Growing Families (formerly Families Through Surrogacy) are a not-for-profit organisation who work globally to promote safe and informed family building through surrogacy. They ran their first UK seminar back in 2014 and quickly gained momentum. Since then they have hosted 14 events in the UK and Ireland and many more abroad. The key to the success of their conferences is personal accounts and panel discussions with surrogates and parents alongside talks from experts in the field. With their conferences coming up in November Growing Families founder Sam Everingham interviews UK gay dad, Richard Scarlett, one of the upcoming panelists
Richard was born and raised in London. His husband Dario grew up in Palermo, Sicily, arriving in London at 18. The pair met in 2012 and married three years later. Raising a family has been part of their dialogue for as long as Richard can remember. They were adamant that they would one day have two children of their own. Watching their friends having babies, their joint desire for a family grew stronger.
“We knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Richard admits, “so we prepared ourselves as much as we could.”
Being the more detail-oriented person, Richard took the lead with organising meetings, creating spreadsheets and doing the initial research, but both were equally committed. They quickly ruled out adoption, given their desire was to nurture their own child from birth. They decided to go the USA for surrogacy.
Why the USA instead of the UK or somewhere else?
“We wanted to move fairly quickly,” Richard admits. “Which we felt we could do in the USA. We have friends who embarked on a UK journey, and their total time was a lot longer due to the relatively immature laws over here. And we definitely wanted to avoid the somewhat riskier alternatives, such as Mexico.”
How did you decide which providers to work with?
“We narrowed our search to two IVF clinics – basing our IVF clinic selection on their donor list. We were invited to spend time reviewing approximately 130 donors.”
“Once we had selected our donor, it made sense to go with that medical centre. Plus, we interviewed the head doctor and loved her immediately, so that helped. It was similar with the surrogate agency - we interviewed two surrogates, and instantly bonded with one, so we used her agency.”
What were you looking for in an egg donor?
“We wanted someone who would be able to complement both our backgrounds. More importantly, we wanted to make sure that she was healthy, had a good family health history and was doing it for compelling reasons. We also preferred to choose a proven donor, as this removed some of the risk of IVF failure.”
Tell us more about this process…
“We reviewed many profiles, we each made a shortlist and then we cross-referenced our lists. Then we requested additional information and a lengthy Skype meeting with each clinic’s donor coordinator. Our chosen donor seemed like a smart self-starter. We were both instantly taken by her profile [profiles are anonymous]. We were able to see early childhood photos of her.”
What sort of relationship were you expecting to have with your surrogate?
“As she would forever be such an important part of ours and our children’s lives, it was important that we maintained a strong bond. Our surrogate was definitely in agreement, and this solidified our match. We know others who have decided to have a purely professional relationship, and that’s absolutely fine if everybody is on the same page from the outset.”
“When she was in her second trimester, our surrogate and her husband offered to visit us. They really wanted to see London! We understood that this didn’t usually happen, but it just felt right. We spent many days with the family, showing them around.”
“During our time in Idaho after the birth, we saw our surrogate virtually every day and she was an invaluable support person in those challenging early days. Her entire family rallied around and welcomed us. It was a truly humbling experience to have such love and support from people who were technically strangers just a year before. Our relationship continues to this day, with weekly texts and updates and lots of photos being shared. Our surrogate and family have visited us a couple more times in London since.”
What were the hardest parts of the whole process?
“Being so far away. Despite the daily updates and video calls, you really start to feel the distance mid-pregnancy, and long to be closer to your growing baby. Also, you can’t help but worry about what’s happening – is your surrogate eating right, exercising, taking care of herself?”
“Another hard part is the uncertainty and the emotional ups and downs. Many times we were literally stepping into the unknown and handing control over to biology. You do so much admin and form filling at the beginning, and then you have to just wait. It can be difficult to be completely helpless when waiting for screening results, waiting to see how many eggs were retrieved, or – perhaps the most tense – during the two-week implantation period to see if it all worked. There were many moments of anxiety, but thankfully these were obstacles we overcame and not dead ends.”
You can hear more from Richard and other parents and the professionals they worked with at the Growing Families November seminars in London, Dublin, Berlin and Stockholm. Full details at www.growingfamilies.org/2019-conference-and-event-schedule/