Here Comes The Sonby Michael Johnson-Ellis
They say nothing can totally prepare you for the birth of a child, emotionally that is. The crescendo of love and yearning to meet them, to hold them safely and smell their precious untouched pure skin, and sweet-smelling baby breath. However, being prepared physically for the arrival of our son was something we were not quite ready for. Mamas and Papas hadn't delivered our furniture till five days before his scheduled C-Section date, and we still had the odd thing to buy on the day of his birth. I believe it's known as the 'second child' effect, am I right?
Those more familiar with us will know we have a two-year-old named Talulah, also born with our gestational surrogate. Talulah has been at the centre of everything for almost the last three years – she’s partly the reason we blog, as we’re keen to raise awareness about our family type and UK Surrogacy.
The days leading up to the birth was still as exciting as ever, just like our previous pregnancy and Wes even sad Katie's was no different too, (Katie is Wes’ 15-year-old from a previous straight marriage – see I told you we were unique!). We decided to stay in a hotel the night before the C-Section as our baby was being born at the incredible Burnley Women's and Newborn Centre part of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, and we were first in the theatre which was around 8 am. The super talented Dr Fiona Clarke Consultant Gynaecologist was our Consultant throughout both pregnancies and she had come in especially today just to deliver our baby, and to make sure everything ran to the birthing plan we created together with the most passionate and understanding midwife, Caroline Broome, who again was with us throughout Talulah's pregnancy too.
We had a really lovely evening with 'C' and her husband, we discussed how the baby loved to be very active, and his constant kicks and stretches in particular. C constantly said 'this boy loves to stretch - I have a feeling he's got long legs!' We compared this pregnancy to Talulah's and spoke about the failed transfer from the Summer of 2018 which hit is all hard, financially and emotionally. I guess that's why this pregnancy felt like an eternity, as it consumed us all, not the least was our Surrogate. Her life on hold, injecting herself full of hormones since June 2018 when our treatment began at CRGH in London. So we continued to ear our meal, talked and laughed until we realised it was 10 pm - we all needed our rest, not least of all our selfless Surrogate. So off we went, kissed her and her husband goodnight in the car park, gave her the 'Pamper Hamper' we had made. It consisted of face masks, nail polish, body lotions and body butters, hair treatments, chocolate, a bangle from both our babies and a horseshoe lucky charm. C works with horses and is a successful trainer, so this just felt right to give it to her, as in recent weeks luck wasn't on her side, in fact, luck had been pretty shitty to her and her family. Four weeks before C was due to give birth her Mum passed away fairly suddenly after a period of short illness, so apart from everything else to contend with, C now had to bury her Mum 9 months pregnant which was cruel and devastating for her - I wished there was something we could have done - just hearing the pain in her voice broke our hearts, so I can't begin to imagine how she felt. But the trooper she is, she dusted herself off, rallied everyone around and did everyone proud, you see - this is why we love her, she has the most selfless soul and caring attitude, a daughter any Mum or parent would be proud of. So off we all drove and headed to bed.
I had a terrible sleep, Wes, on the other hand, was snoring after 10 minutes, nothing to do with the bottle of prosecco he'd drank I'm sure. My head was racing, I was more nervous this time around as I understood the risks of the C-section more, and the fact we were in theatre again (this time it was planned as part of our NHS birthing plan which we devised with Caroline Broome and Miss Clarke) made me respect the surgery more this time, and the risks surrogates take for doing what they do. Before I knew it, it was 6 am and we had to be up, out and at the hospital as C and her husband were arriving for 7 am. We arrived onto the Ante Natal Ward, met C chatted to our Midwife and Miss Clarke and before we knew it, we were heading to the Birthing Suite, where C was being prepped for theatre by the amazing team.
The care from start to finish was exceptional and we felt so at ease, relaxed and included - again proof that just because this is a surrogacy journey Intended Parents shouldn't be treated any differently, nor should they accept when a trust won't allow both sets of parents in theatre for example. Just because its Hospital policy just to allow one person in theatre, doesn't mean it’s acceptable or fair. In our case, we were present, as was C's husband. Again - all down to the incredible Caroline Broome and Miss Clarke.
The time came to put on our scrubs, a gorgeous Peach tone oversized garment - not the most attractive outfit I've worn. We sat in a waiting room with other Dads to be, all looking like extras from Teletubbies with our peach blancmange coloured garms. We waited for our name to be called to head to theatre - it felt an age but was only around 20 mins. And then they called us, and we headed to Theatre 1, the same theatre where Talulah was born.
