“Errr…Right. Let me check Mr. Watkins… “
There is a very long pause, during which she is gone from the phone. I can’t help but fill these awkward silences with my own projections.
“Joan … There’s a … a man on the phone. He… wants to ….create embryos… Alone.”
It is of course, just that… a projection. But the impression of awkwardness that the clinic gives is palpable. The stuttered response…. the drawn out ‘Errr….’ the hurried ‘let me check’, as if I’d just asked them if they had something in a larger size.It seems that some people find it odd. That a man would want to do this on his own.
To some fertility clinics, it appears, I do not make sense.
Rewind to Friday October 30th 2015. I remember sitting at the kitchen table, completely ready to go ‘all in’ and try whatever I needed to do to be a Dad. I followed a link given to me at a fertility show. I found the Surrogacy UK (SUK) website and I downloaded the application form to enter the forums. Over the next few months, I skirt around the non-member section for a bit, completely overwhelmed. But I quickly realise that it is futile. Single people, I learn, can’t sign parental orders. They can’t become full members of SUK. My brand new journey through surrogacy is immediately at an impasse. Nothing can be done.
And yet still, I urge to be a father. I cannot switch this off, cannot ignore it. I throw myself into creative writing. But I end up writing up fatherhood. I try to increase my hours at work. It’s no good for I work in schools. All I see is fathers dropping off, fathers collecting their kids, fathers coming in for meetings, fathers everywhere. Every film is about being a dad. Every book is about parenthood. The tropes are everywhere.
By chance I reignite an old friendship with my best friend from university. Coincidentally she wants children, has always wanted children. We spend the next year talking about co-parenting. We link pinkies and promise we’ll make it together. It happens, slowly, then quickly. Tentative research develops into full blown communications. I arrange a clinic in Finland and after 9 months of dedicated dream building, link appointments at a London based clinic and a bit of luck…we create life.
But its time in our lives was short. It is the end of October 2016 and there is no heartbeat at 12 weeks. We are stunned. She is…changed. We take a break. I take a break. I fear how it might have gone. I realise I need to do this alone. I need my child to live with me, and to be guided by me.
Times passes. Time enough for things to heal. On January 3rd 2019 the law changes to allow single people to sign parental orders. A new journey now.
Monday 18th February 2019. I receive an email from Surrogacy UK saying I am officially a member and I can start creating my diary. I log on, and throw the words down that I have been wanting to say for so many years, “I am starting my journey with Surrogacy UK in 2019, in the hope the Dad Dream may finally happen.”
879 days it has taken me to be able to make that first diary post. But of course those who have waited for the entry ticket understand that the waiting starts years earlier. The waiting for the right partner, the waiting for the right time, the waiting for the right team and for the stars to align.
Everything is in place for this to happen and yet nothing is in place. I am presented with an empty diary page. How do I create an impression of me? I can’t lie, I don’t have pictures of me celebrating with a partner, hugging on top of a hill, jumping into each other’s arms at a wedding. I love those type of pictures. I like their vibrancy. I don’t drink, I don’t have a pic of me raising a toast with my in-laws or a cocktail on a beach at sunset. I’m quite content at home on a Friday night with the pusses and a decaf tea. If I try to find pictures of me socialising at a club on a colourful Friday night, I’d be posting pictures of me ten years younger, with quite a bit more hair. So I start taking pictures of my fish tank. And my cats. Because that is what I love. And I am happy with that.
Those 879 non-member days quickly fade away, obliterated by the new feelings of complete joy in being a member of Surrogacy UK. I am here. Writing my diaries, feeling part of something that is pointed towards Dadship. I join some recommended Facebook groups. I am not a Facebook person. My average screen time goes up. So does my anxiety. What do I post? When? About what? I make a decision to post on things I find interesting. I try to speak from the heart. I concentrate on work. I can’t concentrate on work. I want this so much.
I attend my first social as a full member to the sudden realisation that I am a very very small fish in a big sea and the completely impossibility and awe of what I am doing hits. What chance do I have amongst all these people? It’s like I’ve finally been given the keys to the city, only to find there’s a queue behind the gates. What chance do I have when I am asking people to understand me, not through a partner, not through someone who can testify to the benefit of loving me, but through a diary entry, a conversation, a comment, a picture? What chance does a single man have to convince the world that they are ready for this?
When I was contacting clinics, my requests would sometimes be met with the almost automatic, “when can you or your partner come in?”. When I explained there was no partner, only me, I felt that half of the clinics almost wanted to condole me, whilst the other half fell silent, unable to think of what to say.
And so I imagine that response again,
“Joan … There’s a … a man on the phone. He… wants to ….create embryos… Alone.”
