I vividly remember the first time I even casually allowed myself to entertain the thought of one day being a mother. I had been chatting to a guy online for several weeks, enjoying some flirting and sweet exchanges, and we had finally decided to speak on the phone.
Within a few minutes of chat, he very openly explained he was looking for a serious relationship, hopefully with marriage, and that children were an absolute deal breaker. Looking back now, we often laugh at how we talked about kids before we met but clearly it worked for us – that guy, Jake, is now my husband and we are parents to a beautiful two-year-old daughter, Millie, with another on the way.
Now I can't imagine being without them, but for most of my life those things – love, a partner and a family - seemed absolutely unattainable for someone like me.
I grew up in Cardiff in the 90s in a warm family home, surrounded by love. I was sporty, loved the outdoors and was almost able to ignore the gnawing feeling that there was something different about me, something that set me aside from the other boys.
Back then, trans people weren't in the media as they are today and so I had little idea of what those feelings meant, so I buried them as deeply as I could, managing a fairly happy childhood that way.
At 16, I went to an Army boarding school with a view to joining the Army's officer training establishment at Sandhurst once I graduated. By that time, one would occasionally see trans women written about in the news – always salacious, always cruel. I painfully remember watching the family film 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective' with my friends – the protagonist is a trans woman who is mocked, ridiculed, and eventually cruelly dehumanised at the film's climax, to guffaws from them all.
Having now understood who I really was, I was left with the belief that I had to conceal my identity as a trans woman at all costs – something I did throughout my education and eventual commission as a British Army officer.
I loved Army life – the feeling of belonging, camaraderie and achievement – but after my first tour in Afghanistan, months spent alone with my thoughts and feeling as though life was slipping away from me, I found myself at breaking point. Upon my return to the UK, I sat down with my Commanding Officer and finally explained I was a trans woman and was unable to continue living a lie. His response was unequivocally supportive and thus began my journey of transition, and I haven’t looked back since.
However, when I embarked on my transition, I had resigned myself to never finding a partner, convinced by the media and larger society that trans women were ugly and unworthy of love. Meeting Jake changed all of that.
We fell into each other quickly, soon becoming as inseparable as my military career would allow. After 18 months, Jake proposed and I decided my time in the Army had come to an end, settling in London with him. That he is also transgender made things infinitely easier, with no judgement on either side. We married in March 2018 and knew we wanted to try and start a family. For us, it wasn't going to be as easy as for some couples. As I was unable to carry our child, we needed to find a surrogate for the embryos Jake had created years before.
With little information available, we began our first tentative steps into the world of surrogacy: awkward message exchanges on secret Facebook surrogacy forums, uncomfortable dinners in Nando’s with potential surrogates and meetings with agencies with years of waiting lists and hefty fees. It wasn't until we appeared on ITV's Lorraine show to talk about our longing for our child that we were approached by a wonderful woman in Belfast who had heard our story and wanted to help us.
We connected quickly and aligned over all the important things, attempting our first embryo transfer in July 2019. Miraculously, Laura got pregnant the very first time. We had scans at 10 days, 12 weeks and 20 weeks, travelling to Belfast each time to be with Laura. We spoke to her every few days, trying to respect her home life and kids whilst attempting to stay connected to our growing baby.
I must admit there were times when I struggled. We would attend medical appointments where I felt surplus, the doctors addressing Laura and Jake and ignoring me, unsure of my place in it all. Unable to carry our baby as most women do, I had concerns that my maternal instincts might not kick in and that the lack of biological connection might make it harder for me to bond. I also remember attending NCT classes where I sat, bumpless and listened to the importance of breastfeeding and birthing plans, once again feeling somewhat inadequate. Largely though, it was a time of huge excitement and joy.
Just shy of the final month of pregnancy, COVID-19 rocked the world. As lockdown was announced, we threw everything in the car and drove 12 hours over to Belfast to await our daughter’s birth. Two weeks before, we were warned that due to restrictions we would not be allowed into the delivery room, usually a given for Intended Parents.
The carefully laid plans of skin to skin, who would hold the baby first, who would be in the room all went out the window and we had to quickly adapt, waiting in the car park as our baby entered the world. Three hours later, Laura was wheeled into our room, holding a little bundle of blankets, a tiny pink head poking out from the middle. We melted.
Holding Millie for the first time is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, and not something I will even attempt to put into words. Suffice to say that it’s a moment that I will never forget. The first few days were all a bit of a blur. We wanted to get Millie home, but births weren't being registered, only deaths, so we couldn't fly with her. It was a scary time to be locked down, away from family and friends and in another country, but it's during those first few days that I realised I had already slipped into the role of mother, and that I would already do anything for our little bundle of hiccups and snuffles. We were able to fly about a week later and brought Millie home to a very isolated yet blissful first year of life, in which the three of us bonded as a little family.
When people ask what it's like as a trans parent, it makes me smile. We all have our identifiers – 'single parent', 'gay parent', 'step-parent' – but so many of our experiences are universal. Jake and I have seen relatively little prejudice, the small amount of negativity outweighed by the outpourings of support, love and empathy. I regularly receive messages from other mothers who haven't carried their own children and who feel that same burning, unwavering love that I do. When our documentary 'Our Baby: A Modern Miracle' aired on Channel 4, we got quite literally thousands of messages of kindness and encouragement.
The first two years have been incomparable: exhausting, relentless, euphoric and endlessly surprising. The sheer joy I have felt at seeing Millie smile, lift her head, stand for the first time is unforgettable and unlike anything else I have ever felt. We have started having playdates with other children from Millie's nursery and some lovely words of compassion and understanding from their parents. As trans people in the public eye we have opened ourselves to judgement and are always a little blown away when we’re met with kindness.
Our road to parenthood, though long, was relatively easy. We know couples who wait years before finding a surrogate or suffer endless failed pregnancies, so we feel truly lucky that Millie is here with us. Life has changed immeasurably, irreversibly, but absolutely fabulously.
For a very long time I was resigned to being alone, never finding love and certainly never being a mother and so to all those other parents-to-be who aren’t there yet, we say ‘never give up hope’. You never quite know what’s just around the corner.