Gay man who longed to be a father spent £80,000, resulting in joyous IVF twins but a family divide

Antonio Marsocci’s friends were thrilled for him when he shared the happy news that a baby was on the way.

They knew he had longed to be a father for many years, and so they decided to celebrate by holding a ‘gender reveal’ party.

In front of them all, Antonio would cut into a cake — and the sponge would be coloured either blue for a boy or pink for a girl.

His baby was arriving in unusual circumstances: Antonio, a single, gay man, had engaged a surrogate through a fertility clinic in Cyprus.

He had given the staff there permission to disclose the sex of the baby to his friends ahead of the party but one day, walking home in Brixton, South London, he got a call from the clinic.

‘They said: “Antonio, before we speak to your friends, there is something you should know . . .” ’

It was not one baby on the way, but twins.

Antonio Marsocci with his three-year-old twin daughters Anna (right) and Maria (left). The business consultant was shocked when he found out he was having twins

‘I started crying and walked round the block, trying to get my breath. Then I knocked on my neighbour’s door and gave her a hug,’ he says. ‘I just did not expect that. It was overwhelming.’

Anna and Maria, his pretty, brown-eyed daughters, are now three-and-a-half years old and life is hectic.

Antonio, an Italian-born business consultant who has lived in Britain for 25 years, juggles parenting with advising leading fashion and beauty brands.

Becoming a father has made him happier than he could ever have imagined, but some people might question the wisdom of a single man bringing children into the world alone, let alone one who is HIV-positive.

Even his own mother was shocked and did not speak to him for many months after discovering that a Ukrainian surrogate was pregnant with her grandchildren.   

After the girls were born she relented — won round after Antonio bombarded her with cute photos.

Yet by anyone’s standards, given the array of different types of family we see in Britain today — married, divorced, single-parent, same-sex couples, ‘blended’ families — Antonio’s is an outlier.

Once the twins were born Antonio hired a nanny to help him during the day as he juggled with caring for two young children and his job advising leading fashion and beauty brands

Once the twins were born Antonio hired a nanny to help him during the day as he juggled with caring for two young children and his job advising leading fashion and beauty brands

Was setting off on a quest to become a father in his mid-40s (he is now 51) driven by love, or an act of selfishness? You decide . . .

Antonio’s house, with its tasteful decor — huge, squashy white leather sofa, dark wood and an artfully placed vase of tall yellow roses — would be perfect for an upmarket interiors magazine shoot were it not for the enormous TV screen on the wall, showing Peppa Pig.

The girls, in identical pink flowered dresses, don’t like ‘Dada’ to be out of sight.

As he talks, one or the other is climbing onto his lap, hugging his neck, interrupting to ask for a biscuit or wanting help to find her shoes.

Having been on night duty ever since the twins were born, getting up four or five times to feed and soothe them in the early days, while still trying to work (he had a nanny to help during the day), Antonio can’t remember the last time he got a proper rest.

But all the heartache and drama that led up to their birth — including being conned out of £15,000 by a ‘doctor’ from a clinic that took his money, then mysteriously shut down — has been worth it.

‘Absolutely,’ he says. ‘The joy of watching them grow, of looking into their eyes, is just indescribable. When I first held them, they were so tiny, so perfect, but life keeps getting better. Now they are older we can go out and do things together.

‘They are so kind and loving. Anna is always saying: “Dada, I’ll take care of you.” ’

Now, he wants to help other people — including those who find themselves alone or who, like him, are HIV-positive, achieve their dream of parenthood against the odds.

He has set up a helpline to advise gay or straight couples or single people on how to follow the path he took to surrogacy.

Antonio with the twins at three-weeks-old. He said he had the best three months of his life in a 'newborn bubble' after Anna (left) and Maria (right) were born

Antonio with the twins at three-weeks-old. He said he had the best three months of his life in a ‘newborn bubble’ after Anna (left) and Maria (right) were born

‘So many people find themselves in a situation like me, trying to adopt but having the door shut in their face, or not having any idea how to find a surrogate.

