Three plus two equals family
By Tom Reardon, February 2021 issue
There are times in life where you realize that maybe you are not as open-minded as you think you are.
For example, some of us out there, regardless of our various orientations, skin tones, spiritual beliefs, and upbringing, mistakenly think of ourselves from time to time as being completely open-minded. This hopeful wish for total approval of all things similar and different to us is a nice thought, but we all have our little (or large) prejudices.
Most often, of course, the question of whether we are OK with something and the subsequent feelings of doubt or confusion that follow are the product of our ignorance, even if we are usually genuinely acceptinsg of new or different ideas. Case in point, the concept of polyamory. In our beautiful country that begs for diversity to be accepted and celebrated (yes, that is a little wishful thinking), the idea of there being a third person in a loving relationship is often either shunned, oversaturated with sexual overtones, or dismissed with the thought, “I could never do that.”
However, people do, and is not just about the extra sex. Sometimes, it is about building a loving family.
In his new memoir, Three Dads and a Baby: Adventures In Modern Parenting, Dr. Ian Jenkins details how he and his two partners decided to become parents, becoming the first polyamorous family to have three men all be on their biological (with the help of two surrogate mothers and an embryo donor) children’s birth certificates.
Jenkins, a board-certified internal medicine physician and professor at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine, and his partner, Alan (last name withheld out of respect for his professional life as he is employed by the U.S. government) have been together for almost 18 years. The two met when Alan, a psychiatrist, was Ian’s student while in medical school. After six years together, Ian and Alan began discussing the idea of possibly dating a third person together.
“I think it was probably a four-year discussion,” says Jenkins over the phone.
The length of their conversation had to do with several things. According to Jenkins, the priority was getting comfortable with the idea of dating outside of their monogamous relationship.
“I think the real issue was kind of figuring out what kind of person (we) would be comfortable with and when we first started talking about this, I think he was more comfortable with the idea of someone who couldn’t really compete as a mate. (Alan) felt better with the idea of someone that we didn’t really think was going to be a long-term partner, and it turns out that the people who are probably not likely long-term partners are also just not a good fit for us,” continued Jenkins.
The couple dated a few people, but there was not really a “click.” Then Jenkins met Jeremy, a 6’5” zookeeper with a talent for nurturing tiny Hawaiian birds (more on that later) eight years ago, and they hit it off over lunch, but there was just one problem. Jeremy was not interested in dating a couple. Jenkins, though, said that was fine and thought there was the possibility that Jeremy could become part of he and Alan’s circle of friends, so he invited Jeremy over for a friendly dinner.
“We brought him home for dinner, just to be friends, and we had a great time. We spent every evening for the next week together because we were just enjoying each other’s company,” says Jenkins.
Some people might assume that, like many people of all sexual orientations, the couple was looking for a threesome or some sort of sexual adventure, this was not the case.
“That was never anything that was on our radar. We were looking for a person, not like a specific adventure. Jeremy is a great person, and we just really hit it off with him, and he enjoyed our company. We just spent more time together, and we all realized that we were a good fit, and it would make sense for us to start a relationship, so we did,” says Jenkins.
Alan and Ian made efforts to bring Jeremy into their relationship as an equal, not an “extra,” and Jenkins says that took a lot of communication. He also shared that he is very happy that Alan and Jeremy enjoy their time with each other and realized, over time, that it made him glad to know that the men he loved enjoyed spending time together without him because it made them happy.
During the conversation, Jenkins mentioned several times that the throuple (and yes, that is a word) are not nearly as interesting as people may think they are or even salacious in any way. They do the same things that couples do, including talking about what to have for dinner, sharing finances, and figuring out what movie to watch together. Before the pandemic, they enjoyed spending time with family and friends, and with three sets of these, for example, they would often have gatherings of 50 or more people.
“We’re pretty tame and ordinary people. The house is very much like every other house that’s raising two kids as best as they possibly can with the right values and making them feel nourished and wanted to set them up for success. It’s just that there’s three dads instead of two, or a mom and a dad,” says Jenkins.
While some people did not necessarily understand their arrangement, at first, Jenkins says that people were typically quick to accept the throuple and did not think much of it. Some of this is covered in Jenkins’ excellent memoir, including how Jeremy’s extremely religious mother was painfully and heartbreakingly slow to come around to the family’s arrangement. Still, the book is much more focused on how these three men came to be fathers in a groundbreaking way.
Three Dads and a Baby is incredibly easy to sink your teeth into, and Jenkins’ talent as a writer is substantial. Equally humorous and heartfelt, the story of how the three men decided to become fathers and the assistance they received from two incredible friends, Delilah (who acted as a surrogate for the throuple’s first child, Piper Joy) and Meghan, a lifelong friend of Alan’s who donated the eggs (or “Meggs” as they came to be known), will make you laugh and cry as you root for the trio to build their family.
Of course, there were significant obstacles along the way and some heartbreak, too, as an early attempt to add to their family was unsuccessful. The details of this process, replete with a fair amount of medical insight, make Three Dads and a Baby an excellent read for anyone interested in learning more about how in vitro fertilization (IVF) or adopting and implanting embryos works. It is hard to combine educational, informative, and entertaining concepts into one book, but Jenkins more than pulls it off.
For one thing, Jenkins does a masterful job of relating this experience from both the perspective of a member of a family figuring out how to navigate these complicated waters with his partners and that of a physician who teaches other doctors how to be great at their jobs.
In this book, there is some medical information that is nothing short of phenomenal, and Jenkins’ writing about his profession and his research into his topic is top-notch. The book also delves into the complicated legal precedents of he, Alan, and Jeremy’s fight to do what was right by their children.
“It was a new experience for our attorneys, and it was a new experience for our IVF doctors, as well. If you’re a married couple, it is a pretty straightforward process to do as they can be included on the same contract with a surrogate, but when you’re not married, even if you have been in an 18-year relationship, you have separate contracts with a surrogate because you’re not related to each other,” says Jenkins.
While the legal and medical bills continued to add up, the throuple faced each new challenge stoically, though, providing emotional support for each other through some tough battles as they moved towards making legal history. This is another excellent aspect of the memoir as Jenkins detailed each hoop the threesome jumped through to make sure they would each be on Piper Joy’s birth certificate.
Jenkins mentioned that some people might have viewed this fight as some type of “grandstanding” to draw attention to their unique situation, but this was not the case.
“Our driver for this was not to call attention to ourselves but to protect our child because we are all the parents of these children, and if any one of us needs to consent to medical treatment or take them to the doctor’s office, enroll them in school, handle their legal responsibilities for them, we all need to be able to do that, and you can’t predict when this might happen,” says Jenkins.
When the throuple added their son, Parker Lewis, to the fold, the process was simpler, and there was not even a need to go before the judge as they had with Piper Joy to plead their case for an additional slot on the birth certificate. The courts handled it, and the family grew by one.
While it does not sound as if more children are on the way anytime soon, Jenkins can still find time to write and is working on a couple of different projects when he can tear himself away from cooking for his family or snuggling with the kids. When people say to him that they do not think it is possible to love more than one person, Jenkins says he thinks of a woman who asked him that question once, and he thought to himself, “Don’t you have three kids? Which one did you choose to love?”
Jenkins concluded with this: “I just don’t think that hearts are made that way to be closed off to more than one person. Certainly, they don’t come that way."
Click here to purchase a copy of Three Dads and a Baby: Adventures In Modern Parenting.