Baxter Bateup is snuggled up in his bassinet on the couch at his proud new parents’ designer home at Currumbin when Ocean Road buzzes the front gate and is ushered inside. Tinky, one of three pint-sized pooches belonging to Hayley Bateup and partner April Zekulich immediately leaps into the bassinet as if to protect young Baxter from the ‘intruder’. It’s clear from the devoted attention he’s receiving that a little over a month since entering the world, Baxter has made himself right at home in the Bateup/Zekulich household.
The gorgeous new little nipper in the life of iconic ironwoman Hayley Bateup and her long-term partner April Zekulich has brought obvious joy to one of Australia’s most high-profile gay couples. Amid the divisive marriage equality debate, the love Hayley and April share for each other, and now Baxter, shines through.
“He’s been a dream baby so far,’’ Hayley says, her polar white smile beaming as she and April dote over their son in the sun-dappled courtyard of their home just back from Currumbin Creek.
“I know things can change but at the moment he’s only waking up once a night. A couple of times he’s woken up at 4.30am but it’s when we usually get up anyway.’’
Baxter was brought into the world by Dr Michael Flynn on July 2 at Pindara Hospital, tipping the scales at a healthy 3.8kg, after what April described as a ‘dream’ pregnancy.
“I wasn't sick, I felt great – probably the best I ever have. Pregnancy definitely agreed with me," she says, cradling Baxter lovingly in her arms.
A child was something Hayley and April, who met almost a decade ago at Northcliffe Surf Club, had long-desired. But with Hayley's ironwoman career, and their burgeoning Bateup's Body Blitz personal training business, the timing had to be right.
"From the start, we always discussed it and said it was something we'd like to do," Hayley says. "It was a big deal for both of us and it took us a while to do it, but we wanted everything right."
With Hayley's retirement from a glittering lifesaving career that included three Coolangatta Gold titles, and the Body Blitz business well-established, the planets aligned for parenthood.
"Once we decided we were going to have a child, there were a lot of decisions to be made about how we were going to go about it and who would have it," Hayley says. "Would we have a (anonymous) sperm donor or would a friend provide the sperm?
"April definitely wanted to carry whereas I was like either way. I didn't do that part but April really wanted to experience it and she was awesome."
Baxter was conceived by IVF through the Queensland Fertility Group. The sperm donor, Hayley and April reveal, was a Cuban-born university student living in the US.
Donors fill in a detailed questionnaire, allowing recipients to assess everything from family medical histories through to hobbies and personality traits.
"A big thing for us was that we wanted someone who was a bit extroverted, sporty and a go-getter," Hayley says. "Not all donors have photos but this guy did and that was a bonus. He's good-looking with nice hair and skin and a good physique."
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding with Hayley’s egg and the Cuban born donors good looks blending perfectly to make a beautiful Baxter. While April and Hayley are grateful to the donor, they have no plans to meet him.
"If you go down that path, they're sort of in your life and become almost like another parent," Hayley says. "We've got plenty of male friends we could have asked to be sperm donors if we'd wanted to bring a third person into the equation but April and I wanted to be the parents. It (meeting the donor) just makes things a bit more complicated. If, when Baxter turns 18 and wants to meet him, he's got the right to do that."
A driven athlete, Hayley admits Baxter's arrival has slowed her down somewhat, although perhaps not by the average person's standards. Two days after Baxter's birth, and battling sleep deprivation, she was back competing in a gruelling road race in her new sport of cycling. "I came home from hospital, picked up my bike, did the 74km race, won it and went back to the hospital," she says.
The day after they brought Baxter home, Hayley was up bright and early to run a Body Blitz session. And she reveals she has just been accepted into the fire service, fulfilling another goal to save lives and help the community.
With her new-found passion for cycling, Hayley is also eyeing a possible berth in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast. "I hope to be on a pro team in the NRS (National Road Series) next year and see where it goes from there," she says. "I'm already competing against a lot of the pro riders and going really well.”
A chronic shoulder injury ended Hayley's ironwoman career and also dashed hopes of tackling triathlons, so cycling is 'ideal' to stoke her competitive fires. "I can go for a two to three-hour ride in the morning and be back home for Baxter," she says. "Blitz is only a few hours a day so it gives us plenty of time with the baby." (check it out at www.bateupsbodyblitz.com.au)
The support of Hayley's mother, Sally, who helps with babysitting and Body Blitz duties, allows the girls to juggle their schedule around Baxter and work. "Mum's great – she comes and stays a couple of nights a week," Hayley says. "Baxter's her first grandchild so she's loving it. She was pushing us to have one."
April's parents, who live in WA, are old hands at grand-parenting, with Baxter their seventh. "Mum came over for the baby shower and she and dad can't wait to come over again," April says. "Hayley and I both love travelling as so we'll no doubt be taking Baxter to WA when he gets a bit older and also to Bali, which is one of our favourite holiday spots. We want him to fit into whatever we're doing."
As Ocean Road interviewed Hayley and April for this story, the marriage equality debate was raging across the nation after the US Supreme Court legalised gay marriage. But with Australia the world's last developed English-speaking nation not to allow same-sex marriage, federal Coalition MPs voted to maintain the status quo until after the next election. It's a decision that disappointed Hayley and April who, as a committed couple, would have loved to have married before having Baxter.
"A heterosexual couple would go: 'let's get married and have children' … but that choice wasn't available to us," Hayley says. "There are that many people now who aren't in heterosexual relationships, they're in gay relationships. The times have changed and it's just accepted, even by kids at school. Even Tony Abbott has a gay sister. Same-sex couples should have that choice to get married."
As for critics of gay parenthood, who question the absence of a male or female role model, Hayley is equally forthright. "He's got two loving parents and that's really all that matters," she says. "We see having two mums as a benefit and he's surrounded by plenty of male family members and friends."
Hayley admits that being a professional athlete can be a selfish pursuit and Baxter's arrival has changed her life, but for the better. The daily grind of training, competing and injury rehabilitation, coupled with early nights or social outings, has given way to the joys and challenges of raising a little human.
"It's just nice to be home as a family," she says. "April and I have always enjoyed fishing and boating and going to the beach but now we've got Baxter to share all those things we love. We'll definitely get him into nippers and surfing because they're healthy, outdoor sports and kids love the ocean. Having Baxter will make everything more fun, I reckon."
April adds: "It (parenthood) makes all the little things more enjoyable, it brings you back to earth."
Will there be a little brother or sister for Baxter down the track?
"We've always thought we'd only have one but now maybe we'll have another, mainly for him to have a playmate. It's a bit more fun going for a swim in the pool if you've got a mate," Hayley says. "If we do decide to have another, we've got April's eggs there frozen and she'll just go again. We'll see, but for the moment, we're just enjoying Baxter."