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Welcoming Children Into My Polyamorous Family Was a Huge Decision, But It Brought Us a World of Love

Ian Jenkins, MD

When we decided to get pregnant as not just two gay men, but three gay men, living in a polyamorous triad (me and my partners, Alan and Jeremy), everything became exponentially more complicated. We worried the most about whether our children could suffer any ill consequences of our decision to parent. We needed to go on a long walk and talk about it.

Deciding to get pregnant? Big decision. Deciding to get pregnant as gay men? Huge decision, because now you need a lot of help: either an embryo or egg donor, and a surrogate. You’ll be trusting both women with the future of your family, and for some, there are no second chances. Some fertility cycles only yield a few viable embryos, and there may be financial barriers to repeated attempts. Eggs can cost $10,000. So can walking in the door of a surrogacy agency. Then you have to pay your doctor, your pharmacy (how does $5,000 for fertility medicines sound?), and of course, you pay your surrogate, and do it happily, because she is literally making a beautiful child for you and going through significant discomfort and shouldering very real, potentially serious health risks so you can be parents.

One thing we knew: We were all on the same page about raising children. First rule: Always put them ahead of ourselves. The rest just followed naturally. Raise them to be independent, but loved. Supported, but not spoiled. We would never hit them. We would teach them an instrument and a second language. Make sure they grew up unafraid to show affection, and to nurture — especially any boys we had. We knew our culture would try to train boys to be competitive, boastful, even abusive — but our children needed to be generous, charitable, understanding, and kind. All three of us had to overcome the restrictions society placed on us as gay men, and we wanted them to dream big, to be anyone and anything they wanted to be — especially any girls we had. We knew society is still teaching girls to lead less, expect less, and play second fiddle to boys. Our parenting values lined up perfectly.

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But what about raising children in a polyamorous family? Was that selfish? Would our children be teased, or disadvantaged in any way? We had to admit they might. Kids get teased just for having two gay parents; ours could be teased for having three. Honestly, if we lived in a less welcoming community, I’m not sure we’d be parents. But we’d chosen to live in California, and we had the luxury of friends and colleagues who welcomed us without reservation. We hoped everyone would be as welcoming, and perhaps curious and excited, about our unusual family plans (they were). So the only big effect of poly-parenting was a ton of extra help. And California also turned out to be the only state in the country where we had a chance of all being legal parents at birth.

We’ve since slogged through legal battles we never imagined, from mundane surrogacy hassles to ridiculous roadblocks, like having to hire four attorneys just to write us a parenting agreement. Ultimately, we had to plead our case in San Diego Superior Court, begging for the chance to all become legal parents, the very first poly family awarded parentage on a birth certificate anywhere in the world. And I do mean begged. My partner Alan insisted we be sworn in, and we made a legal case as well as a convincing personal argument that we were all parents to our daughter-to-be, and the law should help us take care of our children, not hinder us.

Honestly, I’m shocked it all worked out. But it did. We cleared the legal hurdles and survived health challenges. We paid a hefty financial price. We navigated a lot of stressful roadblocks to parenthood, but we didn’t take on risks, or real discomfort. And thank you, thank you, mothers of the world, for all that you do, usually with one partner who can’t feed the baby. We had three, sometimes four parents helping one another. None of us were ever significantly tired. So I highly recommend that all mothers get themselves a second partner. It’s amazing.

For me, the real lesson of this adventure was love. The love I felt for our new baby, mixed with terror of a difficult delivery, felt like a hefty dose of joy and misery, both given as a fast, intravenous push. Then, just the slow, happy wash of the love we received from women. We have so many to thank: Julie and Stephanie, who gave us their embryos, and trusted us to raise their biologic children. Meghan, who donated her eggs, at the cost of injections and sedation for retrieval. Ashley, who gave us an amazing gift of breast milk. And of course, Delilah, who carried our daughter Piper for nine months and delivered a 10 lb., 8 oz. baby with barely a bead of sweat on her brow, like an Olympian. We will never forget her words of motivation, how she said her gift would bring more love into the world. It did.

We’re a family of three men, and the heart of the story is the love of women. Thank you, mothers, for our treasured children.

Ian Jenkins, M.D., is a hospital physician, quality and safety specialist, and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego. His book Three Dads and a Baby is out on March 9.

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