World

This English same-sex couple fathered twins who are half-siblings — and a Canadian surrogate helped them

An English same-sex couple cherishes the twin toddlers they have as the result of an arrangement involving a Canadian surrogate and Canadian surrogacy laws they feel are more progressive than those on the books in the United Kingdom.

Toddlers have same biological mother but each man is father of one child

Graeme, left, and Simon Berney-Edwards, gay men who thought they would never be biological fathers, are now the proud parents of twin toddlers. Graeme is the biological father of Calder, who he is holding. Simon is the biological father of Alexandra. (Submitted by Simon Berney-Edwards)

With two kids under two, the Berney-Edwards household in southeast England is a busy one. There are toddlers running all over the place. One pokes his dad in the eye and laughs before accidentally hitting his sister with a toy vacuum cleaner, causing her to wail. It can be a bit chaotic.  

But Graeme and Simon Berney-Edwards wouldn't have it any other way. As gay men, there was a time when they thought they could never have any of that.

Now, however, they have their twins, the result of an arrangement involving a Canadian surrogate and Canadian surrogacy laws they feel are more progressive than those on the books in the United Kingdom.

"You see them tearing around and they're having fun, and just for a moment, you just sort of step back and go 'Wow, this is it. They're here,' " Simon Berney-Edwards said in an interview at their home in Redhill, south of London.

"It can be very surreal," his husband Graeme Berney-Edwards chimed in.  

When they decided surrogacy was the way they would have a family, they reached out to a surrogacy organization that helped them understand their options.

That organization connected them with a clinic in Las Vegas where in vitro fertilization took place. That's also where they learned they could have twins and each be a biological father to one child by fertilizing half of their American donor's eggs with Simon's sperm, the other half with Graeme's sperm, and then implanting the embryos in the same surrogate. 

Graeme and Simon Berney-Edwards sit with their Canadian surrogate, Meg Stone. (Shannon MacDonald Photography)

It means Alexandra and Calder, now 21 months old, are twins but only half-siblings. Born just minutes apart, they have the same biological mother, but different fathers.

They quickly chose to have the birth take place in Canada rather the U.K. That was because, they say, the surrogacy laws in their country are dated, primarily as a result of the U.K. considering the surrogate, and her partner, if she has one, to be the legal parents for the first six weeks of the child's life.   

"And in that time, if the surrogate decides to change their mind, you have no recourse," said Simon Berney-Edwards. "Basically, that's it. Your child is gone."

Andrew Spearman, a British fertility and surrogacy lawyer, said the U.K. laws are "archaic" and that many of his clients turn to Canada for surrogacy.

"I think it gives an element of certainty. It gives the transparency, which we can't offer always, and it gives a very clear structure," he said in his London office.   

Graeme and Simon Berney-Edwards were pleased to welcome their twins in Hamilton on June 25, 2017. (Submitted by Simon Berney-Edwards)

Spearman said while U.K. surrogates and intended parents do draw up contracts outlining their agreement, the contracts aren't legally binding as they are in Canada.

Neither country allows surrogates to be paid, other than to cover their expenses, which Spearman said helps British parents explain the process to English courts when they return home. They still need to get a "parental order" in the U.K. that makes them legal parents and gives their children U.K. citizenship.

The Berney-Edwards say they were also drawn to the altruistic nature of Canadian surrogacy because they wanted more than a "transactional" experience.

"We wanted someone that was prepared to be part of a family throughout the children growing up," said Graeme Berney-Edwards.

Alexandra, 21 months, plays near her home in Redhill, England. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

After consulting a website that has profiles of women wanting to be surrogates, they found that in Meg Stone of Hamilton, Ont. Stone said that's also what drew her to them. 

"They mentioned that they wanted twins and I'm always up for a challenge," she said. "And they also said they wanted lifelong friendship, which was also something I wanted."

After a couple of false alarms that saw the dads dashing off to Canada early, Alexandra and Calder were born on June 25, 2017, in Hamilton, where they stayed for the first seven weeks of their lives.

Stone sits with Alexandra, Calder and her own biological children, Jeffrey, 12, and Max, 6. (Submitted by Simon Berney-Edwards)

Stone, who has two of her own children, has continued to watch the twins grow from afar, swapping messages and photos and even making the trip to England for the twins' first birthday.

Her 12-year-old son, Jeffrey Seroski-Stone, said he's proud of his mom for helping to create a family.

"I think it's exciting how my mom ended up helping them out by giving them children, and I think we usually have a really good time, so I consider them to be like family to me," he said.   

Stone holds Calder at a birthday party for the children in England. (Submitted by Simon Berney-Edwards)

Stone is pregnant with twins again, helping another same-sex family have children.

"I love being a mom and why wouldn't I want to help somebody else do that, too?" she said.   

She maintains she wouldn't want to be paid for helping others have children, but there is a debate in Canada about whether paying surrogates should be decriminalized.

Simon and Calder have fun at a park near their home in Redhill. (Kayla Hounsell/CBC)

The current Canadian law came into force in 2004 and prohibits paying surrogates other than to reimburse them for certain medical and maternity costs.

The federal government is reviewing the legislation, including identifying categories for reimbursement and making them more clear. A Liberal MP tabled a private member's bill that would decriminalize payments to surrogates but opponents say it amounts to commercializing a woman's body.

Stone disagrees with the idea that a surrogate be given the chance to change her mind, as is set out in the current U.K. law. 

"I never felt like they were mine to give away," she said. "They were [with] me to watch and nurture until Simon and Graeme were able to."   

The Berney-Edwards say when it comes to surrogacy law, Canada has it right, but that doesn't mean it was easy or cheap.

They won't put a figure on it, but experts say they would have spent tens of thousands of dollars on Stone's expenses, agency and legal fees, not to mention three trips back and forth to Canada.

"But it was worth it," said Simon.

"Every single penny, cent, was worth it," said Graeme.

Simon, left, and Graeme relax with their children and Stone at a celebration picnic in Ontario. (Submitted by Simon Berney-Edwards)

Although none of their biological parents is Canadian, Alexandra and Calder are Canadian citizens because they were born in the country, and their fathers say it's an important part of their heritage.

They look forward to the day they can explain to their children how they came into the world, how badly they were wanted and how much love was around them.

The Berney-Edwards family takes an afternoon walk to the park near their home. (Lily Martin/CBC )

In fact, they've already started to do just that.

As the children begin to get ready for bed, the entire family sits on the living room floor sharing a story.

Simon reads aloud, "Before I settle down to sleep, I'll blow a kiss goodnight, to make sure all of Canada will have sweet dreams tonight."