Here on the Daddy & Dad blog, Tom and I share inspirational stories from fellow LGBTQ parents.
This week we meet Essex-based Charlie and Joe, fathers via surrogacy to their seven-week old son called August, born in December 2018. Here, Charlie speaks openly about their emotional surrogacy journey and how their lives have changed since the arrival of their adorable son.
Welcome to Daddy & Dad. Tell us a little about yourselves and your family setup.
I met Joe in 2015 on an online dating website and after a few months of chatting we decided to meet up for a date! We instantly became inseparable and we both knew from early on that one day we would both like to have children, whether that was with each other or not. After three months together we moved in with each other and currently live in Essex. After nine months I proposed.
We knew someone who had offered to carry children for us which we were incredibly grateful for and in January of 2017 we fell pregnant with our first baby.
Unfortunately, six days before our wedding, we lost the baby at just eight weeks. It was such a hard process to go through and something I never would have understood before going through it. It took another year and two months to fall pregnant with August and thankfully our little rainbow baby made his healthy appearance in December 2018. He’s now seven weeks old.
He’s absolutely perfect and everything we had dreamed of and more.
As a family via surrogacy, thinking right back to the early days of family planning, how did you get started?
A lady that we are very close to had offered to carry a baby for us. This was offered fairly early on into our relationship, although we didn’t go ahead straight away as we had only been together for a number of months. So we took some time to enjoy the two of us being just that and when the time was right we did our research into surrogacy within the UK.
It’s a difficult process and works nothing like the US surrogacy business. We had to make sure everything we were doing was by the book and that nothing could come back to haunt us if we didn’t follow the process correctly. In the UK, surrogacy is not a fully recognised way of having a family (although it has come a long way from where it was before).
"The process makes it difficult within the NHS and legally to take on parental responsibility of the baby once they are born, especially in a male same-sex relationship."
After our miscarriage we tried a number of times unsuccessfully and decided to go down the adoption route, which we were really excited about. Whilst we were in the adoption process, we had the means and ability to try once more for a surrogacy baby. We knew this was frowned upon by the adoption agency but if we didn’t go ahead with it we would have always looked back and asked “what if?”. The final attempt took and we were then expecting our little August.
We would still love to adopt in the future as we have so much love for August and would love to share some of that with a child that isn’t as fortunate.
During the surrogacy process, what were your high and low moments?
The main point I was concerned about, and had been since before we started the process, was the attachment that the surrogate would have with the baby. We knew, because she is a big part of our lives, that she would always have a relationship with him, however I was concerned there would be an issue with detachment. It’s a concern I think every family goes through with a situation like ours, whether it be adoption or surrogacy.
Throughout the pregnancy my concerns were quashed and it felt like the most natural process in the world once we were fully submerged. Sometimes concerns are completely unfounded but it just takes time for those nerves to calm.
"One of the things during the actual pregnancy that I found more difficult than I thought I would was not being with the baby each day and feeling the kicks regularly."
I knew if anything was wrong we would be told and get it checked out at the hospital, but I wanted control of the situation even though I knew I couldn’t have it (I think it was a bit of an 'overbearing soon-to-be-parent' coming out of me). Having been through a previous miscarriage it makes you paranoid throughout another pregnancy as you are constantly on edge thinking something will go wrong. Having said that, when we were with our surrogate and August kicked, it was absolutely incredible to witness and made the situation so real.
What were your first few days with August at home with you like?
It was a whirlwind. August was 11 days late by the time he was born and the established labour was incredibly quick! We knew our surrogate had been in the very early stages of labour for around 24 hours but we were told by the hospital it could be another 72 hours and to get some rest. We went to bed and were woken five hours later by our surrogate’s mother who informed us to get to the hospital immediately as the baby was on the way.
Within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital August made his arrival. He was perfect and then he was ours to take home. Leaving the house to go to the hospital was a bizarre feeling, knowing it was the last time we would leave the house just the two of us (and without bags upon bags!).
The first few days are a blur, you’re adjusting to looking after a little human that you are now solely responsible for keeping alive. It’s overwhelming but the best kind. He’s a really good sleeper and has been since he was born so we’re quite lucky with that! He only tends to wake up once in the night for a feed and recently he’s slept through a couple of times so fingers crossed it continues. The midwife advised he would take a while to adjust to drinking milk and it would be a few days before he got used to the bottles. But our little chunk took to feeding straight away and was regularly being fed by the book within two days of being home.
