The Daily Telegraph carries a story today about a Court of Appeal case concerning the future of a boy who was born to a lesbian couple, his conception having been made possible with the help of a close friend, a gay man. The couple claim that in an agreement, made in a restaurant before the conception, they made it clear to the man that they wished to be the parents of any child born, but that he would be welcome to see the child in their company as s/he grew up. His position would be neither one of a father nor a traditional sperm donor. The man, whilst agreeing that the women are the main parents, is now insisting that he should have the same sort of access and visiting rights as an ‘estranged father’ in a heterosexual couple. Judgement in the case has been set aside to another time.
This situation almost exactly mirrors that of a lesbian family I recently interviewed for my Mixed Blessings booklet. An arrangement had been made without signing agreements (although all parties were professionals and should have known better). Everyone thought they were on the same page but no-one understood or realised prior to conception the powerful feelings that can be aroused in both men and women by the birth of a child. There is just no legislating for feelings particularly, as in both the current court case and the family in my booklet, the man is around at the time of the birth, holds the baby and attends the christening. How could he not want more than to be an occasional visitor. How could it be right for the child not to see him regularly.
Of course written agreements can only state intentions and are not legally binding. Courts can and do make judgements in the interest of the child that do not reflect the wishes of adults concerned. But at least signed, written agreements can lay out in cold print what both parties intended and that is a starting point. But a document can never take feelings into account. A ‘hands off’ agreement between adults may also be drawn up without realising how a child might feel about a man who is part of his parent’s social circle, is known to have contributed to his creation but who doesn’t seem to want to be a father to him. Isn’t this going to feel rather dispiriting at least and a rejection at worst? Surely better that a known donor, where there is no social father, plays an active parenting role, even if the two women are ‘main’ parents.
Not all known donors behave as responsibly as it sounds as if the man in the current case is doing. In the family I interviewed the man regularly fails to consult with the women about presents he brings to the child, which are often completely inappropriate. He tried to force the child to call him ‘Daddy’ long before the little boy was ready to do so and has made life very difficult at times for the women. But they persist because they hope that their son will eventually be pleased that he has his father in his life.
Raising children is one of the most challenging tasks anyone can ever take on. The feelings on becoming a parent are overwhelming. It is not surprising that things are going wrong when emotion is not taken into account. This court case, which no doubt is causing turmoil to the people concerned and their wider families, is a sad failure of adult’s best intentions not taking into account changing feelings and circumstances and the best interests of the child.