An epic Greek tragedy with a happy ending
Georgios* and his partner Alexander* live in London with their two-and-a-half year old twins.
Georgios shared the story of their incredible international surrogacy journey with We Are Family magazine.
Truly international, Georgios was born in Greece, studied for an MBA in Spain, got a job in Russia, and then began working in Ukraine. Whilst committed to his career he also had a strong desire to start a family.
Surrogacy in the Ukraine
At that time the Ukraine had 7 or 8 clinics – Georgios approached them all. “My story was: I’m single and I want to start a family. I didn’t tell them I was gay because it’s a conservative county.” Most of the clinics only treated couples, but one was happy to work with him. “They said ‘there are some issues in terms of the registration of the child but it’s not a problem so long as you can find someone to help you with the birth certificate. We can help you find a surrogate and egg donor.’” He agreed a fixed-price surrogacy package with the clinic – it meant he paid a little more but had the reassurance of knowing he would definitely have a child at the end.
Then Georgios met a Ukrainian, Alexander, then 21. Georgios shared his plans for starting a family. Alexander took it well. “He has three brothers and his mum had her first child at 15; it’s not uncommon in the Ukraine to start a family in your late teens or early 20s.”
Alexander helped Georgios communicate with the clinic and introduced him to his best friend, Ira, who was willing to pose as mother for the birth certificate. “This was very important,” Georgios explains. “The child has to be registered to a man and a woman. This woman needed to be someone we could trust because she would be the legal mother – we’re talking about a traditional country - she would be someone who could help or destroy me by taking the kids away.”
Sadly the first three IVF attempts failed, with two ending in early miscarriages. The process was emotionally draining.
Two surrogates, multiple embryos
Georgios had an idea: “The clinic were inserting six embryos at a time. I said, ‘why don’t we have two surrogates: use the same sperm and donor eggs, but instead of inserting all the eggs in one carrier, insert them in two carriers?’ So we increase the probability of a successful pregnancy.” In effect the clinic was losing money with every failed attempt so they were willing to consider this option. “They had two issues. First there would be an additional cost for the second surrogate. I said ‘fine’. The second was ‘what if both develop?’ I said ‘I’m happy to keep both of them because I’m not God.’”
The clinic proceeded with IVF using two surrogates, but instead of splitting the embryos and putting three in each woman, they put six embryos in each woman. “My God, it was scary,” Georgios recalls.
A couple of weeks later the clinic reported that the process was going well. Really, really well! “All the embryos were developing! So 12 babies!” The clinic said they must reduce both pregnancies, because it’s not safe for so many embryos to develop. The reduction would be based on which embryos were most viable. “After that we had three and three.”
As the pregnancies continued the clinic advised another reduction, to bring both pregnancies down to one foetus each. Georgios was presented with a difficult decision. “The question came, ‘do you prefer boys or girls?’ I said, ‘I cannot make that choice.’ The doctor said ‘listen, if you don’t choose, the person who does the reduction will.’ So I said ‘a boy and a girl. One of each.'” It was decided that if they had a strong enough boy and a strong enough girl they’d leave one of each.
The reductions took place on different days and the sexes of the foetuses were only established during the procedure. The first surrogate was carrying three girls so the strongest girl was left. The second surrogate was carrying two girls and a boy but the boy was not the strongest foetus, so they left a girl in her too. “I’m so glad it was based on the viability of the children,” he says, “it felt so unnatural thinking you can choose the sex of the child.”
Six months into the pregnancies Georgios’ work situation changed.
A move to the UK
His company wanted him to move to Kazakhstan. “I knew it was not the place to raise a gay, unconventional family,” he says. He resigned and found a new job in Russia, with a planned move to Holland after a year. “We only lasted 6 months in Moscow. We didn’t like it!” Much in demand, he got a call from a big company in the UK. “I went for an interview and got the job.”
