IT was the happiest day of his sister’s life, her wedding day, and Dave Rigby remembers being in floods of tears.
Part of it, he admits, was down to the flowing beer. But mostly it was because here, among family and friends, while he watched his sibling take her first steps into married life, his own happiness seemed so unlikely that he simply could not stop crying.
“I suddenly realised that being this way inclined, I would never have a wedding day,” he explains. “Not being straight or having any realistic prospect of getting married, I wouldn’t ever be a dad.”
Dave had always known he was gay. And, as he watched his sister go on to become a mother and friends and colleagues raise their own families, the yearning to have a child of his own to love and care for gnawed away at his hopes for happiness.
Today, however, Dave has Molly. A bright-eyed, wispy-haired blonde bundle of laughs and tearful tantrums – particularly when she’s told no she can’t have her favourite supermarket sweets – she’s a three-year-old independent lady who wants to tie her own shoelaces and adores her grandfather.
Partner Marc and Molly now make up the precious family Dave once feared he’d never have – a happy ending indeed.
But, he reveals, making his dream of fatherhood come true involved a challenging journey of emotional highs and devastating lows, crippling expense, complicated legal twists and crushing disappointments that left him emotionally bruised and battered.
“There were so many disappointments,” recalls Dave, whose bid to find a surrogate mother began in 2007 and finally resulted in Molly’s arrival in November 2010. “It has been a struggle and I never felt in control during the entire experience.
“There was pain, heartache and a lot of emotion. But it was all worthwhile, because I have Molly now.”
Writing it down helped. From the search for an agency to help find him someone willing to carry his baby, to meeting the assortment of women who initially seemed genuinely keen to help but later either would not or could not, to the moment he first held Molly, Dave kept a note of it all.
Now, what began as a diary to share with Molly when she was older has been published, providing a revealing insight into the turbulent journey into fatherhood for a gay man desperate to be a dad.
Among those Dave hopes will read 7th Time Lucky – the number is a reference to the seven potential surrogate mothers he met in his search for a surrogate willing to carry his child – are other same-sex couples considering starting a family and the professionals they are likely to encounter on the way.
He hopes, too, that his story can shine a light on the desperate need for modernised laws to reflect the growing number of couples who find themselves in the same situation.
“One of the things the book highlights for me is that there’s not enough legal framework around surrogacy. We are still at a stage where a surrogate mother can decide to keep the child, even if an egg donor was used and she has no genetic connection to the baby,” he explains.
“Surrogacy is becoming more common and the acceptance of gay couples as parents is growing. The law, though, hasn’t changed quickly enough.”
Dave is now well into fatherhood, cruising through the ups and inevitable downs with a confidence that some first-time mums might struggle with – having travelled along a bumpy road to get to the point of holding his daughter, little now, he says, fazes him.
“Around the point when she was going to be born, I started to develop this sense of panic about the whole thing. But natural instinct just took over. I got her home from hospital the very same day she was born. She just lay in our arms and it was a lovely sensation. Since then I’ve never been worried that I’m not doing something right.”
Dave, who works as a human resources manager, says his sister’s wedding brought the devastating realisation that family life for him would be far more complicated.
“Everything hit me hard that day. I grew up in a big family with lots of kids around and it just always felt like I’d have kids as well and that I wanted to do that. I realised that it was not going to be straightforward.”
Falling in love with Marc – already a father-of-two from an earlier marriage – took him a step closer. But as they set about searching for a way to become parents together, the challenges pushed their relationship almost to breaking point.
“The mainstream surrogacy agencies I spoke to weren’t interested in helping a gay couple,” recalls Dave, 42, who lives with Marc and Molly in Musselburgh.
“As soon as I said we were a gay couple who wanted a child through surrogacy, the reaction was ‘we can’t help you if you’re gay’.
“I felt they were uncomfortable about it and maybe the legal side of it was too complicated. The only other option seemed to be to go with an agency in America, which would mean I wouldn’t be involved in the pregnancy at all.”
Dave finally found an English agency which specialised in helping same-sex couples. For a £30,000 fee, some of which would go to cover the surrogate’s expenses, the agency offered to arrange an egg donor, an IVF at a clinic in Cyprus where the egg would be fertilised with Dave’s sperm and a surrogate mother to carry the baby. However, a string of often disappointing meetings with prospective surrogates followed. Some Dave found difficult to forge a strong connection with, others were willing but health complications ruled them out.
The search became even more complicated in 2008 when the boss of the agency he’d paid to help him was jailed for 16 months for spending around £200,000 of money his investors had ploughed into his online fertility firm.
“It was a nightmare,” recalls Dave. “But we had nowhere else to turn, so we had to stay with the firm and hope the person who took over the agency could still help.”
There was a further blow when one potential surrogate mother got as far as having donated eggs fertilised by Dave’s sperm at a Cyprus clinic implanted, only for the process to fail twice, plunging him into despair.
Eventually he met Kerry, a Glasgow mum-of-three, who, despite having had complicated pregnancies, seemed determined to help.
But all that stress was only part of it. The other was the complicated legal issues that cropped up and the misunderstandings among Glasgow maternity staff over what would happen as soon as Molly was born.
“I didn’t think they had any clue what to do with us or how to deal with the situation,” he adds. “At one point we were told that once the baby was born, it would stay with the mother and leave hospital with her but we felt those first hours and days were really important to us for bonding as her parents.”
As it turned out, Dave was able to cut the umbilical cord and take Molly straight into his arms. Within hours the couple had returned home to begin a new life with their daughter.
Now Molly has filled the gap in Dave’s life – and becoming a dad is everything he hoped it would be.
“Molly knows she has two dads and that makes her a bit different to other kids at nursery. But she also knows some kids have a mum and a dad, or just a mum or are looked after by their grandparents.
“Families are all different.
“When she’s old enough to understand, she’ll get to know everything about how she came to be here, we won’t keep anything from her.
“But would I do it again?,” he half laughs, half groans, casting his mind back to all the highs and lows.
“If someone came and said ‘you will wait nine months and have a child in your arms’ then I might consider it, but there are no guarantees and this was not easy.
“Molly’s here and that’s all that matters.”
n 7th Time Lucky by Dave Rigby is published by Book Guild Publishing, £17.99.
Twist and turns on the road to having kids
A GROWING number of same-sex couples are turning to surrogacy in a bid to have a family of their own.
Essex couple Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow have five children born through surrogacy and are involved with running the British Surrogacy Centre.
Meanwhile, musician Sir Elton John and partner David Furnish are parents to two children, born as the result of a surrogacy arrangement organised through an agency in California. They are said to have paid around £20,000 in each case.
Steps star Ian ‘H’ Watkins revealed in 2012 that he had been trying for a baby through a surrogate with his partner Craig Ryder, only to suffer the grief of a miscarriage. Britain’s first surrogate mother was Kim Cotton, who gave birth to a baby girl in 1985. She went on to form support and campaign group COTS.
Surrogacy is legal in the UK. However, women who agree to carry a child for another person are legally only entitled to have their reasonable expenses paid, and not make a profit from the pregnancy.
It is illegal to advertise either as a surrogate or in search of a surrogate. However, various agencies exist to help act as go-betweens and offer advice. In some cases – such as Dave Rigby’s – an anonymous egg donor is used. The egg is then fertilised and the embryos frozen until they can be implanted into the surrogate mother.
Even if the baby has no genetic relation to the surrogate – known as full surrogacy – there is no legal reason why she cannot withdraw from the arrangement and opt to keep the child after birth. She remains the child’s legal mother, and if married her husband is regarded as the father, until a parental order is made to transfer.