Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow - the first gay couple in Britain to have a baby with a surrogate mother, and who advised Sir Elton John and David Furnish over their new son, Zachary - tell Olga Craig about their newest arrival: a "one-stop-shop" surrogate baby centre which they open in Essex next month.
It is a morality tale for our times. To the casual observer, they could have been the conventional Christmas festivities seen in any household – turkey and trimmings, excited children, doting parents and a huge pile of presents under the tree.
But this was anything but a traditional gathering. In the Drewitt-Barlow home, the guest list for last weekend’s laughter-filled Christmas lunch consisted of five children, their two fathers and their four mothers.
In our changing moral climate, in which the traditional nuclear family is becoming increasingly outmoded, such a mix of melded families is far from uncommon.
But this household – a happy one, it must be said – is unique. Seated around the table with gay parents Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow and their children were the two women who donated eggs and the pair who were the surrogates, carrying the children.
The youngsters call Barrie Dad and Tony Daddy and refer to all four women as Mum. They live with their fathers in Essex during term time and spend the holidays in California, where the couple also have a home and where they see their mothers – although none of the women has any legal rights over their offspring.
Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, 42, and his partner Tony, 46, were headline news a decade ago when they became Britain’s first gay surrogate parents.
They made history when they travelled to America and, using an egg donor and a surrogate mother, became joint fathers to twins Aspen and Saffron, now 11. The couple launched a legal battle for the right to have both their names on the twins’ birth certificates, being designated as parent one and parent two.
In the years since, having become acknowledged authorities on surrogacy, they have gone on to have three more children – Orlando, now six, and twins Dallas and Jasper, nine months.
Although the unorthodox creation of the Drewitt-Barlows’ children caused considerably controversy in 1999, with much ethical debate about the morality of gay couples using egg donors and surrogates to have children, fewer scruples surround the practice today.
But judicial change has not kept pace with public thinking, and Britain’s law surrounding surrogacy – in particular strict rules on paying a surrogate anything other than ‘‘reasonable expenses’’ and a ban on advertising such services – has meant that few British couples, whether homosexual or heterosexual, have access.
‘‘This is really the main reason we have decided to open the British Surrogacy Centre in early February,’’ said Barrie Drewitt-Barlow. ‘‘It will be truly transatlantic, with offices in Essex and California, so that we can guide couples though the process from start to finish. At the minute, couples in this country are being ripped off by greedy lawyers charging up to £50,000 for completing the legal requirements to have a gay or lesbian couple both named as parents on a surrogate child’s birth certificate. Yet it can be done quickly and easily in our San Francisco centre for as little as £250.”
More importantly, couples, whether heterosexual or homosexual, can begin the process in the British centre, organising the medical and legal requirements and choosing the woman who will provide the eggs and the woman who will carry the child, and will only have to travel to the US for the birth.
Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, who advised Sir Elton John when he and his civil partner David Furnish opted to have a surrogate son – Zachary, who was born on Christmas Day – have already helped 38 couples to have surrogate children, and this weekend they are in San Francisco with a couple from Islington, north London, who are awaiting the birth of their surrogate twins.
“This will be the 45th child we have brought into the world for British couples since 2002,’’ said Barrie Drewitt-Barlow. ‘‘The total cost ranges from £25,000 to £85,000, depending on the experience of the birth mother and the number of attempts needed, but, having experienced the joy of fatherhood ourselves, Tony and I felt we wanted to help other couples.’’
Although the couple have signed a confidentiality agreement with Sir Elton, they acknowledge that one of the singer’s aides approached them last year seeking advice. ‘‘What we are hoping is that, by having a surrogate son, Sir Elton will make the whole concept more socially acceptable.’’
But, while the ethical debate over gay parents and surrogacy no longer shocks, many in this country remain morally uneasy about the concept.
‘‘I can understand that feeling,’’ Barrie Drewitt-Barlow conceded. ‘‘Initially, I thought myself that choosing the look of one’s child made me uncomfortable. But then, when I thought about it, I realised that, if I was a straight man, I would be using the same criterion – did I like blondes or brunettes, green eyes or blue? – when choosing a partner, a partner with whom I would be having children.
“Now I have absolutely no qualms. Do I worry about what people in general think of what we have done? Not at all. If people don’t like what Tony and I have done, that is their hard luck.’’
At the time, however, the couple had to overcome harsh criticism. ‘‘Ten years ago, everyone thought we were a pair of paedophiles. They could not get their heads around a gay couple wanting to be parents. What else could we be? We had to be paedophiles. We have spent the past decade persuading people that is not the case. Like many couples, we just want a family. We are both from big families and wanted the same.’’
The Drewitt-Barlows have collated a comprehensive database of egg donors and women willing to carry the embryo. They leaflet American shopping malls and universities to find women willing to help, and the couple pride themselves on finding near-perfect matches.
‘‘The couple awaiting the birth this weekend are Indian,’’ said Barrie Drewitt-Barlow. ‘‘Understandably, they wanted an egg donated by a woman from the same ethnic origin as themselves. While the host mother is white American, the baby, the sperm for whom was donated by the Indian father, will be Indian. I see no problem with this. Even those who adopt often like a child that, physically, looks as though he or she could be their natural child.’’
A perennial question, they admit, is whether they feel strongly about the sexual orientation of their children. ‘‘Why should we?’’ Barrie Drewitt-Barlow said simply. ‘‘We don’t want them to feel they are offending us by not being gay. To be honest, there was a time when I would have said it would probably be better if they were straight – because their lives would be easier. But things are changing so swiftly in this country. Soon, no one will care at all.’’
Article: 2nd January 2011 www.telegraph.co.uk
Read more about surrogacy and finding an egg donor. For more about gay parenting visit www.prideangel.com