The people so desperate to be parents, they have baby with a stranger

The men and women so desperate to be parents, they have a baby with a stranger — then raise it as if they’re divorced

  • Nick Farrow, 54, met Rae, 50, on Modamily – an American site in the year of 2014
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When Nick Farrow collects his eight-year-old daughter Milly from her mother’s house, the excitable little girl rushes out to greet him. He scoops her up into a big hug before chatting away with her mum Rae.

You would think they were a model of ‘conscious uncoupling’ — two former spouses making an effort to share parenting responsibilities without the usual acrimony of divorce.

But Rae, 50, and Nick, 54, have never been married. Although Milly is their biological child, they’ve never even had sex. For theirs is a very modern arrangement that illustrates a new frontier in parenthood. So-called platonic ‘co-parenting’ began with gay men and women teaming up to build a family.

But now it is catching on in the straight community, as more women opt to raise a child with a non-romantic partner rather than doing it alone, for example via sperm donation. Co-parents can find each other via websites such as Modamily and British-founded PollenTree.

Interest in such arrangements rocketed during the pandemic, with co-parenting matchmaking sites experiencing a 50 per cent surge during lockdowns.

Loving father: Nick with newborn daughter Milly. Rae, 50, and Nick, 54, have never been married. Although Milly is their biological child, they’ve never even had sex

An estimated 70,000 people in the UK are now thought to be advertising themselves online as a potential co-parent.

And the big surprise? Modamily says 40 per cent of their users are men. ‘Men get broody too,’ says Nick, a gardener and writer from Brighton who never thought he’d become a pioneer for such an unconventional arrangement. ‘Ever since I was about 35, I just knew I had to be a parent.

‘I assumed I would become a dad in the traditional way but when I was 43, my long-term partner decided she didn’t want children after all — the day before we moved into a bigger home to start a family.

‘Suddenly single in my 40s, I was worried I wouldn’t find the right person in time and I didn’t want to be an old dad.

‘When I met Rae via Modamily, I instantly realised I could raise a child with her as a team. Now we have the most amazing daughter imaginable.’

Such an arrangement comes with its detractors though.

Experts argue that commuting between different homes can be stressful for children. Critics also worry that children may miss out on witnessing romantic love between their parents — though you’d be forgiven for wondering if such parents ever stop being purely ‘platonic’. ‘I found myself falling for Rae two weeks after Milly was born,’ Nick admits. ‘She firmly suggested we stick to the original plan.’

That wobble aside, Nick insists the arrangement has worked well. ‘With 42 per cent of marriages ending in divorce, platonic co-parenting looks like a sensible option. 

Interest in such arrangements rocketed during the pandemic, with co-parenting matchmaking sites experiencing a 50 per cent surge during lockdowns. Pictured: Nick Farrow 

‘With a divorce, lingering resentment can spill over onto the children. But with platonic co-parenting, two people focus all their attention and affection on raising a child.’

Nick, whose parents have been married for more than 50 years, had a traditional upbringing. He knew he wanted to be a dad since a friend’s five-year-old daughter threw her arms around him and screamed, ‘I love you, Uncle Nick!’ when he was in his 30s. ‘I felt that if I didn’t become a father, my life would be incomplete,’ he says.

So, after the end of his long-term relationship in 2011, Nick began dating with ‘baby goggles’ on. ‘I was specifically looking for a woman to have a child with, dropping in the, “Oh, have you thought about having children?” question early on.No one ever told me it was off-putting, but it must have been clear to them that my main focus was not to fall in love.’

It was a lesbian friend who first told Nick about platonic co-parenting, which had taken off for heterosexual would-be parents in the U.S. and Canada. ‘The more my friend told me about these “rainbow families”, the more it fired my imagination,’ says Nick. ‘While the thought of finding my soulmate and being with her until death do us part was romantic, how common was it in practice?’

It still seems like an extreme option. Free of a ticking biological clock, you would imagine an eligible single man could find a female partner who also wanted children eventually. But Nick did not want to be an old dad. ‘At 43, I was fairly knackered already,’ he said.

