After first appearing on our TV screens in a Channel 5 documentary, Stuart Armfield and Francis Haugen have become TikTok stars, creating daily videos documenting their everyday lives. In November 2021, Stuart and Francis became parents to baby Rio and their world changed forever.
The Edit caught up with Stuart on all things parenthood – from their experience of surrogacy, to choosing breast milk for their baby.
Francis and I met 12 years ago at a friend’s party. It was kind of love at first sight. I could feel him staring at me from across the table the whole night and when he came over to me, I had heart flutters.
He was in the original cast of Legally Blonde in the West End at the time and he promised me tickets for the opening night party. I thought it was just throwaway line, but he ended up actually making it happen. We had our first kiss on that opening night, and I just knew that he was the one. So much so, on our third date, we were walking down the street after a few cocktails, and I screamed at the top of my lungs… this is it!
We spoke about having a family early on in our relationship, not really knowing how it would work or even if it was possible. With the rise of social media, we were exposed to LGBTQ families sharing their stories online which helped us know that one day that could be us too.
There has also been a big shift in the acceptance and celebration of the LGBTQ community that has given us a space to feel safe to express ourselves authentically and also led to us going on a journey of finding more acceptance within ourselves. The whole reason we decided to share our story online was to educate the next generation that this was possible for them too.
In the first lockdown we really started to take our surrogacy journey seriously. I have always been so career driven that it actually gave me time to think and consider, what am I so driven for? What was the purpose of all my hard work? I was also a little concerned if we would be able to afford it, but I had a call with our best friend, and she said to us “having a family is the most life changing experience. You will regret not doing it soon.” So, from that conversation I threw all of my drive into our journey.
I spent hours researching the best doctors in the USA, searching through thousands of women’s profiles for our egg donor and researching the best surrogacy agencies. During this process we got let down by a couple of different egg donors and although we were disappointed, our motto throughout the whole process was ‘everything always works out for us.’ It was a line we repeated every day, and it really did all work out perfectly in the end.
We decided we didn’t want our egg donor to be anyone we knew as we really didn’t want to feel like we were sharing our child with a friend. We had planned to do the whole process in the USA, but then our good friend offered to be our gestational carrier (surrogate). I just knew it was right. We trusted her and knew her well and it meant we would be able to have the baby in the UK, be present at all the scans and feel part of the process.
The reason we didn’t originally research the UK is because when the baby is born the legal parents are the birth mother and her husband, meaning Francis and I would have no parental responsibility, even though technically the baby would be genetically connected to us. So, you really do have to trust that the surrogate, after she has given birth, is happy to sign the parental order over to you. We are still in the process of doing this now, six months on.
After a good few months of searching, we found the most amazing egg donor over in the USA. We really wanted someone creative, with a love for the Arts, like we have, and she was everything we were looking for. This all happened during the height of the pandemic, so the rules were complex.
Francis and I flew to Spain to give our sperm sample, which then got flown to the USA to create the embryos with our egg donor. The only way to get our friend/surrogate to the USA was to spend two weeks in Mexico then fly to the USA! So, we flew Sam and her whole family to Mexico, and we had the best two weeks together. This allowed us to get to know each other and we had the best time.
We then flew Sam to San Diego for three days for the embryo implantation. Sam was advised to take it easy and wasn’t allowed to laugh for the first 24 hours – this proved quite a challenge! We were so lucky that the embryo took first time, and our beautiful baby boy was born in November, which both Francis and I were there to experience.
One question we always get asked is how our relationship is now with our surrogate, and I am proud to say we are literally the best of friends. Sam said that she feels like a proud grandma and loves watching us be parents. She says she occasionally wells up and get emotional knowing that she made this happen for us.
Being a new parent has been such a gift, we honestly feel so blessed to have been given this amazing opportunity of parenthood. Don’t get me wrong, we have definitely felt every emotion over the past six months, but life has really changed for the better.
Something people are always fascinated about is how and why we decided to do a donor breast milk journey for Rio. After a chance meeting with a breastfeeding specialist just before Rio was born, she spoke about breast milk and its benefits. She had never worked with a gay couple before, but she was up for the challenge in helping us source breast milk, so we went for it!
Travelling around the country most weeks to different donors that had excess milk to donate was a lot, but in our minds, it was 100% worth it. Because we shared our story online, Amanda is now helping other gay couples in the same way.
We have only been surrounded by so much love and support. From our amazing friends, our NTC group, to the women who have donated breast milk, and all the amazing staff at the hospital that went above and beyond to make us have the most amazing birth experience.
We’re so excited to say we have found the most beautiful surrogate to carry baby number two, so keep your fingers crossed for a smooth ride. ‘Everything always works out for us’, so we know it will work out just as it should.
Image credit: Alex Dark Photography