"Our sons don't need a father!"
By ALISON SMITH-SQUIRE - More by this author » Last updated at 16:50pm on 18th May 2007 Comments (30)
Anna Lloyd and Jane Harvey could be any middle-class mothers strolling with their sons in their local park.
But behind their everyday appearance lies a story of a highly unconventional family - for they are lesbian partners, and Oliver and Charlie, aged two, are their twins.
While other boys might grow up kicking a football around with their daddy, this is something the twins, both the product of a course of IVF using an anonymous sperm donor, will never know.
Welcome to the world of the thoroughly modern family - and one that is about to become ever more common.
Thanks to a shake-up in the law announced yesterday, NHS fertility clinics may no longer have to consider a baby's need for a father (or mother), so a gay woman would have as much right as a woman in a heterosexual relationship to walk into an NHS clinic and request fertility treatment in a bid to have a baby.
"Loving" family: Anna (right) and partner Jane with "sons" Charlie (far left) and Oliver
(quotation marks added by BrokebackAmerica)
It has also been proposed that the birth mother's female partner should be regarded as a legal parent.
Only a decade ago such a situation would have been unthinkable. Even today, it remains controversial and troubling for many.
Whatever the complex moral and social issues surrounding such conceptions, Anna, a 33-year-old radiographer, and her partner, Jane, 39, a medical lecturer, had no doubts that they were doing the right thing in bringing their sons into the world without a father.
Also, because their fertility treatment took place before March last year - at which time all sperm donors lost the right to anonymity - their sons will never even be able to trace the man they could legitimately call 'Daddy'.
"One day we will have to explain to our sons why we brought them into the world the way we did," admits Anna, who gave birth to the twins.
"We thought of asking a male friend to donate sperm, so that we would know who the father was, but he might have wanted to be involved in the baby's life.
"We didn't want this; we wanted to raise our children alone, without having to answer to the father.
"Yet we don't feel they will miss out. These days many children grow up without their dads if they come from broken homes. At least Oliver and Charlie have two parents in a stable relationship who love them dearly."
There is, of course, a world of difference between a child growing up with only occasional paternal contact after divorce and one who will never know his identity.
"While there will always be some people critical of what we have done, we feel there is nothing any dad could give our sons that we can't give them," says Anna, who the twins refer to as 'Mummy'. Her partner is known as 'Mummy Jane'.
"We are not man-haters - we have many male friends. But we can kick a football like anyone else, and we will cheer our sons on from the touchline as well as any father."
But does this doubling of roles - parenthood, rather than 'motherhood' and 'fatherhood', really work? What sort of future lies ahead for these little boys, who are so far - some would say blissfully - unaware of the way in which they were brought into the world?
Jane and Anna claim friends and family are thrilled for them and that no one "bats an eyelid" about their unusual family set-up.
Yet, Jane reveals that although the boys are only two, the couple regularly find themselves in awkward social situations, and they accept that there might be "issues" in the future.
"People who don't know me probably think I am their genetic mother when I pick them up from nursery, yet it was Anna who gave birth to them," Jane says.
And recently, at a child's birthday party, another mother who obviously thought Anna and Jane were simply friends with a son each was rather surprised when she discovered they were partners.
"We don't go into details with strangers," says Jane. "I might say: 'Oh, the children take after my partner,' but I won't mention it's a 'she'. And unlike a heterosexual couple, we are careful not to be touchy-feely when we're out because we know some people will be offended.
"I do worry about how the boys will be affected by having two mummies. I try not to think too much about the future because we will take on any problems as they crop up.
"But later on, as they grow older, we will have to be honest and face any obstacles that arise. After all, especially when the boys start school, they might feel different from their friends."
So, who will be the boys' role models? While no one can deny that the twins have a lovely family home, filled with toys and in a leafy road, their childhood will fly in the face of many experts who claim that boys, in particular, are better off raised with a man in the house.
Fathers, they say, are vital for young boys to respect and look to as good examples as they grow into men.
But the couple insist they are relieved they have sons, rather than daughters. Jane says: "We breathed a sigh of relief when we found they were boys. We both felt sons would be more straightforward than daughters - after all, then we would have had to cope with four women and eventually, four lots of PMT!"
Anna says: "The boys do have role models. Rough and tumble is provided by my father and brother, who they see weekly, plus four of their six godparents are men. One of the twins' first words was 'dadda'."
Both women say they had always wanted children, although Anna didn't realise she wouldn't have a conventional family until she went to university and met Jane, her course lecturer.
"I'd always dreamed of getting married and having a family. In my teens and early 20s I had a few boyfriends, but nothing serious," she says.
"After I finished my course in radiography, Jane and I stayed in touch, and then one evening we went out for a drink as friends and at the end of it I kissed her. It felt natural and I realised I was gay.
"My mum soon guessed Jane was more than just a friend. I was worried my family would be upset but they were fine about it."
Jane also realised in her 20s that she was gay, and although she'd always envisaged herself married with a family, she had a few lesbian relationships.
"I think my mother was shocked when she discovered I was gay and sad at the thought of not having grandchildren," she says. "Having two beautiful little grandsons is a pure joy for her and she absolutely adores them."
Within 18 months of meeting, the couple moved into their three-bedroom semi in Ipswich, Suffolk. But although they were happy together for ten years, they both felt something was missing.
