Article and photos from hienalouca.com
Alexandra and Calder Berney-Edwards are among the very few fraternal twins — that we know of, at least — with two different fathers
Adorable 19-month-old twins Alexandra and Calder are the spitting image of Daddy — or make that both their daddies.
Alexandra shares father Simon’s big brown eyes, while Calder’s piercing blue gaze makes him a doppelganger for his father, Graeme.
‘Dada, Dada, Dada,’ they chorus as they swap places on the laps of their devoted parents.
It’s their favourite word. And what about Mummy? Well, that’s a bit more complicated.
They have a ‘tummy mummy’, a Canadian surrogate called Meg Stone — a 32-year-old single mother of two sons aged 12 and six — who carried the IVF twins for the British same-sex married couple.
Then there’s the twins’ biological mother, an anonymous American egg donor about whom the family knows almost nothing, apart from a detailed medical history.
For sure, this will make for a very interesting bedtime story when the twins are old enough to understand.
For Alexandra and Calder Berney-Edwards are among the very few fraternal twins — that we know of, at least — with two different fathers.
Usually born to super-fertile mothers who have been intimate with more than one man while ovulating, these cases normally come to light only when paternity is questioned.
But Simon and Graeme’s one-of-each twins were very much planned — and at considerable cost — although they insist vanity played no part, nor a desire to pioneer a fashionable trend in the brave new world of assisted fertility.
For while there is greater acceptance of families with same-sex parents these days, Simon and Graeme are painfully aware there are still some people who do not approve. Even a few gay acquaintances were, they say, ‘dismissive’.
‘Sometimes people stare, and we can see them having little private conversations about us, but on the whole most people are very accepting,’ says Simon.
‘We’ve always said we will be very upfront with the twins as they grow up, explaining their heritage in an appropriate way. There is so much diversity these days that having two dads is not quite as shocking any more.’
Certainly, the parental landscape has changed dramatically within a short space of time.
When the couple first approached a clinic in Las Vegas three years ago, they imagined having only one child to begin with, possibly followed by a second a few years later — not unlike Sir Elton John and husband David Furnish’s two young sons.
But when the question arose of who would father their first child — cue much discussion and indecision — the clinic suggested a twin pregnancy: implanting two embryos fertilised separately by each of their sperm, a practice not permitted in the UK.
The couple jumped at what sounded a logical and fair solution to their situation, and now, the two little ones are creating merry havoc in the kitchen-diner of their South-East London home, with toys and books spilling across the floor.
‘We always said we didn’t want to know whose child was whose because it really didn’t matter to us,’ says Simon, 43.
‘But almost as soon as they were born it was pretty evident just by looking at them!’
With IVF fees standing at £25,000 — and that’s without international flights, accommodation, surrogate expenses and lawyers’ fees — the couple also realised two separate pregnancies would be financially crippling. So they went for the double whammy.
Even then, they had to remortgage their home, but they achieved their dream: the twins were born naturally in Canada on June 25, 2017, with both fathers — bursting with excitement — in attendance.
Alexandra was born first, at 6 lb 10 oz, and the couple had no idea which of them was the biological father.
But when Calder followed seven minutes later, weighing 7 lb 3 oz, there was no question of ‘Who’s the daddy?’ He was the spit of Graeme as a baby.
‘Holding them for the first time was just unbelievable, and I still feel emotional thinking about it,’ says misty-eyed business development manager Simon, as he cuddles daughter Alexandra, who showers him with kisses.
‘Picking up these two little beings and looking into their eyes was just so overwhelming.’
Former landscape gardener Graeme, 48, who writes a blog about being a gay stay-at-home dad, adds: ‘There was just this huge wave of love. It was absolutely amazing. Every day, I feel blessed to have these two.’
But do they ever find themselves favouring their own biological child over the other? Simon shakes his head, insisting: ‘I love them both equally and in different ways.
‘Actually, at times I almost have a better relationship with Calder and Graeme has a better relationship with Alexandra, because it mirrors our relationship.
‘Alexandra can sometimes really push my buttons because we’re so alike, and Calder can push Graeme’s.’
Certainly, the twins don’t appear to have a favourite daddy. They are equally cuddly with both, swapping places in their arms without so much as a squabble.
And, despite their obvious genetic heritage, they have their own unique personalities.
Mischievous Calder goes by the nickname Cheeky Bear on account of the glint in his blue eyes and his determination to ‘get into everything’.
He is also ‘court jester’ to Alexandra, or rather Little Princess Bear, whose steely, regal glare ‘would stop a herd of stampeding elephants in its tracks’.
‘She will make people work hard for that smile, but it’s worth it,’ says Graeme. ‘Her daddies can usually be found wrapped around her little finger.’
Simon and Graeme, who met online eight years ago, agree the twins’ arrival has turned their life on its head, not that they have a single regret.
Their smart terrace home, once a neat, orderly space, is now overrun with books, educational toys, clothes and two lively toddlers.
The days when Simon and Graeme could afford two or three holidays a year, plus 30 or 40 trips to the theatre, are a distant memory, and a large whiteboard on the wall lists meals, naps and kiddy activities.
‘I love our new life, but there are moments when it’s pure pandemonium and you think: ‘Please just stop!’ But there’s something very lovely about having two children chattering away in the back of the car,’ says Simon.
Graeme, who credits ten years working as airline cabin crew for his cool, calm head when dealing with small, demanding customers, adds: ‘Our lives are unrecognisable, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
‘I cannot believe my luck, either in meeting Simon or having these two. When I take the kids to Twins Club I actually feel quite broody and want more.’
