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FertilityFor YouReal-Stories

TwoDadsUK Surrogacy Journey to Parenthood

By June 16, 2021No Comments
Surrogacy

Written by Michael Johnson-Ellis – Co.Founder My Surrogacy Journey

Trigger warning; Contains information on Infertility, Birth and IVF Failure.

Two Dads UkI’m Michael and I’m married to Wes. We met by complete chance in June 2012 at Birmingham Pride no less, both single and not looking for a relationship. Pretty much from our first meeting I knew I’d met someone that was going to take my life in a direction that I’d been waiting for. Four months later (I know, right!) we were engaged and in August 2014 we married in front of all our friends and family.

We’re Dads to our two children, Talulah is 4, and Duke is almost 2. Wes also has a 16-year-old daughter named Katie, she also lives with us and is an amazing big sister to our children.

I guess we’re a little different from most families, but the one thing we have in common was the desire to create a family, the love we hold for our children and the dreams we strive to make happen for them. We’d do anything for them, just like any other parent would do for theirs.

Surrogacy in the UK

Our family was created via surrogacy, from the beginning this was our preferred way to family build. We often get asked ‘why didn’t you just adopt?’ to which we occasionally  and politely respond with, ‘why didn’t you?’. Telling our story of how we became parents helps others understand the lengths the LGBTQ community often has to go to, whether that’s adoption, co-parenting, fostering, IVF, IUI or surrogacy.  It’s also important to say that Surrogacy isn’t just reserved for the LGBTQ community. It’s a route to parenthood for those struggling with infertility such as PCOS, MRKH, Ashermans Syndrome and those women and people who may have had cancer.

Surrogacy in the UK is perfectly legal, however commercial surrogacy is not – therefore UK surrogacy is altruistic. Which means a surrogate is reimbursed ‘reasonable expenses’ (which varies from £0 to £20,000) with the average around £12,000 for carrying a pregnancy. There are a number of strict laws around how surrogacy must be carried out. Several organisations in the UK can help intended parents navigate their way through the varying options. Expect to pay a membership fee for their services and depending on the organisation be prepared to wait to become a member, as waitlists can be up to 18 months to fully sign up. Or you can opt to embark on an independent journey which involves working without any professional, structured support, these are free to access and are usually all online. We’d always recommend seeking legal advice, just so you understand the law, and Silver Cross are not associated in any way with my recommendation.

There are two types of surrogacy, traditional or straight surrogacy. This is when the surrogate would use her own eggs and therefore have a genetic link to the child. The other is gestational or host surrogacy, this involves IVF and also donor eggs and/or sperm.

Surrogacy Laws

The current law in the UK originated from The Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985, it’s desperately waiting for an overhaul – more on that later. The laws state that any woman who gives birth is classed as the child’s legal mother. If she is married, then her wife or husband is classed as its other parent. So, despite not being biologically linked to the child potentially, our surrogate and her husband are our child’s legal parents. Crazy, isn’t it? We would have to apply for something called a Parental Order. So once the child is six weeks old, we submit our application to the court and go to court to change the legal parentage – straightforward enough, but so unnecessary. Thankfully there is overwhelming support to ensure this is changed in the new bill which is being drafted in 2022 hopefully.

Desire to parent

I had always had a desire to have a biological child, no different from most people. The way in which I had to embark on that journey though was a little different. Being two men, we needed two vital ingredients to complete our family: An egg donor and a surrogate. Therefore, we embarked on a gestational surrogacy journey.

The outlook was positive but also daunting. Finding all the relevant information was exhausting. It took months to compile and the materials often conflicted. We began an independent journey as all of the not-for-profit surrogacy organisations either had their registration books closed or had 1–2-year waitlists. We immersed ourselves into the Surrogacy world, made of tonnes of friends too. In all, we spent around three years researching our options as we knew very little about UK surrogacy, and in the beginning, we explored all the international options too – but the UK just felt right.

Advice for other same-sex and gay parents

As Wes already had a daughter, choosing who ‘should go first’ wasn’t an issue for us, whereas some couples often have a battle making this important decision. It’s a conversation I’d suggest that you have in the early days as it can create some friction and even resentment, and so discussing this early on prepares you for the journey better. Being the non-biological parent, for example, may take some getting used to (pre-birth) or require additional counselling. Personally, leaving it up to the scientists seems the more sensible option: Use your best embryo first would be my advice, meaning having both intended fathers create embryos, as most like to, and then seeing which embryo has the best chance to become a live birth.