In January 2012 the couple moved to London. Georgios’ company helped organise a visa for Alexander and assigned him a solicitor, but he had to give up his passport during the process, which could take up to six months. Alexander was unable to leave London, unable to work, and unable to speak English, whilst Georgios was settling into his new job and at the same time managing the surrogacy process in the Ukraine.
Meanwhile the pregnancies were progressing, one developed normally, but the other surrogate was having some complications: it seemed the baby wanted to arrive early so she was continuously monitored.
Sharing a date of birth
“I told the doctor ‘we need to make sure both babies are born on the same day.’ He asked why. I said ‘can you image me going to the authorities with a woman who says she is the mother of my kids and she gave birth to one on a Monday and the other on Thursday? I said, ‘I don’t know how long labour can be but lets make it sound natural.’ He said, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
Happily the pregnancy continued healthily and the surrogate went into labour only one week early. As soon as she went into labour the other surrogate was induced.
Georgios was on a business trip in Paris when he got the message that the babies had safely arrived and that the woman who would be ‘mum’ needed to go to the hospital. “The plan was to involve her from day one so the hospital staff would believe she was the mother.”
Georgios was able to fly out that weekend. “I went, with Ira pretending to be my partner.” He met his daughters for the first time. “Ira and Alexander’s brother and sister-in-law helped a lot. We found a flat and they moved in together to look after the babies. This is when the nightmare started.”
Passports, visas & birth certificates
It was possible for Georgios to get the babies a Ukrainian passport but because the Ukraine is not in the EU they would not be able to travel far. “I was afraid to approach the British authorities in the Ukraine again (to get a visa) because I’d already been to them with Alexander.” (When they moved to the UK they applied for Alexander’s work visa based on their same-sex relationship.) “I was afraid I would confuse things too much. They’d ask ‘who is this woman? Who are these babies?’ What would I say? ‘I’ve changed my mind, now I’ve got a wife and two kids?!’ And even if I was able to get them visas they would have only been valid for six months anyway.”
Georgios realised that if the babies had Greek passports, like him, they could travel anywhere in the EU. He went to the Greek consulate in the Ukraine the week after the girls were born, registering them as Greek citizens; Greek papers were issued which he then submitted to the authorities in Athens.
“It was a very slow bureaucratic procedure, months of going from one office to another. I was also dealing with a crazy woman in the office in Athens - I think she just enjoyed tormenting people.”
This official told him that because the children were born on the ninth of the month but the Greek paperwork he had was dated the twelfth of the month, he was not the legal father for the first three days of his daughter’s lives.
“I explained that because we were issued a birth certificate with my name on it on the ninth that means I am recognised as the father under Ukrainian law. She said ‘yes but this is Greece, I don’t know Ukrainian law.’ She wanted an official letter from the Ukrainian authorities confirming that Georgios was the legal father from birth. So he went to the Ukrainian consulate in his hometown of Thessaloniki.
“It took a bit of convincing, but the man wrote the letter in Ukrainian. I got it translated - I had to make it an official translation - then I went back to the official. She said ‘this is no good. It was done in Thessaloniki. We need it from the Ukrainian consulate in Athens.’ I couldn’t believe it! I said, ‘but it’s the same government, we’re in the same country!’ ‘No, no, no,’ she said, ‘we are in Athens and the official ambassador of Ukraine is in Athens, it has to be done in Athens.’
The babies were still in the Ukraine with Ira, Alexander’s brother and his sister-in-law. The process was taking so long the Ukrainian authorities suggested he get the babies Ukrainian passports; they could issue Schengen visas (which cover 26 EU and non-EU countries that support free movement of their citizens) and he could move them to Greece. They would still not be able to move to the UK (because the UK is not part of the Schengen area) but at least they would be in Greece while Georgios sorted things out with the Greek authorities.
