Hannah and Jake Graf: “We want our daughters to feel free to be exactly who they are”

Hannah and Jake Graf

by Emily Gilbert |
Updated on

A battle any parent will be familiar with, Jake and Hannah Graf are desperately trying to convince their eldest daughter Millie to go to sleep. "This is because you had a nap at nursery!" Jake sighs as Mother&Baby chats to the married couple one Tuesday night.

To the eye, Jake and Hannah look like any other family. And they are, albeit having travelled a unique road to becoming parents to daughters Millie, three and Teddie, one. Because Jake and Hannah are the UK's most visible transgender couple and family.

In their first book Becoming Us, Jake and Hannah have chosen to tell their story in the hope of increasing awareness, raising visibility and spreading some much-needed love and understanding around transgender people and their lives.

"We'd been asked for years to do a book and had been concerned that it would be too exposing and we would be opening ourselves to an onslaught of hate and transphobia," Jake admits. "But I think what we've seen through the talks that Hannah and I give all across the world is that stories are what unite people. Stories are what open hearts and minds, and stories are what help people to understand that trans people are just the same as anyone else. We're just as human as anybody else. And I think that's woefully lacking. So we thought, you know, maybe now's the time to do this. And we hope that the story is one of joy and happiness, and hopefully makes people sort of think they seem like a nice, pleasant couple, rather than anything worse."

The couple's journey to parenthood first began years before they even met, when Jake made the decision to fertilise 19 eggs, resulting in five embryos that were then frozen.

"I think I'd got to a point where I was starting to feel - not necessarily believe - but feel that maybe being trans shouldn't prohibit me from having all these things that other people take for granted like getting married, falling in love or having a family. And, honestly, I didn't really believe that it would work."

"I thought that I was giving myself a tiny chance of one day potentially being a father. But I couldn't for a second really fathom anyone wanting to have a child with me, or any of these embryos working or ever being so fortunate as to one day sit and hold my baby in my arms. And I wasn't thinking that we'd get to where we are now."

After first getting to know one another over Facebook, it was during their very first phone call that Jake told Hannah he was looking for marriage and kids, something Hannah was taken aback by although she very much respected his honesty.

"Before Jake, I had never dated. Because pre-transition, I was just so uncomfortable in myself that the idea of having a relationship just wasn't right for me," Hannah explains. "And when I came out, I really thought that I was choosing a life without relationships, let alone getting married and having kids and so it was just so outside of my frame of reference. It's a very sad thought, but I thought, who could love a trans person?

I think I said, 'Well, I'm not against it, I just never really thought about it'. As time went on, we started dating and that relationship became more serious and we became more committed to each other. That sort of realisation, the possibility of being parents started to open up, but I'm still incredulous that it ever actually happened."

When the time came to find a surrogate to carry their future baby, Hannah and Jake found it was by no means an easy task.

"When the baby is born, regardless of whose embryo, egg or sperm it is, it is entirely the surrogate's child. It is her baby legally," says Jake. "And so that's what obviously puts a lot of women off from being a surrogate. Because if the intended parents decide they don't want the child, she's left holding the baby. And if the surrogate decides to keep the baby, it would potentially mean a legal battle and heartbreak on both sides."

"The agencies are all in a position of wanting to help, but they just don't have the people to really do it. So there's a lot of false promises and a lot of false hope. You hear about the reality which is people waiting three, four or five years and sometimes never finding anyone that they match with in that way."

After exploring their options for surrogacy overseas and even online, it was TV presenter Lorraine Kelly who came to the couple's rescue. Having supported them for years on her ITV morning show, Lorraine invited Jake and Hannah to give the audience an update on their life as a married couple.

"We happened to mention that we were looking for a surrogate and all of a sudden we just had this deluge of offers from wonderful women across the UK but the one that really shone through and that we really clicked with and who was genuine about doing this was was our wonderful Laura."

After getting to know the woman who would be giving them the most incredible gift, following their very first transfer, Jake and Hannah were overjoyed to discover Laura was pregnant with their baby.

While they flew to Laura's home in Northern Ireland for the 12 and 20-week scans, it was tough for the couple to be so far away from their growing child. It was something Hannah especially struggled with.

"One of my biggest insecurities was because I've never been a mum and I didn't really know any women who'd had my experience of being a mother that didn't carry that child, so I worried that I was somehow not connected with my child. I feel like my body made a mishap by being trans in the first place and I wondered if that mishap had carried over to whatever parental instinct or the hormones that I knew I didn't have," Hannah remembers.

The coronavirus and hospital restrictions meant that Hannah and Jake were unable to be in the room for the birth of their daughter, something that did little to ease Hannah's fears of not connecting with her baby.

"In the run-up to having Millie. I really wanted to be there in the room when she was born. I wanted to be there right from the first second and to have that skin-to-skin really early on. And when she was born, I didn't snap out of those feelings straightaway. It took probably two or three days and I was up at something like three o'clock in the morning for a feed, with her lying on my chest. I thought: 'Right now I am everything to you, you have nothing else, I am it'. And I just knew at that moment that I would do anything for her and it was like ah, that's what being a mum is."

While for some it's a straightforward experience to become a parent, Jake and Hannah are sympathetic to those, like them, who have struggled.

"I would tell anyone in that position right now that you are not alone," says Hannah. "There are many people who have been through similar things. And there is a community out there if you know how to connect with it. Do not suffer in silence, do not sit and worry wherever you are, because there are other people who can give you that support."

It was just three weeks after Millie was born that Laura approached the couple about having another baby, something Jake and Hannah were delighted about. While their next attempt sadly ended in an ectopic pregnancy, their next resulted in the birth of their second daughter Teddie, born in June 2022.

Remembering trying to explain that Millie was going to be a big sister, Jake said: "I think because there was no physical bump, it was very hard for her to understand the concept that there was a new baby coming, so I think we were much more anxious about what would happen than she was.

Thankfully there was nothing to worry about. "She's so affectionate with Teddie," Jake beams. "They are so sweet and Teddie adores Millie and when Millie runs into the bedroom or into the living room in the morning, Teddie's face just lights up."

As with most of us, both Jake and Hannah's histories have influenced how they want to raise their daughters.

"At its most basic, I want my daughters to be brought up extremely open-minded and very kind. And to understand, there are all sorts of different people in the world," says Hannah. "One of the things I love about our community and the part of the world we live in is that Millie is exposed to differences in all its normality. She has friends with two mums or two dads and all sorts of ethnic backgrounds at her nursery, she's getting a really diverse upbringing. That's something that means a lot to me."

"We want them to know, from a very young age, that whoever they love, whatever they want to be, or whatever they want to do, is wonderful," Jake agrees. "We want them to have absolutely zero judgment at any point in their lives and to feel free to be exactly who they are. And we will embrace, cherish and celebrate that."

As for their book, Hannah and Jake hope the release will be a positive move all around and will provide access to the humanity of trans people.

"We've got very supportive parents, and we've been very, very lucky. We want to let all those worried parents of trans kids and gender nonconforming kids and non-binary kids and fluid kids to know that they're not signing off on seeing their kid walk down the aisle, or grandkids or any of those things. That is very, very important to us," says Jake. "And for younger people who hopefully will be able to pick the book up or even just point at it in the bookshop and say, 'those are trans people there and look at them, they're just like anyone else'."

Becoming Us book coverLezli+Rose
Price: $27.03

Becoming Us by Jake and Hannah Graf (Coronet, RRP £22) is published 29th June 2023.

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