Updated: Jul 31, 2020
Team Squirrel update: 🐿🐿🐿🐿🐿
We have *finally* had success in getting Leicester NHS trust to allow me to attend the birth of my son *and* have Faye's husband Lee as her birthing partner, if she goes into hospital (first choice homebirth). This was a hard won victory for us.
Whilst we all breathed a sigh of relief, we were mindful of the fact that the final letters we received from the trust were as unapologetic in their treatment of us as a surrogacy team as they were self-righteous in their tone. It seemed that whilst the decision was in our favour we certainly hadn’t made any friends in challenging it. We were reminded, like naughty school kids in front of the headmaster, that the last minute turnaround was based on the easing of covid restrictions and nothing else (just in case we had started to feel cocky that we had actually affected real policy change).
We winced as we read their opening sentences of self-promotion as a trust that were “well versed” in the surrogacy experience. The same trust whose midwives had thought that policy was to hand baby over in a car park and who grilled me over whether I could care for a child ‘have you ever held a baby? Do you know anyone with babies? Who will help you care for your baby when your home?” whilst another midwife asked me at the booking in appointment where my wife was and wondered where I would go on the forms.
The trust’s letter continued.....It had been a “moral“ decision on their part, we were told, in restricting access to my son. “Restricting access” -their words not mine. Almost as if my baby was property of the trust. A public body making decisions against the wishes of the parent.
So this letter wasn’t a complete hearts and minds turn around: there was no offer of a face to face, no tour of the facilities, no apology you see, just a chance to justify their Orwellian ‘ownership’ of my child, and their mistreatment of Faye within the context of the ever evolving covid landscape.
We argued that their actions were disproportionate, that despite my giving a three point plan to mitigate infection risk we were still being treated as a team with a pregnant mother who wanted two birthing partners. They argued that it was about the equity of the other women. Couldn’t we see the effect we would have on those women who had only been allowed one birth partner? I think they underestimated the compassion of their own service users.
When I asked for advice from the Equalities Advisory Service I was told that no one was stopping me from having a family and so I couldn’t really complain. That even bisexuals could have families these days (?) and that nothing could be done. I had even started to investigate legal advice. The idea of submitting a personal injury claim for my own unborn son, for Faye, and for myself was tentatively suggested. Within the first few minutes the professional I spoke to groaned and said ‘not Leicester again!’ But we never got further than that because that same day the letter arrived. And I could attend the birth.
There is so much work to be done to reform the way the *all* NHS work consistently with surrogates, their families and IPs. We all feel this experience has galvanised us to continue the fight even when Bob Watkins is safe and sound back in Southampton. The birth can now be as we choose it to be. Whatever happens we will all be there together. So for all those teams still challenging it, never give up. Throw the book at them! The key for me was recognising the point when asking nicely wasn’t going to work anymore. It hasn’t scarred me though, it hasn’t prevented me from enjoying this last leg of our journey, because I feel proud we all stood up for ourselves and each other. Rather than tainting the experience, personally for me it has strengthened it.
Lastly on a personal note I wanted to thank Kathryn Chapman at Surrogacy UK for her absolutely stellar IP support during this process. She was phenomenal in her advice, actions and encouragement, as were the other teams birthing during the pandemic that we spoke to who offered support.
As for Bob’s experience of all this. Well, he’s been so exceptionally well cared for by the Spreadbury’s he was probably none the wiser - but now we can endure no matter what happens he gets to be born into the arms of his Dad. And yet even as we both attended his growth scan on Friday there was slight resistance by the hospital to my presence. We doubled down with our new letters in hand, again challenging them and in doing so walked over the threshold of a brave new world at Leicester maternity: where surrogate and IF were able to enjoy the ultrasound of a 35 week miracle born during a pandemic.