Across borders; to Greece
So when they were three months old Georgios, the twins and Ira moved to Greece as ‘a family’. “I was not allowed to travel with young babies on my own – the mother had to be there too.” Ira returned to the Ukraine and Georgios used his two-week holiday entitlement to stay with the twins at a friends flat, but then he had to go back to work in London. He found someone willing to look after the girls – a couple who lived near Athens - the other end of the country from where they were in Thessaloniki. “This guy came and took them on a plane to Athens. I didn’t even know where I was sending them. I was so stressed, it was a nightmare.”
Georgios then met the Ukrainian ambassador in Athens. “I said ‘I have this letter from the consulate in Thessaloniki. Can you write the same letter but put your stamp on it, from the office in Athens?’ He said ‘no - you have the letter – it’s valid!’ I said ‘I’m desperate. Can you call the official and explain that to her?’ He did. When he hung he said, ‘tell her to go to hell – she’s crazy! I’ll write you the letter because I know who you are dealing with.’
While Georgios was in Athens he got to visit his daughters. “When I went to the house I was shocked. It was a little out of the city, in a quiet neighbourhood, but they had 5 dogs and 12 cats. I was thinking are the girls safe? I needed these people. I didn’t fully approve of the environment; but I had no choice.”
In early August, Georgios was at work and his boss called him to his office. “He said ‘take time off, sort this thing out with your family because you’re going crazy. We’ll say its paternity leave.’ It was really good because I was going crazy.”
Home at last
Six months after they were born, the girls’ Greek passports finally arrived - on Georgios’ birthday! “It was the best present! But I still couldn’t fly with them on my own” (they were still too young). The family who had been looking after the twins had a Bulgarian lady helping. “She came with me and we travelled to London pretending we were a family.” Alexander met them all at the airport.
“It was very emotional. I was super-happy to be in London with the family all together. At the end of all this torture I was finally back in the UK and I had three weeks with the babies before I had to go back to work. “You hear people say, ‘in the first weeks I couldn’t sleep because the baby was crying.’ I wanted to experience that!”
“Then it was just about Alexander getting used to them. I had visited the girls in Greece 20-30 times so I was quite used to them but he didn’t know how to hold them or anything.” After Georgios’ paternity leave Alexander looked after the twins with the help of the Bulgarian nanny for a few months.
The next big decision was whether to have Alexander’s parenting role given legal status. “Firstly, the process would be expensive. Plus I’m from Greece, Alexander’s from Ukraine. Say we get British papers saying we’re equal parents. Then I get a job in Spain or Greece where these papers are useless; they’re only recognised in the UK or countries where same- sex families are recognised. We decided it was too much money and too constrained geographically.”
So Alexander is not recognised as a legal parent – a risk if something happens to Georgios. “I would prefer him to adopt them in the future because it’s easier.”
And what has Georgios learnt from this incredible ordeal? “I was so traumatised by dealing with my government. As soon as I’m allowed to, my kids and I will become British, because I don’t want to deal with Greece again. The children’s passports only last three years. In one year we have to go back to Greece to renew their passports. We’ll have to get Ira from Kiev to Greece on a Schengen visa to pose as the mother, and go through the whole thing all over again.”
“When I started this process I didn’t know I would end up in the UK. It took two years from the first IVF attempt to when the babies were born. We went through a lot. But the pleasure we get with the kids makes it all worth it.”
Schengen visas: www.schengenvisainfo.com/
This story brings up many complex legal, medical and emotional issues. For comment and responses from experts in the field, click the following links:
• IVF physician Dr Brandon J. Bankowski of Oregon Reproductive Medicine
• Diane Hinson of Creative Family Connections, a specialist legal firm providing surrogacy support
• Specialist solicitor and leading expert on UK fertility law, Louisa Ghevaert
• Fertility Centre of Las Vegas looks at single embryo transfer
Written by Hannah Latham
This story has been published in the We Are Family magazine Surrogacy Supplement, March 2015 and We Are Family issue 8, summer 2015. To buy a copy of either issue click here
This article was printed in We Are Family magazine, issue 8, Summer 2015. Details may have changed - please do not rely on this information solely when making decisions - do your own research, make your own checks and get legal or health advice as appropriate.