The Pursuit of Fatherhood (Part 2)by Michael Johnson-Ellis
Where do you even begin to find surrogates?
We read a tonne of literature on the risks of surrogacy and the main one is actually all linked back to the quality of the relationship between IP’s and Surrogates. So we set out with an open mind ready to explore the surrogacy world. We spoke to several clinics that offered a surrogacy fertility programme (as most do), and at that time we opted for Care Fertility in Manchester as they were pro LGBTQ, and also had experience in cases like ours. They found our egg donor within around 3 months of us sharing our criteria, and all we had to find a surrogate. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? So like most IP’s and Surrogates do, we began networking online (using several resources such as Surrogatefinder.com, Facebook Closed Groups as well as speaking to all of the ‘Not For Profit’ organisations that assist and guide Intended Parents) as mentioned earlier we opted not to use the 'Not for Profits' to help us match, based on their freeze on registering same-sex couples at that time. It’s worth mentioning that it is illegal to advertise for a surrogate in the UK, therefore, it’s encouraged that IP’s and Surrogates engage in networking events and what’s known as ‘GTK’ getting to know’ to form friendships first.
We first spoke to our surrogate in January 2015, we met her and her husband in March, we hit it off immediately and from that moment spoke most days, met up every couple of weeks and we eventually introduced Katie to her children too. A couple of months later it was clear we were a match. Following the advice, we took drafted an ‘Intention Document’ outlining things such as the expenses process, the birthing plan, our wills, and what would happen in the event of an emergency etc. All this was documented and we asked our solicitor which was a Family Law and Surrogacy expert named Beverly Jones from JMW Law in Liverpool, to send the document to all parties so we each had a recorded intention outlined witnessed by a solicitor.
In December 2015 treatment began, eggs were retrieved from our donor, my sperm and blood were analysed and soon after our surrogate began medication to sync her menstrual cycle with that of the donor as we are transferring fresh embryos and not frozen ones. This all took place early Feb 2016, we retrieved five eggs, 4 fertilised, and 3 became blastocysts (this is an embryo which has been cultured for five days and reaches optimum cell development) and on the 13th February we transferred one Blastocyst, (and froze the other two) after two weeks of waiting (known as the 2WW - it’s agonising by the way), we received our positive pregnancy test via a WhatsApp group message between the three of us We had a very smooth pregnancy, our only challenge came early on when we had to challenge our NHS Trust as there were multiple counts of discrimination against us, and sadly some of the challenges still exist for other same-sex IP’s today. We were told we couldn’t have the birthing plan we wanted (which was no different than any heterosexual parents would want), that our surname couldn’t be identified on our baby’s identity bracelet, and more crucially that they expected us to have our child handed over to us off NHS property, in a car park! All we wanted was to experience a regular birth, and to leave the maternity ward quietly with our child in the car seat, holding the hand of the man I love, whilst he grasps balloons. So we asked our solicitor whom we sought advice from in the beginning to write to the Trust, and within a couple of weeks, all counts of discrimination (of which there were several) were realised and adaptions were made, to both their own policy and to our wishes. A result of not only us but also leaving a legacy for others going through the same journey.
The pregnancy flew by, we went to every scan, every appointment and still met up regularly to watch our baby grow, kick and develop. All of which we would have missed if we opted for an international surrogacy journey. Our pregnancy was straightforward and as our surrogate opted for a C-Section at 39 weeks. We were as familiar with the process as we could be, we also knew that it was vital that her husband was with her during surgery and if both of us couldn’t be present, then neither of us would be.
(Again, this is something we’re working on to change within the NHS) The plan was to bring our child (sex unknown at this point) to us in our side room near the theatre and we would have our skin to skin as per our birthing plan. However…. in the early hours of the 16th October our surrogates waters broke, Wes took the call from her husband. We muttered a series of expletives and made a dash for the car, which had our baby bag, a small hamper of goodies we prepared for our surrogate and obviously our car seat. We live 2 hours away from the Hospital and our surrogate, but thankfully it was 4am and there was little traffic, but as she’d had four children of her own, labour often gets quicker each child you have, and her last labour was less than an hour, we obviously didn’t want to miss this. We arrived at the hospital at 0530. Our Surrogate was calm, sat in bed getting prepped for Theatre - we were about to have our baby - it was actually happening. We kissed her, wished her luck and we trotted off to our room where we were getting it all prepared for the arrival of our long awaiting child. Then at 0550, her husband knocked on the door - and told us to quickly get changed into scrubs - as we could watch our child being born and the theatre manager allowed us to witness this magical experience. We entered the operating theatre, our surrogate was lying there with the screen covering her lower body, she had just had her first incision, and in what felt like seconds, at 0600 our baby was born, crying, weighing a perfect 8lb 0oz - our beautiful daughter Talulah.
So I mentioned earlier about the costs of surrogacy. As gay men don’t have access to any type of fertility treatment or IVF in NHS England, something we’re working on (here’s a petition link), couples can either opt for IVF as we did or home insemination. Also, there is traditional surrogacy where the woman uses her own eggs, and there is Gestational or Host Surrogacy, where donor eggs are used, just like we did.
When you opt for IVF, Donor Eggs with all of your blood and semen analysis, this usually costs around £11 - £15k deepening on the clinic. Surrogates expenses vary massively across the UK, these vary from £10k to £18k and are paid in equal instalments (monthly or four weekly) once a pregnancy is confirmed. Our first journey cost us around £35k. Whilst this may seem expensive many couples are still opting to go to the US for Surrogacy, where the average journey (one child) costs around $120k / £92k, twins can cost up to $200k depending on the amount of intensive paediatric care they require.
We’re very much still in touch with our Surrogate, she’s been to Talulah’s 1st and 2nd Birthdays, in fact, we’re now pregnant with our second child together, this time a boy which is due at the end of August 2019. This is why surrogacy is so beautiful. Due to our relationship with she was adamant on doing a sibling journey for us, and we’re so grateful she has. This time our IVF wasn’t as straightforward as Talulah’s, as we had a failed IVF transfer in June 2018 which was tough on all of us, we made a clinic change to CRGH in London and our first transfer with them in was a success, in fact we found out we were pregnant on New Years Eve 2018. I’m sure I’ll keep you all updated in subsequent blogs as you follow our pregnancy. We’ve blogged our experience through the whole period via @twodads.u.k (Facebook and Instagram) and our website www.twodaddies.co.uk.
We continue to help other same-sex families with surrogacy and are adamant to see the law reform conclude by the end of 2020 hopefully, we’ve several exciting projects underway raising more awareness of UK Surrogacy and normalising families like ours. This year we’re partners to the amazing Fertility Fest 2019, which is an arts festival dedicated to fertility, infertility, the science of making babies and modern families. In fact the title of this blog was deliberately related to the name of a book titled ‘The Pursuit of Motherhood’ by Jessica Hepburn who sadly her journey did not end like ours, she endured 11 failed attempts of IVF that almost cost her her life, she’s one of the organises of Fertility Fest - so I wanted to honour her in this piece. Fertility Fest kicks off in mid-April and runs till the 12th May at the Barbican in London. Follow our Facebook and Instagram page to receive updates on it.