- CNN's Rose Arce and her partner needed a man to help them conceive a child.
- They asked their friend, Rene, who agreed to help but not be an everyday presence
- Rose conceived much more quickly than expected -- her daughter has four parents
On Father's Day our daughter's papa was at the beach.
Not just any beach but that New York Mecca for wealthy, sun-tanned gay party boys called Fire Island. Luna, our daughter, was with her two mommies adoringly decorating a ceramic plate to celebrate their day. "I Love Papa and Daddy," she painted on their gift.
Papa and Daddy have it good.
Rene and Dan were there for her first words and steps. They get to watch her blow out years of birthday candles and play cute for the camera when holiday photos come around. They get to revel in the unconditional love between father and child. But their fatherhood comes without months of diaper changing, years of sleep deprivation, shut down social lives and hours lost to temper tantrums. There are no piles upon piles of bills for clothes and sitters and school.
This daddy windfall came their way about eight years ago when my partner, Maria, and I decided to search for a male friend to make it possible for our two-gal family to make a baby. Rene was our first and only choice.
We had met him playing volleyball and devoted entire weekends on Fire Island to refining our skills in the sand and chugging a rainbow of chilly alcoholic drinks. We'd had a blast with this guy. We had wanted someone who is Latino, like us, fun and handsome and smart, loving and kind. We wanted a guy who loved children and understood the importance of having a father in your life but wasn't looking to play that role full-time.
Rene was all those things with his long lashes and full red lips—the child genius from the tightly knit family who had lost his father way too young and cared for his little brother and mom lovingly. Somehow we could see that guy inside the perpetually tanned volleyball setter in the multicolored Brazilian Speedo.
He was also in a long-term, stable relationship with Dan, another handsome renaissance guy who had been a successful chef and restaurant owner and left it all to become a hair colorist. We asked, they were into it, and one day over drinks we clinked glasses and launched a family. If only every life decision was so easy.
We didn't talk many details beyond the major one -- that we were grateful for the help making our family, but that this was our child. We signed sterile donor agreements and looked each other in the eye while we explained papa would cede paternal rights so my partner could complete a second parent adoption. We also promised they would still be daddy and papa, ever present in the baby's life. Laws are never adequate replacements for trust.
We figured it might take years for there to be an actual baby. Over the next two weeks, I got tested for every possible health barrier to pregnancy and a stern-faced fertility specialist told me I should start with in vitro fertilization.
The idea of a known donor was, to this doctor, risky and unconscionable, without a battery of testing and leaving the sperm in quarantine for 12 months. Meanwhile, Rene began wearing loose underwear and got all sorts of tests that declared his sperm A-OK.
We were prepared to wait a year, but during a routine exam that week my internist of 15 years suggested another plan. "You have no fertility problem," he said. "And this guy is totally healthy. Why not do this thing yourself."
The next week, less than a month after our first parenthood discussion, we decided on a dry run. Afraid we would all be too nervous, we figured we'd practice. Dan ordered Rene to take it seriously and chill on the drinking or smoking. My partner insisted I take vitamins and supplements, even though it was totally the wrong time of the month to conceive.
We had many friends in varied situations who had spent years trying to get pregnant so we wanted to start this long-haul process all right. Rene came over for the practice session before rushing off to the airport on a business trip. He came in and out of the bathroom in lightning speed and emerged red-faced to hand us a cup that looked nearly empty. He ran off while Maria and I laid in bed laughing at how silly this whole process would be and calculating the potential costs of long-term IVF. I tested pregnant 10 days later.
After nine months of feeding me grotesque health shakes and six baby showers (including one on Fire Island), the papas found themselves pacing outside the delivery room as Maria cut the umbilical cord and baby Luna cried out for the first time. In her first five minutes of life, she had been wept over by four new parents.
I was lying there with 6 pounds, 10 ounces of mini-Rene, an appearance she has not shaken for seven years. She walks and talks like him and inherited his good looks and shy manner. Yet she found no complexity to the composition of her extended family.
A judge signed her over as Maria's legal daughter while she was a tiny baby cooing in her "I love my Moms" T-shirt. We received a birth certificate with both our names. But that was nowhere near as significant as how she explained it at age 3: "My parents are two mommies but they needed help to have a baby, so I have two Daddies too."
It was all very simple for her, even as it had its odd moments for us. Rene and I are sometimes thrown together at formal events and it's challenging to explain why we are so close. We both often smile and say "this is my baby's mama or baby's papa" which leads either to uncomfortable confusion or laughter from people who know the real story and get the irony.
We are both Latinos, a community plagued by high rates of unwanted pregnancies and single motherhood. It's ironic to us that I'm legally classified as a single mom when our daughter has an abundance of parents.
Her little friends find it funny as well. Some marvel at the idea of having "extra" parents and quantify the extra Christmas and birthday presents. The adults long for so much babysitting. Our families are overjoyed we've shattered the expectation that gay kids don't give you grandkids. And who wouldn't want four sets of doting grandparents and a legion of uncles and aunts?
We got really lucky with this double daddy windfall too. The boys step up to the plate on all sorts of tasks big and small, even though they aren't obliged to share the many burdens of full-time parenthood. They've become masters of arts and crafts, makers of oatmeal, singers of monotonous child songs. They don't even mind the endless cupcake making and homework doing. The occasional family photo refuels their patience.
Meanwhile, she thinks they hang the moon. When they bought a country home last year, they designated a room for her with a comfy twin bed and a lazy stuffed bunny in an antique rocking chair. She was all over it.
Last weekend we visited and she spent a full day dragging them around by the hand -- to do the gardening, barbecue burgers, paint ceramics and shop. She rode a bike all by herself for the first time as everyone cheered her on. This kid will never complain of not getting enough attention with four camera phones pointed at her to send a record of her every accomplishment off into the world of grandparents and Facebook and Instagram.
Not every gay family would have things this way. Some women we know preferred anonymous donors because they wanted clarity all around. Some men prefer to have only children that are exclusively their own. We like our choice. We are undeniably Luna's parents, but there is a special place for the daddies, forged by our trust and enriched by her love.
She knows where she came from and that the daddies made it happen. And so do we.