We had a lot of visitors after an initial two days and family and friends absolutely love him, and I can’t blame them - he’s perfect! He’s the first grandchild on both sides so is going to be thoroughly spoiled. He’s a really chilled baby and we’re constantly told we are incredibly lucky as he’s content with whoever he goes to.
How do you share the overnight-responsibilities with August?
I’m fortunate enough to be taking leave from work as Joe owns a hair salon based in Essex and being self-employed it would be difficult for him to take the time off. So it was always agreed that I would be doing the night feeds and changes when Joe is at work the next day. However, at the weekends Joe will take over and let me have a little rest as you don’t realise how tiring it is until you’re doing it!
What is support like for new parents via surrogacy? Have you attended any prep groups or post-natal classes?
There isn’t an incredible amount of surrogacy support, but the main website we’ve been heading to is Surrogacy UK. We would love one day to create a group for parents and children born via surrogacy, both for LGBTQ couples and heterosexual couples.
It would be really great to help normalise something that is the most natural thing in the world, especially to people who have gone through the process. We haven’t attended any classes yet but we have some planned - baby massage, 'stay and play' and swimming.
How have your extended family reacted to August's arrival? Are your parents hands-on?
Our family and friends are so hands-on with August and he is so lucky to have such a supportive network around him. Joe has a really large family and everyone is in complete awe of him.
Our parents are incredibly hands-on and are a huge part of his life. I was always brought up visiting my grandparents at least once a week and I would love August to have the same relationship with his grandparents. Family are special and ours is unique so it’s important that August is surrounded by people that love him.
Our friends have also been incredibly supportive and we’ve had a lot of babysitting offers! But for now we’re not quite ready to leave him.
Your blog - twoplusone.me - is beautiful! Tell us about your influences and how you got started.
Thank you! I’ve always loved to write and have an outlet for my creative juices as I work in a very non-creative environment.
When we went down the surrogacy route I thought it would be interesting to write about our journey into parenthood and having done some research into same-sex parenting blogs I actually came across Daddy & Dad and loved the site and Instagram page. We would sit and read about your journey and it gave me the push I needed to get our blog set up.
Initially I wasn’t expecting much from it but within a short space of time we had quite a good following and people that were interested in our story. I haven’t yet started to discuss surrogacy in depth on the blog as we’ve mainly focused on the parenting side as opposed to the route we used to become parents. But, this is something we’d love to do as that’s the reason we started the blog.
It’s been a few months and now we’re featuring here, on the very website we got our first inspiration from so it’s a full-circle moment for us!
What are your future plans for Two Plus One blog? Do you have any exciting collaborations coming up?
I would love to put together a mini selection of posts relating purely to surrogacy called ‘The Surrogacy Series’, detailing exactly what we went through to have August; the good and the bad.
As well as this, we may look to do a meet-up with parents of similar backgrounds including surrogacy and adoption so the children can see that although they are in a unique family setup, there are other children just like them. It would also be great for the parents to speak to like-minded people.
In the meantime we have some great collaborations coming up, including with Silver Cross, Tommee Tippee and Snüz as well as a whole bunch more. We are looking to collaborate with even more brands to give people honest opinions on family-friendly products. If we post it on our blog, we like it. We believe in giving honest feedback and if we don’t favour the product it won’t feature on our website.
What would be your main piece of advice for couples who are considering surrogacy as their path to parenthood?
Make sure you do your research prior to commencing the process. Each case is different so what worked for us may not work for you.
The legalities behind surrogacy are so strict that you need to make sure this is definitely the right path for you to go down. Within the UK, the birth mother is seen as the only person with parental responsibility (at least until the birth certificate is completed). So although myself and Joe were the intended parents, at every appointment throughout the pregnancy we had to explain the situation and despite this, people still referred to our surrogate as ‘Mum’.
It’s difficult to deal with but it’s such a new process in the UK and is still quite rare so don’t take offence, keep your chin up and stay strong. It will all work out in the end. If you ever have any questions or concerns, either visit Surrogacy UK or ask us for advice, we’ll be more than happy to help.
To follow Joe and Charlie's parenting adventure and to contact them with questions or support, please visit www.twoplusone.me.
If you're an LGBTQ parent or soon-to-be parent and would like to share your story with our readers, please get in touch - we'd love to hear from you.