I caught up with Salim Stephenson about being a single gay dad, and how he’s celebrating Father’s Day.
When did you did you decide that you wanted to start a family and have children?
I’ve always wanted it. My parents are quite progressive, so they never made me feel as if it wasn’t an option because I was gay. I grew up with it as a foregone conclusion, in the same way I suppose straight people do. The feeling then became a lot stronger around the time I hit 30. I’m 39 now. My son, Felix, is nearly three.
You’ve written that you created a family through IVF, using an anonymous egg donor and your sister as a surrogate. Did you explore other options of becoming a parent before tackling surrogacy?
I always assumed I’d adopt because surrogacy was too expensive. It was only when my sister offered that I changed direction. It wasn’t actually important to me to share the same DNA with my child, but it felt like an opportunity that was too good to miss.
How did you raise the idea of surrogacy with your sister?
My sister and my mum live in the US. I was over visiting one year. The subject just came up one day, about me becoming a dad. My mum said that I should get my skates on because I wasn’t getting any younger. My sister chimed in and said that she’d carry it for me if I could find an egg. It was as casual as that.
How did you find the IVF process?
It was pretty complicated actually. There’s so much information out there, and consolidating it all was pretty impossible. It was only when I spoke to one clinic in San Francisco that it all fell into place, because the doctor there explained it all to me. He told me what I needed to do, step-by-step. After that point, it was less confusing but the cost became a problem. I had to use all my savings and borrow more money, which I’m still paying off now. I kept a spreadsheet of costs, but it got to a point where I was spending so much on a daily basis that I literally didn’t have time to record everything — egg retrieval, insemination, donor travel expenses, embryo storage, US attorney fees, UK solicitor fees, lions and tigers and bears.
How has becoming a father changed you?
I used to be very sociable, often out drinking with friends, and going on gay holidays with the boys. I’d also go to lots of house parties and host my own. I barely do any of that anymore, simply because I wouldn’t be able to function the next day. Parenting is a job you need to be on the ball for. It’s mentally and physically tiring. You’re always putting them first, wondering if your child is warm enough, if they’re hungry, if they’re happy. I love it though. I guess you could say that it’s made me less selfish.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a single gay dad?
I get FOMO — fear of missing out. Some of the friends I used to hang out with have settled down, but others have continued their social lives and I sometimes wish I could join them on nights out and on holidays.
I also feel a little patronised sometimes, with people — mostly women — trying to tell me how to do things like carry a pram, or hold a bottle, all under the assumption that I don’t know what I’m doing because I’m a man.
I also get a bunch of comments from strangers like — “Mum’s day off. eh?” or “Where’s mum today?” which is annoying that they assume that in the first place, but doubly so because I don’t want to have to explain my complicated situation to every passer-by.
But these are minor problems compared to what I’ve gained. I love being a dad and wouldn’t change it for the world.
How does being a father change dating for you?
I rarely meet men these days, simply because there’s no time. I’d like to fall in love but I’m not ready to share my life with anyone other than Felix. The lack of sex is surprisingly easy to get used to when you’re constantly exhausted.
How will you be celebrating Father’s Day?
Nothing special — I’ll probably just take Felix to the park, like a normal Sunday.