Melanie and Leah introduce their IVF egg-swap sons

In a bid for a deeper connection, the loving couple carried each other’s baby and sometimes feed the other one’s bub too!
Photos: Tim Cuff

Talking to the Weekly about their beautiful boys, Leah Kerr and Melanie Arthur are in many ways like most new parents – completely in love with each other and their sons Alfie and Charlie, and exhausted from caring for the five-month-old babies around the clock.

But the soon-to-be-married mothers are also in a unique position to understand almost exactly what the other is going through after using IVF last year to fall pregnant with each other’s egg and the same sperm donor.

“They both feel biologically mine,” shares Melanie, 40. “I know science would argue that, but they get a lot of you when they’re in your womb. They really both feel equally like my babies, which is why we swapped eggs.”

The Nelson couple first shared their pregnancy story with us in September 2023, when they were excitedly awaiting the birth of their boys. But with their due dates so close to each other (just six days apart), Leah and Melanie were a little nervous they could possibly go into labour at the same time or miss each other’s births.

Melanie (left) and Leah are now looking forward to their honeymoon in Italy with their sons.

While this didn’t eventuate, the pair share there were still plenty of unexpected events. Leah, 37, shares her story first.

“I was induced at 37 weeks and six days. We found out from a scan Alfie wasn’t growing, and I had high blood pressure and was suspected to have pre-eclampsia, so it was safer to get him out.”

Pre-eclampsia is a dangerous pregnancy condition, often associated with high blood pressure and restricted growth for babies in utero. Left untreated, it can cause organ damage and be fatal for both mother and baby.

On top of this, Leah had been living with near constant pain from two herniated discs in her back.

Acknowledging how resilient her fiancée is, Melanie explains, “She was even recommended to have spinal surgery while pregnant, which is a massive deal, but when she made it to 37 weeks, they decided to wait until after birth.”

Leah continues, “I had been in a lot of pain, but it wasn’t until labour I realised it could get a lot worse.”

After seven hours of challenging labour and one big push on November 1, 2023, Alfie Alan Arthur-Kerr was born.

Melanie tells, “The midwife had left the room to get a bowl of hot water and when I looked, I could see a head coming. I thought, ‘Will I have to catch baby and do I need to wash my hands?’ By the time I’d thought that, baby was out in one big contraction and the midwife arrived just in time to scoop him up.

Alfie Alan Arthur-Kerr (left) was born on November 1, 2023, weighing 2.4kg. His brother, Charlie Elias Arthur-Kerr was born on November 12, 2023 and weighed 3.9kg.

“You were so strong and amazing,” Melanie lovingly says to Leah.

Smiling, Leah explains it was a wonderfully calm moment cuddling Alfie for the first time, but at only 2.4kg, they were shocked by how little he was.

“I got him dressed and he was so tiny, I felt like I was going to break him,” says Melanie.

With concerns about his glucose levels, little Alfie was admitted to the Special Care Baby Unit.

“He was feeding off me, and having donor milk and glucose syrup,” says Leah. “But because his glucose levels kept dropping, he also had to have a line and nasogastric tube put in for constant feeding.”

For three days, they camped in the maternity ward, seeing Alfie whenever possible. Melanie remembers it as a weird time in limbo. She was just days away from giving birth herself, but says she was also really focused on Alfie.

“It was hard seeing him with all those wires.”

After being discharged and back home, Leah and Melanie spent the first week cuddling Alfie and excitedly waiting for Melanie’s turn.

Charlie’s here! The brothers meet for the first time.

Melanie and Leah each have two older children from previous marriages. Melanie’s first two births had been by Caesarean when she didn’t go into spontaneous labour.

With her history, a C-section was booked for November 20 in case she needed it, but Melanie was still open to a natural birth before then if possible.

“I remember the midwife saying, ‘I don’t know if you’ll make it that long. With all the hormones in this house, you’ll probably go into labour soon!’” recalls Melanie. She adds it proved to be true.

