Back when I was a young child, I remember it being rare and very awkward to hear about a schoolmate’s divorcing parents. Almost every family I knew had a married mother and father in the home. Any deviation from “the norm” either wasn’t very common or wasn’t discussed openly, or both. But these days families come in all shapes and forms, which is something I think is so cool and so fascinating. Co-parenting occurs between married couples, divorced couples, we-never-were-a-couple couples, gay couples, straight couples and plenty of other types of relationships out there. I’m so excited to share parenting stories like the following one for many reasons, but especially to inspire others that are hoping to be parents one day, and to educate those that may be unfamiliar with how some families work. Learning about other families not only opens our minds, but it also helps us connect as human beings. No matter what type of parent you are, I feel that the common goal is to be loving and to raise happy children. And it seems that these 3 parents feel the same way.
I met Chelsea, Laurel and Chris over 7 years ago when I performed in a musical that Chris and Chelsea also worked on. Chelsea and Laurel are a couple and have been close friends with Chris for years. And when these ladies decided it was time to have children, they knew that their dear friend, Chris, would be the perfect Dad. We actually all ended up having our kids around the same time, which I thought was really cool. But I must say that their journey to parenthood differs from mine a bit, and this story just might give a little bit of hope to someone that needs it. So when I decided to start reaching out to fellow parents to write about other families instead of just my own, I knew they had to be included.
KK: Did y’all always want to be parents?
Chris: The possibility of being a father was something I thought about for a long time – as far back as college. Eventually, when I came out, I dismissed the thought, but it would creep up on me from time to time. Society became more accepting, and I would see things in pop culture that made me think that it was a possibility. But as I got older, the prospect seemed less viable. I never considered “donating” just to get my DNA out there, or even for some selfless reason like wanting to help someone have children. Honestly, that never crossed my mind. I had daydreamed about maybe eventually finding someone to love and adopting or maybe using a surrogate. But even that seemed like a very unlikely scenario.
Laurel: I have always wanted children (lots of children, actually) and couldn’t imagine my life without having kids. I wanted to be pregnant. I wanted to raise my kids. I wanted to have a family like I had always dreamed of having. There were many times early in my relationship with Chelsea that I was really afraid it wouldn’t happen because I couldn’t wrap my head around how we would be able to have the kind of family that we wanted.
Chelsea: Laurel and I had been talking about wanting to start a family but we knew we wanted someone to be a father, not just a donor. It didn’t take much consideration for us to know that Chris would be the perfect fit.
KK: How did that initial conversation about having kids together go down?
Laurel: During mine and Chelsea’s discussions about becoming parents, we talked about how we knew that we could raise our kids in a loving home, but it was hard for us to imagine our children not having a “dad.” Our fathers were so important in our lives. When we started seriously talking about the real possibility of making this happen and how we wanted the kids to have a dad, Chris was our first person. We never discussed people or talked about anyone else. We knew Chris would make such an amazing father. Chelsea and I discussed it many times as to how we would bring it up with him.
Chris: They were looking for someone to help them have children, and because their fathers were important influences in their lives growing up, they wanted their children to have a Dad…and they wanted it to be me. I didn’t wring my hands and give it a lot of careful consideration. I just went with my gut and my heart, and said yes… and we started the process.
KK: What were your biggest fears in the beginning?
Chelsea: I think my biggest fear was just how all this was going to work. I feared, on a very selfish level, how I was going to feel and fit into all this. I worried that I wouldn’t feel as connected as Laurel and Chris did because my DNA would not be part of the child. I worried what the rest of the world would think about what we are “doing” to this child. Being brought up in a Southern Baptist home, I knew all too well what some people would think and say about our beautiful family. I also worried for my children as they grew up and got to an age where they would have to explain why they have 2 moms and a dad. But as soon as Olivia was here and I held her for he first time, just about every single fear became a distant memory. I still worry a bit about my children and what they may hear about their family in the future, but that will come when it comes. And at that time we will deal with it.
