Born with two mums
With attitudes to homosexuality in Jersey now more tolerant than ever before, sexuality is no longer a barrier to becoming a parent, as Lucy Stephenson discovered when she met a same-sex couple and their little boy
WHEN little Silas Nicholson-Horn wakes up in the night and shouts for his ‘mama’ two pairs of ears prick up.
Does he mean mama Chantal? Or his mummy Kaye? Or maybe he means both of them? After all, Silas is only 17 months old and both his parents currently answer to mama.
Because, as the child of a same-sex couple – Chantal and Kaye Nicholson-Horn from St Helier – Silas is lucky enough to have two mums.
And, when he is old enough and the couple explain to him how he was created, he will know that he has the option to meet his biological donor in the future too if he so wishes.
‘Quite a lot of people have told us you can tell he is a happy and loved little boy and that is a nice thing for people to say because ultimately that is the point – he has just got two parents who happen to be two women,’ said Kaye, a 31-year-old trust officer at Vistra.
‘Our family life isn’t probably too dissimilar to any other family, ultimately Silas has two parents who adore him and want him to be happy and he’s the little sunshine in our lives, we are very lucky that we have him.
‘He has also brought happiness to our wider family as well, as a great-grandson, grandson, nephew and cousin.’
She added: ‘Since having him I have reconnected with a few people from school that have had children too. There is a natural diversity now to every family and that's very positive. We want Silas to meet all sorts of different people from different walks of life.’
And it is not just their home life that is ‘normal’, whatever that may be.
Chantal and Kaye’s story of becoming parents will resonate with heterosexual as well as same-sex couples who have embarked on a fertility journey of their own.
Because the couple, who will have been together for 14 years in May and married in Montreal in 2010, spent five years undergoing fertility treatment before they conceived Silas, using one of Kaye’s eggs and a sperm donor.
And during that time they also suffered the loss of twins being carried by Chantal.
Unlike heterosexual couples, however, they both went through fertility treatment at different times and consider it a positive that they were better able to understand what the other was going through.
‘I was always quite open that I didn’t really see the point in getting married, but I knew that I wanted children,’ said Chantal, a 39-year-old business systems analyst.
‘And ultimately we did want to get married so that there would be some legal protection for the other parent. But under the present law I can’t be on his birth certificate.’
Kaye added: ‘Having a family was something we both wanted and our wedding vows included references to raising a family. These are the standard civil marriage vows used by both same-sex and heterosexual couples in Canada.’
However, despite being married and having been there every step of the fertility treatment and then pregnancy journey, under Jersey law Chantal is still not allowed to be on Silas’ birth certificate as his parent.
‘I get on really well with Kaye’s mum and her family but if I didn’t, you would always think what if something was to happen?’ said Chantal. ‘There would be the chance they could challenge my rights.
‘But I joke that he’s definitely mine – after all I paid for him!’
Kaye added: ‘Chantal not being allowed on our son’s birth certificate annoyed me because I thought any woman can come in here and say "this is the father to my child”, even if there isn’t a biological link, and heterosexual couples who have used a sperm donor don't have this problem. Biological connection is not a predetermination for being on the birth certificate, so why shouldn't Chantal be considered as his other parent?"
‘I should be able to say that my wife, who has been through five years of fertility treatment with me and is, in all senses, the other parent to my child. It upset me.’
Over five years the couple – who were not entitled to the same States-funded help that most heterosexual couples are – spent tens of thousands of pounds on fertility treatment and say they were very lucky to be able to afford it.
They tried for a baby for a number of years using intrauterine insemination, which can be done in Jersey, before progressing to IVF, which cannot and therefore brings with it even more associated travel and accommodation costs.
It was an emotional rollercoaster for them both, with many more downs than ups in the first few years at least, all of which took their toll on both Kaye and Chantal.
‘Our whole lives were planned around it, we lived in two-week cycles. It can completely take over your life,’ said Chantal.
‘We didn’t go on holidays, everything was just about this two-week cycle.’
Kaye added: ‘It had an effect financially, mentally, emotionally and then when you add in baby loss, miscarriage, as well – but that in itself is an interesting situation. There weren’t many people who understood it from my perspective.
‘A lot of miscarriage support is targeted at straight couples. I was contacted by the Miscarriage Association because they did a project called ‘Partners Too’ and they wanted a same-sex perspective so I shared our story from my view.'
‘It was almost harder for you in that respect,’ remarked Chantal. ‘When you are the person going through it, I think you just mentally get on with it.
‘We could support each other through the fertility treatment because we knew what each other was going through.’
But there were also some lighter moments that they are now able to look back on, as they sit in their living room and watch their son play happily with a set of blocks, and laugh.
Like, for example, the time a batch of sperm got held up at Customs.
‘I was tracking it and phoned them and asked what was happening and basically the sperm bank said that the courier said it was being held by Jersey Customs,’ said Kaye. ‘I was at work trying to have a surreptitious conversation about sperm without saying the word sperm. I thought “I’m not paying GST on sperm – there’s a line”.’
There are also rules about how many children a sperm donor can have in certain areas, which presented problems when the couple wanted to use some ‘leftover’ sperm from IUI for IVF in the UK.
‘They said no because that donor had reached his limit in the UK,’ said Chantal.
Over the years the couple, who since having Silas have met other same-sex couples with children or on the fertility journey, have used three donors.
The first time they took weeks to choose one and had a colour-coded spreadsheet. The second time took days and was easier for Kaye and Chantal to narrow down. And by the third time it was just a few hours.
Each time they were able to select what they wanted in terms of education, medical history (there is a history of cancer in Chantal’s family so they wanted to avoid that, for example) and physical attributes, which included height, as Kaye is tall, and dark hair to reflect their own.
As well as the donor’s own and familial medical history and pictures of the donor as both a child and adult, many also accompany their profiles with a personal statement about why they have chosen to donate.
‘Someone told me I have probably got more information on our donor than a lot of people get on their husbands or the father of their children,’ said Kaye.
When he turns 18, Silas will be able to contact that sperm bank and express a wish to contact his biological sperm donor if he so wishes.
There is also an online group where he can link to his biological siblings in the future if he wants to.
The couple, who have nothing but praise for Jersey’s Assisted Reproduction Unit and the support shown to them by their employers, also haven’t ruled out trying for more children, and have frozen embryos remaining.
After all, they say that Silas has been ‘entirely worth’ everything they have been through.
‘For me biology doesn’t make a family, love does,’ said Kaye. ‘I may have a biological link to Silas, but Chantal is just as much his parent as I am.
‘If I had known as a teenager when I came out that this would be an option for me I would have felt a lot more secure, I would have felt that my future was going to be happy, with being a mum a possibility for me.’
She added: ‘We are very proud to be two mums to our lovely little boy.’