San Diego, CA
A recent post in Pantsuit Nation (a facebook group that was originally set up for supporters of Hillary Clinton and now covers a wide range of progressive issues) caught my attention. Ian Jenkins wrote, in part:
I spent today with my two husbands, lovely egg donor mom & her wife, our surrogate, and our beautiful children! It’s Pride season, and I’ve never felt particularly proud of just being gay, or out; that’s just me. But now, with intolerance on the rise in America, I *am* proud of my unique modern family!
I have long believed that families can and should come in all shapes and sizes, and I have celebrated the strides this country has made in recognizing same sex couples as spouses and parents. But I was confused and intrigued by Ian’s post. The egg donor and surrogate I can understand. But how does he have two husbands? Even for someone as left-leaning as I am and expansive in my view of what constitutes a family, I must admit to some head scratching. So I reached out to him, and we had a nice chat. And here is what I learned about Ian’s unique family and the fact that his two children have the first birth certificates in the world that recognize three fathers and a “poly family” as the legal parents.
Ian first met Alan, his partner of 17 years, in Boston. Ian was a resident at Beth Israel Medical Center who supervised Alan, a Harvard medical student on his team. They fell in love and decided to move to California together to pursue their medical careers, where they could enjoy, as Ian puts it, “a sunnier physical and political climate.” Seven years ago, Ian met Jeremy and brought him home for dinner. So far, I know you are all with me. This is where the story takes a turn, and I will admit to my own prejudice (for lack of a better word) in thinking that any two people, no matter where they fall on the gender identity spectrum, should be able to love each other without judgment and be together without any legal or social impediments, but more than two seems to be rocking the boat too much. Hearing Ian describe it, though, it makes total sense and not only causes no harm, but enhances his relationships with both men.
Ian had broached the idea of adding a third man to their relationship prior to bringing Jeremy home to meet Alan. A previous relationship convinced Ian that “one relationship doesn’t have to end for another to begin” and that “it is unusual that one person would be everything to someone else.” His research and personal experience led him to conclude that we are more communal by nature and that it is okay for our relationships to reflect that. As he puts it, “the more diverse skills, experiences and adventures you bring into the home, the more likely you are to be happy.”
For instance, Alan is an accomplished musician and likes to go to concerts. Ian is not musically inclined at all, so he is happy to stay home while Jeremy (a zookeeper) goes to concerts with Alan. And there are television shows that he and Jeremy like that Alan does not have to watch. “We are always attuned to the idea that responsibilities and experiences need to be rotated,” Ian says. He says that good communication and regular check-ins ensure that everyone feels valued.
When Ian met Jeremy, Jeremy was not looking for anything unusual like dating a couple. He came out pretty late in life, having been raised in a conservative household as a pastor’s son. But after seven dinners in a row together, Jeremy agreed with Ian and Alan that they “all fit together well.” They started dating, and Jeremy moved in months later. “After we realized that this was a real thing and for the long-term,” Ian says, “we told all of our families.” Jeremy’s mother took it the hardest, since she was still adjusting to having a gay son, let alone one who was dating two people.
Ian, Alan and Jeremy enjoyed several years together “as a triad” before they decided to add kids to the equation. Ian and Alan had discussed the possibility of having children before, but they had not felt ready to take on the challenge of parenting as a same sex couple. When Jeremy suggested it, however, they realized that the timing was right. “Jeremy was the strongest advocate for becoming parents,” Ian says. “He made us realize that our family would not be complete without children.” They realized that on the one hand it would be more complicated to adopt a child with three of them, but they also knew that they had more resources and more options for divvying up the responsibilities of child rearing.
Two female friends of Jeremy’s offered to give them their unused embryos, which had been frozen for storage. After much discussion about rights and roles (the women would be involved but would not be recognized as parents), Alan and Jeremy adopted the two embryos. At the time, the men assumed only two of them could be listed as the adoptive parents in order for the fertility clinic to agree to work with them. One embryo had a fatal anomaly. The other embryo was implanted in another friend, Delilah, who offered to be their surrogate because she thought they would be great parents and wanted to give them the gift of carrying their child for them. Unfortunately, the embryo did not take.