Laurel: I worried about the way other people were going to judge the situation, judge or treat our children when they knew, not being able to get pregnant easily and then having a lot of stress over it, Chris possibly not wanting to continue if we couldn’t get pregnant quickly…I was a constant basket case most of the time.
Chris: I think my biggest fear was the unknown. There really aren’t any models to follow on this kind of arrangement. From my perspective, it is very rare. So we didn’t have any “rules” to follow. No one that we were aware of had set the example of how to do this. There was lots of stuff out there about the donation process and what to do and not to do, but very little in terms of how to navigate a complicated, modern family dynamic like ours.
KK: Did it take a long time for you to get pregnant, Laurel? Was it a stressful process?
Laurel: I thought it was going to take forever. I had started taking a lot of the steps before we started, like charting my ovulation and all that jazz…that stressed me out a lot. But, I’m a planner and I want to know how things are going to go. With Olivia, our first child, we were successful on our second try, which I thought was going to take much longer. With our second child, Elijah, we were not as lucky. We tried for 6 months and still nothing. I started seeing a fertility doctor, and luckily, it only took one cycle with the shots and appointments to get pregnant. We had to be much more patient the second time, for sure. I was stressed all the time. I was sure we were never going to get pregnant for a second time. There were a lot of tears and restless nights, for me at least. And everything was time sensitive as most people know when you have problems getting pregnant.
KK: Were your families and friends supportive of your decision to have children?
Chelsea: As far as friends go, everyone was really excited. Unfortunately, my family pretty much has nothing to do with our family. One of my sisters is involved and has a part in the kiddos’ lives, but that’s it. It’s been that way since Laurel and I have been together. I still have hope that it will change after all these years.
Chris: My family was, and is, extremely supportive. Without a doubt, there were a few shocked faces when I shared the news initially. They saw it coming even less than I did! But without a doubt they were all thrilled for us and our “modern family.” Chelsea, Laurel and the kids are part of my family now. I’m lucky enough that most of my immediate family are in the area, so family gatherings include everyone. I feel blessed when I see Olivia and Elijah with Granny and their Aunts, Uncle, and cousins.
KK: Chris, how do you feel about not living with Laurel and Chelsea?
Chris: It was always the plan that “the girls” (as I call them) would be the primary care givers. I told them from the beginning that my main objective would always be to make things as easy as possible for them in any way I could. That has manifested itself in many different ways, but the bottom line is that they have the bulk of the responsibility. We have tried different things in terms of my time with the kids. When Olivia was born, in the first several months, I just spent a lot of time going to their place to spend time with them as a family. Sometimes I’d take Olivia on my own for a day or evening, and eventually we worked into overnights with Daddy. After some time, we tried scheduling a set day of the week and one weekend a month that she would be with me. That worked for the most part, but we all have such busy and varied schedules that we kept changing it from month to month. For now, we have settled into a less structured arrangement. They call when they need me or I’ll let them know when I’m free and we let the rest work itself out. And when life calls for a different approach, we’ll adjust.
KK: For anyone that is unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable, with a family like yours, what would you like them to know?
Chris: I know there are people out there who do not agree with our decision to start a family this way. And I know that people have opinions, beliefs, and different values. But I think we hope that the commonalities will outweigh the differences. Honestly, I don’t think it’s that unusual these days for kids to have more than two parents. In that respect, we’re not that different. So, we just live our lives, raise our children and do the best we can. I hope that our kids will be treated with kindness and respect, but we have very little control over that. So we will raise them to treat others that way and hope that will have some impact on their lives and others.
Chelsea: People need to know that we are just a loving family. I think nowadays with so many different make ups of the family structure, we truly aren’t that different. But more than anything people need to know that we love each other and our kids more than anything. If someone has questions, I’d rather they ask us than ask someone that’s not our family. Respect is really all we ask because that’s what we’re expected to give other families we come across. And we do.