Jake and Hannah Graf: ‘We never dared dream we’d have our own baby’

They met, fell in love, married – then, like many young newlyweds, Jake and Hannah Graf craved a family of their own. But as both are transgender it seemed out of the question. They tell Eimear O’Hagan what it took to bring their little miracle, baby Millie, into the world.

The tree is decorated, a little stocking hangs on the fireplace and as Jake and Hannah Graf gaze adoringly at their baby daughter, it’s hard to imagine a more heart-warming festive scene.

However, while the couple, who live in London, will celebrate a traditional Christmas with little millie this year – their first as a family of three – their journey to parenthood has been anything but conventional.

Jake, a 42-year-old writer, actor and director, transitioned 12 years ago and Hannah, who’s 33 and works in finance, transitioned seven years ago, having both always felt they were born in the wrong body. And after becoming one of the UK’s most high-profile transgender couples, earlier this year they became parents via a surrogate, using embryos created with Jake’s eggs and donor sperm.

Their decision to speak publicly about having Millie – including being filmed for a fly-on-the-wall Channel 4 documentary earlier this year – is, they say, rooted in a desire to give hope to other trans people that they, too, can have a family.

Jake and Hannah with Millie
Jake and Hannah with eight-month-old Millie Image: Dan Kennedy

‘Millie is eight months old now, but there are still moments when it doesn’t feel real that we’re parents,’ says Jake. ‘At least once a day I say to Hannah, “Can you believe we have a baby?” Sharing our experience is done in the hope that we can show dreams really can come true.’

More devoted parents would be hard to find, with the family’s YOU photo shoot carefully planned around Millie’s routine, Jake and Hannah beaming with pride as they play with their miracle baby between shots.

Jake and Hannah transitioned before meeting one another, each finding the way to their new identity in very different circumstances.

For Jake, his decision to transition in 2008 was a lifetime in the making. ‘As soon as I could speak, I would tell my mother that I was a boy. I signed Christmas and birthday cards with boys’ names, and insisted on having my hair cut short,’ he says. ‘Puberty was hell. I was bullied at school and grew up desperately unhappy.’

Aged 26 and living in New York, Jake met a trans man for the first time. It was a life-changing encounter.

‘Seeing him live a happy, successful, normal life, he was everything I wanted to be. I returned to London a few months later but did nothing for another year. I was worried that if I did transition, I’d lose friends, family and be single for the rest of my life.

‘By 2008, I was in a bad way, drinking to excess and was so unhappy. I broke down and told my mother, “I have always been a man”. When she replied, “What are we going to do about it?” I felt genuine hope that everything was going to be all right.’

After being diagnosed with gender dysphoria, Jake began hormone treatment and had surgery, describing their impact as him beginning to live ‘the right life for the first time’.

Meanwhile, Hannah came out as a trans woman in 2013, while serving as an Army officer, and says it was a tour to Afghanistan that triggered her decision.

‘For years I buried my femininity deep within myself to hide it from the world,’ she says, ‘but, in private, I’d lock myself in my room in the army barracks and wear women’s clothes, presenting how I wanted to be. That was my coping mechanism but in Afghanistan, sharing a tent with seven men, that was taken away. I had a lot of time for introspection, and realised I had to live my life being “me”.’

The couple met in December 2015, after Jake had watched Hannah on the Lorraine show and contacted her on Facebook. They got chatting and sparks flew from there. They married in 2018, with Hannah leaving the Army so they could live together in London. And, like many newlyweds, a child was something they both desperately wanted.

In early 2015, Jake had temporarily stopped testosterone treatment to have his eggs harvested, fertilised with donor sperm and embryos frozen. ‘When I began transitioning, my counsellor spoke to me about freezing eggs but I wasn’t in the right place emotionally. Being a parent had always been a dream of mine, but it just seemed unattainable, something that would never happen for me. However, by the time I was 36, I was so much happier. I’d found peace and, with financial help from my mother, I decided to have my eggs harvested and fertilised after all.

‘I was the first trans man the clinic had treated and they were frank about the fact that they didn’t know how viable my eggs would be because, by then, I’d been on testosterone for six years. I ended up with five embryos on ice and, although I knew it was no guarantee of a baby, it was a glimmer of hope. I told Hannah quite early on that I wanted to have children, because it was so important to me that I was with someone who felt the same way.’

Jake and Hannah with Millie
Dan Kennedy

After marrying, Jake and Hannah began searching for a surrogate to carry one of the embryos Jake had had frozen. ‘As I wasn’t in a position to carry a child, the only way to do it was through surrogacy,’ says Hannah. ‘I had come to terms with the fact that I would never have a biological child years before – I decided not to freeze my sperm before transitioning because back then, having been single my entire life, I truly believed I would spend the rest of my life alone.’

The couple say that while they were full of enthusiasm when they started their quest to find a woman to carry their child, as time went on they felt increasingly downhearted.

‘We tried British surrogacy agencies but the waiting lists were huge, or they charged ridiculous fees. We looked into using a US surrogate but the costs were upwards of $120,000 [around £90,000], and although Ukraine is now a major European surrogacy centre, we were told they won’t help LGBT parents,’ says Jake.

After a TV appearance in early 2019, the couple were contacted by the National Fertility Society with the news that a surrogate had come forward.

‘We were in disbelief and also a bit sceptical,’ admits Hannah. ‘Because we’d been disappointed before, we protected ourselves by not getting our hopes up too much.’

Several weeks later they Skyped with Laura, a mother of two from Northern Ireland, and the three hit it off. After more online chats before meeting in person, Laura agreed to carry a baby for the couple, a moment they describe as ‘euphoric’. In July 2019 a single embryo was transferred to Laura at a London fertility clinic.

