Life as Platonic Parents
There were small signs at first. By 2011, Collins was at Bakht’s place every day; she eventually decided it was easier to move into the neighbourhood and then the same apartment building. When Elaan was two, he was hospitalized unexpectedly. Collins was scheduled to speak on a panel in a different city. She cancelled immediately.
Still, they didn’t recognize their emerging dynamic until someone else pointed it out. In 2013, the friends were having dinner with a colleague at Bakht’s apartment, and Collins mentioned that she lived elsewhere. The guest was confused—she’d assumed her co-workers were dating. If they weren’t a couple, what were they? The pair explained their situation and were thrilled when they heard their colleague’s nonchalant reply: “Oh,” she said. “So you’re a family.”
Nevertheless, it took some time before Collins saw herself as a mother. She had begun to consider adopting a child of her own but worried she might not be able to handle single parenthood.
One day in 2014, while hiking in nearby Gatineau Park, she had a realization. “I thought, Why would I adopt a stranger when I already have Elaan? It was a moment of clarity.”
She wasted no time. Later that evening, while she and Bakht were feeding Elaan, Collins asked her friend the question: How would you feel about me adopting your son? After sitting in silence for a while, Bakht blurted out, “Yes.” Collins had, after all, been mothering Elaan for years, and it was obvious that he related to her as a parent.
It would be nearly two more years before Collins received formal recognition. The legal process was fairly smooth; life provided the hurdles. First, Elaan was in and out of hospital, then Collins’s grandmother was dying. Gathering the required testimonies from friends, colleagues and Elaan’s support network took time. But in April 2016, the pair submitted their application to the Ontario Court of Justice, and seven months later, they received their declaration of parentage.
While their case was the first of its kind, it didn’t set a legal precedent. Soon after the declaration, Ontario passed the All Families Are Equal Act, designed to make parentage for people who were using assisted reproduction easier. The new act meant Collins and Bakht’s case was impossible to repeat. It stipulates that individuals need to form the intent to parent before conception. As a result, platonic parents who decide to form a family after a child is conceived would likely have to go through their own court proceedings.
Collins and Bakht wish this weren’t so. While they believe the act was well intentioned and progressive, they don’t think would-be parents should be limited by timing. Still, they hope their case will act as a social precedent, making the legal process less intimidating for the next set of platonic parents.