Not being able to have a child when you are desperate to raise one leaves a bottomless ache. We speak to three families who found surrogate mothers to fulfil their dreams

The Menelaou family

Pretoria-based property developer Christo and stay-at-home dad Theo have been married for four years. They are the first same-sex parents in South Africa to have triplets born via a surrogate

The parent: Christo

‘I’ve known all my life I wanted to have kids, to have unconditional love and a sense of family. My dad was not a dad to me and I left home and school at 15. But I worked hard and made it anyway, and then I met Theo. We couldn’t wait to be parents, but adoption agencies told us that being gay, it would take years. We told our neighbour, and the next thing, we had an amazing SMS from her best friend’s sister. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Jacqui Burns, and I’ve been thinking of becoming a surrogate mom.” It opened a new world. From the moment we met Jacqui, we clicked. She had read up on surrogacy and helped guide us through the legal and medical processes. It was hard – the first set of embryos didn’t implant, the second set did, but miscarried. But then we finally heard she was pregnant – with twins! One egg had been fertilised with my sperm, the other with Theo’s, and both had taken. We were beside ourselves with excitement! At a 10-week 3D-scan, the sonographer suddenly went quiet: “You know there are three?” she asked. One of the two embryos had split, forming identical twins. We all started laughing! But three days later the gynae called us in: having triplets could endanger the pregnancy, he said. We should abort at least one baby. We were devastated. We flew to Cape Town and saw a specialist. He felt we could go ahead with all three babies. Jacqui was extraordinary; she left the decision to us but we felt a termination wasn’t an option. On 2 July, the triplets were delivered at 31 weeks, at Sunninghill Hospital in Joburg. There were 27 doctors and nurses in theatre, the biggest number since the hospital opened some 30 years earlier. As they lifted out the third baby, Theo and I began to cry, as did half the team. Joshua, Kate and Zoë were tiny but perfect. They were in critical care for five weeks, and Theo wouldn’t leave them – he slept in the car at the hospital. Bringing them home was the best and scariest moment. We’re hands on dads – my best is bath time. Our babies have changed our lives. They’re also the first triplets in SA and possibly the world born to a surrogate mom for a same-sex couple.’

The surrogate: Jacqui

‘My kids are seven, four and three, and knowing the blessing they are, I’d been thinking about becoming a surrogate for those who can’t have children. My husband has always supported me, and Christo and Theo would offer the babies a wonderful home. I always knew there was a chance of multiple births; I told Christo and Theo: “I’m just the oven, you can put in a tray of cupcakes, and some may rise, or all. How many you keep is your decision – you’re the ones who will be raising them.” When we were advised to terminate at least one of the twins, I assured them I was happy to carry all three to term. I was so pleased they did. Seeing all three babies with their dads warms my heart. They are where they were meant to be, with their dads. It’s fantastic to watch their progress and to know they’re in such loving hands.’

Valentina Nicol

The Robertson family

Ingrid Robertson, a Durban-based speech therapist, had two children with two surrogates

The parent: Ingrid

‘When my fertility specialist suggested surrogacy, I didn’t want to accept it – I was determined to carry my own child. But after my 17th or 18th failed IVF attempt and a miscarriage, I succumbed, awash with hormones and tears. Tracy, a teaching colleague at my school, had seen my agony, and offered to be our surrogate. It felt easier going with someone not too close. She got pregnant immediately and Ruby-Rose was delivered premature but gorgeous at 35 weeks, while we watched. We bonded instantly – through hormone treatment, I even managed to feed her a little of my own milk. My husband, Wayne, and I decided that same day that we’d do it again. Tracy gamely volunteered, but she’d had such a tough time with morning sickness and high blood pressure that the doctor advised against it. Then Adele, a nurse I’d been introduced to, volunteered to be our surrogate. She was amazing. I was a bit worried because she wanted natural birth, which encourages bonding, but after our baby shower she rang: the baby was in distress. The next day we had another call: be there in 20 minutes for an emergency C-section. We arrived just in time to see Isabelle lifted into the world. Words can’t describe it… having our two daughters has cost us dearly in every sense, but has given us everything. We’re just so grateful to the women who helped us.’

