Twenty-nine weeks pregnant, surrogate mum Leanne Davis, 37, can’t wait to meet the IVF baby girl she’s expecting.
Nor can her excited younger sister Rachael, 34, whose fertilised embryo Leanne is carrying.
Delivering this newborn will be very special. A labour of love. ‘We’re so looking forward to saying hello and giving her a little cuddle,’ says Leanne, 37, a single mum to three sons aged 17, 14 and nine. ‘We’re already joking about whose nose she will have.’
Rachael, who — as Leanne’s birthing partner — will hold her sibling’s hand and give words of encouragement, agrees: ‘It couldn’t be more emotional.’
Within hours, however, should all go well, both sisters will leave the hospital empty-handed after sharing tears of happiness and saying their goodbyes to the newborn to whom they have given life.
Surrogate mother Leanne Davis (right) with fathers Kevin (centre left) and Spencer Tewlis-Allen (left), with their son Sawyer and leanne’s sister Rachel Davis (centre right) who was the egg donor
Mental health care worker Leanne will return to her own family. Credit controller Rachael will reunite with her partner Steve King and three children aged 14, 13 and three, plus their 14-year-old foster daughter.
All they will take home is a memory of the joy on the faces of the baby’s parents — her delighted father Kevin Tewis-Allen, 47, a creative media company CEO, and his husband Spencer, 31, a lawyer.
The sisters are confident the baby will be in safe hands because, remarkably, this is not the first time they have given the married gay couple from Kent the gift of parenthood.
In April 2019, Leanne gave birth to their son Sawyer, now aged two. Again, one of Rachael’s donated eggs was used, fertilised on that occasion by Spencer’s sperm.
‘When a baby’s born, you always look for little family resemblances but Sawyer came out the spitting image of Spencer, so that made it a little easier to detach,’ says Leanne. ‘He even had the same comb-over hairstyle.’
In April 2019, Leanne gave birth to their son Sawyer (pictured at one month), now aged two. Again, one of Rachael’s donated eggs was used, fertilised on that occasion by Spencer’s sperm (left)
Leanne with Sawyer, a contented, bright, adorable blond toddler who is indeed the image of his father
Today, Sawyer is a contented, bright, adorable blond toddler who is indeed the image of his father, whom he calls ‘Daddy’. He adores Kevin too — ‘Dad’ — and also his two big-hearted ‘aunties’ who are welcome to give him cuddles whenever they want.
One day, when he and his little sister are old enough to understand, Spencer and Kevin intend to explain their remarkable genetic history and the special place the sisters — now both close friends — hold in their family.
‘Sawyer is the miracle child we thought we’d never have and Leanne and Rachael are the angels who made our dreams come true,’ says Spencer, who has wanted to be a father from the start of his 11-year-relationship with Kevin.
‘They’re like sisters to us now. They have transformed our lives in a way we never imagined. We are bonded for ever.’
One day, when he and his little sister are old enough to understand, Spencer and Kevin (pictured with Sawyer) intend to explain their remarkable genetic history
Pictured: Spencer (right), Kevin (left) and Leanne, with Sawyer – when they discovered they were pregnant with a second baby
The foursome meet up regularly (lockdowns permitting) for coffee, dinners and BBQs with all their children and extended families, who apparently get on like a house on fire.
Kevin adds: ‘I can honestly say that parenthood is the best thing that has ever happened to me, more rewarding than anything else, and I can’t wait to meet our new daughter. Actually, I’d love even more children.
‘My mum had given up on me ever giving her grandchildren, so to see the joy Sawyer has brought her, too, has been amazing.’
Leanne and Rachael are thought to be the only sisters in the UK who have worked as a surrogate team, which must make handing over a child to whom they are both related doubly complicated.
Surely they must feel the occasional twinge of regret or envy as they watch Rachael’s genetic son run to his daddies instead of to her? They insist not.
‘This is one of the most rewarding things I have done. We’d never have gone ahead if we thought we’d ever end up regretting it,’ says Rachael. ‘I love Sawyer and I care about this new baby — but only in the same way I might love and care for a friend’s child.
