John and his partner Zack have a daughter through a surrogate, Anna. He explains how their relationship grew.
I'm from a rural farming background in the south-east of Ireland. One of the consequences of my sexuality that I really struggled with was that I would never be able to have the conventional family that others had. It was like a bereavement process that I went through alone.
After a few unsuccessful relationships, I finally met my current partner Zack and we moved in together and became stable enough to get a dog together. As our relationship grew, I became somehow restless for the next chapter in our lives and began to wonder if it might actually be possible to have a baby. I discussed it with Zack who was happy for me to explore the options and contact several international agencies and clinics that might be able to assist us. I had been working as an embryologist in an IVF clinic so wasn't particularly phased by this world, however the financial cost of a surrogacy journey was very daunting. Our choices fell between a relatively secure but very expensive process in the US or Canada or a more affordable but somewhat uncertain process in less developed India or Thailand.
For us, it was important to have a tangible connection with both the surrogate and the donor. After a lot of internet searches I came across a website that had a database of registered egg donors, sperm donors and surrogates across the globe that you could make direct contact with. I decided to take a chance and fill in a profile. I contacted two or three women and didn't have any success. Many of the profiles had been on the site for over a year.
About two weeks later, I went on to the website and a new profile had been added. It was a non-national living in Ireland who wanted to help out a gay couple. I introduced myself and it transpired that Anna was living just a block away. I mentioned that I had to take a flight for work in a few hours and had to walk the dog beforehand and boldly asked her if she was by any chance free to join me. We met at the corner 20 minutes later. Anna was a chirpy woman that I felt at ease with immediately and we talked about everything from dogs to our lives. She had two teenage daughters from a previous relationship and was now in another long-term relationship. We briefly discussed surrogacy and what both our hopes were. I mentioned that we would be considering gestational surrogacy, using donor eggs.
On my return to Ireland we arranged to meet again, this time with my partner, for dinner. Over a period of time, we built up a rapport with her and it became apparent that she was willing to help us out and we went through the finer details of how it would happen. At the time, Anna had some difficulty travelling so it was difficult to make arrangements with a clinic to do IVF. Donor eggs were only really attainable at an affordable price through the UK and it was difficult to get a known donor. After much deliberation, Anna suggested keeping things simple by just using her own eggs and doing a home insemination. I expressed my discomfort with this idea, for her sake as much as ours.
Our contact with Anna gradually waned, but as fate would have it we kept bumping into her in the most unlikely ways. For instance, one day Zack and I were waiting for a table at a restaurant when Anna, her partner and one of her daughters turned up to eat as well. And two months later we went to a seaside town in Dublin that we would never normally go to and as we parked our car Anna and her partner stopped to talk on the pathway yards in front of us.
As time went on, Anna continued to insist that she was very comfortable with using her own eggs and that she would know from the very beginning that this baby would be ours and not hers. After hearing her reiterate this very clearly, we decided that if Anna was comfortable with it that we should be. I also perceived the added bonus that we would know both the surrogate and donor in a singular and very personal way.
This was the defining ‘eureka’ moment in our journey. However we had to steady the reins and get some legal advice. We met a solicitor experienced in surrogacy in Ireland and gave her the details of our plan. We were told quite definitively that we should not proceed and were advised of other options that we should look into in the US. It was a blow but not a surprising one as we were aware that there would be legal concerns.
We advised Anna of our meeting and decided that we would put a hold on our plans. She still remained committed to helping us in the future. Time passed (not much time) when we came to the realisation that this was not something that would happen again so easily - an amazing opportunity to have a baby in an intimate and involved way, without the complications that come with most surrogacy journeys. It was a simple plan, virtually natural, with our prospective baby having basic connection to its heritage. We considered our options and decided that if we were to wait for the promised legislation allowing surrogacy in Ireland, we would be waiting a long time.
With this strengthened resolve we approached Anna to say that we wanted to take the leap of faith and proceed with the journey only to be told that she was expecting. Although we were very happy for her, it was a blow. But we quickly saw the bigger picture. We knew that she was still committed to helping us in the future, and that after waiting so long another wait wasn't a big deal. As the months passed we preoccupied our time by being excited about Anna's pregnancy and the birth of her beautiful daughter. We also gained some hands-on experience in changing nappies, giving baths and other tricks of the trade. It was a very exciting time.
Months passed by and we patiently waited for a time when Anna said she was ready to help us out. It was November when Anna felt ready to go ahead. The first attempt was unsuccessful and added to my negative feelings that we couldn't be so lucky. The second insemination was carried out on New Year’s eve and rewarded with the joy of a positive test. It was an amazing feeling that seemed like an unattainable dream.
At around six weeks I got one of the nurses I worked with to carry out a vaginal scan on Anna. However it wasn't the epiphany we had expected. The nurse moved the probe around only to see a blank black void. It didn't look good and our hearts sank. But then the nurse noticed a tiny white flash in the corner of the uterus. It was still very ambiguous and we were instructed to return in two weeks for confirmation. We returned to see a beautiful clear image of our future baby with a healthy heartbeat and further scans confirmed a healthy happy baby girl.
The nine months of pregnancy went by so slowly. We were climbing the walls as the due date passed and Zack and I decided to go to the cinema to escape. An hour in, we got a frantic phone-call from Anna’s oldest daughter to say that her waters had broken. We rushed to our car and arrived at Anna’s within minutes and the hospital soon after. It was all very exciting but soon became a long slow wait with intermittent contractions that didn't escalate. Hours ran into a day, and an evening Caesarian section was scheduled. It was all so surreal going in as the father to be, to gown up for the procedure and pretend that I was Anna's partner, whilst the other father-to-be had to hover around hallways hoping to get a glimpse of his new daughter.
It was only minutes before a big angry 8lb 13oz baby was raised above Anna’s opened belly, followed by a very healthy cry. The staff insisted I take pictures as it all happened. Our new beautiful girl Ellie was first handed to Anna, who was happy to hold her for a while before handing her to me.
It was an amazing feeling to hold her and see her frown at me with open eyes. She looked like a force to be reckoned with and, as I was to find out, she would continue to be one. She was big and strong with a thick mop of dark wavy hair and, of course, beautiful, like nothing I could imagine.
After the C-section, Anna was taken up to a recovery room and I was escorted with Ellie down through the hall where Zack had been waiting, and into the postnatal ward. I nervously changed her nappy to her very distinct cry and gave her to Zack to hold. He sat down in a quiet corner and finally got to lap up the joy that I had experienced. Midwives passing by over the next two days would occasionally question his presence, and mention visitor restrictions, but it fell on deaf ears.
Over the next 48 hours we had immediate family come to visit, including our new extended family, Anna’s family. Eventually Ellie and Anna got the all-clear to go home, and with the car loaded with Anna, the new arrival, the bunch of flowers, teddy bear and mandatory balloon, we set off for the 10-minute journey to our house.
After spending about two hours, Anna said she was ready to go and that she wanted to get back to her family. It all happened so fast and was masked by the commotion around Ellie, but before I knew it I had dropped Anna back to her family. It was a very understated moment and perhaps it was the close connection we had with Anna that made her comfortable to leave, knowing that we were only 10 minutes away and she was welcome to drop up and we would drop down to her. The poignancy of the moment only hit me later in the day when I was walking the dog. A flood of emotions hit me including guilt that Anna was going back to a house without a baby that she carried for nine months. Later she told me that she did find it difficult but that she had been mentally prepared for this and that the sadness was offset by the happiness she gave to us.
We still have regular contact with Anna and her family and we all value the friendship we have. We know the relationship will last the test of time as we share a common bond, that is our beautiful Ellie.