Thunder Bay, Ont. writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.
I have to say, I’m pretty chuffed about this week’s news that a Vancouver baby has become the first child in British Columbia to have three parents listed on her birth certificate.
Della Wolf Kangro Wiley Richards (three parents, three surnames—but that’s an entirely different post) is the daughter of Danielle Wiley and her wife, Anna Richards, and their friend, Shawn Kangro. Wiley and Richards are the custodial parents, with financial responsibility, while Kangro is a guardian, with rights to access. Under BC’s new Family Law Act, three or more parents can be listed on a birth certificate.
How quickly things change. When Rachel and I enlisted our friend Rob’s help in order to have kids, the only way all three of us could have been listed on the birth certificate would’ve been to go to court. We vaguely contemplated the idea, but it wasn’t huge on our list of priorities. At the time, we hadn’t known exactly how the relationship would unfold. The plan was that Rachel and I would be the primary parents and Rob would occupy some kind of less well-defined “donor/uncle” role, with lots of goodwill but no rights or responsibilities. When Rowan was born in 2004, we couldn’t even list Rachel on the birth certificate: The form had space for only “Mother’s Name” and “Father’s Name”: Listing Rob would have bumped Rachel out of her (still-tenuous) legal role as a parent, and we were warned that putting her name down under the “Father” slot would result in the certificate being invalidated.
In the end, it took a bunch of wrangling with our local MP’s office in order to get both of our son’s moms listed on his birth certificate. By the time Isaac was born in 2007, the forms had been updated, to “Parent #1” and “Parent #2.” Much better. But still, there was no way to recognize Rob—and, by extension, no way to recognize his crucial role in our creatively queer clan. (Shameless self-promotion: All three of us talk about this in the anthology I put out in 2009: And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents & Our Unexpected Families.)
I love the Kangro Wiley Richards story for a whole bunch of reasons. Obviously, it resonates on a personal note. It’s also an example of legislation that actually makes sense; so many families, not just LGBTQ families, have more than two parents. Step-parents and grandparents, sperm and egg donors, partners and exes, foster parents and surrogate parents, lovers, aunts and uncles, good friends and relative strangers: All of these people can and may well end up being parents to children. Legal recognition means that these people can be visible and valued—not to mention protected.
But I also love this story because it expands the definition of who can be a parent. Back when the three of us were imagining our roles, I think that Rachel and Rob and I felt constricted by those two slots on the birth certificate. Only two of us would end up there, and the limitations of that reality may have in some ways limited our roles: If Rachel and I were the mothers, the “real,” legal parents, it was only at Rob’s expense. And if Rob wasn’t a real parent, what was he? What did “real” parents do? I love that Della Wolf’s parents have the option of imagining Kangro as a full parent, even if his roles and responsibilities differ from those of Wiley and Richards’. I love that they’re not stuck debating who is more or less a parent, but can instead give themselves and their daughter the gift of three adults to love and care for her wholly and expansively, rather than having to tiptoe around the edges of some legal definition.
Nine years after Rachel, Rob and I became parents, all in our own ways, it’s nice to see that Canada is beginning to catch up to what my family has long known to be true: When it comes to being a parent, sometimes you have to count past two.