‘I was aware my health could go at any time and I wouldn’t have enough energy to keep up with a child.’ Still, wasn’t there anyone in his life who might be more suitable than a stranger? Nick says he did consider asking a friend, but ultimately, ‘I felt like if I met someone on a co-parenting site, they would really want it too — rather than a friend who might say yes and then get second thoughts.’

In 2013, he signed up to Modamily. The American site, started in 2011, now has 100,000 members worldwide and claims it has led to the birth of 1,000 babies. Designed for people looking to have a family immediately, users can also find a romantic partner, a platonic co-parent or a sperm donor.

It works similarly to dating apps, with users — who do not have to undergo a vetting process — uploading a profile with pictures and a description of themselves, and able to choose a geographic radius for potential partners.

It may sound straightforward, but having a child in such a fashion throws up some serious issues. It’s common to draw up a co-parenting agreement before the child is conceived, but such agreements are not legally binding in the UK.

A father who is a platonic co-parent does not automatically get parental responsibility as a married father would.

An estimated 70,000 people in the UK are now thought to be advertising themselves online as a potential co-parent. Stock image used

During the pregnancy, the father has no legal rights, including if the woman decided to have a termination.

And if a pregnant woman decided to go it alone, the dad would be forced to go to court to be recognised as the father.

However, a ruling in 2018 allowed two people living in separate homes to be recognised as platonic parents of their child. A co-parent can also acquire parental responsibility by ensuring his name is on the birth certificate (as Nick went on to do).

After a failed attempt to strike an agreement with a lesbian couple, Nick met Rae, 42, a social worker who had been on the site for a few months, in the spring of 2014.

She desperately wanted to be a mother but feared she was running out of time after several failed relationships. During that first encounter in a pub in Worthing, West Sussex, she struck him as intelligent, principled and eloquent.

‘We have the exact same value system,’ he says. ‘We are both liberal, we had similar communication styles. I could tell she was a good person and we felt that we could be friends, which was critical.’

After a month of weekly meetings, Nick and Rae put together a co-parenting agreement, using divorce custody agreements as a template.

This document sets out in writing how co-parents plan on raising their child, addressing issues such as education, finances, child access, diet and even screen time. Six pages long, Nick and Rae’s agreement included a commitment that neither would move from Sussex while raising their child and that they would not introduce a romantic partner to the child until they had been dating for 18 months.

At a picnic in July 2014, Nick popped the question: ‘Shall we have a baby then?’ Rae said yes. They decided to conceive via artificial insemination, using a £5 kit Nick bought on Amazon. ‘Some people do natural insemination — they have sex — and that’s fine, but Rae and I always felt it would muddy the waters if an emotional attachment kicked in.’

After they had sterilised the device, Nick trooped up to his bedroom and returned with his donation. Rae took the sample into the bathroom and inserted it. A month later, Rae was pregnant. Having taken the test alone, she texted Nick with the news he was going to be a father.

‘I was over the moon,’ he says. ‘I even stopped in the middle of a busy road because I was so blown away — it’s what I had wanted for so long.’ During the pregnancy they attended two antenatal courses together, where they kept their unconventional route to parenthood to themselves.

But much awkwardness ensued when the pair, who hadn’t so much as kissed, had to demonstrate a couple’s massage as part of the course. ‘This was the first time we’d had any physical contact and here we were massaging each other in front of a room full of people.’

Nick was pleasantly surprised to find that Rae’s family and friends were welcoming and non-judgmental.

Yet while Nick’s mother was overjoyed to become a grandmother (‘because I’m an only child and in my early 40s, she thought that ship had sailed’), she was unsure of the co-parenthood concept. His father, a psychologist, worried how he’d cope with the emotional side of co-parenting, not to mention the financial practicalities. After many discussions, however, they came round to the idea, reassured by the months Nick and Rae had spent drawing up their agreement before conceiving.

‘Now they get on like a house on fire with Rae,’ he says.

Nick was confident his friendship circle would be understanding. Though most were, he was in for a shock.

‘The one friend I thought would be the coolest said that co-parenting would be a problem because the child wouldn’t witness us in a romantic relationship. His comments really upset me.’

Milly was born in March 2015. With only one person allowed in the room for the birth, Rae decided to have an old friend with her while Nick waited for updates in the waiting room. ‘I understood. We weren’t in a relationship — she didn’t feel comfortable with me staring at her body.