On November 11, Melanie thought she was experiencing lots of Braxton Hicks contractions during the day. The, she found something was definitely happening after getting out of the shower that night.

“I was drying myself, but just not getting dry. Leah looked at me like, ‘Yes, sweetie, your waters have broken.’”

It was 10pm, so Melanie’s mum rushed over to look after baby Alfie, while Leah and Melanie headed back to Nelson Hospital for the second time in just a week.

“I was pretty scared about natural labour,” admits Melanie. She ended up having an emergency Caesarean after a scan during labour showed her baby was breech.

So, with Leah right by her side in the operating room, Charlie Elias Arthur-Kerr was born a healthy 3.9kg.

“We got used to Alfie being this tiny baby. When they pulled Charlie out, he seemed so big and his head was enormous,” says Melanie. “I turned to the anaesthetist and said, ‘I’m quite glad I didn’t have to push that out!’”

Laughing, Melanie continues, “Leah was a wonderful support. It’s quite scary having a massive operation, but she was there with me and carried him over so I could see him and have a little kiss.”

Since then, adjusting to life with two babies, who are considered twins by the Multiples NZ society, has been the best and hardest thing they’ve ever done.

“They’re absolutely beautiful and we love them to pieces, but they’ve both had colic,” shares Leah. “If you put them down for five minutes, they’re crying. Sometimes, they just don’t stop crying.”

Despite the many tears and trials, they don’t regret a second of it. They agree emphatically that swapping eggs to carry each other’s biological baby was the right decision for them.

“It’s not something you hear about every day. There have been times we’ve had to correct people who say they’re only half-brothers or other comments,” says Leah. “We don’t need them hearing anything negative – they’re our babies and brothers, and that’s it.”

Melanie explains that people can get quite hung up on the details. While they don’t plan to hide anything from Alfie and Charlie, it feels largely irrelevant to the pair.

“It will come up when they want to ask about it. But to us, it doesn’t matter whose genes they have or who was carried by who.”

Two cute! The brothers are best buddies already.

The Tasman couple first met nine years ago while their now-teenage daughters attended the same theatre class. Then both in long-term heterosexual marriages, as their daughters became best friends, so too did Melanie and Leah.

“I didn’t expect to fall in love with my best friend, but we didn’t know how true love would feel until we found it,” shares Melanie.

By 2021, they had both left their husbands and it wasn’t long into the relationship before they started dreaming of experiencing pregnancy and parenting together.

Now life is a chaotic but magic jumble of babies, breastfeeding, trying to sleep and finding time to eat.

“One of the most common questions we get is, ‘Do you breastfeed both babies?’” says Leah.

The answer, “More often than not, we stick to the baby we birthed but, yes, sometimes we do, which is really lovely.”

It’s just one of the ways they’ve been able to support each other through the intense postpartum period. They say thankfully most of the time they don’t have “bad days” at the same time.

“If I see Leah struggling, I instantly want to help her,” tells Melanie. “Even if I’m feeling low too, I snap out of it to be there for her. She has been so amazing, especially with the added pain in her back. No matter how tired we are, she’ll always find the energy to get up and make a nutritious meal.”

Leah, who underwent her spinal surgery in January, is quick to return the praise. She shares how much she admires Melanie’s calm approach to parenting.

The compliment is extra-meaningful after Melanie confessed to Leah how hard she found it to stay level and not get stressed while parenting her older children.

It’s already been a year to remember with more memorable events to come yet. They couple are looking forward to their Queenstown wedding in June, then having the boys baptised the next day with their closest friends and family present.

“We’re so happy to have found a priest who’s very accommodating,” says Melanie.

And then it’s off to Italy for their dream honeymoon with the babies in tow.

The pair are quick to joke and laugh with each other. They say how they can’t wait to celebrate everything they’ve achieved and experienced in Venice with their boys.

“But realistically,” Leah chuckles, “we’re most excited about the food!”

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