Entrepreneur Joel Cruz made his fortune from his fragrance brand Aficionado. The fruits of his hard work are evident in his condominium.
The decor mimics the golden resplendence of the iconic Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai. He recalls that on seeing the rooms overlooking the Jumeirah River, Cruz realized that his unit offered a view of Manila Bay.
Thus, he painted walls in gold and matched them with ornately carved gilt furniture by Muebles Italiano that cost millions. However, his most priceless possessions are his twins, Prince Sean and Princess Synne, whose names mean “gift from God.”
They are the result of in vitro fertilization from a Ukranian mother.
For so long, Cruz wanted to have a family. He didn’t want adoption because he wanted the child to be genetically linked to him. He then consulted a Singaporean doctor in a fertility clinic for the possibilities of in vitro fertilization.
Cruz flew to Singapore several times for IVF cycles. The initial tests revealed low sperm count and some abnormalities. Then there were more procedures such as checkups, and the pairing of the mature egg with the sperms for the embryo to grow and medication. But the efforts failed, and Cruz lost interest.
Two years later, he met a lady Filipino doctor in the same fertility clinic. He had three Filipino surrogates for the transfer of the embryos into their uterus. The three attempts floundered.
“I got depressed. I said, ‘Let’s not do it here,’” he recalls.
After brainstorming in his office, Cruz checked the web, and found an agency/law firm that brokered arrangements between surrogate mothers and prospective parents. Unlike in other countries which have laws that allowed only married couples for surrogate parenthood, Cruz learned that Russia was liberal with singletons.
In 2011, the agency in Moscow, Rosjur Consulting, sent him profiles of potential surrogate mothers. He favored Lilia, a leggy, six-foot blonde who resembled Julia Roberts. Her reproductive history revealed that she has been a surrogate mother to a Frenchman.
Lilia finally delivered Cruz’s twins on Sept. 4, 2012. Two days after their birth, Cruz received photos of the twins. Although they had light brown hair and alabaster skin, they looked Filipino.
“The girl looks like my youngest brother, Michael. She’s got those chubby cheeks. Prince looks like my nephew, Romnick. He has almond eyes and his eyebrows are like mine,” says Cruz.
Before Cruz went to Moscow to get his children, he practiced how to carry babies, using a doll. He says the anatomy and child psychology courses he took in pre-med school at the University of Santo Tomas proved useful.
Lilia gave birth in one of the best hospitals in Moscow. After delivery, she was moved to a more affordable hospital to take care of the twins while waiting for their father. In all, he spent some P7 million for the entire surrogacy. Cruz expressed his gratitude to Lilia for going through the risks of labor for him and for maintaining a healthy lifestyle throughout her pregnancy.
Cruz is as meticulous in parenting as he is with his business. If he keeps a slew of auditors to watch the bottom line, he has “The Entourage”—composed of a nurse, three nannies, a bodyguard, a security guard and driver just for the twins. The nannies work in two shifts. They wear the caregiver’s uniform and face masks to protect the twins from their sniffles and coughs.
“For me, they are not the usual babies who were conceived through natural methods. They need extra care. They might be easily susceptible to diseases. For one year, I have to do this,” he says.
Asked about the Entourage, Cruz explains: “I don’t know if I’m overprotective. I don’t sleep with them. I see them for limited hours.” On weekdays, he sees them at their wake-up time of 4 a.m., which is also Cruz’s bedtime. Upon arising at 11 a.m., he plays with them. Before he goes to the office at 2 p.m., he meets them again.
The twins are asleep when he comes home after 9 p.m. From Friday night to Monday morning, Cruz and his twins enjoy their Tagaytay weekend home.
Their nursery is secured with monitors and CCTV cameras. In case the nanny is remiss in her duties or sleeping on the job and the baby wakes up, the guard would inform them. At work, Cruz’s laptop also monitors the babies. He calls up the nanny if she’s not in the room and Prince Sean is crying.
“In the absence of a mother, I take care of them. I don’t want them to complain that they cried for 30 minutes because they weren’t given milk,” says Cruz.
Pushing eight months, the twins are showing signs of self-reliance. “They can sit on their own. But they grab anything and put it inside their mouth. It could be your hair or a pencil. This needs attention,” he says.
On the day of the interview, Cruz brought the twins to their pediatrician. “Prince is heavier but he’s not fat because he burns calories. Princess is taller and lighter, but less active,” says the father.
The twins have very distinct personalities, says Cruz. “Princess is jolly. She smiles a lot and she’s always behaved. I have no headaches. When she wakes up, she doesn’t cry. She stays in bed and plays by herself. She’s not demanding. She looks up to the ceiling and takes the toy beside her.
“Prince demands attention. He likes to be carried a lot, but I don’t want to spoil them. I want them to be independent. I need to limit the picking up by the yaya or me. I don’t want them to get too attached.”
Cruz is discovering that his twins are precocious. From the day they came home, they’ve been exposed to nursery songs and classical music. When they watch educational TV, they are attentive. “I call them but they are focused. I find them smart,” he observes.
He has also experienced the pressures of having a sick baby. Days after her birth, Princess Synne contacted urinary tract infection and had to prolong her stay at the hospital. When Synne caught the flu in Tagaytay, Cruz tried to keep calm. The doctor advised him to let her skin breathe instead of bundling her up and giving some medicine.
Coming from a close-knit family, Cruz gets a lot of advice. He often confers with his siblings regarding the Entourage. Nurses and nannies underwent careful screening by the human resources manager and the general manager of Aficionado before they were hired.
Still, many didn’t make the cut. He has sacked six nannies and three nurses. Some came with exaggerated resumés but turned out to be clumsy in handling the infants.
Now he has to deal with competition. “I was advised that it’s not good to be changing nannies all the time because the children have to adjust. At first, the nannies or the nurse are very professional, but then they get into rivalry.”
Ultimately, Cruz hopes to be a good parent to his kids. “Having twins means double work. I have to record my time with them. If I carry my daughter for 15 minutes, I have to carry my son for 15 minutes. That is my practice. I don’t want them to think someone is favored over the other.”
On his children’s future, he says: “Most parents have dreams for their children. For me, it’s the other way around. I want to know what they want. As they grow older, I have to observe their inclinations. My mother was traditional. She wanted her seven children to be professionals. She wanted me to be a doctor, but I followed my passion. I want my kids to be in a career where their hearts are in it.”