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Co-Parenting Before Conception?

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COPARENTING BEFORE CONCEPTION

Some parents say, instead of getting married and divorced, let's just conceive and co-parent a baby in separate homes

Several summers ago a classified advertisement ran in a West Hollywood newspaper that read: "I am a single mom who wants to have another baby, but does not wish to use anonymous donor sperm. If you would like to be a father with visitation rights, send a picture and introductory letter to Kelly W...."

In Britain, a now defunct website was launched called ParentsIncluded.com. The site was aimed at lesbian and single women who wanted to bear a child using donor sperm and preferred that both parents play a role in the child's life. Potential sperm donors who wished to have some kind of relationship with the resulting child were invited to enroll. A similar site for lesbians and gay men was launched in Canada. Called the "LGBT Parent Matchmaker," it helped those in the Toronto area who wanted to locate and pair off with one or more opposite sex partners with whom they could conceive and co-parent a child.

Meet one of today's newer and more surprising intentional families. These prospective parents look around, see a bunch of divorced parents trying to "co-parent" their kids in separate homes, and decide, hey, why not skip falling in love, getting married, and getting divorced and just set up a split life for our child before the child is even conceived?

In Rosanna Hertz's book Single By Chance, Mothers By Choice the author tells the story of "Annette" who, single, 36 years old, and eventually wanting children, was diagnosed with severe endometriosis and was encouraged by her doctor to get pregnant soon. Annette then sought out and "became pregnant with a former lover, a relationship that had ended years before." Annette told Rosanna Hertz that the child's father "didn't anticipate that he would fall in love [with the child]...that he would be so emotionally bonded."

Hertz says that Annette "described a weekly routine that resembles those worked out by cooperative divorced parents":

We don't have set times. We didn't negotiate it or go to court or sign a document. But it's evolved into a pretty patternized kind of thing which involves one night a week that Ben stays at his house without me, and one night a week after school like on a Wednesday or something....And then [some nights] his dad will come over to our house around seven-thirty or so...to do the visiting and bath and bed routine...We also spend time usually on Sundays all together, the three of us...[we] try to have some time in the weekend when we're all three together, because that has become very important for John. He really--that's what keeps him in this, is the family time. He really likes that a lot, much more than he anticipated.

But, Hertz says, "whereas the donor particularly liked the time spent as a family, Annette was much more uncertain about its meaning, seeking therapy to sort out her feelings toward John and his unexpected reemergence in her life":

I have kind of mixed feelings. In one sense I do like it that it's a lot easier to take care of a kid when there are two adults around, I won't deny that. The part of it that I don't like is I feel a little bit false in that it's like playacting, or pretending to be a family when we're not a family. And I feel a little bit like living a falsehood there.

If a child's parents were never married--or if, for that matter, they never even had sex, much less fell in love or lived together--does the parents' separation from one another hurt these children any less than such separations hurt children of divorce? Given how new these family forms are, we don't have much in the way of studies to guide us. But I suspect that children don't really care if their split home evolved over time or if their parents set it up on purpose from the start. What matters to children is whether their mother and their father are in their home and daily life, taking care of them and watching over them--an experience these co-parenting arrangements sadly never offered even for one day to their child.

For more, see Elizabeth Marquardt's forthcoming report, One Parent or Five: A Global Look at Today's New Intentional Families, to be released by the Commission on Parenthood's Future. Watch FamilyScholars.org for updates.