There are many moving parts to any surrogacy journey, but one that begins at the start of a global pandemic adds a whole new layer of challenges. Dads-to-be Doug and Sanjay found that out quickly after embarking on their first surrogacy experience in March of 2020. Based in the United Kingdom, with a fertility clinic and surrogacy agency located in the United States, they had to get creative and be flexible, especially during the ban on international travel.
Read on to learn how they managed surrogacy during the COVID-19 pandemic, the best (and toughest) parts of the process so far, and what they're looking forward to.
Meet Doug & Sanjay
Together for 12 years, Doug and Sanjay worked hard to create a beautiful life for themselves - full of travel, fun, and new experiences. But they always knew they wanted to become parents. "After our wedding in 2019, we really started discussing in-depth which path to becoming a family would be the right one for us," Doug says.
Coming from large families, both Doug and Sanjay always wanted children. However, the path to building their family wasn't always clear - and sometimes felt insurmountable. "I didn’t think it would be possible to get married growing up [as a gay man], let alone have children, so looking at where we are now is amazing," Doug says.
After lots of thought and discussion, they decided surrogacy was the right journey for them. They started the surrogacy process right after their honeymoon - in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic threw some major curveballs their way, but they persevered through it all, never losing hope.
One way they coped was by continuing to share their adventures in life and travel through The Travelling Gays. With an active Instagram presence and entertaining YouTube vlogs, they share honestly about what it's like to travel the world as two gay men. They've also been very open about their surrogacy journey, helping others get a peek inside the process.
Check out their surrogacy vlog below:
Finding a Surrogacy Agency & Fertility Clinic
"After doing extensive online research and speaking with other LGBTQ+ parents who had done surrogacy, we decided to begin our journey with Circle Surrogacy at the start of March 2020," Doug says. With a surrogacy agency chosen, they next had to pick a fertility clinic. They did their research, and after several Zoom calls, decided to go with RMA of Connecticut. "It was perfect for us, as I’m a flight attendant and (pre-pandemic) we visited the East Coast regularly," he says.
They had a Zoom consultation with fertility specialist Dr. Mark Leondires and felt comfortable with his approach. "He asked us about the vision we had for our family and sounded confident he could make that happen for us, as he had worked with many same-sex couples that had a similar dream," says Doug.
Knowing the clinic had helped so many families like theirs and had a dedicated program like Gay Parents To Be was also reassuring to Doug and Sanjay, especially since surrogacy is still not common practice in the home country of the U.K. "Hearing all these success stories was amazing," Doug says. "As soon as we started working with RMA of Connecticut, we realized how inclusive it was and that made us feel so welcome."
Embarking on the Surrogacy Process
Doug admits that neither he nor Sanjay was fully prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that comes with IVF. "Naively, we thought that it would be a fairly straightforward process, but when we had our samples checked in the U.K., we each had morphology issues," which they weren't expecting. "We’ve been learning a lot as we go along, and there is so much information available online now - which has been a real help," Doug says.
Finding an Egg Donor & Surrogate
Thankfully, they matched with an amazing egg donor pretty quickly and have even remained in touch throughout this whole process - something that was very important to the couple. While they were in Connecticut creating their embryos, they got a call from their Circle Surrogacy team telling them they had a potential match with a surrogate. It all started to feel real, and they began to get excited.
Their team offered some wise words about the surrogate matching process: "When you know, you know." They were right, Doug says. "Amber [our surrogate] is incredible - we just clicked straight away. We talk every Sunday for hours at a time and we just love her."
The Little Embryo That Could
Doug and Sanjay's vision for their family is to have one biological child each, using the same egg donor, so their children will be genetic siblings. This desire added some pressure to the embryo creation process! "After our PGS testing, we ended up with one embryo for one of us and six embryos for the other," Doug says. "While that was amazing and we were so fortunate, it just added some extra pressure on the one little embryo."
They were advised to do an ERA cycle, and their surrogate Amber was ready and willing to do whatever it took to achieve success together. Thankfully, their little miracle baby stuck around, and they all celebrated the pregnancy news. Their first baby is due in October 2021!
Their Biggest Challenge
Unfortunately, the global COVID-19 pandemic and the ban on international travel greatly impacted their ability to be physically present for much of this first surrogacy journey. "The distance has been the biggest hurdle, but speaking to Amber every week has helped to make us feel more connected to the process," Doug says. They're grateful to Amber for the amazing connection and relationship they've cultivated together, and know not everyone gets so lucky.
They are now very used to doing all their appointments over Zoom, and do their best to travel back to the U.S. when and where they can. One of the craziest things they had to do was travel to Istanbul, Turkey for 16 nights before they could enter the U.S. to create their embryos!
Another funny moment, Doug says, was when they had to produce their samples across the road from RMA of Connecticut and then run over to the clinic to drop them off. But it's all been worth it.
Doug was fortunate enough to meet Amber in person on their transfer day (safely, and socially distanced), then they all joined via Zoom for the embryo transfer, which was an amazing experience, says Doug. Sadly, "Sanj still hasn’t met Amber in person. We would really love to have seen her so much more and we often think about what an incredible gift she is giving to us."
Highs & Lows
"The high point has definitely been the bond we have created with Amber," Doug says. "We couldn’t be more thankful to this incredible woman and her family who are going to change our lives forever. She is a truly amazing person."
There have been a few stressful moments, like when Amber had a bleed about 10 weeks into the pregnancy. "We didn’t realize that this can be quite common, so that was quite a scary time," Doug adds. "Fortunately, everything was ok at the 12-week growth scan, but surrogacy and pregnancy are definitely a rollercoaster of emotions - you have to be there to support each other."
What's next for Doug & Sanjay?
"We are just going to try and enjoy every moment," Doug says. They've recently moved to a new house near Sanjay's mom and are getting it ready for the arrival of their little one in October.
Thankfully, Doug is able to take paternity leave and will go back to work part-time in the future, when their baby is older. "We are really lucky that Sanj has a great paternity package at his work," Doug says. "We will get 7 months of quality time together as a family. We really cannot wait, we have started our antenatal classes recently, so it has been fab to meet other parents-to-be in our local area."
They are so excited to meet their first baby and enter this next phase of their lives together: parenthood.
Their Advice to LGBTQ+ Parents-to-Be
- Be prepared to wait, and be patient. "Things don’t just happen overnight," Doug says. "We set ourselves unrealistic time frames and it only led to stress and disappointment."
- Support each other and trust in the process. "It took us 11 months from signing to embryo transfer, which now seems like nothing considering all the people that are involved, and there was also some delay given the pandemic," Doug says.
- Prioritize having a strong relationship with your surrogate, Doug adds. "When there are more challenging moments, we are all here to support one another."
Above all, Doug and Sanjay feel grateful. "It really did take a village to create our baby and we couldn’t be more thankful," Doug says. They know just how many people it took to help bring this baby into the world, and they won't soon forget everyone who helped them along the way.
Sierra Dehmler is the Content Marketing Manager for Gay Parents To Be and its partner clinic, Illume Fertility. She is also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other hopeful parents by providing family-building resources that educate, inspire and encourage.