‘Over the past three years, as word of my story got around, people who needed help have sometimes managed to find me and I have enjoyed helping them.

‘I’m a giving person and I want to see them go through this journey in a nice way. I was alone, I didn’t have anybody to help me on the way. Even my family was against me, so I really do know how hard it can be.’

Antonio began his quest to have a child in 2017, when he was 47. He may have become a father through a route some might disapprove of, but in many ways he is touchingly conventional.

In his late teens, he began to wrestle with the realisation that he might be gay, something that was socially unacceptable in rural Tuscany, where he grew up.

He knew that coming out as gay would not only upset his mother but that he would be shunned by the community at their Roman Catholic church. At the time, he also had to accept that it meant he would never have a family of his own.

Still, his sexuality was undeniable: so he cut his ties with his old life and moved to London. ‘I got into the gay world, went clubbing and forgot about it,’ he says.

In 1997 he discovered he was HIV-positive. Medication has kept him healthy but his condition was another bar to becoming a father, even though gay couples were by then beginning to find ways of having children.

The end of a relationship in his mid-40s left him heartbroken — and still childless. So he began to think the impossible: that he would strike out alone.

His first thought was adoption. He went to see several agencies and was told by most that of course he could adopt, despite his age and health status, though he should expect to get a teenager rather than a baby.

During his journey to have children, Antonio was conned out of £15,000 by a doctor who said he would help him and then 'went out of business'

During his journey to have children, Antonio was conned out of £15,000 by a doctor who said he would help him and then ‘went out of business’

One woman he spoke to, though, was honest enough to tell him he had no chance.

‘Officially she told me the “correct” thing, but on the quiet she was truthful. That was lucky because it meant I didn’t waste time, I didn’t have false hope,’ Antonio says.

He read about surrogacy and looked to the U.S. for help, knowing that being HIV-positive and single would hamper his chances of finding a surrogate in Britain, where the process is legal but not enforceable by law.

The woman who carries a baby on your behalf is legally regarded as the mother and has consequent parental rights.

‘I found a doctor there who said he could help me. I was ecstatic to find someone to work with,’ he says.

He was asked to send a deposit of £15,000 ‘which, stupidly, I did’. Even now, his eyes fill with tears at the memory of the deception.

It isn’t losing the money that hurts — though £15,000 is a significant sum by anyone’s standards — but the cruelty of preying on someone so vulnerable.

‘They know how to play with your emotions, your hopes,’ he says.

At the time, he was making frequent trips to Istanbul for work, and through a colleague there was told about a doctor well-known for fertility treatment. This time, he did his research before making the approach, but still didn’t hold out much hope.

From what he had learned about the U.S., being HIV-positive added around £50,000 to the cost for surrogacy in clinics that would even consider you as a candidate — many would not.

Surrogacy is illegal in Turkey, but the fertility expert in Istanbul referred Antonio to a colleague in Cyprus. ‘I told him I was HIV-positive and he said: “So?” He was completely unfazed,’ says Antonio.

While some believe there is a risk of passing the virus from parent to child, Antonio says in practice this is impossible.

The medication he takes is so effective, the virus is not even detectable in blood tests, and the clinic employs a process known as ‘sperm washing’ to make sure fertilisation takes place under the best conditions possible.

The clinic in Cyprus provided an anonymous egg donor. Antonio does not know much about her other than that she is from Moldova, is tall, blonde and blue-eyed and married with a child of her own.

The surrogate who carried the twins was also provided by the clinic. Surrogacy is well-established and accepted in Ukraine — though like most aspects of life in the country, it has been disrupted by Russia’s invasion — but is open only to married, straight couples. For that reason the surrogate took up temporary residency in Cyprus.

The twins were conceived with an anonymous egg donor and carried by a Ukrainian surrogate who stayed in Cyprus throughout her pregnancy

The twins were conceived with an anonymous egg donor and carried by a Ukrainian surrogate who stayed in Cyprus throughout her pregnancy

Five embryos were created and Antonio had paid extra for sex selection, as he had imagined he wanted a son — but when the moment of implantation came, he could not make the decision and told the doctor to choose one randomly. And only one.

