Welcome back to How I Parent, where we get a glimpse into how the nation is raising their kids.
This week we are speaking with married couple Stuart Armfield, 39, and Francis Haugen, 36, from Beaconsfield, who used a surrogate to have their son, Rio, who is almost two.
The pair felt it was important that Rio drank breastmilk, and so they went to great lengths to ensure he had a steady supply.
‘We managed to give him only donated breast milk for the first four months of his life,’ Stuart tells Metro.co.uk.
After meeting over 13 years ago at a friend’s party, Stuart and Francis fell in love quickly, and say they soon discussed their future together.
They wanted a family – even making a vision board for their future – but had no idea how to make their dreams a reality.
‘Gay marriage wasn’t even legal then when we met back in 2010,’ shares Stuart. ‘We didn’t grow up in a world where having kids as a gay man felt possible.’
Stuart says that in 2018, they started to ‘look into options’ but it was ‘very overwhelming.’
‘We didn’t know where to begin or how much it would cost,’ he says.
Then, when the pandemic hit in 2020, the pair had time to look into things more seriously.
‘In 2020, our vision board was still the same, but we were no further in the process,’ says Stuart.
‘So, we sat around the house reconsidering what we wanted in life and decided that it was the perfect time to start trying to have a family.’
The pair began looking into surrogacy and egg donation – they knew that they wanted the donor to be a stranger, rather than feeling like they were ‘sharing’ their child with a friend.
They were in the process of looking for a surrogate, when their good friend, Sam, got in touch, offering to help.
Francis explains: ‘Sam had actually mentioned helping us a few years prior, whilst we were in the hot tub at our house having a few drinks. We just laughed it off like she wasn’t being serious.
‘At that time we were not even thinking about babies. But this time it was different. It knocked us a little sideways!’
Stuart and Francis accepted their friend’s generous offer.
‘We were so lucky the first embryo transfer worked.’
It was just before Rio was born that, by chance, the pair met breastfeeding specialist, Amanda Marks. She shared the benefits of breastmilk for newborns, and the pair were keen to ensure their son would have his own supply.
Rio was born in November 2021, and the couple instantly bonded with their son. ‘We were overwhelmed with love for our baby boy,’ says Francis, ‘and we had so much gratitude for Sam.’
Rio immediately began drinking donated breast milk – sourced with the help of Amanda – and drank it exclusively for the first few months of his life.
‘We felt passionately that we would love to give breast milk to Rio for as long as possible,’ Stuart notes.
‘We joined a breast milk Facebook group and put a post out about our family. There were so many amazing women who immediately offered to donate their milk and Rio thrived with it.
‘It was a big commitment because young babies drink a lot so Francis would often drive for hours every few weeks to collect more. We managed to give him only donated breast milk for the first four months of his life.
‘We even travelled to the USA during this period and sourced milk in America. We have been blown away by the kindness and generosity of these women as we never knew this was even possible.’
In the early days of parenthood, Stuart and Francis both found their own style of parenting – which was slightly different to each other.
‘Because we are two men we don’t fall into the traditional mother and father style roles we have been able to discover our own.
‘We both knew we wanted to be very hands-on with our kids and feel fortunate that our career allows us to work from home most of the time,’ Stuart says.
‘Francis is very organised and is good at planning ahead, and I’m good at living in the moment and taking Rio on adventures. Ultimately, we work together as a team and couldn’t do it without the other.’
Around this time, they began documenting their family life on TikTok.
‘We felt there was a great need for representation and that we could help change people’s minds about what family could look like,’ says Francis.
‘We didn’t expect to get so much love and support online.’
While most of their online presence has been positive with their 1.1 million TikTok followers, they do have to navigate through some negative feedback.
‘Occasionally we get the odd negative comment but that’s to be expected when you put yourself out there,’ says Stuart.
‘We also understand that people may have different views but hope that by showing how we are two Dads it might change their minds. We have a blessed amazing abundant life and no hateful comment can ever take that away from us.’
Stuart and Francis tell Metro that they have another baby on the way very shortly.
‘In the summer of 2022, we had another good friend, Carley, offer to carry our second baby,’ Stuart shares. ‘We were blown away that a friend had asked as this is really rare.’
Stuart and Francis say it’s a ‘privilege’ to have been able to have children.
‘We decided as a couple that we would make sure we didn’t moan or complain too much about having kids because it still feels like such a privilege.
‘Our son has completely changed our life in every way.
‘It has been the making of us, and we feel so grateful to be alive at a time when it’s possible for us to be dads.’
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