We joined a number of networking forums where surrogates and intended parents chat online (Facebook groups) and over time build relationships/friendships. We couldn’t believe of this new world we’d discovered.

We met our surrogate after around six weeks of being active in the surrogacy groups, and we hit it off immediately. We were delighted, and we also realised we were very lucky – meeting someone this quickly who you just ‘click’ with is rare, but it worked.

Our surrogate, Caroline, was married and had never been a surrogate before. She had four children of her own and had always yearned to help make another family.

Over the next six months we built on our friendship, we met with Caroline and her husband regularly, went out for meals, weekends away, and spent time with all her family. The nerves in the early days had long gone by now, and they were replaced with excitement.

Finding an egg donor

The exciting next step was finding a clinic that worked for us all. We chose one that had a great LGBTQ surrogacy programme and with a team that made us feel at ease. The next mission was asking the clinic to source us an egg donor that met our criteria. Most clinics have a waiting list for eggs, dependent on your criteria. Some over 8-10 months, so it’s good to bear this in mind.

Wes and I asked each other ‘If we could have children naturally, what would they look like?’ So, as we were using my gametes (sperm) first, we asked the clinic to match the donor to Wes. I’m dark, olive-skinned, and have hazel eyes. Wes has fair skin, blue eyes, and blonde/brown hair, so that was our criteria. We specified taller too, as we’re not so blessed in that area.

Here in the UK, egg and sperm donation is regulated by the HFEA and it’s classed as ‘non-anonymous’, which essentially means we don’t see photographs of our donor, nor do we know who they are. At the point of donation in the UK it’s completely anonymous. We only get non-identifiable details such as eye, hair, skin tone, and BMI (body mass index) as a marker. When our children turn 18, they can request full details of the donor, should they want to. This law came into effect in 2005, therefore no children conceived have yet turned 18 years old.

During this process, it inspired me to also become a sperm donor as it only felt right. Someone was helping us create our family by donating their cells, so why wouldn’t I do the same? So, I did.

Getting closer and closer to our dream

After 6 months an egg donor was found. We were so excited – our journey was getting closer and closer – our dreams were now starting to materialise. Our surrogate began hormone treatment, all our blood and semen analysis tests were completed, as was our counselling, which is a vital part of the process.

Our egg donor’s cycle was being stimulated by medication, and when her eggs were ready to be retrieved in the clinic I was invited to fertilise them and provide my sample. That fact that we were both in the clinic at the same time was crazy! Both anonymous to each other, we sat in different areas and our appointments were carefully timed.

Our donor didn’t produce many eggs, but this was expected. We were assured that the quality was excellent. We retrieved five eggs, my sperm was mixed with them, I was free to go home, and we’d then receive a daily call to hear how the fertilization process was progressing.

The lab updated us on the progress each morning, which was both nerve-racking and exciting. We had fertilised five eggs in the lab and by day five of them being cultured, three were viable and excellent blastocysts which is a day five embryo. We were happy with that result. Next was transfer.

Congratulations, you’re going to be Daddies!

One fresh embryo was transferred on the 13th of February 2016. What is meant to follow is two agonising weeks or the 2WW (two weeks wait). On day 10 our surrogate took a pregnancy test and messaged us asking if we could speak. We were concerned as she sounded urgent. We answered the call, and she simply said ‘Congratulations, you’re going to be Daddies! We cried, we hugged, and we cried some more. We were pregnant!

Talulah’s birth was the best experience of my life. As intended parents via surrogacy you may have to make sacrifices along the way due to the current surrogacy law and NHS policies for some trusts. During our entire pregnancy our surrogate opted for a c-section for medical reasons. From the beginning of our pregnancy it was explained that for the procedure her husband would be with her in theatre and not us, due to a one-person rule. He would comfort her and ensure she was safe, calm and OK. It was obviously the right thing to do, and we supported this. We would be in our side room on the maternity ward, where we agreed he would bring us our baby and break the news what the sex was. However, just at the eleventh hour, her husband ran into our side ward with no baby. ’Is everything OK!? I panicked. ’Is Caroline OK?’ Wes asked. Her husband urgently said, ’I’ve been told to come and get you, they don’t want you to miss the birth of your child!’ My eyes filled. ’Get some scrubs on quick!’ He said. We threw on a mismatch of scrubs and ran into theatre.

