The Telegraph - PollenTree.com Review
Meet the co-parents: friends not lovers

What’s it like to have a child with someone who’s a friend but not a lover? More and more people are doing just that, to satisfy their broodiness. Helen Croydon investigates.

Seven years ago, when Sabrina Morgan, 33, was single and desperate for a child, she found herself chatting to Kam Wong, 41, a gay man who was longing to be a father, in an online fertility forum. 'I instantly thought he was genuine, down-to-earth, laidback and flexible,’ says Sabrina. 'We exchanged pictures. It wasn’t about sexual attraction, obviously, but it was important what he looked like. I asked him if he had any history of baldness and loose teeth. It was part humour but it was also my way to steer towards more serious questions, like does he have any genetic health conditions.’

For Kam, who is in a long-term relationship, contacting Sabrina was about more than being a sperm donor: 'I adore children. The desire to have my own has always been with me. Because of my sexuality I thought it might never happen. The urge grew stronger in my thirties until one day I researched options. When I met Sabrina I was very nervous. This was my chance to fulfil my dreams.’ It took Sabrina six years to conceive through IVF. By then she had met Kirsty Slack, 37, who is now her romantic partner. Sabrina and Kirsty live together and are Zaide’s primary carers. Kam visits weekly, which will increase as Zaide gets older.

Kam and Sabrina are one of the growing number of couples in so-called 'co-parenting’ relationships – biological parents who have a close but platonic relationship and both contribute to child-rearing . Co-parenting isn’t just for the gay community. Straight men and women are choosing to put romance aside in the name of reproduction.

Tomorrow sees the launch of pollentree.com, started by Patrick and Rita Harrison, ex-lawyers from north London. Rita had the idea after a number of single female friends asked for legal advice on sperm donation. 'One had looked into IVF but found the prices extortionate so turned to the internet to seek a donor. I was horrified. That’s when we had the idea to create a safe environment for women like her to explore all parenting routes. 'We can’t believe the number of young, straight women joining our site who say they are simply not prepared to wait for Mr Right. The attitude seems to be, “I’m not going to compromise with a relationship just to have children.”’

Fertility clinics or any organisation involved in processing, storing or selling frozen gametes in Britain must have a licence from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). There is no law governing co-parent or donor websites because they are merely acting as an introduction agency. Donors at registered sperm banks remain anonymous until children reach the age of 18.

But this rule doesn’t apply to children born from 'fresh’ samples in private donor agreements. That was a plus for Leila: 'I was never comfortable with the idea of my child not knowing anything about their father. When I found out there are websites where you can meet the donors, I was on the hunt!’

Kam and Sabrina say they haven’t encountered any hurdles so far. Before Zaide was born, they each put in writing their priorities for their relationship.

For Sabrina and Kirsty it came down to practicalities: 'The main thing was level of contact. We agreed we would wait at least eight months before Kam takes Zaide out alone. As he gets older we’d like Kam to have more of a role so we can have child-free days with each other; I suggested we all take a holiday together once a year. I wanted to set boundaries too, so I wrote that Kam should give us ample notice when he visits.’ Kam highlighted Zaide’s education: 'I wanted to be the decision-maker on schooling. I said I would set funds aside that he can use for university if he wants. Being Chinese, I would like him to learn Cantonese. And I wanted my own family – his grandparents – to be part of his life.’ 'We were incredibly open and honest,’ adds Kirsty. 'We talked about everything from discipline styles to the moral values we want to instil in Zaide , right down to how many toys he has.’ Their written agreement isn’t legally binding but acts as a point of guidance. 'We constantly say that if any of us feels uncomfortable or unhappy about something, we will sit down and discuss things fairly,’ says Sabrina.

They don’t see themselves as pioneers, certainly not within the gay community where many couples have children using donors. But they do see themselves as role models for co-parenting. They hope to share their experiences with aspiring co-parents at the Alternative Families Show in London in September. 'The key thing is to communicate,’ advises Sabrina. 'Choose someone you would be friends with outside of this situation.’ Kairen Cullen warns that we don’t yet know how children could be affected by a non-conventional family backdrop. 'Parents are the first teachers. That is how children become motivated to engage in relationships as they grow up. It is important that children witness a range of adult relationships including romantic ones. If all children were brought up in a co-parenting framework it would be hard to speculate about the long-term effects.’

Sabrina asserts that far from co-parenting being an inferior model, there are aspects of it that beat conventional parenting. ' We selected a partner on an intellectual level. Most couples rely on that gut reaction of finding someone attractive. We didn’t choose on an aesthetic or instinctive level. It was about carefully selecting someone based on long-term qualities. If couples separate, they have to renegotiate boundaries around access to children. But we already have those things worked out.’