Joel Cruz did not intend to have twins at first.
At the time when he was trying to conceive his first child through in vitro fertilization, the perfume magnate only hoped for a boy.
But as fate would have it, doctors revealed that he was going to be a father of twins—a boy and a girl.
On September 2, 2012, Sean and Synne, Joel's first set of twins, was born in Moscow, Russia.
Five years later, the Aficionado CEO welcomed two more sets of twins into his life: Prince Harry and Prince Harvey arrived on October 23, 2015, and Charles and Charlotte came on May 24, 2017.
And for this year, Joel became a father once again to two more boys.
For once, only one baby was conceived each time.
Zeid was born on June 24, 2018.
Five months later, Zeid's younger brother arrived.
Ziv was born on November 6, 2018.
Joel met his youngest in Moscow on December 13.
BECOMING A FATHER OF EIGHT
Joel knew early on that he wanted to be a father.
In between sessions during our exclusive shoot back in November at the entrepreneur's home in Sampaloc, Manila, Joel revealed to PEP.ph (Philippine Entertainment Portal) that he was 23 when the idea struck him.
But there was a problem: Joel was not exactly fertile.
He explained, "I'm 53 years old right now.
"Siguro mga 30 years ago, when I was 23 years old, gusto ko na talaga magkaroon ng anak.
"That time, mahirap sa akin because when I check yung aking sperm cells, hindi siya ganun kadami. Hindi siya ganun ka-fertile na in terms of count.
"Normally, there's like about 40 million or 50 million in one ejaculation.
"Mine is only like five million, so parang one-fourth lang.
"Sabi ng doctor sa akin, mahina daw yun. Kung may asawa ako, baka hindi ako makabuo.
"So, nagpa-check ako sa kanya, 'tapos merong mga Singaporean doctors din na kinonsult ko."
From these consultations, Joel was introduced to the concept of in vitro fertilization, or IVF.
According to MayoClinic.org, IVF is referred to as "a complex series of procedures used to treat fertility or genetic problems and assist with the conception of a child."
The general procedure would begin with the "mature eggs" being retrieved from the ovaries and brought to a lab to fertilize with a sperm.
After a successful fertilization process, the embryo would be implanted in the uterus of the mother or a surrogate.
Before Joel flew to Russia for this procedure, he first tried it here in the Philippines.
He continued, "Bumili na lang kami ng egg cells from mga American models dito sa Philippines.
"'Tapos, pagka ginagawa namin yung in vitro dito sa Philippines, meron isang surrogate na Filipina.
"Dun namin nilalagay yung sperm ko and yung egg cell nung foreigner.
"[Kaso] Hindi lahat naging successful, lahat nalalaglag..."
But Joel was determined to become a dad.
He then flew to Russia where it was legal for single fathers to avail of IVF.
The businessman also chose Russia because he found Russians an attractive bunch.
"I've been traveling a lot. Sa Russia, ako nagagandahan sa mga tao...
"Boys, girls, ang gaganda ng mga babae nila. Guwapo rin lalake nila.
"So, sabi ko, yun yung gusto kong lahi na magmi-mix sa mga anak ko."
But as anyone can imagine, this procedure came with a hefty price tag.
Joel revealed, "Sa Russia, for the program, initially you have to pay six million [pesos]...
"Parang acceptance fee pa lang nila yun, yung six million. Pero hindi sila titigil hanggang hindi ka nagkakaanak.
"It's really enough. Mahal kasi every procedure, every test na gagawin sa surrogate mother, the biological mother, may cost.
"So, kung isasama ko yung biyahe ko dun—let's say three times ako pumunta sa Russia—yung una kong punta, usually dalawa lang kami, ako lang at personal assistant ko...
"Pagka final na, kukunin na naming yung bata, may kasama na kami.
"Lalo na kung twins yung kukunin namin, may kasama na akong tatlong yaya, isang nurse, ganun, isa pang lalake.
"Then hotel namin, lahat ng documents noon—ang lawyer namin dun per hour ang bayad. May interpreter din kami na per hour ang bayad.
"Umaabot ako ng PHP12 million. Twins na yun. Mahal din."
Despite the prohibitive costs, every peso seemed to have been worth it—judging from Joel's happiness meter.
When it came to selecting a surrogate and the children's biological mother, Joel chose Lilia, who stood out because of her height.
She is nearly a six-footer, as Joel revealed.
He said, "She’s tall, she’s like 5 [feet] 10 [inches] or 5 [feet] 11 [inches] in height."
Lilia had a family of her own. She was a mom to a nine-year-old daughter.
"Actually, that's one of the requirements. Kailangan meron ka nang anak," the Aficionado founder added.
"Dapat kasi maganda yung reproductive system mo, dapat normal yung pagkasilang mo sa bata..."
Lilia (3rd from left) carried and delivered Joel's first set of twins, Sean and Synne.
For his next set of kids, it was a different surrogate mom (rightmost) who carried them.
But Joel underlined that Lilia was still the biological mother.
WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT
Though Lilia kept in touch with Joel by following him on social media, the kids have yet to meet their biological mother.
And admittedly, this is something that Joel is still preparing himself for.
He remarked, "Alam mo sa tamang time [ipapakilala ko rin], pero one time I heard my son said, 'Because daddy is gay...' Gumanun siya.
"Parang they were talking about mom, 'We do not have mom because daddy is gay,' gumanun siya.
"Nakinig na lang ako kasi hindi naman ako tinatanong, e.
"Inaalam ko lang kung ano yung alam niya.
"But in due time sasabihin ko naman lahat.
"Kailangan ko talagang sabihin, kasi alam ng lahat ng tao kung anong buhay ko.
"So, unang-una, walang lihim ang hindi nabubunyag.
"I'll tell everything sa mga anak ko.
"Kung sino ako, ano ba ang pagkatao ko, kung paano sila nabuhay sa mundo na ito.
"Ano yung in vitro fertilization, sino yung mommy nila...
"If they want to see their mom, that's okay with me… Basta I have to guide them."