The surrogate: Tracy

‘I watched Ingrid’s long struggle to get pregnant, and when she miscarried my heart broke for her. Being a mom to my two boys is the most precious part of my life. I told her if she ever got to the stage of needing someone else to carry a baby for her, I’d do it. A year later, she asked: “Were you serious?” I talked to my boys, 17 and 20 at the time, and they thought I was mad but got behind me. I’m petrified of needles and the hardest part was having daily injections in my stomach for the first six weeks, to prepare the womb for the embryos to implant. The doctor put in two, but at six weeks’ pregnant, I started to bleed heavily. It was heartbreaking telling Ingrid but when the scan revealed that there was still one heartbeat, we all had tears in our eyes. I was booked off work for the last four months and spent them on a couch with a bucket beside me and earphones on my stomach. I played the baby recordings of Ingrid and Wayne talking to her, so she would know their voices. Everything gelled when Ruby-Rose was delivered and united with her ecstatic mom and dad. If I missed anything, it wasn’t her – she was never mine. I missed being such an intimate part of Ingrid and Wayne’s journey. It was a blessing to be able to play the role I did.’

The surrogate: Adele

‘I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be a surrogate. I’m a maternity ward nurse and know just how much can go wrong in pregnancy and childbirth. But when I met Ingrid and Wayne through a colleague, I liked them instantly. Ingrid had drawn up a list of pitfalls from her experiences and I mulled it over for a week. I kept seeing Ingrid and Wayne’s faces, full of hope. That’s what persuaded me. We had two failures and when the third implant took, I was thrilled. I didn’t allow myself to get emotionally attached – I’d made up my mind I was merely an incubator. But when they lifted the baby out of me and then took her away, I had a strange feeling. I remember thinking, “She’s gone. After nine months she’s been taken.” It was unexpected and fleeting; I think hormones played a role. Ingrid stayed in maternity and I was taken to a different ward as it’s policy to keep the surrogate and the newborn apart. Ingrid took me to see the baby the next day. She was so beautiful! I was so happy Wayne and Ingrid had her, and that they were happy with her. It was surreal. I won’t do it again.’ Ingrid Robertson, a Durban-based speech therapist, had two children with two surrogates.

Valentina Nicol

The Kapongo family

Jeanne is a nurse and her husband, Constantin, is a paediatrician in Empangeni in KwaZulu-Natal. They had their second child via a surrogate

The parent: Jeanne

‘We married 22 years ago, before leaving the Democratic Republic of Congo for a new life in South Africa. We wanted a family, but struggled for 11 years, with four failed IVFs. I had given up when I discovered I was pregnant. In July 2006 our wonderful son, Daniel, was born. We accepted he would be an only child, but when he started school, he began asking for a brother or sister. He would wake up crying for a sibling! We began trying again. But although doctors could find nothing wrong, I kept miscarrying. That’s when our specialist suggested surrogacy. I have two sisters, but he advised against that, as each time I saw them I’d be reminded that they had carried our child. I visited an international surrogacy website, but the surrogates are paid and the cost would be about R850 000. The cheapest place was Brazil, but after going there on holiday we decided against it. Then, late in 2014, our specialist called to say there was someone we should meet. I met her in a crowded restaurant, but she stood out – when our eyes met, she smiled, there was a special warmth. I knew I had our surrogate mom. We went through the lengthy process of tests and contracts, and in March she and I started our hormone injections. In May our embryo was implanted, and three weeks later we found out she was pregnant. We wept and showed the scan to Daniel, who was convinced it would be a boy. He even had a name: Jediel. I will never forget the relief and happiness, and Daniel’s exclamation while holding Jediel for the first time: “No more embarrassment at school when my friends tell their family story. Now I have plenty to tell of my own brother.”’ Jeanne’s surrogate chose not to be identified.