After many years thinking fatherhood could never be more than a pipe dream, one early April morning, amid the madness of the Covid lockdown, Jake Graf finally met his long-for baby daughter Millie.
Along with his wife Hannah, 33, the pair became Britain’s first ever transgender parents after a long uphill battle against medical bills, logistics and searing stigma.
‘I honestly never thought I’d be here. I look down at her every day and say, “I never thought we’d have you.”
‘It’s mind-blowingly wonderful. It still seems strange when I say, “Don’t worry, Daddy’s coming.”
‘I got so excited when I realised it was Father’s Day,’ says Jake, who has worked as a nanny for other people’s children for years.
‘I’ve been watching my friends have children from their early 20s and it’s all I’ve ever wanted. I’ve worked with kids and their parents for years as a nanny (or “manny”) and I never thought I’d have the chance to be a dad.‘
Jake, a filmmaker, grew up always knowing he was different. He was vocal about being a boy from a young age, and became isolated and reclusive as he reached puberty.
Once he’d begun his transition aged 27, he knew he’d be unable to conceive naturally, but to try to keep the dream alive, he made the decision to freeze some fertilised eggs before he fully transitioned.
His wife Hannah, the highest-ranking transgender officer in the Army, underwent a medical transition in 2013.
She, on the other hand, never imagined she’d be able to have her own biological children, so didn’t make arrangements for it.
The couple, who met when Jake contacted Hannah through Facebook after seeing her tell her story on the TV show Lorraine, had two options: adoption or surrogacy.
With Jake’s DNA on ice, having the baby be a genetic match to at least half the couple seemed like a great solution, so they held out hope for a surrogate.
After they married in 2018, Jake and Hannah appeared on breakfast TV where they spoke about their desire to have children via surrogacy.
Shortly after, they were contacted by ‘Rachel’ (not her real name). Based in Northern Ireland, the 32-year-old mother-of-two reached out to the couple with a plan to help them on their way to parenthood.
Two weeks after meeting Jake and Hannah, Rachel agreed to carry their baby, insisting that she was merely a bump-loving woman who adored the feeling of being pregnant. She had Jake’s fertilised embryos successfully implanted.
With their child due in April, Jake and Hannah began preparing for the baby’s arrival. But with the global crisis getting worse, it became apparent the birth would be far from ideal.
Jake and Hannah hotfooted it to Northern Ireland while they could, booking into an Airbnb to await the arrival of their daughter, and after battling through the chaos, at 5.30am on 14 April, Millie Graf was born in the middle of a pandemic.
‘Everything we ingested from all the baby books we read over the last 18 months has gone out the window. You know, “Don’t worry, because mother will be at the door ready to help and friends will bring casseroles and lasagne”, none of that. Not to be rude, but we wouldn’t touch anyone’s home-cooked offerings with a barge pole at this point,’ he says.
‘We’re treading a path that not many have taken before and just trying our best to navigate the new territory. I spend my days wondering how we got so lucky and in a state of complete disbelief. That’s how fatherhood has been for me, and I hope it stays that way until Millie is old and grey.’’
Hannah and Jake have made a documentary about their experience as the UK’s first transgender parents, due to be aired next month.
‘Only 8% of people in the UK actually know someone who’s transgender, so there’s a huge majority of people who don’t know us and don’t know anyone like us.’
‘We sincerely hope people watch the film and realise that I’m just a guy who writes and acts a bit, and Hannah is just an Army captain, and like anyone we just wanted to become parents.’
Jake knows there will be people who will react negatively towards them.
‘If someone’s got time to spew out hate from their keyboard behind a screen, they’re probably not a very happy person. There are some really good people out there, most people are good.’
‘For those vocal tiny minorities that want to spew hate – if we listened to it then we’d obviously be knocked into silence, but it’s important that we all vocalise our differences, because difference is beautiful. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where difference is embraced.’
Their surrogate is incredibly proud of what she has done for Hannah and Jake, and they in turn feel incredibly lucky to have found her.
‘We’ve got this little bundle of joy here who’s changed our lives forever, and I think it’s amazing what we’ve all done to bring her here – it’s been quite the collaboration! Rachel always said Millie was her little lodger for nine months and I think it’s a wonderful story to be able to tell.’
They intend to be transparent with their daughter.
‘We know we’re going to have to have some difficult conversations with Millie in the future,’ admits Jake.
‘We’ve watched friends go through similar processes, whether it’s adoption or surrogacy, and know that being honest with your child is the most important thing.’
‘We’d love for Millie to know Rachel and her children and understand that that’s where she cooked for nine months. We intend to stay in touch with Rachel and hopefully take this journey again with her.’
And when it comes to fighting off the haters, Jake finds immeasurable comfort in his wife.
‘Hannah just gets me. She knows how to drown out the noise, and when things get tough we order a Chinese takeaway, stick on a movie and then it’s just us – and Millie.’
‘As long as we’ve got each other it’ll all be all right. Our hope is Millie can grow up in a world where we’re all accepted, where no one discriminates against you whether you’re gay, black, transgender – whatever you might be. That’s the aim.’
– Look out for Jake and Hannah Graf in an upcoming Channel 4 documentary, which charts their journey into parenthood