Modern Family

They’re friends, acquaintances and sometimes even total strangers who unite non-romantically to raise a child

Families have always come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. That’s not new. But now, thanks in part to Bill 28, Ontario courts recognize the legal rights of up to four co-parents, regardless of their sexual orientation or how the child was conceived. The All Families Are Equal Act, as it’s called, came into effect last ­January and has opened up a broad new world of legally recognized parenting possibilities: gay man plus straight woman, gay woman plus gay man plus straight woman, two straight people who just aren’t into each other, and many more permutations. Here, in their own words, is what it’s like to live at the frontier of the fast-evolving notion of family.

Tracy & Adam & Kate & Ella

Tracy Whitfield, 43, social worker and college faculty
Adam Webster, 39, nursing student
Kate Wren, 38, social worker
Ella Whitfield, 2

Kate: I always wanted a baby. Before I met Tracy, I had a baby bank account for my future child. In my condo, which I bought pre-construction, I added a baby room to the design. By the time I was in my mid-30s, though, I realized that if it didn’t happen soon, it might never. For queer couples, this sort of thing obviously has to be planned.

Tracy: I never thought I’d have a child. I have chronic health issues, including diabetes, so carrying a child wasn’t realistic for me. Then, one day, when I was on the cusp of 40, Kate and I were having a bath, and she said something like, “So…we’re not going to have a child.” And I felt my gut sink. I thought, Oh god! I think I want to have a child. We started our research immediately. We went to fertility clinics and looked into sperm banks, with the idea that we’d select a donor.

Kate: But none of it felt right. I did some research on kids who grow up not knowing one of their biological parents. Later in life, they go searching for their lost mom or dad, who may not want anything to do with them.

Tracy: I’ve always had a really tight bond with my dad, and I wanted that for our child. So we thought about the men in our lives who might be a good fit.

Kate: We were looking for someone with good moral values, someone kind, gentle, respectful, and with whom there was energy and chemistry. Tracy had known Adam for a few years, and we’d hung out maybe 10 times at dinner parties and the like, and he seemed like a wonderful person.

Tracy: We weren’t sure if Adam wanted children, so during some of our meet-ups, Kate and I were pretty blatant in asking him about whether he wanted to be a dad. He had no clue we were courting him.

Adam: In the summer of 2013, Kate and Tracy invited me over for drinks. We were sipping wine in their backyard, and they came right out with it: would I be interested in being a father to their future child, and in being a part of their lives? Having a child had always been my dream, but as a gay man, I’d come to realize just how complicated that journey would be. At the time, I was a banker, working 10- to 12-hour days, and my mind was very much elsewhere. My initial reaction was shock—it was a big ask—although I was honoured, too. I had so many questions! Ultimately, I felt positive about the idea.

Tracy: Well, thank god. Because we were both terrified of asking him.

Kate: We felt so vulnerable.

Tracy: I was scared he would think that we’d been using him the whole time—that we’d been interested in him only for his genetic material.

Adam: And we worried about jeopardizing our friendship. After that night, we stayed in touch. We texted regularly and talked on the phone that summer, and went out a few times together. Each time, we had new questions for one another.

Kate: Everything from, “Are you okay with your child playing with plastic toys?”…

Tracy: …to, “What’s your philosophy on Barbies
and TV?”

Adam: It wasn’t until we’d met about six more times that we knew we were going to have a child together.

Kate: We decided to create a co-parenting contract.

Adam: We discussed what would happen if any of
us died.

Tracy: And we agreed that none of us would move out of the GTA, and that we’d contribute the same amount to a college fund every month.

Adam: We learned a lot about each other by writing that co-parenting contract. We realized we shared the same values, which reaffirmed our decision.

Tracy: The first time we tried a home insemination was on Kate’s birthday, in the spring of 2014. In total lesbian style, we ate delicious Indian food, and we set up this glorious arrangement in the basement with flowers, candles and these fertility goddess statues, which we now have in our bathroom. Adam went upstairs, Kate went down, and I, the sperm carrier, waited on the main floor, where I met Adam and transported the goods. Afterward, Kate put her legs up on the sofa, and the three of us sat in candlelight eating cupcakes.

Kate: Quite the scene. But pregnancy didn’t happen right away. I was tracking my cycle, but it happened to be a bit off, and we kept missing the mark.

Adam: We tried in April, May, June and July. In August, we went to a fertility clinic.

Tracy: And on September 28, 2014, it worked.

Kate: Ella was born in May 2015. We were thrilled.

Tracy: A friend told us how her mother signs emails “Y.M.” for “Your Mom,” and we joked that Ella would call one of us Mommy and the other “Other Mommy.” Suddenly, I was like, “Oh! Other Mommy is O.M.!” This friend was Buddhist and said that om was the seed syllable of life, so we made it “Omi,” which is what Ella now calls me. I was sensitive about not being biologically tied to Ella; Kate and Adam, who are both so generous, recognized that, and we decided Ella would take my last name.

Kate: Tracy and I are listed on her birth certificate because at the time, only two people could be named. The law has since changed, though, and we plan to add Adam.

