David and Ben, who became fathers through a surrogacy in America, live in Melbourne with their daughter, Maia.
In 2003, while both studying at Reading University in the UK, Ben Suter and David Cocks met after locking eyes on the dance floor and then being introduced by a mutual friend. Ben, a meteorologist and Operations Manager, and David, an Assistant Principal, have been together ever since. They moved to Australia together in 2010, seeking a different life, and an overall better work-life balance. The chose Cairns in Queensland as their new home, between the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rainforest, "taking life a bit easier," said David. The couple were also married in June 2016, back home in England.
While David always wanted kids, Ben took a little convincing. So they started their parenting journey with a dog, Titan, who quickly became like their first born. From there, Ben came around rather quickly.
But becoming a gay dad in Australia is complicated by legalities. In Queensland, where the couple lived, adoption was not an option for them, and neither was surrogacy. However, surrogacy in the US did give the couple the best legal protections and meant the timeframe was far more reasonable. They'd heard about the possibility of surrogacy in the states from a British couple who had children via surrogacy in California.
And it wasn't just the legal issues that were difficult to overcome for David and Ben; like most couples, the other major hurdle was financial. The dads-to-be had to sell their house in the UK to go towards financing their journey to fatherhood.
A door opened when an exciting job opportunity came up for Ben which would take the family to the Northern Territory. Due to the state not having any surrogacy laws on the book, so to speak, they were allowed to start putting wheels in motion for their surrogacy journey. "Surrogacy wasn't the only reason for our move but it was a major factor in our decision to leave Queensland," explained David. "We found it very easy to settle in to life in Darwin, we found good friends very quickly. With our dog Titan and an outdoor lifestyle it suited us very well."
As they began researching for their surrogacy journey in the states, they were given some information by the Gay Dads Australia group that was based in Melbourne. Locally, they didn't find any resources or other gay dads in the territory, but during their online research they found out about Men Having Babies. David and Ben utilized their reviews of US clinics to find an LGBTQ-friendly agency that had seen many successes with gay intended parents. They both wanted to find a smaller agency that was highly rated: they decided upon Northwest Surrogacy Center.
"After a few conversations with Sandy and John the founders, as well as Tabitha Koh, one of their legal partners, we decided to go with them," said David. "Our experience was great; although our first transfer was unsuccessful, their matching us with our surrogate seemed very personalized and they were very responsive."
With their first transfer unsuccessful, they moved onto their second and this time, their surrogate Veronica became pregnant.
The dads-to-be planned to travel to the states two weeks before their baby was due, but their daughter Maia had other plans, arriving 5 weeks prematurely. "We had aimed to be there two weeks before her birth and then stay for a month afterwards, but instead I arrived a day after she was born and Ben arrived about five days after that. It was a scary start to her life but she was very strong and left hospital shortly after I arrived," said David.
Due to Maia's early appearance, the Airbnb that the dads were meant to stay in wasn't ready so they ended up staying with their surrogate Veronica and her family. This allowed for the families to really get to know each other and bond over their shared experience. "After Maia was born we stayed about 6 weeks in the US before leaving," said David. "We are very close to our surrogate, Veronica, and we will stay in touch forever. She and her husband have been to visit us in Bali and Darwin, plus we have met up in the UK while she was visiting her other surrobabies in France. We will continue to take holidays together and we Skype and text every month; she is very much part of our family now."
Today dads David and Ben live in Melbourne with Maia who is now three years old. The dads are loving fatherhood! "Life is amazing!" shared David. "I waited my whole life to be a father and spending time with Maia and watching her grow and develop has been a truly special time." Both dads attest that they've learned tolerance, patience, and especially managing expectations. "We have also learnt so much about human learning processes and how babies go from a helpless infant to an independent and fear-free young child."
And their advice to others considering a similar path? "Go for it, it is a path that can be tricky, expensive and highly emotional, but the bonds formed with our surrogate and her family, as well as with our beautiful daughter, made every moment worthwhile," said David.
They have just begun their second surrogacy journey, this time with another surrogate, and again with Northwest Surrogacy Center. "Our surrogate, Veronica, was a truly special person who connected deeply with us and our family. We are excited to be starting the next journey with a new surrogate and hope to have as much of an adventure this next time around!" We can't wait to watch this space!