Zeke and I count slowly from zero to 10, our deep voices matched in a kind of harmony, while Avary’s face is locked in concentration. He is closer to her playing the role of the partner, while I am bracing her leg against my shoulder. Ten counts, a deep breath, and ten more. Three sets of ten, then a few seconds rest, during which Zeke looks Avary in the eyes and says “You’ve got this.”
The phrase becomes a sort of mantra, one that she repeats to baby Octavia hours later as she flails looking for a latch and again over the coming days as she struggles with alien sensations of water and sound. My instinct tells me that it’s not a phrase I should use, that there should remain a small handful of things that are sacred between the three of them, and that this is one of them. I am not short on sacred things.
Earlier, years earlier, Avary, Zeke and I are walking the hills of San Francisco and the topic of babies comes up. They have been dating for about two years, enough time for safe imagining, and Avary says “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could someday raise kids together?” I’d heard this fantasy before and had my heart broken by it. Growing up asexual I learned that friends who profess fantasies of committed, long term intimacy will often abandon those fantasies when a romantic partner or job offer comes along. To hear these fantasies without the commitment to preserve them has become a painful kind of tease. I say “Yes, it would, but please don’t joke about that. Being a third parent with a couple I deeply love and trust is a very real dream of mine. I’d like to request that if we only talk about that possibility if we’re ready to talk about it seriously.”
We don’t discuss it again for three years.
We have spent that intervening time building trust, not with a goal in mind but certainly with a possibility. I serve as a counsellor leading up to their wedding, helping them reflect on their commitments to one another. They support me through jobs and a new partnership, a move to New York with frequent visits back to stay on their couch. It is during one of these visits, a few months after the wedding, that the topic comes up again. This time they trade off the sentences. Avary starts: “We’ve been talking about family, we know we want to have a kid and we know that raising our child in community is important to us.” Now Zeke chimes in, “We’re talking with several friends about the role that they might play in our child’s life, and we wanted to have that discussion most deeply with you.”
How, exactly, to have that discussion is still a mystery to all of us, but we start to stumble our way through. I draw a line in the air. “On this end,” I say, “the baby starts crying and I give her back.” I move my hand two arm lengths over. “And on this end we are equal co-parents. I live with you, we equally share expenses, I’m bottle feeding at 4AM. Show me the range that you’re interested in discussing.”
Fantasies are good, but possibilities are better. We begin to play with different scenarios, with me moving back from New York, with my partner, who is extremely supportive but does not want kids, eventually moving to join us. What if one of us gets a life-changing job opportunity in another city? What if our child becomes seriously disabled? What if one of us does? Over the course of a year we begin to mark the shape of what, exactly, we are signing up for. But it’s pretty clear that we’re signing up.