Fiona: My partner Jane gave birth to our son Mitchell in January and I am seven months pregnant with our second child. They have the same father – Graeme, who is a friend – and he will have contact with them through their lives.
We spent three years planning and discussing it before we got pregnant. We both always wanted children and as a couple we talked about it from early on, before we got married. We’ve been together five years and had a civil partnership three years ago. We’d probably been together two years when we started to do the research.
We went to see the doctor and she gave us the pre-pregnancy blood tests and we were put on the donor waiting list. However, when we spoke to them about using Graeme as a donor, they removed us from the list as they don’t inseminate with known donors in the Edinburgh region. This differs between councils as they have different funding priorities
I’ve known Graeme for about 10 years and Jane’s known him around five. He’s very handsome and has a really lovely nature.
We wanted to be the main parents but we also wanted Graeme and his family to be involved in the children’s lives so they will know their heritage. We wanted their upbringing to be as ‘normal’ and happy as possible, and didn’t want them to have questions about where they came from that we were unable to answer.
It all started as a bit of a joke with Graeme. Then, after six months of joking about it, we asked him seriously and he agreed.
Jane: He did change his mind a few times, twice that was significant. The first time was before we started trying the inseminations, the second was when I was four months pregnant and we were supposed to start trying for Fiona to conceive.
The first time was probably because a mutual friend worried him by asking questions, especially about his financial responsibilities. That’s one of the reasons why we did a lot of research into the legal side. We wanted to know all about our own parental rights and responsibilities too, for example: if we didn’t go through a clinic, would the biological parents be on the birth certificate? Who is responsible for the child, especially financially? Could Graeme take the children from us? We discovered there are a lot of gray areas.
We did a lot of research online and we contacted a family law organisation in Edinburgh but they didn’t have the correct information to help us, and would have to do their own research to find the actual legalities. We already knew more than them. It’s still a very new area.
Fiona: Then we heard about the specialist fertility lawyers, Gamble and Ghevaert, in England and we spoke to them over the phone. They gave us some free advice but mentioned that there were loopholes in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act, and a Skype conference call to find out more would cost us £500. We decided to look into it ourselves instead.
The important thing is because we have a civil partnership our names can go on the birth certificate. If we weren’t civil partners, my name couldn’t go on the birth certificate unless we had used a clinic.
Jane: We did look at clinics once, when Graeme changed his mind the first time but I really didn’t like the idea of having an unknown person as the father. Boys in particular need to know who their dads are. Fiona’s dad wasn’t allowed contact with his dad and we have other friends who haven’t known their fathers and it’s caused them a lot of problems.
Another thing was the thought of donors having other children and our kids having half-brothers and half-sisters they wouldn’t know about.
Then there was the money. Clinics seemed to cost up to £3,000 a try, depending on where you went. A lot of money that could be spent on the kids themselves.
Fiona: We also looked into a website called co-parents.net, which is like match.com for people of any sexuality who want to find a sperm donor, surrogate or someone to have a child with. It really freaked us out. It may help some people but we found some very strange people on there!
Jane: We also wanted our children to be biologically related, which we couldn’t guarantee with a clinic. We have friends who went back to a clinic wanting the same donor, but they’d run out of their donor’s sperm.
Fiona: Luckily Graeme changed his mind about trying for a baby. But when he came to us he said, “I really want to give this to you as a gift.” He saw himself as a donor so we had to talk him into having some involvement with the children, while reassuring him that he wouldn’t be financially liable and responsible for meeting their everyday care needs.
Fiona: Initially we planned for me to get pregnant first and then we would try with Jane 4-6 months later, but as Jane is a couple of years older we figured it would be better for Jane to try first in case it took a year to work. Plus, if she wanted to have a second child, it would be better for her to have her first before she was 35, as it becomes harder to conceive after this time, and the risk of the child having a disability is increased.