Sometimes I mention to the clinics I’m gay and sometimes I don’t. When the conversation seems to hang; when the processing time for my request to create embryos seems to be a millisecond too long, I offer up my sexual preference by way of explanation, some kind of compensation for the oddity of my circumstance. Sometimes it feels like I am offering a slip to the teacher to explain why I am late, or why I haven’t done my homework. Is it easier to accept that a single gay man wants to do this than a straight man? If they assume I’m straight, will they wonder why a heterosexual man can’t just fall in love and make babies? If I say I am gay, will they also wonder why a gay man can’t fall in love with a partner? Do I at times think that too?
Of course this is me catastrophising. This is me going to that place of doubt and it’s not smart or attractive or eye-catching to admit to. But it is unashamedly honest.
My single surrogacy journey at once makes me glad and proud that I can do this alone, at the same time I have never felt lonelier in my life. One or two clinics actually refused to deal with single men. The paternal instinct requires more explanation it seems. It is not to be trusted unless backed up with a witness to the heart. Two can testify together. One must explain on their own. In the end I found one that I’m happy with. They normalised everything for me. Now the law had changed, there was no suggestion that I didn’t fit.
This journey is difficult, not because I don’t have anyone to share it with, but because I don’t have any role models, no single man to look to who has done the same thing that I am attempting to do. I look around and try to find a blueprint for what I’m doing, try to find a person on the boards or on the Facebook groups who is actively pursuing this too, that I can look to and say, yeah I want to do it that way. But I can’t find them. I try and pretend in my head to be one half of a gay couple, or look to how a husband has supported his wife, so that I might support myself in that way; when I feel I need some back up, or as sounding board to tell me I’m thinking about things the wrong or the right way; someone to tell me what they really think about my posts, my choice of topic that week, the information I choose to share. Do I post the 5th picture of the cats, or another picture of the shrimp? Those damn shrimps. How convenient to shed your skin and escape when things feel too tight, too uncomfortable! I suppose if you asked the shrimp they would give you a different understanding. To them, growing a new shell must be painfully hard, to push out of the old self and into the new. How the grass is always greener. Friends who are parents envy my free time. My lack of dependents. They of course will never know how I’d trade places in an instant. Two sides of the looking glass. We look at them as they look at us.
I sometimes feel that people (outside of Surrogacy UK) consider a single guy having a baby through surrogacy as the ultimate ‘lifestyle choice’. Do they view my need as valid as a woman who cannot have children, or a loving couple who have been together years? I feel myself that in me, I have both mother and father energies, that I have the strength and passion of both. And I know we are all valid, no matter our situation. I know that. I am so full of awe with so many others’ journey, and so proud that they are able to share it with me and other people on the forums. I look at photos of teams and scans and feel overwhelming happiness for what they are achieving, almost as if I am, vicariously, achieving it too. At the same time, it’s hard. I have never been more exposed to so many images of the thing that I want. There’s no hiding away from childlessness now. It’s every time I log on. Every time I comment. I feel it more acutely then I have ever before. The closer I am to the dream, the greater the pain of its absence. The irony is not lost on me. And yet and the same time I’m amazed I’m even here.
Surrogacy is the only way for me now. I am so glad I feel safe in Surrogacy UK. Safe to just be me and talk about the things that go through my head. Umm… like this blog post. It’s like the first time you realise it’s OK to go to a fancy dress party without a costume. What’s important is that I bring myself.
All the people I have spoken to on the boards and socials have been extremely encouraging. They get all this too. Great, considering that there has never been a single male IP in Surrogacy UK before (and hopefully that too, in time will change). Yes, I can find socials difficult like the next person. I wonder if I had a partner whether I would be able to meet twice the amount of people, in half the time. I wonder if I would feel less exhausted on the way home, because I have not been able all day to rest my brain and let my partner do the talking. And the drives there and back…they are always done by me – 4 hrs in a day, 6 hrs (would I even do 8?). Sometimes I imagine I am driving to pick up my child, for I would travel forever for that.
I will keep on posting, keep on commenting, keep on finding the humour in things, and keep on being myself. I am a father seeking his child. I don’t have pictures charting years of a loving relationship with a partner in crime. And that’s OK. I only have me, and my cats and a couple of saltwater crustaceans. It is a unit. And one that works.
I am grateful to all the people who I can share these thoughts with. When we lost the baby, it was an experience that I couldn’t process alone. Now that path to parenthood has finished, a new one must begin. There is nothing else I can do but try on my own. If all else fails there’s a cat litter tray to clean and a shrimp that needs feeding. Simple pleasures (maybe not the litter tray). I am a mother and a father. I am a father and a father. I am Dad to the power of 10. I am ready. It’s all here, waiting for whenever that little twinkle in my eye, picks out its day.