Michael’s Story

Michael is one of the dads of Two Dads and we have the pleasure of hosting him at Agora for the Open Evening on Bringing Surrogacy Home on the 22nd of February

Here is Michael’s story

I got married when I was 20. I knew I was gay, but I was hoping that marriage would solve that. When the relationship inevitably broke down after a short time, I finally found the courage to come out. It was a tough decision for me because, by admitting I was gay, I also believed I was giving up the chance of ever becoming a father. That was back in the 1990s and, fortunately, a lot has changed since then. My husband, Wes, was in a very similar situation. He’d also been married to a woman and had a young daughter, Katie, who’d remained a massive part of his life after his divorce.

By the time I was in my early 30s, friends around me had young families which constantly reminded me of how much I wanted to have a family of my own. When I met Wes in June 2012, it was important for me to have the ‘Do you want kids?’ conversation really early on. I was so pleased that, although he already had Katie, he was really keen to have more children with me. We were married in 2014, and later that year we started seriously exploring our options.

Looking abroad
At that stage, we hadn’t even considered surrogacy in the UK, partly because we didn’t know enough about UK law. But we’d looked at other countries, including commercial surrogacy in the US (which can cost more than £125,000). We discovered that, aside from the prohibitive costs, there might also be some exit problems – issues with British passports could mean that, in some countries, intended parents (IPs) are left waiting for months to bring a baby home. It was also very important to us to be involved with our child right from the start. That meant being able to go along to all the scans and antenatal appointments, as well as the birth. Travelling abroad each time just wouldn’t have been practical.

Not-for-profit agencies
I started researching the three non-profit UK agencies that can give advice and information for IPs: Surrogacy UK, Brilliant Beginnings, and Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy (COTS). Surrogacy UK would have been our preferred option. Unfortunately for us, at that time they weren’t registering any more IPs as there was a shortage of altruistic surrogates registering. So we started exploring independent options while following their model as closely as possible.

Surrogacy UK encourages IPs and surrogates to spend time getting to know each other for around 8-12 months before a surrogate begins treatment. The early part of the process is a bit like dating. You need to be well matched, to understand the needs of your surrogate and vice versa because if that relationship isn’t right it will break down – and the consequences of that don’t bear thinking about.

Going online
At the end of 2014, we built an online profile via a reputable surrogate finder website that allows IPs and surrogates to message one another. We’d expected to wait a long time to find a surrogate, but C messaged us shortly after we’d built a profile. After an exchange of emails, we met her and her husband, and it just felt right. C hadn’t been a surrogate before but already had four children of her own and had been sterilised. We chose a fertility clinic near to where she lived, which also found us an egg donor, to make life as easy for her as possible.

Legal advice
As advised by Surrogacy UK, we also sought legal advice from an amazing family lawyer in Liverpool, Beverley Jones. We had drafted an ‘Intention’ agreement with our surrogate which links us, via our lawyer, and ties everything nicely together. Although this isn’t a legal document, it outlined our intention from the outset. For example, it agreed the expenses paid to the surrogate and what would happen in any eventuality, for example, our deaths or any pregnancy complications.

I’m the Daddy
We decided from the start that I would be the biological father because Wes already had Katie and he wanted me to fully immerse myself in the experience. It’s only now, looking back, that I realise it probably wouldn’t have mattered which one of us had been the biological father. Biology doesn’t really make a family, and we are a testament to that. We decided with our first pregnancy that we would match our egg donor as closely as possible to Wes’s physical characteristics and the results were everything we hoped for.

We continued to get to know C for nearly a year. It took about four months to find a suitable egg donor. As required by law, she remained anonymous, we just knew a little about her including her age, height, eye and hair colour. And then the journey really began…

The clinic created embryos from the donor eggs and my sperm, and C began the treatment that would prepare her for the pregnancy. The clinic froze two embryos and transferred the third during a fresh embryo transfer on 13th February. Then we had an agonising two-week wait to find out if it had been successful.

Good news
We were on holiday when we had the good news. We were delighted, and C had a great pregnancy with no issues. Talulah was born via elective caesarean at 38 weeks on 16 October 2016. Our only challenges were with some outdated NHS policies, mainly because the Trust hadn’t dealt with a same-sex surrogacy journey before. Thankfully, that was all sorted out, and we got a regular birthing plan and resolved some of the other situations with regards to our care and treatment on the ward. Thankfully, we didn’t have to exchange our baby in the car park, which other IPs have had to endure.

Everything I’d hoped for – and more
Seeing Talulah being born was just incredible. And being a Dad is everything I’d hoped it would be – and more. It’s just the most fantastic feeling. I decided to talk about our experience, to positively share our story, to encourage other same-sex couples and families and let them know there’s a supportive network out there for them. I started to blog about our experience, set up Instagram and Facebook pages and a website, twodaddies.co.uk – and the response has been amazing.

Costs
The whole process cost around £35,000 including the egg donation, fertility treatment, legal fees, surrogate’s expenses (which begin when the pregnancy is confirmed) and some additional testing and monitoring that even included a video of Talulah’s conception.

The challenges today – the NHS
Of course, there are still some challenges. Part of our mission is to change perceptions in public attitudes via the media and government organisations. In February 2017, I was invited to help with new guidance released by the Department of Health to NHS England about how to treat surrogates and IPs. This includes respecting the wishes of surrogates and IPs in hospital, involvement in birthing plans, equality and the ‘handover’ process.

Legal reform
In August 2018, I was honoured to be approached by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Surrogacy Law Reform. They wanted to hear about our ‘lived experience’ of going through surrogacy in the UK. I met healthcare professionals, IPs and parents including those who’d been through a US journey, and we discussed how their law differs from the UK. Personally, I’m not in favour of commercial surrogacy. Not only is it prohibitively expensive for most people, but I also believe that altruistic surrogacy is beautiful and feels right.

However, where we’d like to see change is around the legal status of the parent. Currently, the surrogate and (if married) her husband are the legal parents of the child when it’s born. You can’t apply for a parental order (PO) until the child is six weeks and one day old. The process is lengthy and thorough, as it should be, but it means everything is delayed. We believe this should be carried out as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed, so there’s time for the PO to be granted before the child is born. At the moment, the law is just massively outdated. While families have been created through science for many years, the law just hasn’t kept pace. The Surrogacy Act needs to reflect the diversity of fertility treatment and the LGBT as well as the heterosexual, community.

Getting rid of the labels
And for the future? It would be wonderful if we no longer felt the need to label ourselves as same-sex parents or gay surrogate parents. My family is two parents, who love and provide for their child.

To reach this goal, the first phase is to shine a spotlight on what’s going on, be honest about who we are and be proud of what we’ve achieved so far.

Surrogacy is accessible and straightforward
My advice to others is that surrogacy in the UK is incredibly accessible and is reasonably straightforward providing you are either working with one of the not-for-profit agencies or follow a similar process with regards to getting to know your surrogate. I’d also advise speaking to a legal expert in the surrogacy arena. I hope that by sharing my story and offering support and advice to other men in the same situation, it will help them to feel positive about taking the next step and normalise same-sex parenting through surrogacy.

Looking ahead
We’re going to be working with more clinics and intended fathers on the journey to bring surrogacy home, and we’ve already built a wealth of contacts and information, as well having made the journey twice, with our next child due in August. We want to be recognised as an expert resource to assist intended fathers and clinics and to advise them about what it’s like to be gay and pregnant through surrogacy.