Jane: I got pregnant first time but a lot of research went into how to make this happen. You have to work out when you are ovulating, which is normally 12 to 14 days after the first day of your last period, depending on your cycle. Ovulation sticks are then used to test exactly when you are most fertile. When the sticks show a positive result you have a 48 hour window when your chances of conceiving are higher. The sticks are expensive to buy in chemists but you can get them cheap online.
Around the time I expected to be fertile there was a week when Graeme was ‘on call.’ When the tests showed positive we phoned him to come round and, using a kit of sterile cups and syringes we’d bought on the internet, we carried out the insemination.
We researched methods to ensure we would maximise the chances of getting pregnant first time. It helps to keep the sperm warm and to make sure the syringe is as far up as possible and the sperm is released slowly. It is recommended that you have an orgasm then lie with your legs up for at least 40 minutes afterwards. It is also advisable to carry out this process again within a 24 hour period.
Jane: We got a Clear Blue early pregnancy test at 10 days. I was convinced I wasn’t pregnant because I was getting cramps like period pains. Much to our delight and surprise the test came up positive. We were preparing ourselves for it to take up to a year to work as allegedly the chances of conception are lower through artificial insemination than sexual intercourse.
Fiona: At the time of the insemination, I felt very involved but there were other times when I felt powerless. The month before we tried successfully, Jane and Graeme decided they wanted to wait a month as Jane didn’t want a Christmas baby. At this time I felt like I had no control over the situation and it was the first time I recognised that there would always be three of us in our relationship. However, after talking things through extensively we all learned to respect each other’s views and feelings.
I struggled a bit at 8-12 weeks, too. I think we were all coming to terms with the pregnancy and we were busy redecorating the house. The pregnancy was now a reality and I couldn’t work out what my role was. A lot of people saw it as Jane’s baby, not ours.
Having discussed this with friends in similar situations, it seems to be common for the non-biological parent to have these feelings. We’d just assumed we would both be equal parents, like a heterosexual couple having a baby but in reality everyone else in society doesn’t view it this way so the non-biological parent can feel a bit detached.
I also felt a lot of uncertainty about whether I would get pregnant too.
Jane: There was added stress as Graeme changed his mind about trying for the second baby when I was four months pregnant with Mitchell. We’d always agreed we would have the children close together but the reality of becoming a dad caused Graeme to have second thoughts at the time we were due to start trying. He hadn’t come to terms with becoming a dad to one child and felt overwhelmed by the thought of fathering two children so close together.
Fiona: His stress and reconsideration were fuelled by wrong information that he would be financially responsible and we could pursue him for child maintenance. Graeme would never be liable as we are civil partners and the non-biological mother can go on the birth certificate as the other parent and therefore has all parental rights and responsibilities. We had some difficulty confirming this but sought advice from the specialist lawyers in Kent (Gamble and Ghevaert) and provided this information to Graeme in writing. Graeme also met a solicitor who confirmed this information was correct, and this reassured him enough to agree to the second insemination.
Jane: There’s a loophole in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which means that if Graeme could prove he’d had sex with me, or vice versa, he could gain parental rights and responsibilities and would therefore be financially liable. Obviously this did not happen and could not be proven on either side.
Fiona: Once we included Graeme in our research, he felt more at ease. We just hadn’t thought about how he was feeling. Once he felt reassured, he agreed to try again.
Jane: The reason for having the children so close in age was so they can offer each other support as they grow up.
Fiona: And for practical and financial reasons. Jane will take a year off work with Mitchell and I’ll take a year with this one [pats bump], so there will be six months when we are off together. This will allow us the time to bond with both of them and we won’t have to rely on childcare.
Jane was about five and a half months pregnant when I got pregnant. We didn’t think it would work first time but we are ecstatic that it did. We’ve found out we’re having a girl, due in July.
Jane: Our parents are all delighted. Friends and family are all really supportive. And we’ve got a new family with Graeme’s relatives. It feels like there are 10 grannies and granddads.