“It was a very difficult time,” Ian says. It was a lot to invest, both financially and emotionally, to be left with nothing. Delilah encouraged them to find another egg donor, serving as a cheerleader at a time when they most needed the support to keep trying. They put out feelers and Meghan, one of Alan’s childhood friends, agreed to be the egg donor. They each fertilized one third of the dozen embryos they were able to extract and decided to start their family by raising a girl first. Their doctor implanted a female embryo in Delilah, and she gave birth to their daughter, Piper, in 2017.
“Piper was a super kid right from the start,” Ian says. “She slept through the night at one month.” She was not the only family member who was sleeping. Thanks to having three parents, two of them were able to be on paternity leave during her early weeks. “Having three dads on rotation on nights,” Ian says, “guaranteed that no one was ever crazy tired.”
Meghan also stayed for a few weeks following Piper’s birth and was, Ian says, “super loving and helpful.”
For Parker, their newborn son who was born last month, they used a surrogate they found through an agency. As great as it had been to work with a friend, Ian says they lucked out with their second surrogate as well. She is giving them breast milk now that Parker is born and the three fathers are hoping she’ll continue to be involved in Parker’s life as an aunt figure.
As Ian’s post in Pantsuit Nation makes clear, the fact that his children have three dads is not the only unique feature of their family. He noted that “One of our children had an African American surrogate, and the other, a Jewish surrogate. We had to fight a bunch of battles to have kids with three dads and two moms apiece.” When they progressed from adopting embryos to making their own with an egg donor, they decided that they all three wanted to be involved and legally recognized. They spent over $25,000 in legal fees drawing up parenting agreements and contracts for the surrogates, the egg donors, and recognizing all three of them as the legal parents. There is a legal precedent in a number of states for recognizing three parents (such as two biological parents and a grandparent), but their children’s birth certificates are the first to recognize a polyamorous family at the time of birth. The lower court judge was initially reluctant to recognize all three of them, not wanting to set legal precedent, but she allowed them to testify and they convinced her. Ian says that they told her that they did not want a legal battle; they just wanted kids.
To the naysayers, Ian says that he and Alan and Jeremy thought long and hard about bringing children into their lives and have overcome many hurdles to do so. He says that there is no evidence that children raised by gay parents or by more than two parents will fare poorly. On the contrary, Ian is confident his children will “have an incredible life.” He notes that each of them are very different people and “will have even more things to share and contribute.” He also notes that many societies raise their children with more than two parents. “If there is any downside,” Ian says, “problems will come from outside the home rather than within it.” That’s a key reason they’re raising their children in a progressive community in California.
In addition to having loving gay parents (albeit three of them rather than the more traditional two), Piper and Parker also have three sets of grandparents and, says Ian, “amazing and wonderful women who surround us.” One of the nurses on the unit where Piper was born described herself as a “superproducer of milk” and gave them a year’s supply of breast milk.
Ian says they are all touched by the support shown to them as they have navigated the legal and logistical hurdles of becoming parents. “Everyone should have a little village helping them raise their kids,” he says.
Ian notes that their years of being in a polyamorous relationship helped prepare them for parenthood. “We are already experienced at taking care of one another,” he says, “and dividing responsibilities.” Living in a triad has also helped them improve their communication skills. Parenting has reinforced the notion that they all have unique things that they bring to the table, but now those unique things are also what they can offer their children. He also says that they are far less likely to feel stressed or tired, which also benefits their children. “We have an ordinary life,” Ian says. “There are just three of us instead of two.”
For my part, I find it hard to find fault with a family that was formed and is now filled with so much love.
Ian’s blog about his journey can be found at: