Being able to have a family is something many people take for granted. But for others, it’s a dream they can’t achieve without help – and in increasing numbers of cases, that help is surrogacy.
If a couple can’t have a baby because they have fertility issues, are the same sex, or a single man, surrogacy may be the only option, if other routes like IVF have failed or aren’t possible.
Surrogacy made such a huge difference to the lives of Michael and Wes Johnson-Ellis, whose two young children were carried by a surrogate, that they started the website TwoDadsUK (twodadsuk.com) to help normalise same-sex families and destigmatise surrogacy. And now they’ve launched a new not-for-profit surrogacy organisation, My Surrogacy Journey (mysurrogacyjourney.com) to help other people, whether they’re heterosexual or LGBTQ+, create families through surrogacy.
Here, Michael discusses their own surrogacy journey…
Michael and Wes are proud fathers to Talulah, aged four, and 18-month-old Duke, who were both carried by the same surrogate after the couple embarked on their own independent surrogacy journey.
“We went down the independent route, which meant we had to dive deeper into the communities, learn more, get informed about the law and the best clinics, and understand the independent surrogacy groups where you could meet and chat with surrogates,” explains Michael.
After huge amounts of research, the pair met the woman who was, in the end, to carry both their children, were matched with an egg donor – an anonymous woman – and embryos were created at a Manchester fertility clinic using Michael’s sperm.
“Ours were donor eggs, so our surrogate didn’t use her own eggs,” explains Michael. “She’d actually been sterilised, but she wanted to carry and was adamant about doing a sibling journey for us. I’m the biological father to our daughter, and my husband is the biological father to our son.”
The couple’s surrogate, Caroline, says:
“I felt that as a woman who easily falls pregnant and is usually fit and healthy during pregnancy, I had a gift to offer a couple who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to be parents. I set out wanting to create a child for a childless couple, but it’s turned out to be so much more than that. I’ve created a family, and in doing so, changed the life of two people, but also contributed to changing the path of surrogacy in this country.”
Michael says he and Wes always wanted to educate people about surrogacy, and after setting up TwoDadsUK in 2017, thought there was more they could do.
During their own surrogacy journey, they met fertility nurse specialist Francesca Steyn, who ended up donating the eggs that helped create the couple’s son, Duke.
Steyn is also a co-founder of My Surrogacy Journey, and says:
“Surrogacy is growing at a rapid rate, and each year more and more surrogacy cases take place worldwide. It’s extremely successful, as you often have no fertility problems, and good egg and sperm quality. Data from the US shows a success rate of approximately 75%.”
But what about the popular belief that some surrogates will want to keep the baby they’ve carried, even if it’s not biologically theirs?
“In my experience, surrogates never have a problem passing the child over to the parents – the intended parents [IPs],” says Steyn. “I don’t know of any cases where the surrogate has changed her mind, and we ensure IPs and surrogates have legal advice to ensure they’re aware of all the legalities.”
And Michael adds:
“We think the number of cases where the surrogate has wanted to keep a child is very small. It’s also important to flip that around, as sometimes surrogates have the same fear – what if the intended parents don’t want the child, what if they split up, will the surrogate potentially be left with a child they don’t want? I think that’s equally rare, but it’s interesting to look at both sides of the coin.”
Surrogates are paid expenses – although the law clearly states it’s not a commercial arrangement – and Surrogacy UK (surrogacyuk.org) estimates they can be anything from around £7,000 to £15,000, depending on the surrogate’s circumstances and covering things like loss of earnings, childcare, maternity clothes, travel costs etc. It’s also estimated that the entire cost of surrogacy for the IPs, including surrogate expenses, can be around £20,000 for straight surrogacy (where the surrogate’s own eggs are used), and £30,000 for host surrogacy (where donor eggs are used and an embryo is implanted through IVF).
It’s an expensive business, but it’s more than worth it, says Michael.
“True surrogates don’t do this to make money, this is done for the absolute gift that being a surrogate is, creating that family and seeing it. Surrogates play an incredible role in building a family, and in the majority of cases, they get a sense of achievement and pride in what they’ve done, to see how a family’s flourishing.”
The Johnson-Ellis family see their surrogate two or three times a year, but she’s not involved with the upbringing of the children. “That’s not what surrogates do,” stresses Michael, “but she’s incredibly visible and we have full disclosure to our children how they came into this world. That’s what surrogates usually want.
“There will always be people who disagree with surrogacy and you have to respect their viewpoint,” says Michael cautiously, “but I think it’s really important to understand that surrogacy in the UK is built on friendship and trust. Sometimes the negativity is down to people not fully understanding that.
“Surrogacy has given us the family we’d always dreamed of, and a life we never really thought existed for two gay men. The help of donors and surrogates has enabled us to have our dream of being parents, and regardless of our sexuality, this is about people wanting to be parents, and that’s everyone’s right.
“Surrogacy has completely transformed not only our lives, but also our families – it’s given our family members a reason to continue. The joy our children bring their extended family is the beauty of surrogacy – it creates these huge ripples and touches so many people, just by us being allowed to be parents.”