Louise, Maddy and James met for the very first time in Betty’s Soup Kitchen on Oxford Street in the late 1990s. For one purpose – to start a family, writes Jo Falvey.
James had increasingly wanted to have children as he entered his late 30s. Small moments etched in his heart like the time he stood with the young daughter of an ex at a set of traffic lights and she put her hand into his: “It was sort of a lightning bolt or something,” he remembers. Louise was determined to have children with or without Maddy. Maddy was committed to helping Louise achieve her motherhood dream.
“We both felt it was important to have an involved father and had asked our single heterosexual male friends if they would be sperm donors but we were met with worries from potential donors,” says Maddy.
There was no guidebook to creating a rainbow family in the late 90’s and the barriers faced by homosexual couples were immense. Louise recalls: “The fertility clinic said that they wouldn’t do the procedure for a gay woman … and then James came along”.
They spent months getting to know each other, organising a car rally for family and friends as a means of getting to know the important people who would be part of their children’s extended family. Then they decided to get serious. They went to a solicitor to create a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalise – as best they could – what they wanted in the form of a parenting agreement with each other.
James didn’t want to interfere with Maddy and Louise’s relationship. Maddy had told Louise that no matter what happened with their relationship, she would always be an active parent. They identified Louise as the primary decision-maker if they could not all agree on something. But at the heart of the MOU was a shared understanding – the children’s needs always comes first.
With the parenting triad now formalised – it was time to start baby-making.
The conception has become family folklore. A cocktail glass became the ‘Chalice’ or ‘Milk Jug’ depending on who you spoke to. Louise’s local GP was supportive and provided the syringes. The process worked and Louise had two healthy pregnancies: a girl in 2000 and a boy almost three years later.
Their request to have all three parents on the birth certificate was denied. The birth certificate wasn’t going to reflect their family structure and was going to leave someone vulnerable. Though legally able to be on the birth certificate, Maddy said she would opt out, thinking James should be listed as the biological father as the children would grow up in a world where they would already be ‘different’. James wanted to be listed on the certificate because the children would not share his last name. As the ‘outside’ parent he wanted formal confirmation that he was an equal parent, although it was understood that the children would live with Louise and Maddy.
Time changes everything. Louise says they may as well have “thrown the MOU out!” with how their parenting actually worked out in practice. 18 months after the birth of their son, all five moved into a place together. Then 12 months later, Louise and Maddy broke up. Maddy moved out of the family home and it was a time of considerable disruption and confusion for the children. As they had all agreed to parent equally and that the needs of the children would always come first, a new arrangement had to be formed. Louise and James lived together for 16 years and continued to co-parent with Maddy, who had the children two nights a week.
They had to find new ways of being a family.
Louise says, “We literally had a roster all their lives where we would have school drop offs and pickups, dinners and stayovers marked out. James and I lived together but we still wanted our own time. James would go out or I would go out and give space to each other to parent in the way that we wanted to.”
“They’re young adults now,” says Maddy. “They make their own decisions but we all equally still support them however they need us to.” All major events are done together as a family unit: every birthday, Christmas, school graduation, sporting event.
Each of the three parents were teary eyed as their oldest child joined us at the end of the interview and shared her feelings: “I’ve had a wonderfully supportive family with wonderful parents who have always put myself and my brother above everything else that’s going on,” she said. “I even think that I’m lucky in the sense that I have more because I have got three parents. I’m so grateful to have the family that I do. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”