is gay?"

"My husband -- we're looking at each other and we're like, 'OK where's this going?', you know, preparing for the conversation," Hartouni recalled.

But one of their daughters answered the question before they could, saying, "We have gay dads and we're happy."

"One thing we learned about early on was to run toward our fear," Hartouni said. "We don't hold back, we don't lie about things and tell ourselves we'll tell them the truth when they're older."

He added, "I want our life to be as normal as possible for the kids."

The two don't hold back information, even on questions like, "Where do I come from?" Instead, they tell their kids the truth in a way that's easy for them to grasp.

"We brought the level down for them to understand," Hartouni said. "But as they get older, I'm sure it'll be more. I advise people not to hide it."

Hartouni wants his kids to know what he's gone through as well, and his recently published book, "Getting Back Up: A Story of Resilience, Self-Acceptance & Success," is a testament to that.

"I was thinking if I ever pass and I don't see my kids as they grow, they should know my story," he said. "Although I don't think any kid should ever go through what I've gone through, there's things that I've learned from those lessons of my life that have built me to be who I am."