The foursome meet up regularly (lockdowns permitting) for coffee, dinners and BBQs with all their children and extended families, who apparently get on like a house on fire
‘Perhaps I’d feel a little differently if Sawyer looked like my own three children, but there’s absolutely no resemblance. It’s crazy; my DNA must be very weak.
‘We may share a genetic link but I feel no parental connection to him. All the joy for me is seeing the happiness he gives Spencer and Kevin.
‘For me, donating my eggs is just science, a bit like gifting a kidney. You don’t turn around and say ‘I want it back’ or ‘Can I just check on how my kidney’s doing?’ It’s not yours any more.
‘Just because he shares my DNA, I don’t think ‘that’s my baby’. People say ‘but he’ll never have a mum’, but to me love is everything and Sawyer couldn’t be more loved. I love my foster daughter just as much as my own children and we’re not biologically related. Parenting isn’t just about having a genetic link.’
Rachael admits she would have found it much harder to detach if she’d given birth to Sawyer. It would have felt too personal to carry her own genetic child.
Sawyer aged ten-months with surrogate mother Leanne (left) and egg donor Rachel (right)
Her partner Steve, too, struggled with the idea of watching the woman he loves give birth to a child they would never bring home together.
In contrast, Leanne says she could never donate her eggs and would find it impossible to detach from a child that was genetically hers.
‘I don’t feel it’s my child or my sister’s child but a child from a donor egg. I completely disassociate,’ she says. ‘I drill into my own children that I am only growing a baby for someone else, so they don’t think of it as a cousin.
‘I won’t lie, it is difficult giving up a child you’ve nurtured for nine months. You can’t help but wonder, ‘Will she look like Rachael?’. I do have a little cry in those first two weeks, until the hormones settle down.’
For Rachael, helping others to have children is a ‘calling’. She was just 13 when she witnessed the trauma of family friends who struggled to conceive and always dreamt of helping others become parents — a feeling that intensified after she had her own children.
‘I felt incredibly lucky to conceive so easily and it felt so unfair that there were other people who couldn’t have what most of us take for granted,’ she says.
It was after the birth of her youngest child that Rachael first began to explore the possibility of becoming an egg donor, by joining an internet fertility forum site in December 2017. She struck up a conversation with Spencer, whom she discovered lived close to her, and a friendship quickly developed.
‘I was just putting out feelers, asking questions, and everyone on the site was very helpful and respectful and I just clicked with Spencer,’ recalls Rachael.
‘We got on really well, and we arranged to meet up with my partner Steve and his husband Kevin, and we all just became good friends. They never asked me to be their egg donor but as we got to know each other, I felt ‘they’re the ones’.
The Tewis-Allens had already approached the Care Fertility clinic in London to be placed on their anonymous egg donor waiting list, while also searching for a surrogate willing to carry a future child.
Spencer says: ‘We always felt a little uncomfortable about using an anonymous donor, because you receive so little information and really know nothing about them.
‘All children have the legal right at 18 to find out about their genetic history, and you only have to watch Long Lost Family on TV to see how important it is for them to know about their biological parents.
‘We hated the thought of our child tracing their biological mother only to feel disappointed or rejected, so when Rachael offered to be our egg donor it felt a very natural thing to do.’
Rachel agrees. ‘My dad was brilliant and just said ‘this is fantastic’,’ she says. ‘He saw it as science, as I did, but Mum did have some concerns and was worried how she’d feel about a genetic grandchild being brought up outside the family.’ But once a big family barbecue was organised so everyone could meet Kevin and Spencer, the family wholeheartedly gave their blessing. They all agreed, the couple would make wonderful parents.
Today, Spencer says his mum and the sisters’ mum have become friendly, too, regularly exchanging messages via WhatsApp.
After undergoing counselling and psychological assessment at the fertility clinic, Rachael — who also passed various medical tests — was then given drugs to stimulate her ovaries and 29 eggs were harvested.
Half were fertilised with Spencer’s sperm and half with Kevin’s. After five days, nine were considered viable and put on ice.
But disaster struck when their original surrogate accidentally fell pregnant by her partner, leaving all their hopes of parenthood crushed.
