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 Doug and Sanjay, otherwise known as The Travelling Gays. Whilst their Instagram page was originally set-up to document their travels around the world, they are now sharing a different kind of journey - their surrogacy journey to becoming dads...
Tell us a little bit about you
Hi there, I’m Doug, I’m 39 (just) and I’ve been a flight attendant for the last 15 years and I’m married to Sanjay, 33. We live in southeast London and share a joint love of travel and spending time with our family and friends.
How did you know it was time to start the surrogacy process?
We have been together for 12 years this August after meeting at Manchester pride in 2009. We got engaged in 2017 in Santorini, then finally tied the knot in 2019 with a beautiful registry in London. Not content with just one wedding we then flew to Chania in Crete the next day and dragged along 130 of our friends and family to join us for a further week of wedding celebrations.
We have spoken about starting a family many times over the years and which journey would be best suited to us. On our honeymoon in February 2020 in Sri Lanka. it just seemed it was the perfect time for us and we decided that as soon as we returned to London we would get the wheels in motion to start our surrogacy journey.
Did you undertake lots of research beforehand? Were there any resources that were particularly helpful?
Sanjay is the master of research so I’m very lucky there.
Also as we have my Instagram account @thetravellinggays where I have connected with many LGBTQ+ families over the past few years and learned about their experiences and different paths they had taken to create their families.
I personally find Instagram a great tool to connect with real people and ask real questions, whereas Sanjay will be reading page after page of reviews or online information, which I guess is why we make such a great team. I think we are able to combine the practical challenges with the emotional needs to really decide what will work for us.
Tell us about the type of surrogacy you decided to go for?
We decided that using an agency in the USA was the best option for us.
There are different laws in the state with regards to surrogacy and we just personally felt more comfortable. We do appreciate that everybody’s journey is different but we concluded on balance this worked best for us.
With my job as a flight attendant we thought (pre-Covid) it would be fairly easy to travel to the USA for any appointments etc we would be attending.
Tell us about the steps and processes of your surrogacy journey?
We contacted Circles Surrogacy in the USA in March 2020 and after a Zoom call with some of their amazing team we decided to go ahead. Like the rest of the world, we clearly had no idea of the impact Covid19 would have.
Now we get to the technical bit…
We did our semen sample at a clinic in London to check our levels before we were able to start the process officially.
We matched with our amazing egg donor, also on a Zoom call, which was an incredible experience. Simply amazing to get to meet one of the women who is helping us on our journey to becoming fathers.
We managed to do our saliva DNA tests via FedEx with our egg donor, as by this point international travel had been banned. We were concerned that we may be set back by the pandemic but we received the results back and we were able to go ahead with our match - so exciting.
Now for the logistics…
In August 2020, after extensive research and with ever changing advice on international travel, we devised a plan! We could enter the United State to give our sample to the clinic in Connecticut by quarantining in Istanbul for 15 nights, then we were able to fly direct to JFK.
Whilst we were still in the US, we got the most amazing email from our Agency to say they had a potential surrogate match for us……Amber …… another zoom call and we matched straight away and it just felt perfect, Amber was and is perfect.
At the start of September 2020, our egg donor did her retrieval and as we want two children in the future, half were fertilised by me and half by Sanjay.
After our embryos grew to 5 days blastocyst they were sent away for the longest 2-week wait for PGS tests (Pre Genetic Screening).
The results came back and we got 7 good quality embryos between us and we were thrilled.
It felt like our journey to becoming fathers was getting ever closer.
Amber was incredible and did an ERA cycle for us in October 2020 which was to pinpoint the best time to transfer our little ‘embaby’. Once we got the results back from the cycle we got our official transfer scheduled for February 2021. I was lucky enough to be able to fly to NYC and meet Amber in person for the first time on transfer day and thank her in person for being the most amazing woman and giving us the greatest gift in the world.
How has Covid-19 impacted your surrogacy journey?
I don’t think anyone knew the global devastation that Covid-19 would cause but we are glad we decided to continue in March 2020, despite the barriers and hurdles, because of where we are today. Our fertility clinic and surrogate agency adapted quickly and Zoom has become a big part of our journey and we feel so thankful for it.
