Ian Jenkins wasn’t totally convinced he wanted to be a parent. As a teaching doctor, he was more interested in molding the minds of, well, other physicians.
“I teach graduated, practicing doctors ― I feared the teaching and nurturing of a baby wouldn’t thrill me and I wouldn’t love having a small child,” Jenkins told HuffPost over the phone earlier this month.
Then, Jeremy, a caretaker in both personality and profession, entered Jenkin’s life. Jeremy joined Jenkins and his partner Alan’s now 17-year relationship soon after, making them a throuple, or a committed relationship involving three people, for the past eight years.
“Jeremy is a zookeeper ― he raises these extremely fragile bird species that are the weight of like, an M&M,” Jenkins said. “Having him around put [Alan and I] more in the mindset of being parents.”
Coincidentally, along with Jeremy came an offer that made the prospect of becoming dads seem even more within arms reach for the three men ― embryos.
“One of his friends offered us the embryos they had left from making their family through IVF but couldn’t use,” he said. “We had the option to adopt the embryos and make the decision to raise a unique family.”
That unique family includes the three men, the donors of the embryo, the surrogate they found to carry the embryo, and required way more lawyers and money than they realised they’d need at the start of their journey to parenthood.
When their first child was born three and a half years ago, the fathers made history when they became the first family in California to have three dad’s names on their child’s birth certificate. Now they have another child, Parker, who is one and a half.
With the decision to try and build a family made and achieved, there were plenty of other things for the three men to consider ― from their parenting style to tactics for raising emotionally strong kids ― just like any other dads. However, unlike other families, the fact that there were three dads meant they might have some unique concerns to address.
“We did have a slight attention to the fact that our kids might be perceived differently,” Jenkins said. “We didn’t want them to become a target of teasing or bullying or online abuse.”
Thankfully, at least so far, there have been no issues.
“We’ve had zero pushback from anyone in our professional and personal lives,” Jenkins said. “Our oldest now is in preschool, and the other parents and kids are like, ‘Cool! Tell us that story.’”
Living in California, in what Jenkins describes as a welcoming community, helps. While researching surrogacy early in the throuple’s journey, Jenkins was disheartened ― but not surprised ― to learn about many restrictive laws that prevent many people, not just gay couples or even throuples, from building a family through surrogacy.
“Some states are just brutal,” he said. “They make every effort to impair parenting by nontraditional families and are really unhelpful. You’re like, ‘What judge or legislation feels this is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars and time to develop a system that is cruel without any point, and only serves to make a child’s life harder?’”
Even in California, things didn’t always go smoothly for the family. A typical surrogacy hearing to determine who is listed on the birth certificate, Jenkins noted, takes place before the baby is born. Because it’s usually very straightforward and simple, it typically lasts about five minutes. Since Jenkins and his partners wanted three names on their child’s birth certificate — which had never been done before in the state — the judge said she was unable to set precedent.
“She said you’re going to have to have a law passed or appeal,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘I just want a kid ― I don’t want a legal battle.’ It was like ice water being thrown on us.”
There have been instances of adding a third parent’s name to a birth certificate after the child is born, and Jenkins was beginning to think that’s what he and his partners would be forced to do when, as he put it, Alan went “full mama bear.”
“He basically interrupted the proceedings and told them to swear us all in,” Jenkins said. “We all gave very tearful testimonies about why we needed to become parents. You could see the emotion on the judge’s face. She looked at all the options in front of her and found a way to use existing laws to give us the first birth certificate of its kind anywhere.”
It was an emotional moment for everyone ― including their families, who had been at the hearing as well. “If you’ve ever seen a courtroom drama where the innocent person gets off at the end ― it was like that.”
Parenting in a throuple is, according to Jenkins, as unremarkable as being in one. “We’re just three tame, regular people who spend a lot of time talking about what to have for dinner,” Jenkins said. “After the first few minutes of meeting us, people realise that.” But there are three incomes and three people to share the duties, the sleeplessness, the joys and the big questions.
“Continuous conversation is exponentially more important in a poly relationship, and parenting requires us to engage constantly,” he said. “When our oldest develops the ability to have a tantrum like a reactor breaking down in Chernobyl, we all have to be on the same page and have a consistent parenting style. What’s the best approach? How much time for a time out? What do you call it? Does the parent need help or is it adding fuel to the fire?”
Three parents also adds another person in the mix for a child to choose from if a “favourite parent” phase pops up ― something the dads are navigating now.
“Piper has a favourite parent, and that’s Jeremy,” Jenkins said. “There are many times it’s been harder for me to connect with her because she wants Daddy (Jeremy is Daddy, Alan is Dada and I am Papa). We’ve developed a strategy for evening the workload so Jeremy doesn’t feel worn out and I get to share in the joys of having her. There are times when Alan and Jeremy are out and it’s just me and Piper for the night, which is wonderful. Jeremy has his break and I get to bond with her. We have a few things we’ve started calling ‘Papa do,’ which are things just for us to do together. We all have a different role. Right now one of the best things is teaching her reading.”
Ultimately, they just want what every parent wants: Their children to feel loved and safe, and to grow up to be good people.
“One can never predict what will happen, and teasing is part of basically every upbringing, but we’re raising these children with a really careful joint process,” Jenkins said. “We’re always talking about how to raise emotionally healthy, giving but strong children, free of some of the toxic parts of our culture.”
Jenkins acknowledges the privilege his family has of having the money, resources and community they do. In sharing their story, his hope is that someone who lives in a less accepting situation will feel seen and heard, and find the validation that they too are entitled to have a family just like anyone else.
“I really worry about someone who lives somewhere that’s not as accepting as California and wants to live this kind of life and can’t move,” he said. “I’m hoping this starts the wheels turning that families come in lots of different arrangements.”