"We longed for a baby," says Anna. "It was a natural instinct. While I knew I was never going to marry a man and have the life I used to dream of, I still wanted children."
The couple considered their options, finally deciding on sperm donation. They were determined that a man should play no role in their child's life.
"We were lucky we had our treatment before the rules changed, so our sperm donor will remain anonymous," says Anna.
"We felt it would be disruptive if the boys lived with us but had a father whose identity we knew and who wanted to be involved with the twins' lives."
The women scoured the internet for fertility clinics that were sympathetic to gay women wanting a baby.
"At the time, we had to go privately, since this was before the ruling that gay and single women would be eligible for this type of treatment on the NHS. Eventually, we found the London Women's Clinic in Harley Street."
However, it wasn't as straightforward as they hoped. Fertility tests revealed Anna would find it hard to become pregnant because she had blocked fallopian tubes.
Though Jane was older, it was decided that she should carry the child.
The process of selecting the qualities of their 'designer baby' was cold and clinical. Anna says: "We chose the hair and eye colour, build, blood group, religious beliefs and hobbies of our sperm donor. We selected one who was in a professional job with brown hair and grey-green eyes.
"The insemination took place and for two weeks we thought Jane was pregnant. We were devastated when it didn't work. It failed the second and third time too, and we became desperate. We really wondered if we would have this baby. Eventually, I said to Jane: 'Shall we have a go with me?'
"I needed IVF: my eggs would be removed, fertilised with the donor sperm and put back in my uterus. We'd already spent £3,500 on Jane's treatment and couldn't afford £5,000 for the IVF cycle.
"Fortunately, I was accepted on an egg-share programme, which meant that if I donated some of my eggs the costs would go down."
For ten days Anna took drugs to help her ovaries produce more eggs. They were then harvested and fertilised with the donor sperm, and five developed into viable embryos. Two were put back in Anna's uterus, while three were frozen.
"The following two weeks of waiting to see if the treatment had worked were agonising," admits Anna. "Finally, I couldn't wait any longer and we did our own pregnancy test at home. I remember screaming to Jane: 'I'm pregnant!' We were overjoyed."
The couple were even happier to discover at a routine scan at six weeks that they were expecting twins. "Friends and family were thrilled for us," insists Anna.
In April 2005, just three weeks before the babies were due, Anna gave birth naturally to Oliver, weighing 5lb 12oz, followed 16 minutes later by his brother Charlie, 5lb 8oz.
Jane admits that unlike the traditional father at the bedside, as a woman she was jealous that it was not her who carried their children.
"Yes, I was envious when Anna was pregnant," she says. "I'd longed to have a baby myself and was devastated each time the treatment didn't work.
"I worried that I might not bond with the twins. After all, they weren't biologically my children. However, as Anna's pregnancy progressed, I felt much closer to her. It was as if my own hormones kicked in and I almost felt pregnant myself.
"The boys were handed to me first in the delivery room and we both cried tears of sheer happiness. I only had to look at them to feel my maternal instincts start with a vengeance, and I immediately felt the bond between us - I saw them as my own sons as much as Anna's."
While Anna took maternity leave from her job, Jane was given 'parental' leave for the first two weeks after the birth.
Now, the couple view themselves like any other working mothers. Anna says: "We have a childminder and manage to do our jobs around the boys.
"We have a lovely circle of friends, many of whom are straight couples with children. We mow the lawn, do our best with DIY around the house and get on with all the household chores like any other couple.
"Thankfully, people are much more accepting these days, and because of the changes in the law, we feel that families such as ours will become much more common.
"When we're out, no one guesses we are a couple. Because the twins aren't identical, most people think Oliver is my son and Charlie is Jane's."
As for their sons, they insist that, ultimately, they won't miss out through not having a dad around.
"Most of our friends would probably say Jane is the more "masculine" partner. She may well be the one kicking the ball and building the Lego towers," says Anna.
"But so far, not having a man in the house has made no difference to the twins' behaviour. Both of them are boisterous and masculine."
Jane says: "We share the parenting equally. The boys often go to Anna as 'mummy' if they're ill or have fallen over, but we don't define ourselves by gender.
"We're a partnership, and we both feel motherly and fatherly. We both bring different qualities to the family."
Because she is not a genetic parent, Jane is not legally deemed to have any responsibility for the boys (although this might change if the new Bill is passed).
"We have to take out a joint residency order to give Jane equal parental rights over the boys," says Anna. "If anything happened to me, they wouldn't automatically be able to stay with her."
The couple are now considering having another child. The frozen embryos could, theoretically, be put back into Jane or Anna's uterus.
The couple also have the donor's sperm frozen, so Jane could again try for a baby using her eggs, making the baby genetically hers and a half-sibling to the twins.
"I would still like to experience pregnancy," says Jane. "But as it was so successful with Anna, it might be better if she has IVF again. We are most likely to use the three frozen embryos because they are the twins' real brothers or sisters."
Meanwhile, thanks to another change in the law, they are also planning to marry in a civil ceremony.
Certainly, Anna and Jane have no doubts about the path they have chosen. Quite what Oliver and Charlie will make of it all, when they are old enough to understand what it means to have two mummies but no daddy, remains to be seen.