As new research shows that children brought up in new family units thrive as much those in traditional family set-ups, here, Kathryn Knight looks at the explosion in co-parenting and talks to two friends who made a baby pact…
Once Emma Stroud had made up her mind that she wanted a baby, she knew what she needed to do. ‘I wrote a card on the table at Deon's house saying "if there was anybody I would have a child with it would be you." ‘He called me instantly saying ‘let’s do it’. ‘
Three years later, the result of that exchange is bouncing up and down on the sofa in 36-year-old Emma’s kitchen in south-west London - a cheeky two-year-old chatterbox called William who loves Lego and baking. He is clearly doted on by his besotted mother and father.
So far so conventional. Except that William’s parents are anything but a traditional pairing. Both gay, they are best friends and business partners, and both in relationships with other people who also play an active role in William’s life. They share access to William, and he lives with each of them for three days at a time. And according to Emma, it couldn’t feel more natural.
‘What may seem like a great big deal to everyone else is normal to us,’ she says. ‘This is our family, and what William is used to - it’s adults who get so caught up in how things are meant to be.’
In any case, while Deon and Emma’s set up might seem unusual, the phenomenon of shared parenting is anything but. In recent years a number of ‘co-parenting’ websites have sprung up, aimed at helping introduce aspiring mothers and fathers of whatever sexuality – straight, gay, bisexual – to realise their dream of starting a family. And while there aren’t exact figures for the number of children born as a result, Patrick Harrison, founder of one co-parenting network Pollentree, believes that at least 140 babies have been born so far to the more than eight thousand registered on his site – a membership that is climbing each year.
Typically, he says, many of those registered are actually straight women in their mid-thirties. The reason? Harrison believes its because in our increasingly urbanised society people struggle to meet the person they want to have babies with. Whereas before that may have meant that they never had children, now, Harrison says, ‘people realise that co-parenting is an option.’
Emma, 36, didn’t need the internet to be introduced to 44-year-old Deon Newbronner though. Best friends for more than a decade, the pair met as jobbing actors ten years ago, and now run a business together, Pitch Perfect Club, which teaches presentation skills to entrepreneurs.
Emma describes them as ‘soul-mates’, although it took her a long time to realise that Deon could be the father of her child. ‘When I came out at 25 I think I assumed children would not be in my future. Then as I hit my thirties the body clock started ticking,’ she smiles.
Deon, meanwhile, had always hoped to be a father, and a decade ago even explored adoption with his partner of 14 years, David, only to end up feeling that, at the time, the odds were stacked against them. ‘The topic came up from time to time over drinks although in the vaguest of terms’ recalls Emma. ‘You know ‘’imagine having a child’’, that sort of thing. Then, after a couple of years, it got a little more specific – how it would work, what would it actually involve.’
Deon ‘popped the question’, in early 2011. ‘I asked Emma straight out one night – ‘’would you actually be prepared to have children with me’’. She freaked out a bit at first,’ he recalls. ‘It just suddenly felt too real’ Emma remembers.
It took ten days to change her mind. ‘I went through everything and ultimately I thought ‘’what is stopping me? I want a baby, there is never going to be a better man.’’
She wrote her card, and the pair embarked on their parenting odyssey – starting with an insemination kit ordered off the internet. ‘When the time came it was pretty funny,’ says Emma. ‘I was waiting in my bedroom and Deon appeared with effectively, a turkey baster. It was surreal’.
She became pregnant the second month they tried. ‘I was shocked that it had worked – you constantly read how hard it is to get pregnant. I phoned Deon immediately and his voice went quite high pitched. Like me he was shocked and thrilled.’
Emma’s surprise was compounded by the fact that the same weekend, she had become romantically involved with an old friend who remains her partner to this day. ‘We’d been friends for a while, so she knew what was going on but the timing was still pretty weird. I was in a brand new relationship and pregnant with my best friend’s child.’
Deon’s partner David, meanwhile was less sure. ‘At the time I found that quite hard,’ admits Deon ‘Although, I also knew he would change his mind.’
Friends and family were almost universally supportive, with the occasional exception. ‘There were a few people who had reservations more because of practical reasons – they wanted nitty-gritty contracts’ says Emma.
Which is the one thing Emma and Deon didn’t have. ‘From the start, neither of us wanted to formalise anything,’ says Emma. ‘My view was, and is, that if you are going to feel safe and secure enough to have a child with another human being then putting a contract on that devalues the relationship.’ They didn’t even talk finances. ‘We split the big stuff like childcare fifty-fifty but we’re not keeping a ledger,’ says Deon. ‘If I want to buy my son a pair of trainers I buy it, and Emma is the same.’.
William was born in a London hospital on May 11th 2012, with his father by Emma’s side. ‘I remember looking at him and thinking ‘’we’ve created this little person together and we are going to do our damnedest to make sure we create an amazing human being,’ Deon recalls. For Emma, the reaction was simple: ‘pure unadulterated love’.
Yet both admit that in the early days of parenthood they were ‘winging it’. ‘We started out taking care of William on alternative days, although we were both constantly around as we live moments away from each other. Then we realised that we needed to change it as William needed to feel a bit more grounded, so it evolved into three days with one of us then three days with the other,’ says Emma.
Both their partners are also fully involved – including David. ‘He’s actually done a complete about turn – which in my heart of hearts I always believed he would,’ says Deon. And, as soon as William is old enough to understand, they will tell him the truth about how he came into the world. ‘We will tell him mummy and daddy wanted to have him, but they are not together because they are with other people,’ he says.
It may be an unorthodox extended family, but one that many experts believe will increasingly become the norm in years ahead. The latest research shows that children from new family forms aren’t at any disadvantage - no surprise to Deon and Emma. ‘Like any parent, if we saw in any way that William wasn’t thriving then we would address it,’ says Emma. ‘But he is a really happy little soul. And we feel really lucky to have him.' ENDS
Words: Katryn Knight