June is Pride month and is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ communities all around the world. In celebration of Pride, iCandy is shining a spotlight on different journeys to parenthood for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
We caught up with Martin, iCandy’s MD and Graham, iCandy’s Head of Buying to hear about their surrogacy journey…
For anyone who might be unsure, what is the difference between adoption and surrogacy?
Our understanding of adoption is the process whereby you legally adopt and therefore take full responsibility for a child either unknown to you who is in local authority care or is known to you through family or relationship connection. So, you are giving a home and family to a child that has already been born. Surrogacy is the process of working with a person either unknown to you, or previously known or indeed related, to carry a child on your behalf, with the understanding you will be their parents and the surrogate will relinquish parental rights. Surrogacy to us is a process where people can become parents with assistance whereby they would not be able to otherwise, for us this was due to being a same sex couple, but it can be due to heterosexual couples being reproductively challenged for various reasons, and or single people who wish to start a family.
How did you know it was time to start the surrogacy process?
Having both grown up in large families, Martin the eldest of six and myself the youngest of four, we had always spoken about a desire to have a family unit of our own, alongside our siblings and their children. We looked at our options and attended local authority adoption open evenings and discussed this with family and friends. Adoption for various reasons initially wasn’t the best fit, although we have still not ruled this out in the future. Following a mountain of research, surrogacy became our preferred route to our family.
Did you undertake lots of research beforehand? Were there any resources that were particularly helpful?
Yes, the simple answer is you cannot go into this blind, you have to do your research. When we started our research there was a number of programs regarding adoption and surrogacy, plus the internet has a wealth of information. We spoke to our local adoption providers, we had consultations with surrogacy agencies, mostly US based, and started to form a plan and an idea of how we wanted to proceed.
Things are improving all the time, there are now events held in the UK that focus on surrogacy and the journey involved, prominent doctors will give talks, websites with information, solicitors, news reports, Facebook groups it goes on and on. However, it is not a one size fits all procedure, and you have to see what suits you and your family and also what you can afford. Surrogacy is an expensive process and requires careful legal considerations.
What was your reaction when you heard you were having twins?
IVF is a well-known process and formed part of our surrogacy journey. In the USA you are able to implant more than one embryo with the hope of at least one taking so multiple pregnancies are a possibility, but we were just hopeful for at least one to take. To be told we had two successful results was more than we could hope for! I think we were so focused and hopeful for positive news that we didn’t really stop to think about what having twins meant. Having not had the experience of one child, we didn’t have anything to compare to, so we just went with it. We were just so grateful and hopeful that everything would be ok with the pregnancy.
What did it feel like bringing your children home for the first time?
It was a mixture of emotions and a whirlwind. As the twins were born in America, we had 8 days in America with them before we returned home to the UK. We were overjoyed to be returning home to our families with our children and completely caught up in a whirlwind of legal forms and passports. On the flight home I remember being distinctly anxious of us having problems with customs as the children were travelling on a USA passport and us on a UK and Irish passport. I couldn’t settle as I was aware the UK law is very much a grey area for surrogacy initially until you obtain your parental transfer order, but we met no issues, and everything went smoothly. It was only on the other side that I actually took a breath and could start to look forward.
What are your favourite things to do as a family?
For me two things jump out, I love sitting on the sofa with the twins curled up next to me watching a movie. Showing them Home Alone for the first time was great, watching their faces giggle and laugh and experience the joy for the first time was so special. I also love meal times, all sitting together sharing a meal, the twins nattering on and being silly and simple things like cutting up their meals, or helping them with things. Family time is so simple but so precious. If you ask the twins it would probably be going to the park or walking the dogs in the woods. They love to swim – we were hoping to have our first holiday abroad this year, alas it wasn’t to be, but when we can go, I know they are going to love it.
Are there any books that are important to you as a family to ensure that your children see their family set-up reflected in the stories they read?
Not as much as you would think to be honest. I bought certain books so they have always had access to them – one about a same sex penguin family that adopted a spare egg and one about a family with two daddies. The impact those books have had is difficult to gauge as the twins have pretty much taken what they see as just another family. I have been absolutely astonished and delighted to see how much support their nursery and now their school have given, not just to them but all children in educating on acceptance and understanding of all families and people. It’s a stark contrast to my own experience growing up in the shadow of Section 28 whereby it was banned to even acknowledge gay people existed, and the bullying and homophobia this created. To be actively told by their prospective school Head Teacher that the children are taught about inclusion and every family dynamic, even now makes me emotional, and gives me hope that the future may be so much brighter and happier for them than my own, and that of many of my friends.
What advice would you give to anyone who is considering having a baby through surrogacy?
It’s a horrible thing to start with but look at the costs involved with commercial surrogacy and think seriously if you can afford it. Commercial surrogacy in countries where its legal and you are offered the full protections and every part of the process is ethical and properly screened and legally covered is expensive, eye wateringly expensive. You have agency fees, egg donor fees, IVF fees, surrogate fees, medical fees, legal fees, travel accommodation etc. This means it is not available to everyone. The impact of this is it can lead to people looking for low cost options, which can involve countries which are not as regulated and therefore the process is not as safe, or local arrangements with friends which can sometimes cause numerous problems of their own.
It’s important to fully understand what is involved and the implications too. Even with all the science there is still a massive amount of luck and magic involved in surrogacy working out for you.
Speak to some agencies and make appointments – most will provide Skype consultations and some even have offices in the UK. Find out if those agencies are good fit for you, and if you have a gut feeling you would work well together. Check their history and experience, the people they work with on the screening process. Most importantly don’t feel under pressure, think of the research you do when you buy a car and double it, triple it, read as much as you can, and ask questions on forums and Facebook groups. I regularly contribute to surrogacy social media groups as I appreciate how confused we were when starting.
Surrogacy is not a quick fix. Once you select an agency to work with it can take time to match with a surrogate and then for them to be ready to start the IVF process. If it doesn’t work the first time around then you need space between trying again. If you are lucky enough for it to work you have potentially another 9 months and then you need time the other side to sort out the legal requirements.
Adoption may be a better fit for you, yes it can take time to pass the screening process, which can seem far too long, but they are probably pretty similar in length if truth be told. There will be lots of people who have a judgement on what you should do regarding adoption vs surrogacy, but my advice is look into both and make your mind up on what is the best option for you and your family. I wish you all the luck in the world.