Beaconsfield-based stars on the joys of family life after struggling to become legal parents of their son
The simplicity of building sandcastles and searching for bees and bugs with their son Rio is pure bliss for Stuart Armfield and Francis Haugen. They knew from early on in their relationship that they wanted to raise a child together, but the couple were under no illusion about how complicated the surrogacy journey would be.
Their dream finally came true in November 2021 when they welcomed Rio into their Beaconsfield home. “We’ve had the best two years of our life and learned a lot about ourselves,” says 36-year-old Francis.
“The main thing is being able to experience the first of everything – going on holiday, the developmental stages, seeing through Rio’s eyes is magical. It’s been an amazing emotional and spiritual adventure – sharing our journey online has opened us up to the world.”
Stuart nods. “The unexpected thing about parenting is that no-one prepares you for running your whole life with just one hand! But we only see the positives, we wanted this so much. You enjoy the hard days, the good days – we are grateful that we’re in a time where a gay couple can have a family.”
The couple, who adore living near Beaconsfield close to Stuart’s mum, joined social media platform TikTok in 2019 and have since amassed over a million followers. Their endearing and light-hearted videos on YouTube provide a glimpse into their surrogacy journey, daily adventures with Rio and their experience of same-sex parenting – it’s easy to see why they’ve touched so many hearts.
“Our daily vlogging kicked off when Rio was born. I love documenting how he has grown. Suddenly the channel exploded,” remembers 39-year-old Stuart. “We started sharing our story online because when we were investigating the surrogacy process, we couldn’t find anyone speaking about it. I would love to help other people, it’s a topic that the LGBTQ+ community would love to explore, but maybe have no idea where to start.”
The couple have since inspired and supported many gay couples including former Made in Chelsea star Ollie Locke and husband Gareth who have twins. “We had a bigger story to tell, it’s not just about our daily lives. It’s about representation in our space. We get so much love; it really has shocked me,” says Stuart.
“Of course, we receive negativity, but we understand that everyone is looking at life through different goggles, so these comments don’t affect us.”
“It’s been a positive and uplifting experience and even if comments are negative, we are not here to be controversial – we’re here to be joyful. Social media is just a snapshot of our day. The biggest compliment is when people meet us and say we’re the same as we are on social media. It’s important for us to be authentic,” adds Francis.
“If I were younger and saw a couple like us it would have been inspiring,” adds Stuart. “Neil Patrick Harris was the first gay man I felt I could relate to – he had twins via a surrogate in 2010. If people see and hear these stories, they’ll believe they can do it too.”
The former musical theatre performers met through work and left West London for Buckinghamshire in 2020 and embarked on their surrogacy journey in America.
“The whole process is a minefield, we were scared,” admits Stuart. “We decided to do the process in the US because of the UK laws, we wanted to be more in control. We created our embryos in the US and while we were halfway through the process our good friend Sam said she’d love to be our surrogate. We were both shocked. We flew Sam over to the US to have the embryo transfer and Rio was born in Wrexham, Wales.”
Their second child was born in August after their friend Carly offered to have the embryo transfer. “We have such wonderful women in our lives, they are unbelievably selfless, kind humans as well as their husbands – they made our dream happen.”
Their journey hasn’t always been the smoothest, with the couple enduring an eight-month battle to gain a parental order to become legal parents of Rio. Current UK laws state that an intended parent must apply for a parental order to become the legal parent of the child.
“It was a real challenge. We are lucky to live in the UK where the surrogacy laws are far more progressive than European countries, but the laws are still archaic,” explains Stuart.
“A surrogate is classed as the birth mother and her husband as the father. Rio had an infection in his first six months and the doctors wanted to do a lumbar puncture. Thankfully it wasn’t needed, but if it had our surrogate Sam would have had to travel from Wales. We are so grateful it wasn’t needed.
“We attended three hearings, and it was honestly a scary process to gain legal responsibility of our son. In a way we’re glad it happened so we can shed light on this issue and share our story to help others.” Planned reforms to surrogacy laws are in review to ensure that the child’s parents be given legal responsibility from the moment the baby is born.
Today family life in Buckinghamshire is everything the couple dreamed of. “There’s plenty of great schools and we’re only a short train ride to London,” smiles Stuart. “We didn’t realise just how great it was until we lived here. It’s our favourite place and perfect for this point in our lives. We love doing an activity with Rio every day – he loves the local parks, gymnastics and visiting a trampolining park in High Wycombe.”
The couple reveal that they play to their own strengths: Francis is “more organised” and “structured”, while Stuart is better at “being in the moment”. As we chat the pair are optimistic that the arrival of their second baby will be much easier. “I feel like last time we had all the gear and no idea. But this time round we know what we need and what we’re doing,” explains Stuart.
Their plan is to continue sharing their journey, travels, and adventures on social media platforms, but they believe there is a “bigger story to tell”.
“Our main priority is that our children are always safe and while we love sharing content about our daily lives, we feel we have to raise awareness around surrogacy and its challenges,” says Francis.
“By sharing our story we hope to allow people to see the beauty of surrogacy. The intention is to change people’s hearts and minds by just ‘being’. When something is visible, I feel it becomes less scary. We are silent activists, that’s the vibe we want to create, we’re non-invasive and our mission with social media is to spread joy and show that it’s not scary to be gay and have kids.”
See more on TikTok @stuartandfrancis