You might say Ian Jenkins is a proud polyamory papa.
In a new book, Jenkins, 46, a California doctor, writes about his unique family’s path to parenting. Jenkins is part of a triad — three men — who became the country’s first gay polyamorous parents to be listed on their child’s birth certificate.
“We kind of want to be a role model for not being role models in a sense we’re saying to others you can change the rules, you can break the mold, you can define your own relationships as long as you are kind to each other as long as you’re honest it’s acceptable and okay that’s the standard we want to set,” said Jenkins, a hospital physician and professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego.
In the book, “Three Dads and a Baby” (Cleis Press, $18.95), Jenkins describes the throuple’s journey to fatherhood. His prose is witty and reveals the enormous obstacles gay parents face when deciding to have children. Being in a polyamorous relationship only added to the challenge.
“The big thing that I emphasize is that people believe love is a zero-sum game. There’s a pie and if you give a slice of that pie to someone else then I’m not going to get that slice of pie, but that’s not how love works,” Jenkins said. “You don’t run out of hugs. You can give more hugs. You can’t love everyone, but you can love more than one person.”
Communication, respect and freedom are essential components of polyamory, Jenkins said, and jealousy must be vanquished. These standards are necessary to counter a false narrative that polyamory is basically infidelity.
“Cheating is something you are hiding or lying about and it’s done without permission,” Jenkins said. “In our triad it’s all about consent and respect for each other’s feelings.”
It is also important to note that none of the men are legally married. Jenkins said he would only consider marriage if he were to be diagnosed with a terminal illness and needed to will his pension to one of his partners.
Jenkins, who grew up in Virginia, first met Alan Mayfield, his partner of 18 years, in medical school in Boston. He asked him out, made homemade pizza and the rest is history. Mayfield, 43, has an “incredibly incisive mind” which serves him well in his psychiatry practice, Jenkins said. He’s also handy around the house with plumbing and electrical matters and taught himself to play the piano and drums.
Mayfield, as the book reveals, was often the one to step forward and challenge some of the restrictions the throuple faced — going “Mama Grizzly” on one occasion.
“What I love about Alan is his dark and witty sense of humor,” Jenkins said. “We recognize some people might mistake us for mean girls occasionally but it’s coming from a good place.”
Hence a recurring phrase in the book — “Sixteen, Beer, Pickup Truck” — crafted by Mayfield to mock the ease at which teenage heterosexuals can breed.
It takes much more planning in gay polyamory. Jenkins and Mayfield met Jeremy Allen Hodges eight years ago through an online dating app. It was Hodges’ sperm that was used to make their first baby. Jenkins describes Hodges, 39, a San Diego zookeeper, as a nurturer.
“Jeremy is wonderful with our children, always with an eye for nurturing,” Jenkins said.
After forming a triad, the men decided to become parents with the help of two women: Meghan and Delilah. Meghan, a close friend of Mayfield, who owns a yoga studio in Argentina, provided the embryo and Delilah, another Mayfield friend from Boston, performed the surrogacy.
Delilah enjoyed the pregnancy process and had the approval of her husband.
“I think it will make you better people,” Delilah told the men upon agreeing to be the surrogate.
“It will teach patience and compassion and will be a beautiful gift that I can give to you.”
In the end 24 attorneys were needed for the legal document which granted three men father status for the first time on an American birth certificate.
“We were lucky the first time we worked with friends,” said Jenkins.
The family has two children now, Piper and Parker. The book deals with Piper’s birth, complete with a running tab of expenses. The total cost for a perfect baby came to $120,912.70.
The process led to many frustrations and scares, illuminating the hurdles not only gay parents — but parents in general — encounter.
“About half of American workers qualify for up to 12 weeks of FMLA [Family Medical Leave Act] time, but it’s unpaid time off, so families and babies either miss out on these benefits or they pay dearly for them,” wrote Jenkins. “Only 12% of workers have paid parental leave through their employers.”
Ultimately, Hodges’ Teamsters membership saved the day, the chapter on leave would certainly give pause to working couples considering having a child. Jenkins masterfully describes other challenges involving doctors, testing, expensive medicine and outdated policies.
The passion in which the men respond to each obstacle assures readers of their commitment to raising a healthy family.
“We have thought to the nth, exponentially, in detail, how we can make these children happy successful adults that have beautiful educations, careers, relationships, and families are healthy and happy,” Jenkins said. “We’re always thinking about that. In terms of how we handle tantrums, how we handle their diets, what is the best way to educate them.”
Jenkins, who Piper calls “Papa,” said he is prepared to defend his family from criticism and if he has to, will talk circles around the likes of Fox News host Tucker Carlson. Surprisingly, Jenkins believes he has changed minds in — of all places — Facebook comment threads. On a page for Gay Dads, Jenkins countered the assertion that his family was “demanding special rights.”
“They didn’t understand the difference between polyamory and polygamy,” Jenkins said. “For me, polyamory is about freedom, consent, love, respect for your partner, openness to new things. It’s sort of like a progress ideal in my mind,” Jenkins said. “Polygamy usually comes from a tradition of fairly strict religion. You see Islamic groups that are more traditional allow polygamy, you will see fundamentalist Mormon groups they will support polygamy and in both of these circumstances women have fewer rights.”
It’s that gulf in the treatment of women that Jenkins said is the biggest misconception between polyamory and polygamy. Jenkins said his family is teaching their children the importance of gender equality.
“It’s crucial that our children grow up with a deep respect for everyone’s rights and the equality of the sexes,” Jenkins said. “I’m a hard-core feminist, we want our girl to grow up knowing she can be president or senator or an astronaut or a stay-at-home mom, whatever it’s her choice and we want our son to grow up with a deep respect for women, complete respect for other people’s rights, you are not entitled to anything, everyone gets to make their own choices, intimacy is something you give, it’s not something you take or expect or deserve, you have to earn those things.”
When asked if intimacy is something the triad has sacrificed to become fathers, Jenkins said there is still time preserved for the adults.
“Our kids are fantastic sleepers,” he said.