Leanne recalls: ‘I first met Spencer and Kevin at a family birthday celebration. I’d heard so much about them from Rachael and we got on straight away.
‘Their story saddened me so much. When I got home that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about them and asked Rachael, ‘What do you have to do?’
‘I didn’t know much about surrogacy and thought maybe I was too old. Semi-jokingly, I said, ‘Maybe I could consider it?’ And the more I thought about it, the more I thought ‘Why not?’
‘The boys never put any pressure on me and we decided to get to know each other on a personal level first. It was paramount to me that my own children and family were 100 per cent accepting of the situation before I decided to go ahead.’
The sisters agree that they would never have gone ahead without the full support of their parents, siblings, children and Rachael’s partner Steve.
Commercial surrogacy is illegal in the UK, so neither sister was motivated by money — only altruism. Egg donors can only receive up to £750, while surrogates can only accept legitimate expenses — usually between £8,000 and £15,000 to cover travel to medical appointments, pregnancy supplies, food, clothes and loss of earnings.
After undergoing counselling and passing a psychological assessment at the fertility clinic, Leanne was thrilled to fall pregnant first time after one embryo was implanted.
‘None of us knew what to expect or how we’d all feel, so there had to be so much trust on both sides,’ she says.
‘As birth mother, I’d legally be responsible for the child if they changed their minds; and they had to live with the fear that I could at any time decide to keep the baby.
‘We discussed every eventuality and Spencer and Kevin were very clear that even if the baby had disabilities, they would love him all the same and take him on, as long as he still had some quality of life.
‘The boys were so supportive and involved in the pregnancy from the start, attending every scan and medical appointment, even if it was just for five minutes.’
They all feared the worst when Leanne’s waters broke at 28 weeks. Admitted to hospital, she was given steroid injections to try to mature the unborn baby’s lungs and delay labour.
But at 32 weeks Sawyer was born prematurely, with an anxious Spencer and Kevin dashing to the hospital just in time to cut his umbilical cord and give their son the briefest of cuddles before he was whisked off to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).
‘Holding our son for the first time was just overwhelming,’ says Spencer. ‘He looked so tiny and vulnerable and our hearts were bursting with love and fear we might lose him. It was terrifying.’
Leanne adds: ‘We were all scared. Sawyer was taken away immediately to NICU and naturally I was thinking, as his birth mother, ‘Does he need me?’
‘You can’t help but feel protective. But because we have such a great, honest relationship with the boys, they had no problem with me going down to intensive care to see him whenever I wanted.
‘This time round I’ve asked for a little time on my own with the baby, just to say hello and goodbye and meet this person I have been growing for the past nine months.’
After three weeks, Sawyer was well enough to go home with his parents — who were thrown in at the deep end, so they welcomed the support of the sisters.
‘Because his digestive system wasn’t fully developed, he had a lot of intolerances and couldn’t feed properly so I had to get up every hour during the night for those first 12 months,’ says Spencer, who took a year’s paternity leave to care for his son.
‘Looking back, I wonder how we managed. But now Sawyer is a very happy, healthy, contented, bright, placid little boy and the love we have for him has made our relationship even more complete.’
The couple’s quest for parenthood cost them £40,000, including legal fees for the parental order, which was granted seven months after his birth. But the joy Sawyer has brought — and their daughter will bring — is priceless.
Leanne says: ‘When Kevin asked me if I’d be willing to have another baby for them, he didn’t have to ask twice. It was very important to them, and for us, for the children to share the same genetic history and grow up knowing the same two aunties.’
But will there be any more?
Not for Leanne, who had morning sickness and fatigue with this, her fifth pregnancy. From now on, she will just be Mum to her own three and auntie to the other two.
As for Rachael, she has gone on to donate her eggs to another childless couple, who had a little boy a year ago. The mother carried the baby.
Rachael also switched roles and was surrogate mum to a little girl, born last October. Her parent is a 46-year-old single woman who had a tragic history of miscarriage. Rachael has no genetic link to the baby, as both egg and sperm were from anonymous donors.
‘I’d love to do it again, but only if the time is right and it fits in with my family,’ she says.
‘When you have children it’s an incredible feeling. But when you have them for someone else, it gives a completely different meaning to life.’