27.09.2021

Transgender parents on what having a baby during a pandemic is really like

About six years into his transition Jake decided to give himself the option of having kids in the future and set about having his eggs frozen. Jake stopped taking testosterone and began the process of IVF treatment.

That’s where you’re put on a fertility treatment plan that involves doing injections to stimulate the ovaries so that eggs can be retrieved and frozen in a lab.

“I was single at the time and I went to the women’s clinic in London to get my eggs harvested. I remember sitting in the waiting room and there were women there with their partners,” Jake says. “Here I was sitting alone with all of this judgement around me such as strange looks from perplexed people who were wondering what on earth I was doing there.”

The road to parenthood isn’t always a straight-forward one but listening to actor and director Jake Graf and his wife, Captain Hannah Graf MBE, describe their journey would fill anyone with hope, happiness and positivity.

“I’ve always wanted to be a dad but I never let myself dream that I could become a father,” explains Jake. “I’ve been living in abject misery since I was three-years-old. It’s been tough. At the age of seven I used to go to bed at night praying that I would wake up as a boy. So when I started my transition at the age of 28, I felt I was finally beginning to live my life.”

Jake says that the women’s clinic advised that he have his eggs fertilised with sperm from a donor (rather than just freezing the eggs) in order to increase the chances of a viable pregnancy in the future. This means that an embryo was created and frozen in a lab.

Anyone who’s gone through IVF will attest to the fact that the process can be gruelling both physically and mentally, so I’m curious about how Jake felt while doing it solo: “Bear in mind I was already transitioning beforehand, so the concept of going through hormone treatment wasn’t new to me. They’re tiny little needles that you inject in your tummy. I did two rounds of egg collection and my mum stepped in to help me fund it as it’s not cheap.”

Less than a year later, Jake met Hannah and right from the outset he expressed his desire to have kids. “I said to Hannah, just so you know I am looking for marriage and kids.”

For Hannah, the process of dating, let alone thinking about parenthood, was new. “Jake was my first ever date,” she says. “Prior to transitioning the idea of being intimate with someone was a very big deal for me. I was just starting to be happy and Jake added me on Facebook. When he said he wanted kids, I replied ‘sure, OK’.

“I honestly never thought I’d be a parent,” Hannah admits, “I grew up in a world where mainstream films like Ace Ventura ridiculed trans women. I knew very early on that to be trans is to be unlovable.” But Hannah did find love and discovered that she is undeniably loveable. Hannah and Jake got engaged in 2017 and the couple set about finding a surrogate.

I honestly never thought I’d be a parent. I grew up in a world where mainstream films like Ace Ventura ridiculed trans women. I knew very early on that to be trans is to be unlovable.

“When searching for someone you’re going to start a family with, you ask yourself some pretty fundamental questions,” says Hannah, “ like, ‘do I like this person, can I imagine having them in my life long term?”

The couple’s surrogate is someone they both fondly refer to as ‘Auntie Laura’. Laura gave birth to Millie in April and she’s already expressed an interest in being part of plans to expand the Graf family. “About three months after Millie was born, Laura was like ‘“I don’t want to put pressure on you, but I have loved this experience and would absolutely be on for doing it again. So hopefully in April next year we will try again,” says Jake.

“Laura is still very much part of our lives,” adds Hannah. “We literally just wrapped Christmas presents for her today. Anyone who would give us a gift as beautiful as Millie is a special human being.”

Hannah admits that she had to work to get her head around the idea of being a mother: “I had a lot of hang ups on my role as a mother and questioned whether my maternal instincts would be there. Those hang ups lasted throughout the pregnancy.” But once Millie was born something clicked into place for Hannah: “I remember a moment. It was about 4am and Millie was sleeping on my chest. I realised she is utterly dependent on me. She is the focal point of our life.”

Representation is something that both Jake and Hannah are passionate about having grown up not feeling seen or acknowledged. Jake has starred in films like Colette with Dominic West and Keira Knightly and The Danish Girl with Eddie Redmayne. He also makes a point of channelling representation into his work as a writer director. “I look back at The Danish Girl and the casting of Eddie Redmayne. That film opened up a lot of hearts and minds and I’m not sure it would’ve got the blockbuster budget without someone like Eddie in the lead role at the time. But that was 6 years ago. We are now at a point where trans people should play trans roles.”

We live in a country where we can proudly march and host pride. To know that people in Turkey are having their rights violated is a reminder that we can’t be complacent about LGBT+ rights.

This Christmas Jake and Hannah are using their platform as high profile trans activists to lend support to Amnesty International’s campaign called Write 4 Rights which is seeking justice for 18 students and a lecturer who were beaten, detained and put on trial in Turkey simply for organising a pride march. If convicted they could face 3 years in prison.

Jake and Hannah are horrified by the case. They’re urging people to write to the Turkish Minister for Justice asking for an acquittal and demanding an independent investigation into the use of brutal force by police on peaceful demonstrators.

“We live in a country where we can proudly march and host pride in the UK. To know that people in Turkey are having their rights violated in this way is a reminder that we can’t be complacent about LGBT+ rights around the world,” says Jake.

So far 28,000 people have written in as a response to the campaign. The case has been adjourned will continue into 2021. “We need to keep the pressure on,” adds Jake. “We can use our voices to be heard. You can use your voice to be heard.”

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