Janine and I had the tiniest glimpse through the window of infertility early in our married lives and that has perhaps affected my perspective on surrogacy and the brilliance of it. I have spoken to a few worried partners as part of Janine’s support of potential surros over the years, which I am not entirely convinced has always been a good thing!? Me generally trying to tell them “what a fantastic experience it is” and “how much fun you will have”, my error perhaps with this approach; doing a little too much talking and not enough listening and that not everyone is an extroverted, narcissistic, join-in party machine like I am. I’d like to think I have gotten better at this and I have heard murmurings from Al (Green – a like-minded fellow and trustee) that surro-partner support will be a thing soon, which is great news to save worried potential surrogate partners from ever having to speak to me. Anyway, having been asked by Al to write this, it took me about two seconds to reply with my yes; an unapologetic, uninterrupted opportunity to write a self-indulgent monologue about the experience from my point of view. Ace! So here goes.
Having dragged Janine back from the beautiful City of Bath, where I spent my University years, to the delights of Coalville, Leicestershire – we quickly set about adult life, first buying a home and then getting married. By the age of 23 we were ready to start a family and we previously agreed that we’d get the painful, expensive activity of raising kids out of the way and look forward to an early retirement with travel plans that included luxury hotels rather than hostels and backpackers. I’d spent the last seven years become extremely adept at not getting a woman pregnant. Getting Janine pregnant was going to take circa an hour (with cuddle-time included). Whilst the following 18 months were certainly enjoyable, it was rather frustrating not for it just to happen like I’d assumed it would. I thought back to all those times, where pregnancy was an absolute certainty if I hadn’t been “careful.” It was at this time, before we’d spoken to a professional, that we first considered “what if?” Clearly with my high self-worth, the world needed my genetics, my sporting prowess, my intelligence, my modesty. I must pass this on to children. To that end, adoption wouldn’t have been my plan B. Perhaps Janine at this juncture had explored plan B in more depth than I knew but as fortune for us would have it, we were one, alcohol-fuelled, post-party fumble away from conceiving. Text book. I’m not sure fertility specialists generally recommend this approach; but it worked for us all the same.
Having had a pleasant pregnancy with both Ollie and Lara (Janine’s sentiment rather than mine), being far too skint to contemplate a third child at the time and with our existing two becoming more independent with every passing month, we decided our family was complete and we would enjoy it as it was. I can’t remember exactly at what point Janine first talked to me about her desire to be a surrogate, I am pretty sure she’d spent hours researching it. She came to me with a list of websites, a few notes and a beaming smile to sell me on the idea of being a surrogate. I think my response was somewhere along the lines of “yeah, cool, sounds good” at which point I probably turned back the TV without giving it too much thought.
What followed in the next year was a blessing from my point of view. Throughout the process of becoming a surrogate we found out that Janine’s warm, caring, kind heart had rather a large hole in it, leaving one half stressed and enlarged and needing an operation to fix. It was lovely seeing healthcare professionals cooing over my wife’s discovery of a potentially life-threatening condition solely due to offering to do something so selfless and with no other indications to us that there was an issue, this had been a blessing. If this wasn’t reason enough to forge on with this “journey” (I used to cringe at this turn of phrase but it is accurate), then what was. If nothing else had of come from Surrogacy – I still thank my lucky stars that we discovered this as I’d be pretty lost without Janine.
Prior to this discovery, we’d had the first nervous fact-finding conference, where we stayed pretty close to each other – still a little unsure how everything worked. We did our first quiz, asked questions, listened to the information and socialised whilst enjoying a night away from the kids – ironically. Skip forward quite a few months, we went on to have a great getting to know and formed a team, where despite getting on really well with a great couple – after three failed and one abandoned attempt we parted company – the hurt being felt pretty badly all round. I was selfishly a little upset that we didn’t maintain a better relationship with potentially life-long friends after that team ended but understand that I’ve always been on the side of the team that can carry on with my life if nothing worked and the lows are much more devastating on the other side of the relationship. I know Janine also doubted her body’s ability to do this at times, seeing friends joining after her go one to have first and second surrobubs which was hard but also a testament to her perseverance (stubbornness) that she carried on.
What followed some months later was a thing of beauty. Stars aligned, that one in a million spark of a relationship happened; the formation of the Ben & Chris Quizmaster team. He is my brother from another mother, my slightly less attractive soul mate and one of my bestest mates in the world. Together we delivered some amazing quizzes (my hazy memory might be slightly rose tinted). In the background we also formed Team DreamWorks, which was also pretty decent. I have to again acknowledge my amazing wife. She did most of the message board stalking and engaging at socials. I was there at the big events and usually found propping up the bar but I did not go to all the socials and indeed the first time she met Kat and Chris, I wasn’t at the social. But throughout this whole process she has always considered my relationship with the IPs as much as hers which I thank her for. We were in this together and she wanted me to be a part of that – to make decisions together, to have the tough conversations together and to support each other as we always have. At the outset I always considered my role as ancillary support; making additional cups of tea, occasional lifts and the odd pat on the back (bum). I never imagined I would be as involved as I have been both emotionally and with promoting of surrogacy to those around me. I usually took one of two roles – articulating mine and Janine’s collective thoughts in uncomfortable situations and the other being comic relief. Making light of uncomfortable situations (such as my friend knocking one out in my bathroom an hour after I’d picked him up from the station, for my wife to then go up stairs with a turkey baster and play with his “sample”). Inappropriate humour wasn’t just about trying to lighten the mood, it was also how I coped with weird but essential situations like this. There are a lot of ups and a lot of downs and whilst we felt them as a team – I suppose being the most detached of the four adults allowed me to be supportive when everyone needed it the most. We were also lucky to have the most deserving, kind and considerate IPs in Kat and Chris. Thanks guys!
I am extremely proud of what my wife has achieved. Not just the surrogate baby produced, the plethora of eggs she donated or the support of other surrogates and an incredible organisation but the lesson she has taught the whole family. To do good things because you are able to, to pay it forward. It’s a simple lesson that my kids have learnt too both being generous and caring souls (most of the time!) Whenever people ask me why – I always say the same “I’d want there to be someone there for us.” That is at the root of my support of Janine and all the amazing surrogates as well as Surrogacy UK.
I’ve made some amazing friends – not just in teams but to the wider organisation. I’d really encourage surrogate partners to engage and keep involved. Friendship should absolutely be at the centre of this – if you get that right, everything else falls into place and equips you to deal with “the journey” and all its challenges. It’s great to see more than a few people attending the partner sessions at conference – there was a time where four of us was a good number. There is a wealth of experience there to share your concerns, get advice and make friends. Support your partner – I know it’s tough, I know there are risks, I know there can be challenges but personally it has been amazing. If we had needed help with having our children – I’d be so very, very grateful that Surrogacy UK existed.