We watched the entire operation and saw our daughter, Talulah entered the world at 6am exactly weighing a healthy 8lb. Tears streamed down all over our faces, it was the best day of our life together. Holding her and seeing her gaze into our eyes was incredible, the intensity of the bond was immediate. I’ve never experienced love and a feeling like it ever. Nothing prepares you for the wave of emotion and overwhelming love. I remember in the car driving back with her in the car seat, just crying, totally overwhelmed that we’d finally created this beautiful tiny human. Surrogacy did this.

The sibling journey and getting back on track

Two and a half years later we began treatment again. We’d always spoken about a sibling journey with our surrogate and she was also ready to begin treatment again.

First of all, we needed to find an egg donor as our previous donor couldn’t donate again for us, due to health complications. We wished we’d both fertilised the eggs back in 2016 – but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

The clinic found us a new donor this time matching my physical characteristics. , but this donor had unproven fertility, meaning they hadn’t worked with her previously.

Failed IVF

In June 2018 we had a failed transfer, which was heart-breaking. We hadn’t prepared ourselves for it not working. We’d just assumed we’d be lucky again and naively just expected it to work, which we know now is not always the case. That said, with same-sex surrogacy almost all of the time you’re not dealing with infertility issues – eggs are under 35 years old, both men are fertile, and the surrogate has a proven history of being able to carry safely. So, transfers working the first time are quite common and we just expected it again.

At this point, we had a little break to get our thoughts and emotions on track. Furthermore, we had to save for a new round of treatment. It hit us harder than we thought, and we just needed to connect again, as fertility treatment is so consuming.

Round 3

This time we took a slightly different route. A friend offered to donate her eggs to us. She was also a fertility nurse and a real ambassador for surrogacy too.  I had worked with her on several law reform projects and policy improvement projects. We were both committed to surrogacy and worked hard to help change local and government policy. We were beyond thrilled and because of her, we started treatment again in December 2018.

We managed to get eight eggs retrieved this time, and by day five we had six blastocysts which we feel was an amazing result. We transferred a single embryo in mid-December, and on the 31st of December our two-week wait was up and our incredible surrogate tested again for us…we were pregnant! We were over the moon and could celebrate New Year knowing we had one hurdle completed. We were ready to take on 2019 and growing our tribe a little more.

This time, our incredible, selfless surrogate was carrying Wes’ biological child who would turn out to be our incredible son. Again, the pregnancy moved along without any major issues, which we were grateful of. We had a planned c-section booked so we knew the date he’d be born on. We had our care at the same hospital and since our last pregnancy the NHS Trust had re-written its surrogacy policy with our help. This also meant that intended parents are both invited into theatre to witness the birth of their child. A proud moment and something that many other NHS Trusts have now implemented.

We entered the cool, chilled theatre, brightly lit room ablaze with staff and technology a bleeping sound. I counted 16 staff from our incredible Consultant who championed our journey right from the beginning to Anaesthetics, Theatre Practitioners, several Midwives, a PICU Nurse and a

number of junior doctors and other healthcare professionals. Caroline lay there calm, 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 09:14 ‘knife to skin’ was recorded on the large white board, at 09:15 ‘uterine incision’ was made, and then at

09:16, as if by magic, friendship, love and science our baby entered the world, crying, with more hair than me andWes put together, and not looking happy with us all.

Two Dads UK

Duke was born on the 20th of August 2019, at 9:16 am weighing 7.2 lbs. Again, I cried more happy tears.

Similar to Talulah’s birth we were discharged within eight ours, Caroline would stay another night.

Before we left the hospital, we all spent time in the same room, looking back on how far we’ve all come. The friendship we’ve built, the love we’ve created.

‘I’m really proud of myself’ Caroline said – ‘This is what I wanted to achieve; and today it’s all made sense, I’ve completed a family – it’s one of my biggest achievements’ Needless to say, I cried again.