Adam: It wasn’t my original intention to move into Tracy and Kate’s house, but I had decided to quit banking and go back to school. Tracy and Kate have a four-bedroom house, so they offered me the third floor, where there was space for an office and a bedroom. In August 2014, I moved in, and we haven’t looked back.

Tracy: Kate and I have a bedroom on the second floor, where all three of us go to read Ella stories at bedtime—we sit on what we affectionately refer to as “the big bed.” When Ella wakes up, she calls for all of us—“Mama, Daddy, Omi!” Communication between three parents is naturally more complicated than in other arrangements, where two parents might discuss something before turning out the light. In our case, we replay those discussions with Adam or we wait to have them together. Sometimes small stuff slips through, like when we told Ella she couldn’t open another Halloween treat—and then we came downstairs to find that Adam had said she could. And there was Ella, sort of flaunting how she had found a loophole in the system.

Kate: For the most part, we’re pretty consistent with rules and the like. We try to discuss everything before we talk about it with Ella.

Adam: Before Ella was born, dating was just for me. Now, when I date, I’m thinking about how this person would fit in my family. Is he a good role model for Ella? Would Tracy and Kate approve?

Tracy: The only perpetual stress we share is about Adam finding a partner and moving out, since there isn’t enough space for a five-person family right now. We could build a coach house, add an extension or renovate the attic. Or, since we’re all property owners—Adam and Kate each own a condo—we could sell everything and buy a duplex. Basically, the thought of being separated makes us sick. Whatever happens, though, we’ll work through it—just like we have with everything else that’s come our way.


Sarah & Adaan & Bino

Sarah MacDonald, 36, social worker
Mubein “Bino” Tarahi,
43, construction manager
Adaan Tarahi, 2

Sarah: My girlfriend and I had planned to have a kid after I completed my master’s degree. But then I finished, and she told me she had changed her mind. I was tired of waiting. In 2014, we broke up. I still wanted a kid, but I wanted to do it with someone who would be as invested as I was.

Bino: My situation was similar. My boyfriend and I had broken up. I wanted to be a dad, but I didn’t want to do it alone.

Sarah: I signed up to a website called Modamily, which connects prospective co-parents. I matched with a few guys, and they said all the right things—“I have a great relationship with my mom; I’m a feminist; I just want to be a dad”—but there was no spark.

Bino: Sarah and I matched, and we met in May 2014 at Starbucks at Yonge and Wellesley. This meeting was obviously different from standard dating: it was less about my needs and more about who would be good for my future child. Sarah and I were in sync, and it turned out that we lived on the same street in the Village.

Sarah: There was instant chemistry. I decided to lay it all out there. I asked Bino about his dealbreakers, which were simple. He didn’t want someone who wasn’t fully devoted or didn’t respect his privacy. I told him that I needed someone honest, patient and understanding. I can be emotional and reactive sometimes.

Bino: We talked about a co-parenting agreement that would detail nearly every eventuality. Sarah had so many things already thought out—even the fact that the child would take my last name. We ended up agreeing that if we had a boy, I would choose the first name, and Sarah would choose the middle name, and if it was a girl, we’d do the inverse. We were at that Starbucks for hours.

Sarah: I also told Bino I wanted a police record check….

Bino: I wasn’t expecting that. When I went to get it, the guy at the desk asked why I was applying. I said that a girl I met had asked for it. He started laughing, so I had to tell him the whole story.

Sarah: After our initial meeting, we “dated” for a while. Bino loves meat, so I had him over and cooked the biggest steak I could find—even though I was vegan. Then he had me over and cooked a special lentil dish that his family would make in Palestine. After about five dates, we decided to host a brunch party for our family and friends. Initially, it was like an awkward high school dance, with all the bears on one side and all the lefty political queers on the other. Someone had the brilliant idea of having everyone share what they loved about us. It was one of the most magical days of our relationship, and the ultimate interview. And it helped the groups come together.

Bino: We decided to try for a baby in August—only three months after we’d met.

Sarah: Bino just came over and gave me a little cup of sperm.

Bino: Fourteen days later, we were pregnant!

Sarah: We told everyone. Adaan was born in May 2015.

Bino: We had planned to alternate having Adaan at our houses in six-month segments, since we lived so close to each other. But toward the end of Sarah’s maternity leave, she got very emotional about it. She said she wasn’t sure about having Adaan sleep at my place.

Sarah: So one day Bino called me and said, “Do you want to buy a house together?” I was like, “Yeah.” Ten days later, we bought a semi.

Bino: Sarah and Adaan each have a bedroom in the finished basement. I live on the second and third floors, where I have my own kitchen and two bedrooms, one of which Adaan uses if he’s upstairs. Where he sleeps doesn’t really matter. We put him to bed together. He calls my floors “Baba’s house” and downstairs “Momma’s house.”

Sarah: We’re very respectful about privacy. If Bino has a date over, he’ll let me know, and I won’t knock on his door or let Adaan go up. If we’re both free, the doors are open, and we all hang out as a family.

