TV vet Dr James Greenwood: ‘There’s a lot of misunderstanding around surrogacy’
Dr James Greenwood is relishing his new role as father to three-month-old Oliver, who he and his husband, Mark, had via surrogate.
“Fatherhood is magical,” the resident vet on BBC Morning Live enthuses. “It’s hard to put into words. It’s everything and more that I had hoped it would be. But there is definitely the tiredness that everybody talks about with the night-time feeds.”
The couple, who also share their home with rescue Labrador Dolly, plus hens, sheep and a couple of pigs on a smallholding on the outskirts of Bristol, have been inundated with gifts and cards, which at one point filled their downstairs living area. Instagram followers have crocheted blankets for the baby and work colleagues and neighbours have knitted him cardigans.
“I’m very aware that what we are doing is slightly out of the norm, but the response I’ve had from Instagram has been beautiful. People talk about social media as being this awful cesspit of evil but the response we’ve had on Instagram has been so lovely, from everybody.”
The vet, whose route to TV came when he entered the first series of The Great Pottery Showdown in 2014 and went on to star in The Pets Factor, Blue Peter and BBC One’s Morning Live, says the surrogacy journey has been a long one.
“The thing about being a same sex couple is you don’t necessarily go through the emotional rollercoaster and trauma of coming to terms with, if you were a heterosexual couple, not being able to have your own children naturally.
“From the outset we knew that we were going to have to explore other options and went into it really positively.”
They went to a Surrogacy UK convention where they met Rachael, who was already on a surrogacy journey with somebody else, but they remained in touch during the pandemic.
“People say, how do we know Rachael? Well, we know her through surrogacy. We are now five years on and she is one of our best friends. She’s an amazing woman.
“Surrogacy does carry some question marks,” he concedes. “You either think of it from the viewpoint of, were you the surrogate would you be able to hand over the baby? Or, from the other side, if you were struggling to become parents, would surrogacy be right for you?
“That’s completely understandable. It’s an altruistic, unique relationship, and it isn’t right for everybody, but there’s also a lot of misunderstanding around surrogacy. The biggest thing people don’t take into account is that everyone is there of their own will.
“In the UK you don’t pay a surrogate, you don’t form a transaction, it’s based on trust. Often surrogates are offering to be surrogates because it’s something that they feel is very strongly within them that this is something they want to give to help a family.”
Both he and Mark were at the birth. “I can’t put it into words. We were so overwhelmed. It was so beautiful. Rachael was incredible. We were there, her birthing partner was there and you go into it as a team. Mark cut the cord.”
And he hopes that Rachael will be a part of Oliver’s life.
“We were all on the same page from early on. Rachel is such a great friend. We would always aim for her to be a part of our lives and Oliver’s life for evermore. We will make sure he knows exactly the kind and incredible gift that she offered to bring him into the world. Transparency is key.”
Greenwood, 37, divides his time between working as a vet and his media commitments and has now written his memoir, For The Love Of Animals, charting stories of his life as a vet.
During his career, he has dealt with everything from mating pigs, birthing sheep and an uncoordinated baby elephant, has been kicked by horses and bitten by a dog, but still loves his work.
“It is recognised as being one of the most dangerous professions that you can enter in terms of work risk,” he maintains.
Greenwood dedicates the book to his late one-eyed Labrador, named Oliver, who used to appear with him on TV, but died suddenly last year.
Greenwood also reveals how he and Mark, a landscape gardener, met online and have been together for 15 years. They wed on their 10th anniversary in 2019.
“Getting married was the best day of my life. We had a weekend all together in north Yorkshire, but going back to growing up, gay adoption was illegal, gay marriage was illegal. When it was legalised I felt strongly that these laws have come into place and that we should exercise these rights and we thought, if we can do it we should do it. It felt like the right time. We were also keen to start a family.”
The book also charts his coming out, which he did in his 20s.
“You never stop coming out. By coming out, people look at it and think, ‘Well, you’ve done it now, it’s all good.’ But it doesn’t automatically take away all that worry you’ve had previously, all that gay shame. A lot of people of my generation talk about it and the feeling you’ve let yourself down or let somebody down, which is ridiculous.
“I hope no LGBTQ+ people feel that these days. But it is something that I struggled with for a long time. You live your life and try to come to terms internally with things. It was tricky. It took time. There was a lot of worry.
“The younger LGBTQ+ community are able to be themselves at a much younger age, without the stigma, without the shame. Obviously there’s always a huge amount of work to do and, if Twitter is to be believed at the moment, there’s always that rising threat, which is a worry.”
Parenthood has changed him, he agrees.
“We’ve always got animals around us and it’s obviously very different having a baby, but my time is absolutely not my own anymore. I don’t think I’ve showered for three days! We’re surviving on ready meals and minimal self-care and I know we need to get on top of that. We look absolutely wiped out.”
They’d like more children, he reveals. “It’s taken a long time for us to get to Oliver, for which we will always be hugely grateful, but if the opportunity arose to go for a second, whether via surrogacy or adoption, it would be lovely for Oliver to have a sibling.”
For The Love Of Animals by Dr James Greenwood is published by Seven Dials, priced £18.99. Available now.
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