Making a family: a journey to becoming a parent
We interview Two Dads UK blogger Michael Johnson-Ellis about fatherhood, same sex parenting, surrogacy and a birth story with a difference…
How did you meet your husband, and when did you know you wanted to start a family together?
Wes and I met in June 2012, it was Birmingham Pride and I went with a load of friends with the plan to let off some much needed steam. I’d been single for six months and wanted some time to myself, or so I thought! It was a chance meeting actually as we first spoke in a bar. We talked of wanting a family fairly early on, Wes already had a daughter from a previous marriage so that really helped table the discussion. We were engaged within six months and living together, and it was around then we stated to discuss wanting a family. You see this is the issue – we have to plan ahead, there are no accidental children born to gay couples, it’s always about the planning. We spent almost four years researching the various options available to us – looking into the different types of surrogacy and the countries where we could go for treatment. After what felt like forever, we decided on the UK being the best option.
How did you meet your surrogate?
Our surrogate (and her family) has become an extension of our family – we’ll obviously always be forever grateful. Talulah knows exactly who our surrogate is obviously, and she knows she grew in her tummy, just like her brother (who is due this summer). We had a gestational surrogate, which meant we also had an egg donor so Talulah isn’t biologically related to her. We first spoke back at the beginning of 2015 after chatting online. We met up several times before we decided that we were ‘matched’, a term used in the surrogacy world when intended parents and surrogates decide to embark on the journey together.
How did it feel when Talulah arrived?
Her birth was possibly the best day of my life and the most incredible experience imaginable. Our surrogate was having an elective c-section, but a few days before the appointment her waters broke and we got the call to head to the hospital. When we arrived we saw our surrogate and her husband as she was being prepped for theatre. We always said that it was important that she had the support she needed whilst in theatre and due to the one-person policy, if only one of us was allowed to see our child born, neither of us would. However, it didn’t work out that way, at 05.50am our surrogate’s husband knocked on our door and we were expecting him to come in with our baby – but there wasn’t one. He simply said “Get some scrubs on, and come and see your baby being born!”. We must have got dressed in 2 minutes, and 45 seconds later, I heard the surgeon say “Good morning, and happy birthday!”. It was our daughter, born at 06.00am, 16/10/16, weighing 8lb.
What made you want to share your journey online?
I think it’s really important for a few reasons. Firstly, we’re advocates for and passionate about UK altruistic surrogacy – by sharing our experience we make others aware of the possibilities. Many couples think going abroad is the only option, where surrogacy in the States costs $120,000 per pregnancy, in the UK it’s much, much less. The second reason we blog, and post about our lives is to help de-stigmatize and normalise same sex parenting and families like ours, who we want to represent positively. We have a number of missions and objectives to help others, from the work we’re doing with the Law Commissioners, through to increasing baby changing in male bathrooms – it all helps with the wider cause. The third reason is to encourage others to talk more openly about fertility and infertility, it’s such a supportive community and I’m loving being part of it.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Some of the biggest challenges we’ve faced have been educating others about our journey, the NHS in particular. Not all hospitals have experienced a same sex surrogacy journey, and it makes some clinicians nervous. One of our biggest challenges was when our NHS trust (where Talulah was born), didn’t fully understand our rights as intended parents, as at the time the guidelines surrounding surrogacy and the treatment of intended parents were unclear. We were being discriminated against and the trust wanted us to have our baby handed to us, off-site in a car park. Clearly this was unacceptable, but we worked together to resolve it and have the birthing plan we wanted, no different from any other parent.
A personal high for us was being asked to go to the Houses of Parliament in October 2018 to give our account of being fathers through UK surrogacy. It was a real honour, and since then we’ve been asked to support the Law Commissioners on their parent panel with their latest proposal ‘Building families though surrogacy: a new law’.
What is the one piece of advice you would share with other parents who are beginning their search for a surrogate to help them start a family?
Ensure you and your surrogate take time getting to know one another, it’s a journey and you both need to feel comfortable. Don’t rush into starting your journey if it doesn’t feel 100% right.