Marcus and Hugo share their personal account of how they brought Raphie into this world. If you would like to share your story, we’d love to hear from you. Get in touch through the Contact Us page.
Most gay men grow up feeling that by being true to who they are, denies them a very basic human instinct, the instinct to procreate, to fulfil their lives with new meaning and extend their family with that miracle of creation, a new life.
We certainly didn't talk about it on our first date, not even during our first years together. But, as our relationship grew stronger and our love for one another increased, it seemed that something very important was missing. We both felt it and one evening started talking about it. I remember exactly the feeling I had as the evening went on: it was almost like someone told me I was going to win the lottery soon, it was so big and exciting, so distant yet possible. We were so sure about it; it seemed so natural; it felt natural.
This doesn't mean it all just magically happened, or that the lottery ticket just fell into our hands. We had to work hard, research; so many questions popped up, so many people had so many different opinions. The majority of our friends and family were supportive. The ones who weren’t had pretty good arguments, "Why go to this length to have your own genetic child when there are so many children out there needing a lovely family"? That question could have tipped the scale a lot more if we thought adopting a child as a gay couple would have been easy. Indeed we may one day go on to adopt (something every couple should consider). We felt that surrogacy better embraced our basic instinct of creating life, passing on our genes, as well as our culture. It was about constructing our family as we wanted it, as we knew that would work.
We were extremely lucky to be able to afford surrogacy. It is a very lengthy and expensive process without a 100% guarantee of success. As we looked at every alternative, it became clear very early on that the legal side was extremely important, and that there existed incredible scientific techniques that made all of this possible. In our search for a surrogate, we were encouraged by the kindness of those at our agency and clinic, reassuring us that there was someone out there so special who was destined to help us. At the beginning, everything seemed so daunting, almost unreachable, far away and experimental.
It became clear that UK law is extremely archaic in this matter, something urgently in need of attention. Under UK law, the woman giving birth is the legal custodian of the child, where ever she has given birth. If she is married, her husband is considered the father.
We then came across some surrogacy agencies in India, attractive as they were a quarter of the price. There were problems- their surrogate mothers were married. We worried about the morals in India, as many of the surrogates were very poor - were those women doing it for the right reasons? We had concerns over the techniques used (often several eggs are implanted). Also we had read that Indian law may change to outlaw the process, and certainly did not want our future child to become a victim of circumstance. Finally, Indian clinics mainly practice traditional surrogacy, so the surrogate provides the egg, so the baby/babies would be half hers genetically.
At about this time (early 2009) the UK government passed a bill allowing same-sex partners to enter into surrogacy agreements with surrogates in the UK. But....we would have to find a charitable soul who would be willing to do this for us out of her good grace, other than basic expenses. Further, it is not clear that gestational surrogacy (where the surrogate mother and egg donor are separate individuals) is allowed. (Successful IVF depends on healthy eggs, ideally from women nearer 20 than 30 years of age). There are internet forums one can join to speak with other people and indeed we were contacted by two women interested in discussing things further, but this is where we stopped and thought hard again....Would we really want a third person always lingering in the shadows? Would our family be perfect like that? What if, following the birth, she decided she wanted to be a co-parent for the baby/babies? We had rejected the idea of doing it with friends for these reasons. We know that there are many happy families out there, for whom that arrangement is perfect and they wouldn’t have it any other way. We both felt we wanted to be the only parents, to provide our child values and strength, support and love.
At about this time we started to read lots of books on the subject of gay parenting. Would we be able to raise and integrate our child in society without major disturbance? Well all arrows pointed to yes. We read reports that children born or raised by gay parents coped well; how they wouldn’t change a thing. How it really doesn’t matter how your family is constructed, as long as it is united and happy.
In retrospect, I don’t see why they would not. We tend to surround ourselves by people who we want in our lives; we frequent places where we feel comfortable, whether you are gay, straight, yellow or green! Our children will encounter hardship, like every other child, but our research proved that they will have as many chances and opportunities as the next child.
About a year after first talking about surrogacy, we came across a few agencies in the States. I remember feeling the true meaning of the famous words: "the promised land" or "the land of opportunity"! As far as surrogacy goes, what incredible things had been done, what incredible people have accomplished so much. They have researched it, done it and proven that it is as we all know it should be, a natural thing, a process made out of love and as they say: where there is love no harm reaches.
