**Names have been changed**
“I can see myself parenting with you, and that’s not a feeling I’ve had before,” my boyfriend Adam said to me one evening, after I’d brought up the baby conversation. It was music to my ears. This was my longest and healthiest relationship yet. I was madly in love, and I knew Adam would be an amazing father.
It was a fantasy with deep roots: I grew up in a world neatly stitched together by Disney films, teen girl magazines and married parents. I just always assumed that one day I would have kids of my own.
That’s not to say I hadn’t thought about parenthood critically. For years I’d interrogated this desire to mother, especially given the lack of time I’d spent with kids, asking myself, how could I be sure this wish was anything more than what others expected of me? I questioned the assumption that every woman wants to be a mother, and that there is a specific way to “mother”. This traditional idea of motherhood just didn’t fit my worldview: the idea I had as a teenager that I would be married by 25 and have kids by 30 has long felt like a laughable timeline. I’m turning 30 this year and don’t feel practically set up nor emotionally ready for parenthood in the near future. And that’s more than okay! Instead of “settling down,” I’ve been exploring the world, discovering and pursuing what I want, and trying to figure out what kind of person I want to be (all of which are ongoing projects, by the way). I’m not unique in this regard; it’s well-documented that women who have children in Europe and North America are doing so later and later (1, 2).
In search of some answers, I read books and essays about motherhood, watched films and series on the subject, and devoured every related podcast I could find. Every chance I got, I asked mothers in my life about how they balanced their work and care responsibilities at home with their own needs and sense of self. After all of this research and self-reflection, the desire I had since childhood to be a parent was still there. Only now it felt like something I could claim, and not just something I had been taught to want. Despite all of the personal compromises and existential risks, despite the fact I could never quite untangle my own “authentic” desire from what I had been explicitly and implicitly taught since birth–I still wanted to become a mother. Motherhood struck me as a profoundly unique and interesting experience, a new way of relating to the world and myself, and at the end of the day I was just so curious about what it would be like to witness another human become who they are, and get to support them along the way. With Adam’s agreement, I felt for the first time like I knew exactly what I wanted.
But he changed his mind.
I’ll never forget what it felt like to sit across from him at his kitchen table that gloomy January afternoon, when he told me he loved me and wanted to be with me, but after some time spent thinking about it, he didn’t actually want to parent. Was that the beginning of the end? I knew I wanted kids and I didn’t want to do it alone. But looking across at Adam, who I had loved for three years, I couldn’t help wondering whether this desire for children—strong but also somewhat abstract—was setting the end of my relationship in motion.
He felt it too. “Are you going to leave me now?” he asked, half-joking and slightly nervous. I could be honest, but not definitive. “I don’t want to,” I replied.
Then he offered me a solution that I hadn’t considered before. He asked if I could imagine continuing our relationship but having and raising a child with someone else. At the time, I didn’t know what to think. Up until then, I had always imagined myself in a fairly standard family structure of a mum, a dad and kids.
The next day, I thought a little more about the idea, unfamiliar and unconventional as it seemed. Someone who I knew had recently co-parented platonically. In her early 30s, single, and ready to become a mother, she went to a speed-dating event for people who wanted to find co-parents. She met a gay couple and they hit it off. Fast forward a year-and-a-half, and she’s given birth to their child. The benefits of the setup is that she gets to share the responsibility of parenthood with more than just one person (and it doesn’t hurt that they’re doctors).
I started to get more interested, diving into the research. I learned that platonic co-parenting is on the rise (3). I discovered that a lesbian couple in Berlin had set up a website for people to find co-parents. On Reddit, I realized that divorced parents could also offer some models for how to care for an infant with someone you don’t live with.
While I’m tempted to end here on a note of optimism, this is all still a work-in-progress. Exploring the space of platonic co-parenting has been exciting, but of course it’s also scary and leads me to wonder what my path to motherhood will look like. I feel grateful to have a partner for whom my wanting to have kids (and having them with someone else) isn’t a dealbreaker, and to keep exploring different ways of becoming and being a parent. What I’ve come to understand through this process is that there will be unknowns whichever way I choose to parent. It’s tempting to pick a path which allows me to believe I know how things will end. But recognising that I don’t, that I never will, at least helps me pin down what I want to happen—and then maybe, just maybe, I can bring that desire into being.