By Liz Neerland
Liz Neerland is a native of Minneapolis and a graduate of Grinnell College. She and her husband live in downtown Minneapolis, and are the artistic directors of nimbus, a local independent theater company.
The more I hear about the gay marriage debate, and the more I hear about people who seek to impose a narrow definition of "family" upon the rest of us, the more I feel the need to share this story.
Josh and I were married in 2008. We honeymooned in Spain. Not long after we returned home, we got a call from our friends Molly and Emer, inviting us to dinner. I had gone to college with Emer, though I graduated the year before Molly started at Grinnell.
We enjoyed a lovely dinner on Molly and Emer's porch, telling tales of our travels in Spain and generally catching up. After we had finished eating, Emer topped off our wineglasses and gave Molly a significant look.
"There's something we'd like to ask you," Emer said.
Molly and Emer began to talk about their desire to start a family, and how they had been approaching that challenge as a lesbian couple. They were hoping they could find a donor they knew, so they would not have to go through the process of using a sperm bank.
Then they nervously got to the point: Would we, specifically Josh, be willing to father their child?
It was not a total surprise. I had known that Molly and Emer were hoping to start a family soon, and I had once mentioned the idea to Josh. I thought that since Josh and I did not want to have children of our own, maybe we would be able to help someone else become parents. I hadn't thought about it since then.
Josh considered it, and told them that he needed some time to think about it.
For the next few weeks, I tried not to push him. It was a significant decision that involved both of us, but in reality the decision had to be his. I was just a bystander.
After some time thinking it through, Josh reached his decision: Yes. Yes, we would help Molly and Emer start the family they so desperately desired.
We started talking about logistics. We wanted to keep things friendly, and not too awkward, but we also realized that we were starting down a path that held a lot of huge unknowns. The four of us sat down one night and drew up a contract.
Molly and Emer wanted to make sure that no matter what, the child would be fully theirs, and that neither Josh nor I would have any legal claim to him. Josh and I wanted to make sure that we could not be held liable for any medical complications or outcomes related to the pregnancy.
We came up with a lot of legal-sounding stuff that covered what we considered to be all the eventualities of pregnancy, labor, birth and child-rearing. What would happen if Molly miscarried? If she developed complications in the pregnancy? What if something should happen to either of the child's mothers — at any point in his life?
Would Josh and I have any say in how they raised him? In how they educated him? What if they decided to move to another state? What if, God forbid, both Molly and Emer were killed? Would Josh and I be considered guardians? Could Molly and Emer blame us if anything went wrong?
Looking back now, the detail of our contract seems excessive, but I'm glad we went through with it. We had no idea what this experience would be like. We had a lawyer friend look over our contract, we all signed it, and we were ready to go.
This was the point when all attempts to pretend it wasn't awkward went out the window. When your husband is trying to impregnate another woman, you kind of just have to embrace the awkward. We did decide to do the whole process ourselves, with no formal medical intervention. Molly kept charts of her cycle, and Josh showed up at their house on the appropriate days. A receptacle was left in the bathroom. You can imagine the rest.
After a couple of months, Molly was getting tired of tracking her cycles so closely, and we were all starting to get burned out. She decided to not do all the tests, to take it easy, and just use basic female intuition to guess when she was ovulating. Of course, that was the month that worked.
Molly was pregnant.
We were thrilled. We were overjoyed. We started trying to figure out how to navigate this new phase — how to be happy for our friends, and involved in the process, but not overbearing. This was the point where it became Molly's and Emer's pregnancy, but it was still ours, too.
I don't know that I've ever seen Josh so out of sorts. He is usually sure of himself, but this was something totally new for him. He was worried that something would go wrong — not that it would be his fault, but that this thing we had decided to do would result in harm to people we loved. It was a new kind of stress.
The months went by. We helped host a shower.
Finally the day came when Molly went into labor. It was a long one. There were no complications beyond time. On July 26, Jasper was born.
And so a new family was started. We visited Jasper and his happy, excited, tired moms the day after he was born. He was a very big baby, which must have been Josh's fault because Molly is a small woman. Everyone at the hospital was awesome, and no one flinched at having two moms in the delivery room, or at not putting a father's name on the birth certificate.
Of course, the actual birth brought us into the next step of our journey. Josh was absolved of certain legal responsibilities because his name wasn't on the birth certificate, but one of Jasper's actual parents had no legal rights regarding him. We knew this would be part of the process, but it was still frustrating to have to deal with.
As the non-biological same-sex parent of the child, Emer would have to apply to adopt her own son. This required court filings and affidavits and witness statements testifying to her fitness as a parent. Josh went to the family court hearing for the adoption to bear witness on behalf of Emer, Molly and Jasper.
He came home later that day telling how great the judge was — as a family court judge, she usually had to deal with custody disputes and other nasty things. She had been genuinely happy to have a case where two people so obviously deserved to get what they were asking for. It was a welcome change to not be facilitating pulling families apart, but to be knitting one together.
At some point not long after Jasper was born, Emer's dad sent us a card. He thanked us for helping all of them redefine what "family" meant. Reading that card still brings tears to my eyes.
We had no idea what we were getting into, but I can truly say it is one of the best things I have ever done. It strikes an especially meaningful chord for me, because I myself was adopted as a baby. I know nothing about my biological parents, but I do know that the people who raised me are all the family I have, and I am one of them.
My parents are devout Catholics who chose adoption because having children of their own wasn't an option. My parents taught me that family is what you make it, not what you are given, or what the Bible or the government tells you it should be.
Jasper just turned 3. He loves trucks of all kinds, is a voracious reader, and is one of the cutest kids I've ever known. He has my husband's nose and his mother's eyes. We are hoping to give him a sibling someday. Molly and Emer are amazing parents, and I am proud that I was able to help them build their family.
Molly and Emer had just as much right to decide to have children as Josh and I had to decide not to. Their family is amazing, and watching them raise their child is inspiring.
They are a family, and it is right. Jasper is growing up in a world where some of his friends have one mom, or one dad, or a mom and dad, or two of both. He has no thought that any of those combinations might be wrong. All he knows is that he loves his Mamma Molly, and he loves his Mama Emer, but he also loves it when Uncle Josh comes over. Because Uncle Josh never gets tired of playing trucks with him.
And that's all right.