Bonus Ep 1 | Interview with journalist Paul Morgan-Bentley
Bonus Ep 1 | Interview with journalist Paul Morgan-Bentley
In “Episode 4: Meet Matthew”, Mohsin played Matthew clips from an interview he conducted with Paul Morgan-Bentley, a journalist and author who has had a child through a surrogate. In this first bonus episode, here is an extended cut of Mohsin’s conversation with Paul, where they discuss the shape of the relationship between parents, surrogates and children.
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RUTH (HOST): Hi, Ruth here. This is bonus episode 1 of Tiny Huge Decisions. As part of his research into surrogacy, Mohsin recorded a conversation with a contact of his: Paul Morgan-Bentley.
Paul is a journalist and author of The Equal Parent, a book about fatherhood and parenting. He also has experience with the surrogacy process. Paul and his husband Robin have a young son, Solly, who was conceived with the help of a surrogate, Rachel.
Over a Zoom call, Mohsin and Paul talked about the shape of the relationships between surrogates, intended parents and children.
[MUSIC FADES OUT]
MOHSIN: How did you and Robin decide that that was the journey you wanted to go on?
PAUL: Yeah, it's-- it is an interesting question. Because, you know, some people might know straight away that that's what they want to do. We met just over eight years ago. And I was actually thinking about it the other day trying to remember when we first had a conversation about wanting children. It was something I definitely wanted and saw for myself in kind of a very vague way. Didn't know how that might work. I'm gay, I thought maybe I'd adopt, thought-- you know, initially kind of surrogacy was something that kind of felt like something celebrities did in America and cost way too much money. [LAUGHTER]
And… So I didn't know how, but I knew I wanted to be a parent if I could. I've always loved children. And kind of, you know, I've been told my family, got a big family, and being told I'm good with kids and all that kind of stuff. So I kind of-- I knew that I'd love to try to have children.
But we kind of didn't think about it very practically for a few years. And we just got on with having a relationship and…and we then got married after the law changed in the UK to allow gay marriage. And then we started thinking kind of more practically and we just did loads of research and we looked into adoption and we looked into surrogacy.
Actually a colleague of mine at the time told me that he and his husband were expecting twins through surrogacy. So I learned about surrogacy in the UK through him initially, and it kind of totally transformed the way I was thinking about it. Because we had been thinking about adoption. But then at the same time, through our research, learning just how difficult it can be nowadays.
And at the same time learning about surrogacy through a friend of mine, who was going through it, and it just sounded so lovely. And this friend of mine and his husband, were developing this really beautiful relationship with this woman and her family, and were staying there for weekends and, and kind of really bonding during the pregnancy, and they had done even before. And so we started kind of really considering going down that route.
MOHSIN: I'm really interested in what you had to say about the center of it being friendship. My best friend Dalia has…has said that she's willing to have the conversation. So it's not that she said, “Yeah I'm going to be a surrogate for you”, it's that she’s said, I'm willing to discuss it. Why was that so important, the center of the whole thing for you and Robin, and your surrogate, being friendship?
PAUL: Because of the way it works in the UK, you know, there is no legal obligation, at the moment anyway, for a woman who carries a baby, however, that baby is conceived, to, you know, for her not to keep that baby. And so there's a hell of a lot of trust involved.
And equally, that means the other way around. For surrogates, it can be stressful, if there isn't trust there. Because typically, you know, Rachel who carried Solly, she has a husband, she has two kids, she didn't want to have another baby, she wanted to be a surrogate, she wanted to be pregnant again, she wanted to help other people.
There's this theoretical risk there in the UK. In practice, it's very, very rare that that kind of…it doesn't go as planned. And even when it does, the-- we kind of looked into all the family court cases. And it, it seems to be that the intended parents, so not the surrogate, ended up with the baby. But still there's a huge amount of trust.
And you are asked, you've got it when you kind of take a step back and think about it, you're asking someone to put their health at risk. And you're asking someone to put their lives on hold. And it's not just the surrogate. Primarily, it's the surrogate, if she has a partner then that partner, having a pregnant partner for nine months, and going through this whole thing for you and the kids being understanding about it and all those things.
So it's really important that you develop this relationship where you feel like you can properly trust each other. And we didn't have any doubt in our minds. When we were going through it. We completely trusted Rachel and we still do and we're still really close friends.
What's interesting is that the difference between how we did it, and how you would do it if Dalia did want to go ahead…
PAUL: …is that we didn't know Rachel before. So we…we met Rachel through a surrogacy organization. And we-- they, they kind of host events and an online forum where potentially you can meet someone. And it can take years and years of going to these events. And it's kind of an awkward situation. You walk into these pubs around the country.
MOHSIN: It’s like speed dating, right?
PAUL: Well, you-- you'd think it'd be speed dating, but actually, it's, it's not speed dating, because sometimes you turn up and there's no surrogates there.
MOHSIN: Oh, no way!
