As a single father, David Watkins said it’s not always easy keeping up with his eight-month-old son’s energy in the mornings.
“He’s a very inquisitive young baby,” David said of his son Miles. “He’s just started learning how to crawl. And it’s one-on-one all day. It’s hardcore. I have to be present, I have to be active physically. He doesn't just sit in his jumperoo and goo-goo ga-ga. He needs me beside him.”
David was one of the first single men in Britain to have a baby via surrogacy since the U.K.’s laws changed in 2019 to allow single people to sign parental orders.
For years before the law allowed non-partnered people to start families through surrogacy, David had also considered several other paths to parenthood, including adoption, fostering, and co-parenting with a female friend.
“I was in a co-parenting relationship until around 2017, and my friend got pregnant,” he said. “But then we lost the baby. And after that, I thought it was closed for me, since surrogacy at the time for a single person was problematic without a parental order in the U.K. When the law changed in 2019, it was such a massive cultural shift. Finally, as a single man, I could start having my family I’d always dreamed of.”
When his home country’s surrogacy laws were finalized, David jumped right in and signed up as the first single man with a British non-profit surrogacy organization.
While the door to surrogacy is now open to all, David said the process of surrogacy is completely different in the U.K. than it is in the U.S.
“In the U.K., it's illegal to pay a surrogate, or to advertise for a surrogate, or for a surrogate to advertise,” David explained. “You can only give what is called ‘reasonable expenses,”’he said, which are those incurred throughout the pregnancy. “And it's mostly mediated through non-profit social organizations, unless you go independent.”
An organization called Surrogacy UK helped David connect with an entire community of intended parents (IP’s) and potential surrogates. Before COVID-19, they would meet at social events across the country on weekends and chat on message boards online, to try and figure out who they might team up with for their journeys.
Due to the roughly three-to-one ratio of IPs to potential surrogates, David said IPs are also forbidden from asking a surrogate to work with them. Instead, IPs must wait to be contacted by a surrogate’s organization to inform them that she has chosen them as her IP.
“As an IP, that’s difficult,” David said. “You’re just playing the waiting game… You can’t do anything but be yourself, and go mental on social media.”
Although some IP’s can wait years for a surrogate to choose them, David said his profile got a lot of attention quickly as the first single man to sign up with the organization. He said there was also a great deal of sympathy for his situation.
“People really wanted to see a journey with a single guy succeed,” David said. “I had a lot of good will towards me, which I think enabled me to find a surrogate quickly,”
When Miles was born in summer 2020, David was able to be in the birthing pool, ready to usher his son into the world.
“He came gliding out, and I took him onto my chest, holding him tight to keep him warm,” David smiled. “And that’s where he’s spent quite a bit of time sleeping over the first few months.”
Since Miles is still learning to sleep through the night, like many single parents, David said that means he’s extremely tired most mornings while his son is ready to play.
Although he knew being a single dad would mean sleepless nights and exhausting days, David said there have been several other issues around parenting as a single gay man that he wasn’t expecting, including how people now treat him in public.
“When we’re out and about, I’ve found people do think I'm doing the babysitting role most of the time, not that I'm the only caregiver for my son,” he said. “I sometimes joke that I often get congratulated for doing really basic things such as just keeping him alive, whereas single mothers do not get afforded such respect, and are in fact derided for being a single mother.”
The way women interact with David has also been very different since he started turning up to baby classes and nursery groups as a single father.
While he said he’s had no trouble inserting himself into the all-female playgroups, David said he has felt like he has to be instantly honest about how his family came to be, and his sexuality, which has left him feeling exposed.
"A lot of people compliment me for being a single dad. I often wonder if they are curious about my situation," he explained. “Then I think ‘Well, I wonder what they think of me, how they fill in the gaps… people are just so curious, I feel like I have to just tell them I’m gay almost straight away.”
It’s been a similar experience at Miles’ nursery school, where David said he was asked about any specific holidays his family may or may not celebrate.
As Mother’s Day was approaching, for instance, David said he’d prefer his son make a card for his grandmother, Nanny “And I felt compelled to explain why,” David said. “'I’m a single gay guy, I did surrogacy.’ And she was very cool about it, but afterwards I felt very exposed and vulnerable. Like, why did I need to say that? Why did I need to explain myself?”
David said he also finds it interesting that when he goes out with Miles, he feels like for the first time in his life, he can pass as straight.
“Walking around with a little kid, it almost codifies me as a straight man,” he said. “That’s a really weird experience, because I’ve always felt like my sexuality has kind of preceded me and has given people a shape to fit me in before I could define my own. But with Miles, he creates a new shape for me.”
Since the end of 2020, many classes and group events for kids in Britain have been postponed due to COVID-19. But with his family nearby to help take care of Miles one day and one night a week, David said he does get some much-needed respite from the very intense days of solo-parenting during the pandemic.
Although it’s not been an easy job, David said being a father has been the most rewarding experience of his life to date, and he said any other single gay men who are considering it should listen to their heart.
“To other single gay guys in Britain, you can totally do it,” David said. “It’s really possible now. If you feel like you need to be a dad, that's the best voice you can listen to…. If you’ve got this real need, that’s a valid need. It’s valid for you as a man to want a kid. I think as gay men sometimes we have to repress what we feel, and we can express that because it’s not been possible in the past. But listen to those voices and let it flow. Follow those instincts.”