We entered the cool, chilled theatre brightly lit room- ablaze with staff and technology and bleeping noises. I counted 16 staff from Miss Clarke to Consultant Anaesthetics, Theatre Practitioners, several Midwives, a PICU Nurse and a number of junior doctors and other healthcare professionals. C lay there, screen down (as this time she wanted to see the baby being born), looking calm and beaming. Her husband went straight over to her, kissed her on the head and Wes and I gave her a wink and blew her a kiss too.
At 0914 'Knife to Skin' was recorded on the large whiteboard, at 0915 'Uterine Incision' was made, and then at 0916, as if by magic, love and science our baby boy entered the world, crying, with more hair than me and Wes put together and not looking happy with us all.
C's husband took the most powerful photograph which is Time Magazine worthy in my opinion, it captures the emotions perfectly. To us, its caption 'Love through Surrogacy'. How would you caption it?
Weighing 7lb and 4.5oz our Son, Duke Johnson-Ellis was here and was safe and well with a great set of lungs on him too. I cut the cord after a delayed period where he lay in a towel right on C's chest, just as she wanted (she didn't do this with Talulah and she regretted not seeing her more at the birth), he was sucking his thumb comforting himself. Once the cord was cut the staff brought him to Wes and I and we observed his checks and they gave him his vitamin K injection. He was perfect. Our Midwife then got our room prepared for us on the birthing suite, and there we took him for our first precious moments together, having skin on skin, holding him tight - both crying with sheer happiness.
Time to introduce him to his big sisters. We FaceTimed Katie first, being the eldest, it’s perfectly fair. As Duke was on my chest at the time Katie thought I was breastfeeding him - (cheers Katie!). Time to hit the gym next week, maybe! Next, we called Talulah who was at my parents. Her face was a picture, she kissed the phone several times and just kept repeating 'Ohhhh, its baby Duke! Is it really my brother Daddies, is it? Our hearts continued to stretch a little more, and my fears of her feeling rejected faded a little. For now, I'm sure the guilts will creep in.
We called our parents and brothers and began sending the odd texts to close friends and family, we then put our phones away, came off social media, and just lay looking at him. The hospital had very kindly put us in our own suite, with its own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom, usually reserved for when parents tragically lose a baby and need privacy away from the birthing suites. C was down the corridor in bay 16. The suite option was never a guarantee, but thankfully no parents had experienced the worst imaginable loss, and we were able to bond with our son. We actually had the same suite where we had with Talulah, so the memories were pleasant, which is more I can say for the stories and devastation that this room has witnessed, our thoughts with anyone who has lost a baby during childbirth. :(
Within the first 20 mins, he guzzled down almost 3oz of formula, then slept all day. During the next few hours Duke was observed and had the regular hip and heart tests, all were normal. His hearing test will take place locally to us, once the appointment has been made. Once this was done, we went to see how C was doing, she was loving life and high as a kite, wanting all medication and pain relief, which I can’t say I blame her for either, she looks tired but also relieved. I could see she was keen to get home, and who'd blame her? Not only had they moved house that very week, but it was also her youngest child's 13th birthday the following day (which she later spent in hospital). I'd even go as far as say she looked 'done, 'completed' possibly. It's now also time for her to reconnect to her family, to be a mother again solely to her four children and a wife to her amazingly supportive husband, without the distraction of pregnancy or fertility drugs and obviously us. C always wanted to complete a sibling journey for a couple, and I'm so glad she chose us, as much as we chose her. She's achieved that desire, we ticked that box, that wish and that goal, and whilst I'm writing this with happy tears streaming, I also believe she has completed the journey with us too, a chapter closed but friends forever and she will remain in our lives and our children's lives for eternity. She's even going to begin writing blogs and information for our website, but from her perspective - I can't wait for you all to read her material. I now believe she's achieved exactly what she wanted to in terms of the surrogacy journey. She sent this message shortly after we messaged her after we left the hospital and said our bye's...
Us: Hey, we just wanted you to know how grateful we are for what you have done for our family, you will never quite know the impact you have had on our lives and we will be eternally grateful. We wish you all a speedy recovery and we'll see you soon in a few weeks.
C: It is an absolute pleasure; I love seeing you all so happy - it's why I've done this. xxx