Most such pregnancies take place after implantation of several embryos, given the likelihood that one or more will fail. But Antonio was absolutely adamant. As a single man, he felt the last thing he could cope with was twins . . .

As he got on the plane back to London, he called his mother in Italy to tell her what was happening. She was utterly horrified.

She had not known he was gay, let alone embarking on parenthood; his brother was aware of his sexuality but Antonio had always insisted he should not tell their mother.

Now she was devastated — and appalled to hear he was trying to have a child in a manner she, as a Catholic, regarded as completely unnatural and wrong. ‘We argued and I ended up telling her: “Mum, I’m going to do what I want.” So she stopped speaking to me,’ he says.

When the clinic told him his surrogate was expecting twins, they offered to abort one of the foetuses, or suggested that if he wanted only one, the other could be put up for adoption.

‘When I heard those things I thought: “No! Those are my babies.” I had not planned for twins, but that made me realise I would do anything to protect them,’ he says.

The grandmother of the twins initially shunned the idea of Antonio being gay and having children, but once Anna (left) and Maria (right) were born she came round to the idea

The grandmother of the twins initially shunned the idea of Antonio being gay and having children, but once Anna (left) and Maria (right) were born she came round to the idea

He set about converting his home to make room for the girls and hired a nanny. The twins were due on January 7 — ironically, his mother’s birthday — but on Christmas Day 2018, he got a call from the clinic saying: ‘Congratulations Antonio, you have two presents coming! Can you come over tomorrow?’

He managed to get a flight on December 27 and was the first to hold the twins when they were born the next day by Caesarean section. ‘It was a beautiful moment,’ he says. ‘Beautiful.’

He stayed in the hospital for three days, schooled by the nurses in how to care for the twins, then spent what he says were the best three months of his life living in a ‘newborn bubble’ in a quiet Cypriot village while the paperwork that enabled him to bring the twins to London was sorted out.

It helped that he holds a British passport and by a stroke of fortune, sole parental rights for single dads became legal in this country a few days after the girls were born.

Every few months, he made picture books charting Anna and Maria’s progress and sent them to his mother, who eventually came round. ‘She really loves the girls now,’ he says.

His brother, however, shuns him, but he has been comforted by the sympathetic welcome his little family has received from his local Catholic church in London, where the girls have been baptised.

But what if his health fails, or if anything happens to him that prevents him caring for his daughters? Antonio says his friend Esra, the girls’ godmother, will step in.

Despite the family differences and sleepless nights, parenthood has been a joyful experience and one he wants to share.

Ever since the twins were born, people who have heard of his success through friends or colleagues have managed to find him informally. He has set up a website to make that easier.

He doesn’t pretend to be an expert on fertility treatment but he believes he has valuable experience to pass on.

Antonio received a call on Christmas Day from the fertility clinic letting him know the twins would soon be born

Antonio received a call on Christmas Day from the fertility clinic letting him know the twins would soon be born 

‘Most people start off like me, knowing nothing. Because of who I am, it is mostly gay men who have come to me for help, but there are some women, too.

‘One of them had tried to have a child herself but had several disappointments, then tried surrogacy, but the baby died. It is wonderful that after everything she now has a beautiful baby boy.’

One of the reasons Antonio has a little more time on his hands is that the girls have recently started nursery. For the first time, they are moving beyond the safe confines of Antonio and his friends and out into the world.

What would he say if they found it strange that some of their classmates had two parents — and other children noticed that they didn’t have a mum?

‘I think they are all too young,’ says Antonio. ‘If anyone asks about our family, I’ve told them to say “Dad is gay”. I want it to be very normal.

‘I have many female friends who spend time with them, so they have women in their lives. And they have what is most important to a child: they always know they are loved.’ 

To find out more about Antonio’s helpline, visit thinkpositivesurrogacy.com