PAUL: Yeah, which at first sounds mad, but actually, it's because the whole organization runs like a community. And we learned very quickly that there's huge value in going to those events. Even if there's no potential of meeting someone, because you're meeting other people-- You're having conversations like we are now.
And after about six months of going to these events, we became a bit obsessive about going to them, we were traveling the country going to, you know, ones, all different towns around the country. And Rachel was there with her two sons. And we really hit it off and we got on so well with the children.
MOHSIN: So people actually take their children to these things?
PAUL: Oh, yeah, there’s loads of kids.
PAUL: The first one we went to, there were no active surrogates there, there was no one, no surrogates looking to meet anyone. But there were a few other gay couples, and a few other straight couples as well with kids there.
PAUL: And it was really, it felt quite inspirational, you kind of turn up, and you're like, this really is possible. Look at those two guys, they've got their son, and he's just like any other kid, and he's just so sweet. And he's just having a nice time. And he doesn't care how he was born, he, you know, has loving parents and as part of this loving community, and it all felt really nice. But the point I'm making is we met Rachel that way.
PAUL: So one thing that we knew was that she wanted to be a surrogate whether or not she had met us. She had made that decision completely independently. And I wouldn't want to think a friend was doing it for the wrong reasons in that she was doing it because she loved me so much, and wanted to help me so much. But actually, she didn't really want to do it. Because it's so much to ask of them that she needs to be so sure that she wants to do this, you know, she wants to go through it. And that might not be the easiest thing to hear, actually.
MOHSIN: I'm really glad you've made that point. Because and I'm not sure that I would have said what I'm about to say unless you had. But I think I still have a sense that she's potentially not doing it for the right reasons. If she were to say yes.
Like, I think what I worry-- because I said to her let you know, we were having, we've had a few conversations about it. And one of the things that Dalia said to me was, “You would do this for me. I know you would.” And I kind of paused and then I thought I mean, it's really difficult for me to answer that question, obviously, because it's not an option. But I do think I would do it for her.
But that actually in and of itself is not a good enough reason for her to do it. And I know, and you won't know this, but I know that she hated being pregnant. Or, you know, the physical experience was not pleasant for her, you know, some women really enjoy it. And I don't think that was-- in fact, I know that wasn't the case for Dalia, because I was there when she was going through it. And I think that's what makes this even more complicated. Because I have a sense that she thinks in her heart that it's the right thing to do. But that doesn't mean that she wants to do it. And it's, it's that kind of fine distinction that makes this so complicated.
PAUL: And I'm, I'm not saying at all that she shouldn't do it, because she is an adult and knows her own mind. And she has to make that decision. And you have to also be comfortable with it. And you do have-- it's funny, because when people talk about surrogacy, and the emotions women will feel, they often would assume that the toughest thing, what they would call kind of “giving away a baby” must be so hard.
PAUL: But actually, when Rachel talks about it, that-- I think that was probably the least hard part of it, because she never saw the child as her baby. When she talks about surrogacy, that's exactly how she would describe it, that it's all about the intention. She knew straight away that this embryo being implanted into her body at the fertility clinic was… she didn't want it to be her baby. It wasn't. She was looking after it for nine months, and then we'd be ready to take over at that point. But what people tend to kind of not think about is all the physical stuff.
So the, you know, going through…I think, for us that when we think about what Rachel did for us, I think about being in the labor ward and seeing her going through so much pain and just thinking, I can't believe you're doing this for us. You know, I would-- how are you going through so much pain for us, or I'm thinking about the first few months when we felt really guilty because she was feeling really sick. And we were kind of sending her things in the post. And we were talking all the time, but still you kind of think she's going through… Every day, she's feeling like crap at the moment for us.
MOHSIN: You know, because it's funny that you use the… exactly. I guess on the one hand, you say there's the quote unquote, giving up the child. But I do-- I do worry about that, uh, for her, you know, because it's weird, because I'm simultaneously somebody who benefits from this experience, but as her friend, and as somebody who knows her so well, I worry that it's the wrong decision for her even if it might be the right decision for me. Or maybe the answer is, actually, it can either be the right decision for both of us or the wrong decision for both of us. There's no kind of in between, because if she doesn't want to do it, then there's no way it can be right for me.
PAUL: You know, we still see Rachel frequently we-- And I guess at the back of our minds, we probably wondered before, when she's actually with Solly, what will that look like? And will she have-- will we know, at the back in our hearts somewhere, that she is kind of yearning for him or anything like that.
And you know what it, it kind of seems ludicrous now when you see them together. It's just exactly the same as any of our friends. But there is nothing maternal there. And it's just really--
PAUL: Yeah, and I think even if you kind of, you know, you look for it, there's just nothing there. And it's-- she loves him and she feels such pride in what she's done for us. But it's so obvious that she's not thinking that, and I don't know, maybe I'm biased, maybe I'm projecting that. But I really don't think I am, having spent lots of time with her since.
MOHSIN: Dalia would naturally be one of the main people that I would go to, if I were to have a child to be like, “Can you-- can you be a positive female role model in this child's life?” And even that feels complicated if she were to be the surrogate.
