Barry Du Bois knew his children were his the precise moment they were created. He saw it, felt it. It was a hot morning in Mumbai, India, when the former builder was permitted into the hospital laboratory to watch his sperm being implanted into a donor egg.
As he writes in his new book Life Force, “I was there, watching, when I saw the cell, the single cell of one of my children go… blip… into two cells. I saw that happen with my own eyes. I was there for the creation of life.
“I knew this was the time. I knew they were my children, right there and then.”
Nine months later, their Indian surrogate gave birth via C-section, while Du Bois and his wife, Leonie Tobler, waited anxiously on the other side of the theatre wall. Within moments, newborn twins Arabella and Bennett were brought into the world and straight into their parents’ arms.
That was almost six years ago. Yet as the Living Room host told Mia Freedman on Mamamia‘s No Filter podcast, their status as parents is still something some people question.
“It so frustrates me when I’ve had people say, ‘What did the mother think?’ And I say, ‘Well, my wife’s the mother. What are you talking about?'” the 57-year-old said.
“I wish surrogacy was better understood in this country. You know, I can be easily frustrated. I don’t put too much thought into the uneducated opinion of some. But those children are our children.”
The path to parenthood was a difficult one for the couple. After multiple miscarriages and IVF, Leonie was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Saving her life meant undergoing a radical hysterectomy.
“We went from little heartbeats to sobbing, many many times. And IVF, it’s not making love; it’s jabbing your partner with needles 30 times a month and being told at a certain time ‘go for it, as hard as you can’. What an imbalanced plate that is,” Du Bois, who has also fought cancer, said.
After investigating adoption, Du Bois and Tobler settled on surrogacy in India. The country's laws ensure the intended parents are listed as mother and father on the birth certificate, and that the surrogate isn't the donor of the egg and therefore not genetically linked to the child.
The couple endured six failed attempts with four surrogates before the birth of their twins.
"Surrogacy for us was incredible. The closeness we had with the woman who was going to carry the embryos. Leonie was so in sync with her. I can recall really clearly one night she sat up in bed and said, 'Something's wrong. Something's wrong.' And you wouldn't believe it, but the next day the doctor rang us from India and said, 'There's a problem, and if we were going to terminate one of the children, this is the time we would do it,'" Du Bois said.
"As it was, we said that, as long as everyone is safe, we'd like to push forward... Of course we got through it."
Today, Du Bois says fatherhood means every day is a little bit better than the one before.
"It's incredible. I'm a pretty simple guy; I think that's why we're here, to procreate and leave a legacy. The legacy, so far, is love, sense of belonging, warmth, nutrition, security. Maslow's 'hierarchy of needs', that's what it is," he said.
"Being a father is a gift."