With nine viable fertilised embryos still in storage, that’s a possibility, but Simon protests: ‘No! We’ve got our hands full. Ask me again in a few years’ time!’
When Simon and Graeme first came out as gay in their early 20s, attitudes were such that they never imagined they’d have children.
Canadian surrogate Meg Stone — a 32-year-old single mother of two sons aged 12 and six — carried the IVF twins for the British same-sex married couple
Graeme, who grew up in the Scottish town of Hamilton, always longed for his own family, especially after his mother died in 1995 aged 50, followed by his younger sister who — unable to cope with the loss — took her own life five years later, aged just 27.
With no other children, his father, Eddie, 77, had resigned himself to never experiencing the joy of grandchildren.
Likewise, Simon, who grew up in Sussex the eldest of four children, longed to be a parent but, over the years, had to content himself with being ‘fun uncle’ to his six nephews and nieces.
‘We’re just like any other couple who finds they’re incredibly happy and then thinks, wouldn’t it be nice to have children?’ says Graeme.
Initially, they wanted to adopt, but their application ended in disappointment when they were told they didn’t meet the agency’s criteria.
So they started to research surrogacy and, finding UK laws too restrictive, sought help from an international agency — founded by a gay father to three IVF children — which directed them to the fertility clinic in Las Vegas.
‘There are some clinics where you can choose eggs from Ivy League geniuses, but that wasn’t important to us,’ says Simon. The pair chose their donor from a book of anonymous women.
‘The way our donor wrote about her motivation just spoke to us. She said she wasn’t ready to have children, but wanted to help others and use the money to put herself through college.’
Twenty eggs were harvested from the donor — half of which were fertilised with Simon’s sperm and half with Graeme’s, after they went through health and genetic tests — and then frozen.
Shortly afterwards, they made contact with Meg Stone, a retail night manager from Ontario. ‘I saw Simon and Graeme’s profile and I thought they had lovely smiles,’ she says.
‘I love being pregnant and always wanted a big family, so when my marriage ended I decided to use that ‘baby fever’ to help someone else.’
Simon says: ‘Meg is a special lady and we were drawn to her because she has this warmth. She said to us: «I have one stipulation, that I want to have an ongoing relationship with the children. I’d like to be the crazy aunt in Canada.»
‘That’s what we wanted as well. When we met for the first time, it was as if we’d known her all our lives.’
In October 2016, Simon and Graeme watched via Skype the ‘mind-blowing’ moment their two embryos were implanted into Meg’s womb. They didn’t choose the sex of the twins and didn’t know if they would get two boys, two girls, one of each, just one, or none at all.
There was even a risk the implanted eggs could split to produce triplets, or two sets of identical twins.
Ten days on, they were ecstatic when Meg sent them a picture of a positive pregnancy test, later confirmed by a blood test. The first scan, at seven weeks, was nerve-racking, and Simon and Graeme watched via an internet link.
‘The moment the person said: ‘OK, there’s one embryo and there’s the other,’ we were so excited and shocked,’ says Simon.
‘For an hour-and-a-half, we were pretty much incapable of moving. We were crying, ecstatically happy and also thinking: «Oh my word, what have we done?»‘
Simon and Graeme waited until after the 12-week scan to break the news to their families — all of whom were thrilled. They refused tests to check the twins for Down’s syndrome and other disabilities.
‘We didn’t want to know because they were our children, and we’d accept and love them no matter what,’ says Simon. Both flew out to Canada for the 19-week scan.
Compared with carrying her own children, Meg found the pregnancy much more draining physically, suffering sickness, heartburn and swelling. Simon admits that, at times, the couple felt quite guilty at what she was going through to help them become parents.
When Meg had a scare at 31 weeks, fearing she was going to deliver prematurely, Simon and Graeme jumped on a plane and went straight to the hospital — not knowing if they’d be daddies by the time they arrived.
Doctors managed to halt the labour, but Simon and Graeme decided to stay in Canada and were on tenterhooks for six weeks. There were several more false alarms before the twins were induced at 37 weeks.
‘We thought labour would take hours, but it happened so quickly,’ says Simon. ‘One minute I nipped off to the loo and the next they were delivering the first of our children.’
It was pure coincidence Simon was at the ‘business’ end when Alexandra was born, so he was the first to hold his biological child and cut the cord, while Graeme did the honours with Calder.
‘Right up until the moment of birth, I was thinking: ‘Am I ready to be a father?’ But the moment I held the twins in my arms, I knew that I was,’ says Graeme. ‘It was everything I’d ever dreamed of.’
Simon adds: ‘It was so lovely in the recovery room, on our own with our children. I called my mum and when I held the camera out I could hear her screaming: «Babies, you’ve got Babies!» Then calling to Dad: «Dan! Dan! They’ve got babies.»
They named Alexandra after Simon’s grandmother and Calder after the maiden name of Graeme’s grandmother. The family stayed in Canada for another seven weeks while legal paperwork was sorted.
DNA tests, required before the fathers could apply for a parental order in the UK, confirmed what they already knew.
Since then, life has been a happy, if exhausting, whirlwind of sleepless nights, nappy-changing, play-dates, and weekly trips to the local Twins Club. On the twins’ first birthday, surrogate Meg travelled from Canada to celebrate with them. They keep her up-to-date via Facebook and regular phone calls.
Meg, now pregnant with surrogate twins for another couple, says: ‘I would carry another baby for them in a heartbeat to give the twins siblings. I hope to be in their lives as long as they want me.’
One thing is for certain about this very modern family: it may not be conventional, but the love is unconditional.
Says Simon: ‘What the twins will certainly know is that they were both 100 per cent wanted and are 100 per cent loved.’
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