PAUL: You know, I think it's really interesting, you talked about that, because people do talk about that. And it's such a conceptual thing, this idea of male and female role models. Society kind of projects all these things onto men and women in terms of what we should be. And, you know, I think there is this assumption that…kids with two dads would need a really strong female role model around them all the time, because men somehow can't care, or can't do those things that we say a female [can do].
But they're not male or female things. And men absolutely have the capacity to care for children exactly the same way as we expect women to. And I think it's really positive for children to see that men can do that. The man is not someone who just takes you to a football game, or kind of--
MOHSIN: Well, I definitely wouldn't be taking my children to a football game! [LAUGHTER]
PAUL: Exactly. So actually, when you think about it, you know, I'm sure you would do all those really caring things. We really want to show him that men-- If you're a boy, that doesn't mean that, you know, you can't care or be kind or, you know, be nurturing or artistic or you know, all these things that we've probably both come to terms with in our life, with different gendered expectations on us.
I guess the-- in the reality of having Solly… When Rachel's around, we feel absolutely no threat or hesitation or that she's his mother or anything like that. And kind of I know that she doesn't see it that way, either. And, in reality, when you have a kid, they just…when you have nurtured that kid from when they're born, when they're hurt, they need you, when they need a cuddle, they need-- you know, they don't care about what your chromosomes are.
MOHSIN: How did you decide who the biological parent was going to be out of the both of you?
PAUL: So we-- so I am not Solly’s genetic father. We decided-- we made embryos with the egg donor. And we ended up with six embryos that were frozen. And we both gave sperm so that kind of half of the eggs were fertilized with my sperm, and half with Robin’s. And then we ended up with six. And we decided to take all kinds of decision out of it and just ask the fertility clinic, they could list them according to their kind of-- what they thought was their kind of grade.
MOHSIN: The strongest.
PAUL: What was the most likely to lead to pregnancy. So we just did like that, and we were very lucky the first transfer worked. And again, this is something you can think about for hours and hours and days before you go through this process and think, you know, will I be fully content as a father if I’m not the genetic father and things like that, and again, in the daily reality of having a child…you just never think about it.
And I remember hearing other gay dads say that and not believing them. And I'm going to be another one of those gay dads who is just, I just can't tell you how little-- I mean, sometimes I get flashes of Robin in his face and I love it. And actually I talk about it more than Robin does, because he kind of, I don't know, he-- he's…you get that question from other people kind of “who's the real dad” and things like that. And that kind of drives you mad?
MOHSIN: Yeah, I bet. I bet it does.
PAUL: Yeah, people kind of ask silly things. And it's like “who’s the real dad” and things like that. But just like when we were talking earlier about how it doesn't matter what your sex is, in terms of parenting a child… you know, at some point, some sperm did something with an egg. Now there's a child in front of you, and you just love the child and do anything for that child. And you know, we have the most amazing bond. And I can just 100% say, it doesn't matter.
MOHSIN: How do you feel about Rachel? And the reason I ask is because Dalia does not want to be seen as some sort of angelic figure. And in some ways I fear that if she were to say yes, I wouldn't help but see her that way, especially, you know, if I had a child, every time I looked at the child, I'd be thinking, “Oh, this is all thanks to Dalia.”
And I kind of worry that that could also get in the way of our friendship, because suddenly, I feel beholden to her in some way or so grateful to her or indebted to her that, I don't know, the friendship feels lopsided. So that's a very long winded way of asking how you feel about Rachel today?
PAUL: Yeah, I think this is also one of these things that you can kind of think about conceptually quite a lot before. And the reality is, she's Rachel, she's our friend. She has this amazing side of her that she did the most altruistic, incredible thing for us. But when we're together, we just kind of laugh and joke about the same things we always do.
I think, actually in the reality… Of course, you're hugely grateful. But you also just have, independently, your friendship, whatever that is with someone. And so as far as, you know, when we're all together, we just have fun together. She's not Rachel the surrogate, she's Rachel and surrogacy is a hugely important thing that she's done. And a wonderful, amazing part of her personality, she has an incredibly giving personality. But there's also lots of other parts of her life, and her personality that we love, just as friends.
PAUL: And so, you know, Solly will grow up and, and have her as a big part of her life. And you know, she did-- he's alive because of her. But hopefully, he'll also just love her because she's a great person.
[END CREDITS MUSIC]
RUTH: Tiny Huge Decisions is a Chalk and Blade production for APM Studios. At Chalk and Blade, the executive producer is Ruth Barnes, the showrunner and story editor is Louise Mountain, and the producer and sound designer is Matt Nielsen, with original music by Ian Chambers. Special thanks to Jason Phipps. At APM, the executive producer is Erica Kraus, the senior production manager is Nick Ryan, and the executives in charge are Joanne Griffith, Alex Schaffert, and Chandra Kavati. With thanks to Dalia, Mohsin, and Matthew. And special thanks to Paul Morgan-Bentley, who’s head of investigations at The Times, and author of The Equal Parent.