Not all US states are accommodating. Every State has its own law so it became clear that we would need the help of an agency. We chose one that had helped several hundred couples have a child, many who were gay couples. They had done a few cases in England and Europe. They were up to date on all the legalities, could provide us access to egg banks and match us with a surrogate "within about 6 months". Their secret for success is to make sure every bit of this long process is made easy by putting the right pieces together. So we sat down over dinner one night and got our calculators out. Would it would be possible? No more shopping trips to New York for a while and no more luxury holidays, but hey?! Do I even have to say it?
We applied to the agency, who vetted us and (having passed) we entered their program. After sending the first rather hefty cheque to them, we started looking through hundreds of egg-donor profiles. It came as a relief to know that so many women were keen to help, mostly for the right reasons, with a real desire to help intended parents reach their goal.
In summer 2009, things started happening. Our agency came to town and asked us to join a group of other gay couples that were doing this, some had their babies with them, some were "pregnant" and some, like us were starting. It was brilliant to put that little, annoying, insecure voice in the back of our minds to rest. We had a great day where we spoke with new parents about their journey and intended parents about their doubts and hopes. We met a wonderful surrogate to a baby girl who came to talk and answer any questions. She and her girlfriend seemed to be such amazing people. We all got along so well. The agency had a Q&A session, where they acknowledged our feelings and re-assured us. One of the first questions was, "What if she wants to keep the child"? They told us that there were only ever three cases of a surrogate contesting parental rights in the US: none had succeeded. In one, the surrogate flew to Alaska (a non sympathetic state) to give birth in order to keep the child, but even then she wasn’t allowed to keep it. I wanted to know about the feelings the incredible women in front of us had. Was there a fine line between detachment, that could mean neglect towards the pregnancy, and over-attachment, that could become uncomfortable for everyone? I asked her, after finding out she had had three children of her own, what were her feelings towards her recent surrogate-born baby? She stopped and said, "Let me think"… "I love her, it wouldn’t be human not to love a little baby growing inside you, but somehow it’s not the same love I had for my own. I was more careful during this pregnancy. It felt like I was carrying around something so special but that wasn’t mine. Of course I loved her [the baby], but like I would love any other baby I looked after for 9 months. The only difference is that she was inside me, the responsibility is the same, and I am not going to say that it isn’t hard to give her up in the end, like it would be hard to give back a child after you had them living with you for that long"… What a perfect, honest answer. I seemed to float out of there, I remember turning around and telling my boyfriend (now my husband) that no one less would do, the bar was high, but that was our goal.
It took a couple of months for us to narrow down a few donors. There was so much to consider. Indeed some critics call children born this way "designer babies", due to this selection process, which I find upsetting. Let’s face it; the same critics didn’t pick the ugliest, dumbest, silliest person to have children with! Rather, they exercised free choice. We were doing the same. We were picking someone we know will be "genetically" suited to our requirements, based on looks (you get to see some photographs) and IQ (you get the high school scores), someone with a healthy family medical history. Why not choose a pretty nose? I picked a man using similar standards: it’s only fair my child should have them too!
At this point my partner & I took a different approach. I immediately knew when I saw the egg-donor’s file that she was perfect. He had to go and compare her to 5 other, rate them, then multiply by something, divide by something else and get to a score. Needless to say 3 days later he came to the same conclusion.... and it was too late, she had already been chosen. This was an eye opener. So many things were out of our control, which could easily go wrong. People could back out for one reason or another, and then there was no guarantee our embryos would implant, and if they did, would it be one? Two? Would they be healthy? Would they survive gestation?
Shortly afterwards, our agency told us that there was the possibility of the egg donor being willing to donate again, but we would have to wait 3 months for her to have a normal cycle again. We immediately said it wouldn’t be a problem, we were certain she was the one and we were willing to wait. This also would give us a slight advantage as we would be able to know if her first retrieval (of eggs) was successful and furthermore if it originated in a pregnancy. We also hadn’t found our surrogate yet, so it was necessary to wait. At this stage everything seemed to take so long. It was daunting to look ahead, you almost don’t dare to do it. My advice is to take it one step at a time. It doesn’t all happen in a bang... money, donor, surrogate, pregnancy, passport! It is all in stages and you take a step at a time.
About two or three weeks later we had a call asking us if we would be interested in contacting the surrogate we had met at the meeting in London. She had decided to become a surrogate again, liked meeting us, and wanted to ask us if we had liked her and her girlfriend. We couldn’t believe our luck. It was so meant to be! We immediately called her and felt that a lifetime friendship was being born there and then. We bought a new telephone with a loud speaker so we could both talk to her. It was so nice that we had the chance to meet them beforehand, which assisted our natural progression to friendship. Looking back on it now, now that our son has been born, it is an incredible relationship we have with our surrogate. There isn’t a name for it, it cannot be described, it's something that usually requires many years of friendship. We believe it important to have her in our lives, especially in the baby’s life, to make it easier for him to understand how he came about...and someone to whom he can send his mother’s day card! Incidentally, our egg-donor preferred not to have contact, which we are told is the case for about ½ the donors....of course they might change their mind in the years to come.