‘We were in the room for the transfer – I wanted to feel as connected to the process as possible,’ remembers Hannah. ‘Twelve – very long – days later, Laura took a pregnancy test at her home. Waiting on Skype, Jake and I cried with happiness when she revealed it was positive. We couldn’t believe it.’

The pregnancy progressed smoothly, with Jake and Hannah flying to Northern Ireland for the 12- and 20-week scans, thrilled to learn Laura was carrying a baby girl.

Then Covid-19 struck and like so many expectant parents, Jake and Hannah’s life was turned upside down, but with the added complexity of being almost 500 miles away from their unborn baby.

‘We’d planned to travel to Belfast a month before Laura’s due date, which was 12 April, and spend time with her and her family,’ says Jake. ‘We were also going to be in the delivery room when the baby was born. As the pandemic developed, we were terrified for Laura and the baby’s safety and it became increasingly clear our carefully made plans were unravelling.’

Before the country went into lockdown on 23 March, Jake and Hannah made a snap decision to immediately travel to Belfast.

‘We quickly packed the car with a few bags of clothes for us and the baby, and a moses basket, and travelled 12 hours by road and ferry until we reached Belfast. We all felt a huge sense of relief when we made it there.’

For the next six weeks Jake and Hannah lived in a rented house, unable to see Laura who was isolating at her own home.

‘We felt so helpless and knew we had to protect ourselves because if either of us caught the virus, we wouldn’t be allowed to take the baby after the birth. We barely left the house,’ says Hannah.

‘Three weeks before the birth we were told we couldn’t be there for the delivery, which was a huge blow, although we understood. Laura was allowed to have one birthing partner and chose a close friend, Gillian. We were totally supportive of that decision – she needed someone who was there just for her.’

In the weeks approaching Millie’s birth, with time for reflection, Hannah admits she felt anxious about becoming a parent to a child that bore no genetic relationship to her.

‘I worried about whether I would have a mothering instinct. Would I be able to bond with this child? Would it matter that I couldn’t breastfeed?’ she says.

On Easter Sunday, Laura was induced and for the next 40 hours Jake and Hannah paced the floors of their temporarily rented home with Gillian updating them regularly by WhatsApp.

Finally, at 5.30am on 14 April came the message they’d been waiting for, which simply read: ‘She’s here and she’s healthy.’

As the sun rose over the deserted streets of Belfast, an elated Jake and Hannah drove to the hospital where, in a private room, they met their daughter for the first time.

‘Laura was wheeled in, looking exhausted, with this little bundle in her arms. She handed it to me, and there she was – our daughter,’ says Jake, visibly emotional. ‘We all cried, it was just the most amazing moment. I fed Millie her first bottle, then as she lay on my chest, gently hiccupping, I felt life was complete.’

For Hannah, one of the most memorable moments of Millie’s arrival came just a few days later. ‘We were back in our rented house, it was 2am and I was feeding her while Jake slept. As she lay in my arms, I felt overwhelmed with love and a powerful sense of my bond with her. It hit me with such force that it didn’t matter to her that we weren’t genetically related; she just wanted my love and care.’

When Millie was 12 days old, the family returned to London to properly begin their life together, albeit against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

‘Millie first met her grandparents through a window. For much of this year, it’s just been the three of us at home. Hannah had four months’ maternity leave and now we both work from home, along with caring for Millie,’ says Jake. ‘Of course, it’s been hard not seeing friends and family much, but it’s also been a heavenly bubble with few distractions or commitments. It’s felt very special.’

So special, in fact, that plans have already been made for Laura to carry a second child for the couple next year.

‘We are hoping to do the second implantation in April, as Laura is keen to help us have a sibling for Millie,’ says Jake.

Hannah and Jake acknowledge a time will come when they must explain to Millie not only the circumstances of her birth, but also that both her parents are transgender.

‘Like any family where a child has come into the world in a slightly unusual way – be it through adoption, IVF, surrogacy – there will always be that conversation when the right time comes. The most important thing we will tell Millie is that she was born out of love, and so much dedication and commitment went into bringing her into the world,’ says Jake.

Their family life is clearly so precious to them, it begs the question why put Millie in the public eye, when inevitably there will be some who will criticise?

‘Overwhelmingly, we receive love and positivity – after the documentary we appeared on this summer we received thousands of messages of support – but there is negativity, too,’ admits Jake. ‘We’ve been accused of ridiculous things such as wanting to “raise” Millie to be trans, which is impossible. We focus on the positivity, though, and knowing that our visibility helps and inspires others.

‘I grew up with zero positive trans role models, feeling like I was the only person in the world who felt like me,’ he continues. ‘Giving others the visibility I never had will help people. And not just trans people, but their families, who may have lost hope that their child can live a fulfilled life with a partner and children, and also women who cannot carry their own child. If we can spread some hope, that’s a reason for doing this.’

Hannah’s hope is that for Millie’s generation, there will be more tolerance and understanding of trans parents. ‘I hope we’ll reach a point where it’s not even a “thing”. I’m not ashamed to be transgender or that Millie was born via surrogacy, and she will not be ashamed of those things either because we will always be open with her. If we talk positively to her about who we, her parents, are then she won’t know any different.’

Those are conversations for the future, though, and for now Jake and Hannah are simply looking forward to their first Christmas with Millie. ‘We’ve bought her a little elf suit and Santa will be leaving some presents for her under the tree,’ says Jake. ‘While for us, she really is the greatest gift of all.’