The journey towards parenthood can be one of the most rewarding experiences in a lifetime. But not all families look the same, and neither does the journey towards having biological children. LGBTQ+ couples for example face many unique challenges.
Our Baby: A Modern Miracle is an intimate documentary on Channel 4 directed by Gussy Sakula-Barry, which follows a couple who sought to start a family using surrogacy with all the associated complications, along with a bit of lockdown thrown in. The protagonists of the story are Hannah and Jake Graf, 'Britain's most prominent transgender couple'.
Jake is a transgender man, actor, screenwriter and transgender activist. Hannah is the highest-ranking transgender officer in the British Army and was awarded an MBE for her contribution to the LGBTQ+ military community. The documentary follows the couple from the moment they meet their Belfast-based surrogate mother, to the confirmation of their pregnancy and the first scan.
Heterosexual transgender partners face biological, financial and legal barriers when pursuing their desire to have biological children. In the quest to implanting a fertilised embryo into the surrogate mother, Jake used his own eggs that he had previously stored. To do this he had to pause his testosterone therapy, which allowed ovulation to restart.
Hannah was unable to use her own sperm as she had undergone irreversible gender confirmation surgery. Instead, the sperm was chosen from a sperm donor that matched Hannah's description. It is noticeable how this had a psychological impact on Hannah, who is upset by being unable to genetically contribute to the newborn.
Throughout the documentary, the couple have regular confessionals to the camera as they share the details of their gender transitions. In a heartfelt moment, the couple showed how media, to them, is a double-edged sword. They have been flooded by supportive comments online, but negative criticism has also been targeted at their relationship. Many are unwilling to embrace transgender couples having children. Nevertheless, despite these prejudices, Jake and Hannah fall back on the love they have for each other and the prospect of having their child.
Then comes a dramatic turnaround in the final ten minutes. With only a few days left from the delivery of the newborn, the couple found themselves watching Prime Minister Boris Johnson's announcement of the imposition of the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fear of missing the moment when their child would be born was so unbearable that the couple decided to cross the Irish sea from London to Belfast.
Due to the travel restrictions, the cameramen couldn't join them, which left Hannah and Jake recording themselves for the rest of the documentary. We see how they managed to safely arrive in Belfast before their baby was born, although they were unable to enter the delivery room, again due to COVID-19 restrictions.
I did not realise how emotionally invested I was in the couple's story until I found myself screaming to the nurse 'let him hold the baby!' on watching them arrive at the hospital.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I believe this documentary is a powerful, personal account on contemporary LGBTQ+ issues. It successfully portrays how transgender families are just as loving and nurturing as all other families, raising awareness about the journey of transgender couples toward parenthood and what it entails. This was perfectly encapsulated when Jake said, '...There will be people who have something to say about transgender people and surrogacy, but our baby was born out of love.'
The documentary is a valuable testament to the challenges to parenthood faced by LGBTQ+ families who want to have biological children, from social prejudices to legal barriers. It is hard not to admire how honest Jake and Hannah were when they confessed to the camera that they had paid £45,000 to cover for the surrogate expenses and private fertility treatment. The costs associated with surrogacy and the difficulty of finding a surrogate make this technique inaccessible to many LGBTQ+ couples with a desire to have biological children.
I hope that hearing Jake and Hannah's experience will encourage other LGBTQ+ couples to seek other fertility treatments and know that having a family is possible.