‘Life is doable,â€ says Carolyn Ceeley, a tall, slim blonde woman. Her partner, Marianne Stubbs, known as Bear, is unapologetically tomboyish with short brown hair and studs in her ears. They have been together for 13 years and have three children: Ciaran (6), Justin (4) and Connor (4).
Their circumstances are unusual, but they welcome the idea of sharing their lives and happiness. One gets the sense that — as they sit facing each other, speaking interchangeably — now is a time of deserved satisfaction. Their journey has been long and difficult.
‘I always wanted children,â€ says Carolyn. It is a sentiment Bear shares. At first they approached a private clinic where they tried artificial insemination. After three attempts the doctors told Carolyn she would have to try in vitro fertilisation. Money was a matter of concern, but they were intent on having a child.
Pension funds were cashed in, as were insurance policies. A few other items, including their vehicle, were sold. Armed with knowledge and this money, the couple approached another clinic. ‘At the time the idea of a lesbian couple having a baby wasn’t acceptable, so I had to approach the clinic as a single woman,â€ says Carolyn.
Brenthurst Clinic in Parktown, Jo’burg, was the one of the first clinics to allow single women to have babies. There were two unsuccessful attempts, but on her third try she became pregnant.
‘I lost the baby after six weeks,â€ says Carolyn. They were angry and hurt but did not give up. Then they heard about Medfem, a fertility clinic in Bryanston. ‘After our first attempt there,â€ says Carolyn, ‘I was pregnant.â€
Medfem co-founder Dr Antonio Rodrigues says fertility treatment is not always successful. He attributes the clinic’s high success rate to the care and dedication of the staff.
Medfem opened its doors 16 years ago, when three doctors realised there was a demand. They resolved to put their efforts into creating a place where people felt safe and their privacy respected. The clinic looks at procedures such as in vitro, artificial insemination, sperm donation, egg donation and surrogacy.
‘Fertility is something we look at holistically,â€ says Rodrigues. ‘This is why part of the programme is lifestyle management — looking at things like stress and eating habits. We look at the person first, not the uterus or the sperm.â€
Riding on the joy of their first success, Bear decided she, too, wanted a child. They couldn’t have guessed Bear would have twin boys. They used the same sperm sample so their children are half-siblings.
Carolyn and Bear consider themselves a normal family. They own a nursery school, have supportive friends and family and Bear’s mother Cindy plays an integral role in their lives. ‘People do challenge us,â€ says Bear. ‘But I am protective and defensive when it comes to the children. Ciaran asks where her daddy is, but the boys are laid back. We try explaining to them, but of course they are still young.â€
Carolyn and Bear embrace difference. They wanted their story to be told for other couples out there. They hope that their children will understand that love is sometimes achieved in unconventional ways.