Supporting others

Two Dads Uk

Along our journey building our family we blogged about our experience. We’ve now dedicated our lives to helping other gay parents via our website and Instagram page, TwoDadsUK.  In our spare time, whilst juggling family and work we’ve helped over 300 people become parents, surrogacy became our life. We were asked to visit the Houses of Parliament in 2018 to provide evidence of our route to parenthood and offer ideas how the law could be improved.  We worked with the Law Commissioners and All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Surrogacy Law Reform and in October 2019 the Law Commissioners consultation period ended, with a view to suggest a bill for a new law to be implemented in the next few years.

My Surrogacy Journey

In February 2021, after three years in the making we launched the UK’s latest not-for-profit organisation called My Surrogacy Journey. Supporting everyone (LGBTQ or heterosexual) on a surrogacy journey.

All views and statements are those of My Surrogacy Journey and do not represent the position NUA Fertility, especially the section Surrogacy Law.

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Amy Martin

Marketing Director

Amy is a high achieving individual with a number of marketing awards under her belt, including Young Digital Business Person of the Year 2019. She is a big believer in digital marketing and an expert in executing personalised targeted campaigns. Amy strives to learn from data and campaigns that show return on investment.

Robert Gordon

Managing Director, Gordons Chemists

 

Robert Gordon, director at Gordons Chemist's. Gordons Chemists is a chain of more than 60 pharmacies, located in NI and Scotland. Gordons Chemists is Northern Ireland's largest independent pharmacy chain.

Dr. Debbie Collins

MBBchBAO MRCGP

 

Dr. Debbie Collins MBBchBAO MRCGP, a practicing GP and partner in Belfast. She has a passion for patient education and advocacy. Her special interests are Women's Health and Fertility

Sarah Trimble

Nutritional Therapist

 

Sarah Trimble - a nutritional therapist with a passion for good food instead of fad diets. Sarah has a particular Interest in using the power of nutrition to support hormonal imbalances and reproductive health.

Barbara Scott

Director, Seren Natural Fertility
Chair, Association of Reproductive Reflexologists

 

Barbara Scott is Chair of The Association of Reproductive Reflexologists, founder of Seren Natural Fertility and author of Reflexology for Fertility. In 2017, she was awarded ‘Complementary Therapist of the Year’ by the Federation of Holistic Therapists and has been nominated for several awards within the field of complementary therapy. In 2019 she was awarded the Innovation in Reflexology Award by the Association of Reflexologists.

Barbara speaks and lectures globally on her integrative approach to supporting couples having difficulties conceiving. She has spoken at many of the Fertility Shows and Fertility Fest. Alongside her own busy clinics, she also trains practitioners in providing this integrative, approach to fertility and reproductive healthcare and well-being. The ARR (Association of Reproductive Reflexologists) has trained practitioners globally, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and most areas of the UK.

Her expertise and passion is in advocating a patient-centred and integrative approach to supporting both men and women on their journey to parenthood.

Cindy Charles

Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife

 

Cindy Charles- Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife. Cindy is a committed advocate of social and personal development. Her own life experiences inspired her fertility support services. Cindy has worked with the Fertility Network UK, and has had the privilege to work as a resident Fertility Coach for the London Women's Clinic on Harley Street. Cindy believes in the importance of nurturing our own fertility.

Dr. Lyuda Shkrobot

MD, MSc Gynecologist, Fertility specialist at unq.life fertility clinic

 

Dr Lyuda has a special interest in reproductive immunology. Dr Shkrobot assisted in establishing the first European Donor Egg programme at Sims, coordinating and liaising with Intersono Clinic in Ukraine Advisors. She is passionate about patient-centred, results-driven care.

Jill Martin

Business Development Director

 

Jill Martin is a trained nurse and highly experienced pharmaceutical professional. Most of her business acumen and skills were developed by the world class training she received at Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK). Hard work and focus have resulted in a varied and successful career working in several different disease areas. As part of the Diabetes team at GSK, an opportunity arose to develop and support education programmes that were rolled out to the NHS across the UK, which resulted in improvement of Strategy and Patient Care. Jill feels that education is the key to understanding and has made it a personal goal to self-improve and support learning for others especially within the healthcare arena. The last 10 years have been devoted to trying to impart the importance of Fertility Health early in the life cycle of us all, rather than when infertility issues arise. She is delighted to have joined Nua Fertility on their mission to support people and communities to understand the importance of gut health on our fertility well-being.
 

