One of our family: Heartbeat star Jason Durr and his wife reveal how a stranger they picked from an IVF clinic brochure became a much-loved 'egg mummy' to their twins
08:55 GMT, 23 June 2012
Actor Jason Durr and his wife Kate looked on encouragingly as their toddler twins, Velvet and Felix, tentatively surveyed the young American visitor smiling at them.
Felix, being a gregarious little chap, immediately ran over to the woman and snuggled into her lap. Velvet, being a little more circumspect, shyly clung to Mummy’s legs before toddling over for a hug.
For the next few days the visitor, Brooke, a 28-year-old from Los Angeles, slipped seamlessly into Durr family life, playing with the twins — who turn three in July — and their older sister Blossom, seven.
They went for walks, chatted over lunch and Brooke was there for bath-time followed by a bedtime story, before giving the children a kiss goodnight.
One big family: Jason and Kate Parr with elder daughter Blossom (left), and donor Brooke (right), whose eggs helped create twins Velvet and Felix
So is Brooke the family’s new au-pair or nanny Is she an auntie, cousin or distant relative visiting from the States No. The truth is far more surprising and unconventional than that.
For Brooke is the twins’ ‘egg mummy’, without whom Felix and Velvet would not exist.
Brooke donated her eggs to former Pretty Polly model and TV presenter Kate, 44, for IVF treatment when Kate discovered an early menopause meant she could not naturally conceive a much-wanted sibling for daughter Blossom.
The embryos, fertilised in vitro with Jason’s sperm, were successfully transferred to Kate’s womb at an American fertility clinic and at 32 weeks Kate delivered the twins by Caesarean section in Britain on July 13, 2009.
Remarkably, Brooke — far from remaining anonymous — is now part of the Durr family.
She first came to stay with them at their Wiltshire home when the twins were ten months old, and visited for a second time in May.
Beaming: The family (left to right) Blossom, Jason, Kate, Velvet and Felix take a walk with Brooke
There is regular Facebook and email contact, plus internet conversations via Skype.
‘When Brooke saw the twins, we were all just beaming with delight. She was amazed at how much they had grown,’ says Kate of Brooke’s most recent visit last month.
‘Velvet and Felix love seeing Brooke, or egg mummy, as they call her and she loves seeing them.
The joy Brooke derives from knowing them is indescribable. It’s wonderful and I could never deny her that joy.
‘I’m the twins’ mummy. I carried them and I am bringing them up, but I wanted them to know from an early age that Brooke was their genetic mother and how kind and special she was to give us the gift of them.
‘I wanted that embedded in our family history from the word go, so it would never be a shock or put them in a position where they thought “Mummy’s not really my mummy”.’
It all sounds very lovely, but potentially fraught with difficulties. Doesn’t Kate feel jealous when her twins cuddle their genetic mother Doesn’t Brooke, a single woman with no children of her own, yearn to be a proper mother to Velvet and Felix
But Kate and Jason feel their way of doing things is the most psychologically healthy for all concerned — especially the children. This is why they have decided to speak out.
Happy parents: Jason and Kate Charman relax with twins Felix and Velvet shortly after their birth
They hope to open up a fresh debate about this traditionally taboo subject by being open and honest about how their family came about.
Kate says: ‘I have no insecurity or jealousy at all when the twins cuddle Brooke. I delight in it and encourage it, because to do so makes them feel comfortable about the relationship. It’s another person to love them.
‘The lines aren’t blurred at all. They are very distinct. It’s a bit like having a cousin or auntie come to visit you. She loves the twins but considers them our children.’
Jason, 45, who first found fame as PC Mike Bradley in the ITV series Heartbeat, and is currently starring opposite Jenny Seagrove in a stage production of the Noel Coward play Volcano, adds: ‘It’s not hard for Brooke to leave the twins. She is very grounded. She has her own life to lead, she’s very happy and I don’t get any sense she can’t bear leaving them.
‘Kate is the twins’ Mummy. She carried them, they both have her blood. It’s just the genetic material that isn’t Kate’s. Once the children are here, it’s all about love, not how they were conceived.
