Same-sex couple in South Africa believed to be first in the world to have triplets using a surrogate

The new fathers say they feel "blessed"

image via IRN

image via IRN

A same sex couple in South Africa are believed to be the first in the country and possibly the world to have triplets - which also include identical twins - using a surrogate.

In another rare twist, the male couple share biological fatherhood as DNA from both men was used.

The new parents, who were friends and neighbours of former Paralympian Oscar Pistorius, met their surrogate only because of the athlete's murder trial.

The couple, Christo and Theo Menelaou, have now taken their triplets back home to Pretoria after a nerve-wracking three weeks in hospital, where the babies hovered between life and death.

They were delivered prematurely at just over 31 weeks on 2 July.

Joshua was the first triplet born by caesarean and was the heaviest, weighing 1.82kgs (4lbs), Zoe came next, weighing 1.4kgs (3.1lbs), and finally Kate followed at just 1.3kgs (2.9lbs).

Joshua, also the longest of the trio, measured only 40cms (less than 16ins). They were put on breathing apparatus and constantly monitored until they were considered strong enough to leave Sunninghill Hospital in Johannesburg.

Even so, they went home separately with Joshua being the first discharged on 22 July at three weeks old; Zoe left 10 days later, followed by her twin Kate on 4 August.

These were the triplets which no one thought would ever be born. The couple themselves believed they would never be parents.

Christo Menelaou told Sky News from his home in Pretoria: "When you are gay, there is always the thought that it just may not be possible to be a parent no matter how much you would love to be."

"It's very hard to be accepted for adoption and we were told we would always come after heterosexual couples. And then we just never thought we'd ever find a person who would want to be surrogate to a gay couple."

But they did. A mother of three whom they encountered through the Pistorius murder trial agreed to bear their children.

The couple met their surrogate after a group of neighbours on the residential estate where the killing took place got together after the trial.

Few knew each other before the athlete shot dead his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013. But, in the aftermath of the traumatic events, many became firm friends. One of the key state witnesses introduced Christo and Theo to their surrogate.

South Africa's strict laws on surrogacy meant both men, their surrogate and their surrogate's husband had to sign affidavits in agreement and appear before a judge to insist they all agreed and were willing participants and no money would be exchanged (aside from expenses incurred as a result of the pregnancy).

In a further bizarre twist, the first judge scheduled to consider the case was Judge Masipa - the judge who presided over the Pistorius trial. She was changed at the last moment.

The couple went to an egg bank and chose their eggs before one embryo fertilised with Christo's sperm was implanted in the surrogate's womb, along with another embryo fertilised with Theo's sperm (two embryos is usually the limit implanted to avoid dangerous multiple pregnancies).

But 10 weeks into the pregnancy, a scan revealed that one of the embryos had split and the surrogate was now bearing triplets of which two would be identical twins - an extremely rare occurrence.

A string of doctors advised the couple and the surrogate to terminate two of the babies to give the third a better chance of survival but finally they found a gynaecologist who agreed to help them deliver all three.

Dr Heidra Dahms, the gynaecologist at Sunninghill Hospital who delivered the babies: "It is extremely rare. I have never heard of this before."

In fact, there's very little data for same-sex surrogate babies - and the likelihood of triplets makes the event even rarer.

When you take into account that two of the babies are identical twins, the family enters a largely unknown set of statistics.

A team of more than 20 surgeons, nurses, anaesthetists and the two fathers were all in theatre as the babies were born in early July with three separate medical teams dealing with each baby.

With the babies weighing a little over a kilogramme each, their lungs needed extra help to breathe at first and Theo slept in the hospital by their bedside for three weeks until they got stronger. Even so, there are challenges ahead with Zoe needing surgery on a heart defect which must be carried out within six months.

Right now though, the couple are just celebrating the fatherhood they never thought they'd enjoy, caring for the triplets at their own home with the help of two nurses who are with them night and day. Each baby is still fitted with a monitor which sounds an alarm when the baby stops breathing.

"We have to gently massage their backs," Theo said, "or tickle their toes just to remind them to take a breath."

His eyes fill with tears as he talks about the births. "We feel so blessed. We really do."