Fiona: Both our employers have been really supportive as well. I’ve been quite ill through my pregnancy and needed a lot of time off work as morning sickness comes all through the day and hasn’t subsided as the weeks have gone on! It’s been nice in some ways as it’s meant I’ve had more time with Mitchell.
Jane: My pregnancy itself was fairly normal, although I had nosebleeds and I was tired from travelling a lot with work.
Fiona: Jane had an horrific labour.
Jane: I was in labour for four days and Mitchell was eventually delivered by forceps. He was in the wrong position which made it really painful. I had to have a blood transfusion afterwards.
Two hours after he was born Mitchell stopped breathing and was rushed away to Intensive Care. We didn’t know for an hour if he had been resuscitated. It was terrifying.
Fiona: Eventually the consultant arrived and explained that Mitchell was breathing but would need to be closely monitored for the next few days. Jane was too ill to leave the ward but I went to see him.
Graeme hadn’t been with us during the labour but came to the hospital when he heard about Mitchell. He explained who he was and was allowed to come into the ward and see Mitchell with me.
Jane: Mitchell could breathe on his own after he was resuscitated but he had to have an ECG because they thought he’d had a seizure, then blood tests in case there was an infection. He was cold – they had to keep his temperature down or it would increase the risk of seizure. He was on a heart monitor with all these tubes coming out of him. We couldn’t even touch him. It was horrendous.
Fiona: The following day the nurse wouldn’t tell me what was going on. She said that she could only tell the legal parent, that they wouldn’t even tell the father unless he was married to the mother. I said I was the legal parent, that I was married to the mother and that they were discriminating against me. That seemed to get them moving.
The consultant came and they apologised. There had been a change of staff on shift so information hadn’t been passed on. I asked them to put it on the chart.
I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t been assertive and mentioned discrimination.
Jane: After 48 hours I was eventually able to hold Mitchell skin to skin. It was such a relief.
He’s fine now. It was probably just the trauma of the forceps delivery. They’ll check him until he’s one but apart from getting flu at five weeks and being back in hospital which was worrying, he’s fine. He’s really advanced and he’s reached all his milestones.
Fiona: There was just one other occasion when I felt that they (the NHS) were condescending. When we went for Mitchell’s three month check, although Jane had explained I was his other mum, the nurse commented, “Oh, you’re helping Mum for the day,” which I found a bit patronising. Despite Jane explaining our situation they just didn’t seem to get it.
Jane: It wasn’t malicious, though – it’s ignorance really. It’s still quite a new thing for people, same sex parents.
Fiona: I’ve decided to have a home birth after what happened in the hospital. The community midwives have been lovely and really supportive.
My advice? If you are using a donor or someone you know, you have to really agree the details with them. If you have any doubts, don’t go through with it. Although there were lots of ups and downs with Graeme, we all want the same thing for our children.
Agree on the money, the contact time, what level their family is going to be involved.
We don’t expect Graeme to provide any financial assistance. That won’t change, even if we split up, which was one of his worries. But he does want to be able to take the children for days out and to pay for that, which is fine. Our only expectation is that he maintains a loving relationship with his children.
Jane: We’ve also talked about whether he’d be involved in decisions on schooling etc and whilst it’s our final decision, we do consult him and ask his opinion. Although he has no legal right to contest any decisions we make.
It can seem quite daunting because there are prejudices and you do worry about how your children will be treated, but our neighbours are great. Families are so much more diverse now.
Fiona: We’ve also spoken about moving away. Graeme has talked about going travelling, though I don’t think he’d do that now. His family lives close by, so he’s here frequently anyway.
He was worried we would move away and he would have no contact. We explained that the reason we wanted a friend to be the father is so he would always be involved in the children’s lives.
Jane: We want the children to know their dad as we feel this is their right, even if it makes things a bit more complicated for us. The children’s welfare has always been at the centre of our thoughts.
Read Graeme’s story