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

The most important thing to me in life are family and friends, it breaks my heart when people are broken and I know that I am always trying to find solutions to problems. I love being outside rather than sitting at a desk and would rather lift the phone and have a chat with someone rather than email or message. I find people interesting and will often be that annoying person who starts a conversation on a train or plane.
 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

I feel very blessed to have had my family naturally, although not without some challenges. Following a miscarriage and thyroid issues conception wasn’t as easy as I would have hoped. My personal experience made me appreciate how important it is to value ways to improve your fertility health. This set me on my own journey to find out more, by surrounding myself with a network of experts in this area who I am continually learning from. When possible I take every opportunity to share best practice or send information to others that I know who are also seeking to understand more.
 

What is your ideal way to relax and unwind?

Juggling home life and working full time with a lot of travel, for most of my adult life made me find a way to relax that may seem strange. I love getting my trainers on and going for a long walk or run, even in the rain! Sometimes I will listen to a podcast and other times just be mindful of my surroundings. I find this a great way to clear my head, think about priorities and take time out for myself.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be.

From an early age I loved to make jigsaws, little did I know that this skill would help me later in life to understand the complexity of fertility and the miracle of life. Everyone is unique, every situation is different, like a jigsaw there are lots of pieces that need to be put together to become complete. Explore all options, chat to experts don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Aoibheann Murphy

Chief Financial Officer

 

Having trained with PWC, Aoibheann qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1997. She subsequently spent eight years working in industry, gaining invaluable experience in many areas In 2005 Aoibheann became MD of Pangur Consulting, providing professional expertise to a broad client base. She is looking forward to the new challenge of Nua Fertility.
 

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

Right craic!
 

Do you prefer podcasts or books? And of the one that you prefer, what is a show or title that you recommend?

I love sport…any sport…and the outdoors. Living in the Barrow valley I get to enjoy swimming and kayaking in the Barrow and exploring the Blackstairs mountains. Since I hung up my soccer boots (the body just couldn’t take it anymore!), I’ve been cycling with my lovely friends in Mount Leinster Wheelers and was chuffed to have completed the Ironman 70.3 triathlon event in Dublin in 2019!
I’m an avid reader…books beat podcasts hands down!...although recently I’ve dabbled with audio books through the library app Borrow Box. “A Little Life” left its mark on me. A harrowing story, definitely not for the faint hearted.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be?

Don’t be consumed by the roles in your life – parent, partner, employee etc. Parenthood, be it getting there or going through it, will have its tough times. Cherishing yourself as an individual and making time for yourself can help you through those times….it’s good to be a bit selfish!!

Mark Mullins

Director of Sales

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

To be honest it was very difficult. At the beginning we thought that when we decided that we wanted to start a family Deborah would fall pregnant shortly afterwards like many of her friends. As time went by, we started to suspect something was wrong. After initial tests we found out that I had a low sperm count which meant that we would have to go down the assisted pregnancy route. This took me several months to get my head around as I blamed myself for this. All I wanted was my wife to be able to go through the pregnancy journey. We couldn’t wait to become parents. There were many long and painful nights where I thought this would never happen for us. After several failed attempts we decided to look at further ways of improving our chances. This led us to look at fertility supplements, our diet, exercise. I will never forget when that morning during our Two Week Wait when Deborah woke me up at 5 a.m. to show me those two lines, we had both been yearning for! We are blessed to now have our beautiful daughter.
 

On challenging days, what kept you going? Where did you find inspiration?

My wife was my inspiration. She kept me going through those challenging months and years. She was there to help me deal with everything. The guilt I felt when I saw her having to go through everything.
 

What is your ideal was to relax and unwind?

My latest passion is cooking on my BBQ. I find it so peaceful and I just switch off. It just gives me a bit of alone time which everyone needs.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on men as they begin trying to become parents, what would it be?

I would highly recommend communicating with friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved. Failing that there are some really good private Facebook groups for men suffering from infertility. I found this great support through the good and especially the bad times.