‘As soon as I was handed Milly, it’s like my heart exploded. I held her for five minutes and after I handed her back, I wept in a nearby cafe for half an hour.

‘I can’t remember crying like that since I was a child.’

Some platonic co-parents move in together to share the load in the early days. However Nick and Rae, who live only a few miles apart, decided not to. ‘We felt the lines between romantic and platonic relationships could be blurred if we moved in together.’

Nick now sees his daughter up to three times a week, but in the early days Rae took on the lion’s share of parenting duties. ‘I went over once or twice a week, I helped out with the shopping but I never moved in and I never had her overnight,’ he explains. ‘But I was quite content to wait for a more active role. I was simply blown away that I had a child at all.’

In fact, the wave of love Nick felt for his infant daughter soon had him longing for a more conventional relationship with Rae.

‘You suddenly have this little thing in your life that you love more than anything. I stared at my daughter and I could see this love haze around her and one day, both my daughter and Rae were in the haze.’

For two months, Nick obsessed about being in a romantic relationship with Rae.

‘I plucked up my courage and said: “Do you think maybe we could be a normal family?”

‘She gave me a smile but shook her head and said: ‘Let’s stick with the programme, shall we?’

‘I can’t deny I was bitterly disappointed, but I realise Rae was right. It was just love spilling out everywhere when you become a father for the first time.

‘You can’t plan for that in a co-parenting agreement.’

Despite the formal arrangement, there have been stumbling blocks. The first was Milly’s name. The plan was for her to have a double-barrelled surname, but then Rae decided she was not comfortable to do so. ‘That was something I had to concede,’ he says.

Money was another point of friction. The co-parenting agreement set out that Nick would use the Government’s child support calculator to work out his child maintenance payments for Rae.

But when he went through a period of not earning much money, for a year his payments weren’t enough. Nick was also concerned how he would eventually explain their unconventional set-up to Milly. But he needn’t have worried.

Six months ago, while driving home from school, Milly, now eight, piped up from the back of the car: ‘I was explaining today that you and Mumma are just friends and you’re not even in a relationship.’

He replied: ‘Ok, and what do you think about that, darling?’ Milly said: ‘I think it’s great because I have two houses to go to.’

Not everyone has been as tolerant of Nick and Rae’s situation.

When Nick told one woman he went on a date with about it, she called it ‘weird’ and declared: ‘I’d rather get pregnant from a fling than do that!’

‘I had to leave,’ Nick says. ‘How could casual sex with a random stranger be preferable to building a thoughtful and caring family with a friend?’

Five years ago, he and Rae toyed with the idea of having another child together, but ultimately decided that, then in their late 40s, they were too old.

Milly has her own bedroom at his house and Rae and Nick alternate Christmases and have, on occasion, spent Christmas Day together. Nick hasn’t yet been on holiday with his daughter.

His parents see her once or twice a month. ‘I miss Milly from visit to visit but I don’t resent not spending more time with her,’ he says. ‘I actually see her an awful lot more than we initially agreed.

‘We decided that I would have her every other weekend and a day or two in between but now I see Milly two or three times a week. This will likely change as she gets older and we hope it will be more like 50/50 in the future. It does feel like a partnership.’

Nick and Rae are both single and there has not yet been a significant other on the scene. Does Nick worry that one day Milly will have another ‘Daddy’ in her life?

‘The prospect of Rae having a serious relationship and Milly having another father figure concerned me more when Milly was younger.

‘I’m established as her dad now so it doesn’t worry me as much.

‘But the main thing would be whether I liked the man and think he would be a good influence on my daughter? And how included would he make me feel? There would definitely be a dynamic there to manage, but I trust Rae.’

Nick is so passionate about his arrangement with Rae that he has written a book, Diary Of A Platonic Co-Parent, which also serves as a guide for would-be co-parents. ‘I’m not saying it would work for everyone. Like any relationship, it takes work.

‘But sometimes you don’t have the luxury to get to know someone over six months who then may or may not want a child.

‘This set-up enables you to crack on with parenthood and it should be seen as an acceptable choice.’

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