Last month, my husband Jay, 35, and I were looking after our three-year-old niece for the first time. We watched Frozen 2, sang enthusiastically to ‘Into the Unknown’, accidentally got her repeating ‘poo’ (oops), and let her order us around like we were her servants. It was wonderful.
Though we were tired, handing her back was difficult. We had felt like a family, albeit briefly, and suddenly we felt as though part of us was missing.
Jay and I have been together for 10 years and, since getting married last October, have spoken about having kids. Looking after one – and managing to keep her alive – cemented it for us.
We have so much love and wisdom to give, that we’re excited at the prospect of being able to pass down to another human.
Seeing a lot of our cis-heterosexual friends gradually starting families over the years has been tough. It often feels like a given that people will have children – or are expected to – and it’s difficult when this isn’t possible, or as easy.
While many people (cis-heterosexual included) go through years of trying to conceive, or failed IVF attempts, never having their parenting dreams realised – as gay men, it is unfortunately inevitable that we will need help to have children.
One route is adoption, and it is one I’ve found gay men like us are expected to choose.
I can’t tell you how many times we’ve mentioned wanting a little one and the response from family, friends and even complete strangers has been: ‘So you’ll adopt then?’ If you say otherwise, it’s often met with confusion and disdain. We always feel as though people are thinking that we’re selfish, and that they don’t know how else we could become dads.
We’re used to this by now, but it still hurts. More than anything, it really emphasises the divide between gay couples, and our inability to procreate together naturally, and those that can.
Yes, the times might be changing and the school curriculum – light years away from Thatcher’s Section 28 – is adapting to ensure the needs of all young people are met, but you can’t avoid the sheer volume of TV shows, films and adverts that still centre on the heteronormative idea that a cis-heterosexual man and woman are ‘normal’ parents.
Jay and I would like to have our own biological child. To do this, we’d have to go down the surrogacy route. In traditional surrogacy, the baby is related to the mother – it’s her egg that is fertilised and she’d carry the child. We’ve spoken (often drunkenly) to female friends about them doing this and we always get caught up in the moment, but in reality, this wouldn’t work for us.
We worry it would make things weird between us and the friend and we wouldn’t feel comfortable if they wanted to be a big part of the child’s life. We want to be the child’s only parents and it wouldn’t be fair on either party to enter a situation where neither was 100% happy.
The surrogacy route you see most often – particularly with gay male celebrities, like we’re currently seeing with Ollie Locke – is gestational. This involves a donated egg being implanted into a surrogate and can cost tens of thousands of pounds, including fees for fertility treatment and surrogate expenses, among other things.
Researching your options as a gay person is overwhelming. You don’t know where to start, there’s just so much information to take in once you are able to find reliable sources, and the language used is very clinical.
For us specifically, there also just aren’t enough case studies of gay men to relate to, especially ones that will struggle financially to start a family. Jay and I just feel like it’s so far out of reach.
Getting fertility treatment on the NHS is difficult for anyone. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority states that male same-sex couples must pay for it privately and one cycle of IVF can cost up to £5,000, or more.
We’re living with Jay’s nan right now – she offered us a lifeline we couldn’t pass up after losing our jobs due to the pandemic – and what was meant to be a ‘temporary arrangement’ has lasted a year. We’re working several jobs just to make ends meet and don’t have any savings, never mind tens of thousands of pounds going spare – so any chance of having a baby seems unrealistic.
Even getting into the right mindset to become dads is tricky at the moment because we feel like a couple of teenagers who have lost their independence. The focus now is to move – which we hope to do at the end of the summer – and on with the next stage of our lives.
To achieve true equality in the UK, I believe IVF needs to be more readily available to all people who can’t have children ‘naturally’, and those without expendable income. It’s our right to have a family too and we feel so helpless that we might never get there.
So, why don’t we just adopt? The truth is, it’s difficult.
Gay friends who are currently going through the process have told us that their local authority requires them to have one spare room and can afford (between them) to take a year off work. Jay and I cannot hope to meet such goals right now.
And I’ll be honest – another reason I don’t want to adopt is that, like so many people, I like the idea of a child looking like me. I enjoy resembling my parents and there’s a strong sense of belonging there – something that can never be taken away. Having a genetic ‘legacy’ to leave behind, is quite attractive.
As a gay person, I’m also sick of being told no. No, you can’t love who you want, no you can’t have what cis-heterosexual people have. I think the main reason I’ve been so averse to adoption is because of this.
We live in a heteronormative world that makes anything opposing feel ‘wrong’ or ‘weird’. Though I’ve learnt to embrace my uniqueness as a queer person, I no longer want to feel like a freak. It’s exhausting.
Adopting is an incredible thing, but it has also been made ‘our thing’. We want to feel like if we go down that route it is out of choice, not necessity.
Am I really so very selfish for not wanting to adopt as a first port of call?
Recently, though, I find that my mindset has changed. After speaking to our gay friends who are in the process of adopting, it made me think twice about my own motives behind having a child.
If you’re going to give a child love, it doesn’t matter where they come from. They also made me consider how much selflessness should go into planning a family – it’s not just about having a mini-me, but about giving another human the best chance at life you can. And remembering that they are an individual with their own destiny.
Perhaps I haven’t been prioritising the right things and there’s an element of selfishness attached to that, but it still doesn’t give anyone the right to tell gay people what to do.
If you feel so strongly about adopting, then go for it. Just don’t expect us to because you feel it’s our duty.
Jay and I plan to go down the surrogacy route and to keep playing the lottery, or wait until the NHS accounts for everybody. We’ll never afford it otherwise.
Ideally, we’d like to be dads by the time we’re 40, which only gives us five years. Thankfully, we do have family and friends who support us whatever we choose and who knows? If surrogacy doesn’t work out, maybe we will adopt. It’d be an honour, but I still don’t think it should be an obligation.
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