‘But we are very much aware that Velvet and Felix were in many ways Brooke’s gift to us.’
As for Brooke, who manages a block of apartments in the U.S., she too seems completely at ease with this unusual arrangement.
She says: ‘I love the twins, but not in a maternal way. I love them as members of my family.
‘There’s no confusion over who’s who: they call me Brooke, although they are too young to understand what egg donor means.’
Both Jason and Kate admit it was a ‘leap of faith’ when they decided to add to their family using a donor, having been through two failed IVF attempts using Kate’s eggs.
To complicate matters, there was also a question mark over Jason’s fertility, after he contracted mumps in 2005, which affected the mobility of his sperm.
Kate says: ‘I was upset and felt very creaky to be told I was peri-menopausal so young.
Twins: Felix and Velvet were born in 2009, thanks to the help of US-based egg donor Brooke
'We did consider giving up, because we have been blessed with Blossom, but she kept saying how lonely she was, and how desperate she was for a sibling.
‘We also looked into adoption, but we weren’t sure we were the right family to take on a child who may have suffered some kind of abuse.
‘It was our doctor at the fertility clinic who suggested using donor eggs. I had no doubts that I could love a child that wasn’t genetically mine. While genetic parentage is important, it’s more the love you can offer.’
At the time, the Durrs were living in LA, having moved there in 2007 for Jason’s work, returning to Britain in 2009.
Jason was filming the TV series Above Suspicion and during a short, rain-soaked holiday in France, the couple pored over hundreds of profiles of egg donors the fertility clinic had supplied them from associated agencies.
‘Brooke’s face just sprang out at me,’ recalls Kate. ‘Not only is she a very beautiful woman, but she also has a very kind and open smile. Her face just said something to me.’
Kate immediately emailed the agency, expressing an interest in Brooke as an egg donor and on their return to LA a week later the Durrs asked if they could meet her.
Thankful: Jason said Brooke's gift meant he and Kate had three 'fantastic kids who love each other so much they are inseparable'
‘At that stage all I wanted to do was shake her hand and say thank you, if she was going to do this for us,’ says Kate ‘We instantly felt at ease with Brooke and we gave each other a big hug.
‘We spoke about how important it was for us to be completely open and honest with our children, if we were lucky enough to have any more, and how we wanted them to grow up knowing their origins.
'We’d both done a lot of reading about how psychologically damaging it can be for some children to suddenly learn at 18 that they are the result of egg or sperm donation and we wanted our children to know their heritage from the start.’
Jason and Kate learned that Brooke was one of twins, who’d been adopted at four years old. Their biological mother was very young when she gave birth and had been unable to cope.
Although Brooke was to receive a fee of 3,200, her motives appeared altruistic.
Jason says: ‘She was quite amazing. I always remember her saying that she just wanted to be in a position where she could, just once in her life, help a family have children, because she’d been adopted. She had very loving adoptive parents, but was very conscious of them missing out on those early years.’
Kate adds: ‘If Brooke had purely been doing it for the money, I think it would have made us step away, because we wanted her involvement.’
Brooke explains: ‘It had nothing to do with financial gain, but everything to do with an overwhelming desire to give something back as a result of my upbringing.’
Once they had all agreed to proceed, Brooke had to sign a number of legal documents giving up all legal rights over the eggs. Kate and Brooke attended each other’s medical appointments, holding hands while the other had their legs up in stirrups.
‘About ten days after the transfer, I felt pregnant. I felt sick, tired and just like I did when I was pregnant with Blossom,’ says Kate, who moved with her family back to the UK 22 weeks into the pregnancy. ‘I was leaping around the kitchen with joy when the pregnancy test was positive.’
Jason adds: ‘I was absolutely thrilled. We’d gone from being a family of three to a family of five in a breath and we were just looking forward to seeing these two little miracles.’
The twins were born by elective Caesarean, on the advice of Kate’s doctor and midwife at the Royal United Hospital in Bath, with Velvet weighing 4lb 3oz and Felix 5lb 4oz.