So we were all set. In September we travelled to New York, for preliminary tests (a sexual health screen and sperm analysis). Then in November we returned to New York to make it happen. My partner & I chose to fertilise half the eggs each. 5 days later one (blastocyst) each was implanted, as we hoped for twins. We had such a wonderful time in New York with our surrogate and her girlfriend; we even bought baby clothes together!
Only one blastocyst implanted (we now know all the terms - a blastocyst is a 5 day old embryo, which is the best stage to implant into the surrogate). It was a little sad as we knew that one stayed behind, but quickly that was overcome by the joy of being pregnant!
WE WERE HAVING A BABY FOR REAL!
It was too good for words, too dreamy to feel. I certainly didn’t want to be pinched! We waited for those crucial 12 weeks before telling anyone, so we wouldn’t "tempt fate". Our surrogate was very calm, which spread to us and we think to the baby. The 12 weeks came and it was official, our gay parent books by our bedside tables got replaced with baby books..."Week by Week" and "What to expect, the first year". What joy, what an incredible miracle that we had come this far and were being given a real shot at parenthood.
We spoke over the phone or by e-mail every week. We went to our surrogate’s home town for the 20 week scan, where we were able to see our little one and discovered we were having a baby boy! Once we go out of the hospital we immediately hit the shops and came back with a full wardrobe (though be warned they do grow very quickly and some of those Ralph Lauren clothes are still unwrapped)!
Then we started the nursery and prepared the house for the new arrival. We also got married one month before he was born, and were very lucky to be given every single baby related gadget, toy and decoration that ever existed. What a lucky boy he is already!
So the time came to travel across for the birth. We got everything ready. Friends helped with baby lists so that we know what to take and what to buy onsite. We had the pleasure to spend time with our surrogate and family for a few days pending the birth. We even went bowling the previous night (bizarrely, she won!).
The happiest day of our lives finally arrived, with a mixture of feelings, mainly gratitude and appreciation for what this incredible person was doing for us. It was an easy birth (so she said). There he was… head first, then the shoulders and the rest, clean and absolutely beautiful, the most incredible thing… no words can ever describe it. We cut the cord and followed him to the table where the pediatrician checked that everything was alright. He cried loudly but it sounded like beautiful music, his little chin trembling and his little legs and arms shaking. Tears came to our eyes as we looked at each other incredulous.
The nurses were incredibly helpful and we left the hospital two very confident, proud and happy parents. First stop? car rental, as we quickly realised the convertible we had rented simply wouldn’t do… yes a reality check, but nothing can compare to the joy of being a parent, your whole world becomes those 3,950 Kg of flesh and bone. A sound and our heads jump. A look and our hearts melt, a touch and our entire being becomes full of light. The nights with less sleep seem to be a joy, the walks outside are filled with pride in showing off this wonderful, peaceful, beautiful baby. Everyone seemed to visit and hundreds of calls and emails flooded in. We were truly blessed and incredibly grateful for our happiness.
Only one more issue to resolve before returning home, his passport. He became an American citizen by birth: we were able to drive to Chicago to collect his passport within one week. We also applied for a British passport, and received it at the same time. This was also very lucky.
So, the time to say goodbye came. We were sad to leave, and everyone sad to see Raphael go. However his energy surrounded us, with hope and trust in the future for our new family. We came back confident parents, met by our family and friends, all surprised with the "ease" we took to everything, 3 months have passed now and Raphie fills our lives with incredible things. He has started smiling and adores dancing with us. He is strong and expressive, a very good baby, calm and confident, trusting and charming. We attribute this to a combination of the wonderful people he has in his life and the calm pregnancy that made him.
We have enjoyed every second of this journey so far, and we plan to enjoy every second in the future. It took several weeks for us to fully accept that there was a baby in our lives, that he was ours to keep and to love. We are still incredulous and deeply grateful to be able to have a family. We are now starting the process again, to provide Raphie a baby brother or sister, maybe both if we are very lucky! Our lives will never be the same it’s true, but they have improved immeasurably. Nobody knows what the future brings. We will certainly encounter difficulties like every other family, but with love and support anything can be done. Together we will.
- Marcus & Hugo