Our surrogacy journeyPublished on
Michael Johnson-Ellis and husband Wes built their family with the help of a surrogate. Now they’re using their experience to help others do the same.
Michael always knew he wanted to be a daddy. And after marrying Wes in 2014, the happy couple were soon keen to start a family.
As a same sex couple, they knew it wouldn’t be easy, and when they began to research having children through a surrogate it became apparent they’d have many hurdles to overcome.
“There was a real limited amount of reliable and credible information about surrogacy around then,” says Michael.
“We approached most of the non-profit surrogate agencies around and none of them were accepting new applicants, very similar to how it is now.
“This is because there is a shortage of surrogates and too many intended parents. So we decided to do the journey independently, which meant that we would do all our own research; we’d find our own clinic, we’d source all of our own support and lawyers.”
Michael (right) and Wes (left) spent years researching surrogacy, investigating the various countries that allowed same sex couples to take a surrogacy journey. After much consideration, they decided to pursue surrogacy in the UK.
“It was also very important to us that we chose a pathway that wouldn’t exploit women and donors, and that the welfare of the child was paramount,” he explains.
Wes and Michael’s first child, Talulah, was born via gestational surrogacy in October 2016.
“She's just this incredible human who has created a tidal wave in everyone's lives. She's got this amazing energy and spirit,” says Michael.
They found Caroline, the surrogate who was to help them create their little force of nature, via an online surrogacy community.
Though Caroline had never been involved in a surrogacy journey before, she explained that she wanted to help others after completing her own family of four children.
“Surrogacy in the UK is built on trust and on friendship. So we took our time to build a friendship and a level of trust for both parties,” says Michael. “Caroline is a wonderful, selfless woman.”
“You’re going to be Daddies”
After finding their surrogate, the next step was to source a suitable fertility clinic and egg donor.
The couple agreed that Michael’s sperm would be used, so he would be genetically linked to Talulah, and that the donor would be matched to Wes’s physical characteristics - skin, hair and eye colour.
After the eggs were successfully fertilised and frozen, the embryo was transferred to Caroline on the day before Valentine’s Day, 2016.
And after a nerve-wrecking 14-days, Michael says Caroline texted “can you talk”.
“We took a video call,” he says. “She just held out a pregnancy test and said: ‘you're going to be daddies!’”
Like many hospitals, The NHS hospital where Caroline intended to give birth had little experience of surrogacy.
Though it raised a few eyebrows, Michael and Wes attended all antenatal appointments, but were told they couldn’t attend Caroline’s elective C-section birth. Policy permitted only one extra person in theatre.
So it was agreed that Michael and Wes would wait in the hospital and that Caroline’s husband, who would be present at the birth, would bring them their baby.
But before the planned date, Michael and Wes received a phone call in the dead of night - informing them that Caroline’s waters had broken.
“We legged it to the car,” admits Michael. “We live two hours away from Caroline and we had a police car following us so we had to drive at 50mph on the motorway – it was painful!”
They were nervously waiting for their baby in an allocated room when Caroline’s husband knocked on the door.
“He said, ‘get some scrubs on, the theatre manager wants you to come and watch your baby being born’! We were totally shocked and unprepared so we were scrambling around, crying and frantically pulling on gowns!”
Michael and Wes, unaware of the sex of their baby, got to watch the birth of their daughter.
“The birth was the most incredible thing,” says Michael. “And because of our journey, the hospital rewrote their policy to allow all intended parents in surrogacy to see the birth of their babies.”
Surrogacy is entirely legal in the UK and governed by the 1985 Surrogacy Arrangements Act. It’s illegal to pay someone to be a surrogate or for companies to profit from matching surrogates with prospective parents.
When a child is born through surrogacy, the surrogate is actually the legal parent. If the surrogate has a husband or civil partner then he’s the legal father, until the intended parents obtain a legal parental order through the courts.
Though intended parents can take the baby home after the birth, hospitals often require parties to leave hospital grounds to “hand over” the newly-born baby in order to diminish responsibility in case of any legal disputes.
Michael and Wes successfully challenged this and the hospital has since changed its policy.
“We’d had this dream of taking Talulah home from the hospital together with the car seat, balloons, all the usual stuff. We didn’t want this to happen in a car park, it’s just degrading.”
Having gone through the process once, Michael and Wes expected their next surrogacy journey in 2018 to be smoother, but there were unforeseen complications.
Caroline agreed to be surrogate again and they hoped to use the same egg donor.
“But we had a failed round of IVF,” says Michael. “We lost all the embryos that we created for Duke.”
“We had to change donors and it meant our children wouldn't have a genetic link, which was something that we really struggled with in the beginning.
“But we came to terms with it after we had some counselling. Then a friend came forward and donated her eggs to us for Duke. She's a fertility nurse and someone that we adore.”
The eggs were successfully retrieved and they were fertilised by Wes, this time. The embryo was transferred on 12th December 2018. After a couple of early pregnancy tests showing negative, they got a positive result on New Year’s Eve!
Baby Duke, who Michael says is already an irrepressible ball of energy, was born in August 2019.
Despite the rocky start, because Duke was born in the same hospital as Talulah, and the healthcare team had an awareness of surrogacy, the remainder of the journey went smoothly.
And Caroline has remained a presence in their family life.
“Through mutual consent, she will always be in our life,” says Michael. Duke is a bit young to understand yet, but Talulah knows how she came into the world.
“Being two men, we felt that full disclosure was really important - because it's obvious we don't have a uterus and therefore would need help creating a family.
“Talulah understands that there's really kind lady that gave an egg and grew her, and her brother, in her tummy.”
Two Dads UK
Michael and Wes decided to launch the brand TwoDads UK (twodadsuk.com) to help normalise same-sex families and destigmatise surrogacy through blogs, social media and media appearances.
TwoDads have appeared in numerous TV documentaries, starred in a Sainsburys’ Christmas commercial (pictured below) and contributed to government guidance and reform on surrogacy.
We’re proud to have them as Pura brand ambassadors.
Most recently they’ve launched a podcast and 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 in the UK, Canada or the US.
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