Janno Talu, an accountant, and Matthias Nijs, an art gallery director, were born in different parts of Europe. Janno, 39, is from Estonia, and Matthias, 28, is from Belgium. Their paths crossed when the two moved to London, each from their different corners of the European Union.
Janno relocated to London earlier than Matthias, when he was 24, and his main reason for the move was his sexuality. "Although Estonia is considered one of the more progressive countries in Eastern Europe, when it comes to gay rights, it is still decades behind Western society in terms of tolerance," said Janno. "And things are not moving in the right direction." In 2016, same-sex civil union became legal, but the junior party in the current coalition government is seeking to repeal the same-sex partnership bill. "In addition," Janno continued, "they wish to include the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the country's constitution. Even today, there are people in Estonia who liken homosexuality to pedophilia, which is why I decided to start a new life in the UK, where I could finally be myself."
For Matthias, his move was motivated by study when he came to London in 2013. "It had always been my intention to move back to Belgium after finishing my masters degree, but life took a different turn when I met Janno at that Halloween party the same year." The two were instantly attracted to each other, but Janno only found out what Matthias really looked like under his face paint when it came off at the end of the night. "It was like Janno kissed a frog and it turned into a prince!" That night was the beginning of their relationship together and their desire for fatherhood.
Matthias accepted a job in Belgium that same year and the couple continued their relationship long distance, visiting one another when they could while Matthias continue to apply for jobs in London. "Our relationship survived this test, and we finally moved in together in London in July 2015."
After briefly considering adoption, Matthias and Janno decided that surrogacy was the best path for their family. "The main reason we chose surrogacy was because we wanted to be part of our child's early years," said Matthias. They wanted to be there for their child's development and create a bond as parents right from the beginning.
But forging ahead with their surrogacy journey was not easy. Commercial surrogacy is not legal in the U.K., meaning it is against the law for anyone to profit from an arranged surrogacy agreement. Only altruistic surrogacy is allowed and it can be a fairly lengthy precess before Intended Parents are recognized as the legal guardians of their child. "We were lucky to be accepted by COTS (Childlessness Overcome Through Surrogacy) in September 2016 following an initial wait period lasting for about half a year. It took as another year before we were matched with a surrogate and treatment commenced."
But things didn't go quite as planned after their initial match. Their first transfer resulted in a miscarriage at 7 weeks and then that was followed by a failed transfer. "Due to further medical complications, we needed to find another tummy mummy," explained Matthias. "Along came Katie. With just two embryos left all our hopes were pinned on her and the third attempt. And third time, lucky we were!"
Their daughter Isabella was born on August 20, 2019.
"There are no words to describe the feeling when you are holding your baby in your arms for the first time. The rush of emotions and unconditional love, which keeps growing stronger and stronger with each day going by."
The dads daily lives are now completely different and revolve around Isabella's needs. "Everything takes a lot more time! To catch a train, we used to arrive at a station just minutes before, now we give ourselves plenty of time as babies can be very unpredictable! We have opted for reusable nappies, so the whole house has turned into one big laundry room. Gone are the days of spotless and tidy house! We also spend a lot more time together at home, and have friends visiting us rather than meeting them in town. We do try to have a date night every couple of weeks when Isabella's grandmother comes for a visit and looks after her."
While the paperwork is still yet to be finalized - they had a November 6, 2019 date set but the court-appointed case worker failed to file her report in time for the meeting so it was postponed - but the couple understand it to be more of a formality. "We are on the home stretch!"
The new family of three continue to stay in close contact with their surrogate Katie and her family, exchanging messages daily. Katie lives in Yorkshire with her husband and three children - twins aged 7, and an 8 year old. "We plan to see them in Yorkshire at the beginning of January. We have become good friends with Katie and this relationship will absolutely continue. We have also become rather attached to Katie's children as have they to us. They are like our extended family!"
For now the dads are content with their small family but hope to one day add a sibling for Isabella to the mix. And for the future, Matthias and Janno plan to make their relationship "official" by getting married but they're waiting for the day that Isabella and a potential sibling can play a role in their dads' wedding.
As for advice to other dads considering surrogacy in the U.K., the two recommend joining some of the U.K. surrogacy groups on Facebook to make connections and get information. "There are surrogacy organizations bringing together would-be parents and potential surrogates, but due to the lack of surrogates it may take a long time before you get matched," explained Matthias. "You want to be active and visible on chat groups as a lot of the surrogates follow these groups and it may be easier to strike up a conversation. Potential surrogate will want to get to know you as a person before you move onto talking about sperm and eggs! It's a bit like dating!"