We would have both definitely visited the USA to meet Amber way more frequently along our journey but thanks to modern technology and Amber, we haven’t missed any scans or appointments and have joined via FaceTime. We have felt part of the whole experience and as this is our first time becoming parents we don’t know anything different, so it’s still an overwhelming and incredible journey to be on. We are hoping we will be able to travel safely in August on holiday to visit Amber and give her the biggest hug ever.
Have you been faced with other challenges throughout the journey?
I don’t think we were prepared for what an emotional rollercoaster it has been.
Waiting on various results seemed to take a lifetime and as so much has been done remotely there were so many emails and video calls between everyone it became quite stressful for us and Amber, which is something we really wanted to avoid.
Our vision for our family was always one genetic child for each of us using the same egg donor so that the children are genetic siblings.
Our embryo split ended up being 1 Vs 6. We were thrilled with that but it added the extra pressure on the one little embryo as we hoped it could stick around for us, whilst not trying to let Amber feel too much pressure. She has been the calmest one of us throughout this process without a doubt. It really has taken an army to create our little miracle and we are so thankful.
What kind of relationship do you have with your surrogate?
Our surrogacy agency said you will just know if you connect and it feels right and we just knew.
We had set up a full lighting rig and were dressed in shirts to make a good impression and probably looking quite awkward at first but when the camera came on we just instantly knew Amber was the one.
We were greeted with her amazing smile, her gorgeous baby son on her lap, her incredibly supportive husband and her two dogs running around. It was perfect.
We talked for well over an hour and we continue to do the same every single week via Skype. I don’t think many people would realise the strength of the bond we have created with this woman and we are so thankful to have matched with her and now call her a true friend. Amber will hopefully be in our family for the rest of our lives.
How did you feel when you had a positive pregnancy test?
Wow, simply amazing.
We did the transfer on 9th February, I flew back to the U.K. for Sanjay's birthday on the 10th, then we began the dreaded 10 days wait until our official blood test.
Amber asked us if we wanted to take some of the first response tests earlier which we were so excited but nervous for at the same time.
On the 13th (3.5dpt) Amber Facetimed us as she thought she could see a really faint line.
Her husband agreed and we just kept staring at the photo of this “line” and changing the contrast on our phones to try and make it stronger and visible haha.
Sure enough on Valentine’s Day 14th February Amber did another one at 4dpt and it was darker.
We were ecstatic!
Amber was amazing and continued to do tests for us and each time they were getting darker until we did our official blood work 10 days later and we got the most amazing email to confirm the news we had been dreaming of.
“The pregnancy test is positive”.
What will happen in October when the baby is due to arrive? How long will you be in the USA before returning to the UK?
Our baby is due at the end of October so we are going to fly out 2 weeks before the due date and stay with Amber and her family which is so kind of them and we are so excited to spend that time together.
Once the baby is born we are going to rent an apartment close by and then we will need to remain in the USA for around 6-8weeks to register the little one, then get a passport to fly back home.
It will be nice that we will get to spend that extra time with Amber and her family and also we are hoping by then our mums will be able to fly over for a couple of weeks and meet their new grandchild.
I’m sure they will both have A LOT of parenting advice for us haha.
What are you most excited about doing as a family? Will you continue to do lots of travelling?
Even saying it out loud is an absolute dream come true so we are excited about every single thing to come.
We have just moved house to be closer to Sanjay’s mum and we are surrounded by lots of lovely parks, so just going for walks together with the pram and doing all the simple things we never thought would be part of our life plan will be a dream come true.
As for travel, we 100% will be showing our babies the world and we are so excited to pass on our love of travel to them.
Whilst we are aware our holidays are going to be different now it is going to be so incredible to go away as a family and create lifelong memories.
What advice would you give to anyone who is considering having a baby through surrogacy?
Trust the process and don't set yourself unrealistic time frames.
Things take time but every stage has been a massive learning curve and we feel so humbled that these two amazing women have helped us live our dreams.
Support each other too, emotions are all over the place for everyone and different aspects of the journey affect you or your partner differently, so a hug goes a long way.
The Travelling Family
Thank you to Doug and Sanjay for sharing your journey to parenthood with iCandy. The conversation will continue over on the iCandy Duo Podcast so if you have any questions for the couple then you can submit them via Instagram. You will then be able to tune into the iCandy Duo Podcast and hear our interview with Doug and Sanjay on Monday 28th June.