With their twin girls nestled in their arms, and proud son Spencer looking on, these two devoted dads’ broad smiles are a picture of ‘family bliss’.
Yet the first three months after the babies were born have been a harrowing nightmare for Steve and Marc Winchester-Horscrafts.
Because they were denied access to Aria and Autumn after a disagreement over money with the surrogate mother, who refused to hand the girls over if it wasn’t resolved.
What ensued was a heartbreaking legal battle that threatened to wreck the men’s marriage and left them and their five-year-old son Spencer – also born through a surrogate – devastated.
The dads had to borrow thousands, risking bankruptcy and losing their home, to take their fight for custody to the High Court after their surrogacy arrangement fell apart – leaving them banned from seeing their premature girls in hospital.
Steve, 27, says: “What we’ve been through nearly destroyed us – the fear we’d lose the babies we’d been trying to have for so long was overwhelming.
“It threatened our marriage, our mental and physical health. And it’s plunged us into huge debt.”
Marc, 36, adds: “We’d been with the girls since the day they were born and suddenly we weren’t allowed to see them.
“I went to the ward every day and gave the nurses clothes, nappies and cotton wool for Aria and Autumn. Then I’d sit by the doors and cry, wondering if we’d ever see them again.”
Now the couple are backing a campaign to change UK surrogacy laws to give more protection to the intended parents.
There was no hint of the hell that lay ahead after Steve and Marc carefully chose the mum, who we are not naming.
The families took their dogs for walks and their children on days out together. They regularly had dinner together and a strong bond of trust grew.
“We invited her to our wedding before she agreed to be our surrogate,” says Steve.
“We had no reason to expect problems – she’s been a surrogate before. We’d become close friends before trying for a surrogacy with my sperm.”
All had signed a surrogacy agreement.
In the UK, surrogacy for profit is illegal, but mums can be paid pregnancy-related expenses such as trips to hospital, childcare for appointments or maternity clothing, with the sum usually agreed up front.
Steve and Marc paid her £16,300 for her expenses, including £3,500 upon discovering she was pregnant with twins.
The twin pregnancy was even more special for Marc and Steve as they had been trying for a sibling for Spencer for two years, experiencing miscarriages with two other surrogates.
Aria and Autumn were born prematurely at 28 weeks on August 24 and put in neo-natal intensive care.
Delighted Steve and Marc were involved straight away, regularly at the hospital helping with feeds and giving the girls cuddles.
The bombshell dropped when they were five weeks old – one week before the Parental Order is usually instigated, fully transferring the surrogate’s parental rights to the intended parents.
After a three-month legal battle which involved Steven having a DNA test, the surrogate agreed parental consent at a High Court hearing in November. Now Autumn and Aria are at home for good.
Now Steve and Marc want better laws so others can avoid their plight.