We send an email, and he answers.
Over the next few hesitant back-and-forths, it becomes clear that I managed to find someone in that disaster of a baby-making speed date that is actually kind, realistic, and funny.
I agree to meet him again in person in December. We sit across from each other and talk about co-parenting, and our families – who had cancer? Any other illnesses? Do you have good teeth? Eyes? What is your relationship with your mother like?
It’s all out there, right from the beginning. We can’t hold any of those bits back, and that makes it intense and odd and so far beyond the usual way of getting to know another person that we can’t do anything else but laugh. We find out we’re both massive nerds. We chat about Game of Thrones, discuss our favourite authors and films and board games, and then consider the fact that we might end up with a sporty kid despite all of that – what if they (heaven forbid) want to play football?
Amongst some awkward laughter we also discuss how he would have to ‘make the donation’. When do we start trying? How could we ensure we would have the best possible chances of getting pregnant? (Did you know it’s best to have an orgasm right after insemination? I DO NOW.)
Next time, he comes to my flat.
We set up the laptop and Skype with Jo in Liverpool in a slightly comical three-way conversation. Hello, how do you do, care to be the father of our future child?
It goes well. The first time, the second time, and each email in between.
It continues to seem like something that could potentially work to me, but then I have always been intrigued by the idea of alternative ways of parenting. Especially in a queer family it seems to make some kind of sense to have two mums and one or two dads. It sounds like a wonderful sort of dream to have our child happily growing up in two homes. So I want to believe in this, I really do.
All three of us agree on most things concerning co-parenting, and more than that, we manage to deal with it when we disagree as well. But as fun as it is, it’s also meant to go somewhere, so around April, we get serious.
We download a parental agreement from a website, send it to him to consider in advance, and then he comes over.
It turns into a gruelling afternoon of discussion. We started with the intention of getting through the whole thing, but it seems impossible. Who gets final say on the name? What about money? Who pays for what? What about the birth itself, doctor’s appointments, legal responsibilities, relatives, Christmases, pocket money, travel… The list goes on and on.
I think we all start to realise exactly how monumental a task we’ve set for ourselves. Still, it doesn’t seem impossible. We’ll find a lawyer, maybe a therapist, and we’ll talk about it for as long as it takes to make this work.
But then there’s the legal side of it all.
With the awesome equal rights for lesbian parents in Belgium I had (naively) assumed that it would all be fairly straightforward if Jo and I had a baby together. I had thought I would sign a form after the baby was born, name Jo as the other mother, and we’d be a family. But after a ton of research we find out it won’t work like that at all for us. Because Jo is a British national, the laws of her country apply, not the Belgian ones. So I cannot put her on the birth certificate. I cannot give the baby her last name, as we had planned.
She would have no rights at all.
There is adoption, still. Jo might be able to apply for it, but a child is only allowed to have two legal parents in Belgium. So it would be either Jo who is considered a parent, or the dad. Not both. He would have to give up all of his parental rights for Jo to be considered a parent.
We let it linger for a month, but it feels terrible to think about. Neither of us feels comfortable with the thought of Jo having to compete with someone else for her rights to our child, and definitely not with her handing them over completely. What if the child is sick? What about school decisions? We run through dozens of scenarios, but the end result is the same.
We can’t do this.
So eventually, and with pain in our hearts, we let him know. He takes it well, which is another testament to how good a father he would have been. He even says he thought for a moment about simply offering to donate and giving up his rights for us, but that it would hurt too much not to be able to have that child as his own. We understand, of course.
But the dream is gone.