Kate says: ‘Going into theatre, I remember very clearly thinking: ‘We are here now. This leap of faith we’ve taken with Brooke’s help, it’s all coming to fruition. How am I going to feel when they arrive Will it be different”
Star: Jason first found fame as PC Mike Bradley in the ITV series Heartbeat
‘But it was no different from how I felt when Blossom was born. I was overwhelmed with love. I kissed them and snuggled them and there wasn’t a moment when I thought: “They aren’t half me.” Here were these beautiful babies that I’d felt inside my tummy for almost nine months.’
Kate and Jason messaged Brooke via Facebook with the words: ‘They are here! They have arrived! We’ve done it, we’ve all made these beautiful babies.’
To which Brooke replied: ‘My eyes are full of tears. I just can’t believe it. It’s extraordinary. Can’t wait to see photos.’
Jason says of their deepening friendship with Brooke: ‘Because of her gift, we now have three fantastic kids who love each other so much they are inseparable. It’s all worked out fabulously.’
Kate adds: ‘Thanks to Brooke, our lives have been transformed beyond all recognition, bringing enormous joy to our entire family. Our daughter Blossom was so desperate to have siblings, so to see them all rolling around and playing together is just fantastic. We’ve been so lucky.’
Even more remarkable than this ongoing relationship with their egg donor is the fact that Jason and Kate — with Brooke’s blessing — have since donated their remaining unused embryos to a childless English couple living in New York, who’d undergone seven failed rounds of IVF.
So Jason is now the genetic father to another set of twins, a boy and a girl born four months ago, who are full siblings to their own twins and half-siblings to Blossom.
Already there are plans for the two families and egg donor Brooke to meet up, so that all the children grow up knowing their genetic parents, siblings and the circumstances of their birth.
Jason says: ‘I thought long and hard about donating the embryos, but for me it was a no-brainer. All I think is that there is now a family in America who will have the joy of children, as we do, because of what Brooke did for us.
‘It was my gift to them. It’s that simple. I’m just really pleased and elated for them that they now have two beautiful, bouncing twins who I know they will love. What was the alternative — the embryos remain frozen in all perpetuity
Father at work: Jason also starred as Lieutenant Colonel David Strangeways in ITV1 drama Fooling Hitler in 2004
‘We explained to this couple in America that we had a very open relationship with Brooke and wanted the kids to know their genetic mother and I said: “Look, if we were to give you these, this is how we would like it to happen”, and they agreed.
‘So there is no danger that at the age of 18 these twins will suddenly arrive on our doorstep having suddenly discovered I am their genetic father. They will grow up knowing me and their genetic mother Brooke. My feelings for them are the same as Brooke’s for our twins.’
Kate, too, has no issue with another couple bringing up twins whose genetic father is her husband.
‘For me, it is just the icing on the cake. It couldn’t get any better. We have these two fabulous kids and so do they. It’s just amazing,’ she says.
How this unusual arrangement pans out will only revealed with time, but Jason and Kate feel it is better to be open and honest with their children and embrace their egg donor rather than try to ‘sweep it under the carpet’.
‘We want to show how it can be done successfully in a way which is psychologically better for all concerned, especially the children. For us, it was important to celebrate Brooke’s gift to us,’ says Kate, who believes a change in the law in Britain is overdue.
In the UK there is a national shortage of egg donors, who can only claim compensation of 750 per cycle of egg donation, and women seeking donors face a two-and-a-half year waiting list.
Anonymity is guaranteed for donors, but children born from donated eggs or sperm have the legal right to request their genetic parent’s identity at 18.
Kate says: ‘Anonymity is important to some people, and if that is the only way they feel they can donate, so be it, but I would like people to question that. I don’t have any issue with a woman being recompensed in a way which reflects what she has gone through, but money is a side issue here.
‘What Brooke did for us has brought us so much joy and we feel it’s important for her to know us and the children she helped to create.’
• For more information on egg donation, contact The National Gamete Donation Trust — ngdt.co.uk