For the whole of David Watkins’ life he has wanted only one thing: to be a dad. When, aged 40, his last relationship broke down, he realised his desire to have a biological child was so strong that he couldn’t wait to find another partner. So he did the only thing he felt he could , and found a surrogate to carry his baby.
A year and a half later, Watkins became the proud single father by choice to Miles, now a chubby-cheeked eight-month-old, and one of the first of a new wave of families being created in the UK today.
The story of Miles’s conception and birth will be shown in a documentary series called The Surrogates, which starts on BBC One on Wednesday. Surrogacy appears to be on the rise in the UK, with the number of applications to be named as the legal parents of a baby born by surrogate having grown from 121 in 2011 to 368 in 2018. Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow, 73, recently announced he and his wife Dr Precious Lunga, 46, had a baby boy via a surrogate on March 2 after suffering “numerous medical setbacks and miscarriages”.
But Watkins is one of the first single men in the UK to have a child via a surrogate after the law changed in January 2019, allowing single people to become the legal parents of children born via surrogacy. He signed up to Surrogacy UK, a not-for-profit organisation, days after the law changed.
His mum was thrilled to hear she might get a grandchild, but not all of his family were as keen. His dad was more reserved about the non-traditional start to life that Miles would get, and his sister worried about the practicalities.
Watkins chose to make embryos with an anonymous egg donor instead of “straight surrogacy”, where the surrogate donates her own egg as well as her womb. In the back of his mind was the fear that the surrogate wouldn’t give up the baby after it was born, so he wanted to make sure there was as much distance between them as possible.
In the end, he needn’t have worried. After a few months of searching, he met a woman called Faye at a surrogacy mixer event, who offered to be his surrogate. She was married, already had two children of her own, and wanted to help someone else experience the joy of parenthood.
They agreed terms like medical care and what expenses Faye should receive. (Watkins doesn’t give an exact figure, but says the sum usually falls between £8,000 and £20,000 in Britain.)
In July 2020, Faye gave birth to Miles with both her husband and Watkins by her side. From the moment he saw his son, Watkins was completely in love. “He’s a really happy boy,” he smiles. “It’s just me and him: it’s a complete cradle of love.”
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. Although his family and friends have been supportive, he gets odd comments from strangers who can’t wrap their heads around a man wanting to have a child so badly that he would do it alone. When he’s out and about with Miles, strangers often ask if he is “babysitting” while his wife rests at home. “I say: ‘It’s Dad day every day’.”
He even got unwanted comments at fertility clinics: “Some laughed me off the phone,” he says. When he told one receptionist he was enquiring about making embryos as a single father, Watkins says she sounded bewildered. “I heard her saying: ‘There’s a single guy on the phone who says he wants to make embryos, what should I say to him?’.”
Watkins thinks this is all part of a wider pattern of imagining men are reluctant to have children. “We’re not allowed to have paternal desire,” he says. “Society shuns that and pigeonholes us into the role of the useless father.” He points to a T-shirt he saw while out shopping for baby clothes for Miles, which read ‘This way up, Dad’. “We think men can’t even dress a child.”
After realising the stigma that would-be single dads by choice faced, Watkins decided to do something about it. He set up DadBe.uk, a website that explains the surrogacy process to single men. After launching it last year, more than 100 men have already joined the site’s Facebook group.
While Watkins is gay, he has spoken to several straight would-be fathers through the site, who face even worse stigma than he does. (In writing this story, I put out a call to the men in the group; several gay men were keen to talk, but no straight men replied.)
It’s no wonder they want to keep a low profile, says Watkins. “It’s obvious why [gay men] want to use a surrogate, because even if we were in a relationship we’d still need one, but for straight men there’s a huge stigma of ‘Why can’t they find a woman?’” he says. “I think they’re met with more suspicion and derision than a single gay man.”
Watkins keeps in touch with Faye and her family, whom he considers friends. Faye has even offered to be a surrogate for Watkins again, if he ever wanted to give Miles a sibling. “I don’t think the story is over because I always said I wanted an army of kids”, he says. “I would love for [Miles] to have a sibling with the same story as him.”