The Pursuit of Fatherhood (Part 1)by Michael Johnson-Ellis
Whilst I’m absolutely speculating here, for most of you, this may be the first time you’re read a ‘TwoDads Blog’ if it is I hope this piece gives you an insight to the world of what it’s like to have our very own modern family. So whether it is, or isn’t, hello - I’m Michael and my husband is Wes. We live in a place called Hagley in Worcestershire with our girls and our French Bulldog, Bug.
You see, we’re far from perfect, we still scream at one and other, we go to bed in a massive mood when the other one hasn’t done as we asked, I moan at him for not putting his clothes away, we still pretend to sleep through the night cries, hoping the other will break first and get out of bed, just so we can get back off back to sleep. We yell, we scream and sometimes don’t quite understand how we’ve kept our children alive, but we have. We’re actually just like you, we even have one of those cupboards full of plastic cups, beakers and mismatched lids, because when you remove the gender, we’re just parents, parenting. I’m delighted to be writing regularly for Fan Finders, and this first piece is a ‘two-part intro’ to our journey to become parents. Don’t worry – they won’t be this long in future, nor will I hold the suspense over two parts again – the truth is I wrote too many words – but thankfully the fab team decided to keep everything, and split the article in two.
So, you ready? Wes and I have been together since June 2012, where we met at Birmingham Pride - we were engaged 6 months later and married in August 2014 in Shropshire. We’re not strangers to straight relationships either as we’ve both previously been married to women, and it just so happens both our brothers are gay too. Our children, Katie who’s 14, is, in fact, is Wes’ biological child from his previous straight marriage and Talulah is 2 and is lucky enough to have Two Daddies and was born using a Surrogate and an Egg Donor in October 2016.
For us, choosing Surrogacy wasn’t a decision taken lightly, as Wes already had a biological child I had always wanted to experience that similar connection and bond I’ve witnessed with Wes and Katie and my friends and their children, we wanted to establish our family using surrogacy. We researched international surrogacy options and UK surrogacy for approximately 3 years, looking into all the various countries and the challenges each one brought; the legalities, whether it was the cost, the clinic itself, the exit process post-birth, the treatment of the surrogate, or whether same-sex surrogacy was even possible in the first place, as some of the countries still ban same-sex married couples even exploring surrogacy.
We finally decided on the UK, it suited us and we’re pleased we did, as we got to experience everything we wanted to during our pregnancy. Most people have the perception that UK Surrogacy is illegal or littered with risk, and whilst there are some risks to be aware of, Altruistic Surrogacy in the UK is perfectly legal, straight forward and absolutely beautiful. There are a number of ‘Not for Profits’ organisations that specialist in Altruistic Surrogacy in the UK, (COTS, Surrogacy UK, and Brilliant Beginnings) we spoke to all of them as we wanted to research all the options and their costs, as they varied massively. We favoured one of them (Surrogacy UK) but at the time we were looking to register (November 2015) none of the agencies/charities was looking to onboard any new Intended Parents (IP’s) mainly due to a shortage of surrogates and an overwhelming number of IP’s (Straight and Gay). The demand for surrogates is still outstripping the number of active altruistic surrogates available, hence why some couples choose to go abroad where commercial arrangements are legalised and surrogates are more available, I’ll compare some of the costs further on, but they vary greatly.
So due to the membership embargo, we decided to go alone or ‘independent’ as it's referred to. However, we applied all the principles of a Surrogacy UK journey to ensure we were protected, as was our Surrogate. We took legal advice to understand the law and how to work within it, especially to understand how surrogates receive ‘reasonable expenses’ for their services, and what exactly are these made up of? We also needed to understand the parental order process as this is the crucial element to the process and both are tightly linked. Having your parental order (or PO) granted swiftly and smoothly is best for everyone. Under the current law, a Surrogate is recognised as the legal mother once the child is born if she is married her husband is also recognised as the legal father and both are named on the birth certificate. Once the child is six weeks and one day old, the PO application is submitted to the courts. The PO in most cases is granted (at a Magistrates court) around 10 weeks after submitting it providing there are no issues with your paperwork and the child was born in the UK, for those born internationally the PO process can sometimes take a little longer from experience. It’s worth mentioning that the current Surrogacy Act of 1985 is currently under reform, as its clearly out-dated and hasn’t caught up with modern medicine and the way families are created in 2019. We’re proud to be supporting the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) with our lived experience as fathers through UK Surrogacy and have given our feedback on where we believe the law needs to change. The obvious changes are around the legal status of the parents at the point of birth as both Surrogates and IP’s want this changing.
Stay up to date with our Surrogacy journey as next time I’ll share with you the next part of our journey and where you even begin finding a UK Surrogate and Egg Donors.