Bino: If I’m cooking in my kitchen upstairs and Adaan gets bored after a half-hour, he goes back downstairs. It’s good for him.

Sarah: Neither of us has been in a long-term relationship since Adaan was born. Really, we’re exactly like other families, except that Bino and I don’t have sex. We do everything that Adaan sees his friends’ parents doing. He hasn’t started asking questions about our arrangement yet, but we plan to be honest when he does.

Bino: At some point, he might see the differences, but for him right now, he has parents who love him, and that’s what matters.

Sarah: I’m just so proud of what we’ve done. We created the family we wanted, and it’s beautiful. In fact, this experience has been so amazing that we’re doing it again. We’re pregnant. Our second child, another boy, is due in March.


Alexis & Ben & Ian & Joshua

Alexis Howell, 40, high school physics teacher
Ben Liu, 42, director of a university careers centre
Ian Wineberg, 44, telecom product manager
Joshua Howell-Wineberg, 5

Alexis: In the spring of 2010, I was 32 and single. I’d always wanted to be a mom, but I’d never had any luck with dating. Then my friend Jaimie told me she had a friend named Ian, and wondered if I’d like to meet him and perhaps have a baby with him. It was the craziest thing I’d ever heard. I replied: “No.”

Ian: Jaimie said the same thing to me! I was 37 and my long-term boyfriend and I had just broken up. I wanted to be a dad, but I didn’t want to do it alone. I also wasn’t ready for a romantic relationship. I’d accepted a future as a devoted uncle and godparent, but not as a parent.

Alexis: When I told my friends about Jaimie’s idea, they all said I should consider it. So six months later, Ian and I met for lunch at Sushi Island on College. Jaimie came too. I was wearing my Firefly shirt, and we ended up talking almost entirely about sci-fi TV.

Ian: We talked about everything but having a baby. It’s like dating—you don’t show up and talk about dating.

Alexis: I liked Ian. He seemed trustworthy, and I decided I wanted to get to know him better.

Ian: We agreed to meet again, this time without Jaimie, at a Starbucks at Sherway Gardens. I brought a co-parenting binder from the 519 Community Centre.

Alexis: We shared our thoughts about parenting, and we went over logistics: how someone gets inseminated, co-parenting agreements, and so on.

Ian: We discussed where we would live, schooling, religion, finances, future partners. And we decided that in the case of major disagreements, we would have a cooling-off period. If that didn’t lead to a resolution, we’d have someone mediate.

Alexis: We probably saw each other once every two to three weeks for the next six months. In the summer of 2011 we started to try, using an ovulation tracker and a DIY insemination kit. We got pregnant after our first attempt, but I miscarried eight weeks later. It was more devastating than I could have ever expected. I kept to myself for two months.

Ian: In January 2012, we tried again. I was coming back from Costa Rica a month later, and when I landed, I got a text from Alexis saying, “Congratulations, Dad.” It was nice. That was around the time that my friendship with Ben was starting to grow into something more.

Ben: On one of our early dates, Ian told me he was having a kid. I was okay with it.

Ian: Ben was so blasé that I thought there was something wrong with him!

Ben: I’d never thought about being a dad, mostly because I was never in a position to consider it. When Ian told me, I thought, Well, what else would I want to do at age 37?

Alexis: I met Ben at Ian’s place on my 35th birthday. I was six months pregnant. Ben made me a birthday dinner—pork in lettuce wraps. They were really good.

Ben: Alexis can be hard to read.

Ian: I knew it wasn’t going poorly, and I told Ben that.

Alexis: Joshua was born in October 2012, after a pretty easy pregnancy. We divided our parental leave—I took six months and Ian took four.

Ben: I moved in with Ian just as his parental leave began. It’s a good thing, too. Thawing frozen breast milk isn’t so simple in the middle of the night.

Ian: I knew that Ben was the one. We married in 2014.

Ben: Today, Joshua calls me “Papa.” I’ve always liked the idea of being called “Pop,” and it stuck.

Alexis: Before Joshua started kindergarten, we all moved to Etobicoke, so we could be close to his school. We live a five-minute drive apart.

Ben: Our arrangement is essentially a 50-50 split. Alexis has Joshua on Monday and Tuesday, we have him on Wednesday and Thursday, and we alternate weekends.

Ian: We’re in touch constantly. Someone took Joshua’s shoes while he was at jiu-jitsu, so Alexis texted us. Ben ran out and bought a new pair, and Alexis picked them up before school the next morning.

Alexis: We log all of our expenses on an Excel spreadsheet, and we have a joint account for Joshua-related purchases, for everything except food.

Ian: Ben and I talk about Joshua a lot because we live together. Alexis and I sometimes have challenges because when I text, I expect a response right away.

Alexis: It can take me a day. I like to think things over.

Ian: I’m learning to be more patient.

Alexis: The other day Joshua asked me if I was going to marry Ian. I said, “No, Daddy is already married to Papa.” Then he said, “You can all be married together.” When he asks again, I’ll explain that this is what we wanted, and that everybody loves him. We don’t all live together, and that’s fine because every family is different.