Meet the Platonic Parents
On a sunny afternoon this past May, Lynda Collins and Natasha Bakht are out for a stroll with their son, Elaan. The seven-year-old, who has severe disabilities, uses a walker, and he smiles as its wheels click along the sidewalk of the family’s downtown Ottawa block. A couple of neighbours wave. As the trio passes by a daycare, a woman who is supervising outdoor playtime calls out a hello.
When Elaan slows, the women take turns perking him up. Bakht, 45, guides him gently, while Collins, 42, stands in front and makes sounds (“Whoosh!”) or calls him by one of his many nicknames (Munchkin, Moopsie) to encourage him to come towards her. It’s a windy day, one of Elaan’s favourite times to be outside. Whenever the breeze becomes blustery, he breaks into a smile and rolls forward with it.
A stranger walking by might assume Collins and Bakht are a couple. But the two women have never been romantic partners. Instead, the “co-mamas,” as they call themselves, have redefined what an institutionally recognized family can look like in Canada. After an Ontario court granted them a legal declaration of parentage in November 2016, they became the first two people in the country to officially co-parent a child platonically. The declaration cemented what anyone close to them had long known: they, along with Elaan, are inseparable.
Bakht and Collins didn’t plan to become a family. In fact, they weren’t particularly close before 2009, when Bakht got pregnant through assisted reproductive technology using an anonymous sperm donor. At the time, the women—both law professors at the University of Ottawa—had been friends and colleagues going on three years.
Collins, who has a soft spot for babies, asked if she could be Bakht’s birth coach, and they grew closer while prepping for Elaan’s arrival.
Heather McLeod-Kilmurray, a mutual friend and colleague, watched the women’s connection take shape. “They were so excited for the baby,” she says, and it was clear from the beginning that they complemented each other. “Lynda is the most positive person and is brimming with enthusiasm, but she can also be a bit of a worrier,” says McLeod-Kilmurray. “Natasha is very professional and put together. She tackles challenging issues without worrying but benefits from Lynda’s optimism.”
In February 2010, Elaan was born by emergency C-section. He was beautiful and fragile, weighing just 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Collins was the first person to see him. From that point on, “she couldn’t really stay away,” Bakht says, laughing.
Soon after the birth, Bakht left for Toronto to stay with family during her maternity leave. Collins visited monthly and talked with Bakht nearly every day, but she missed Elaan terribly. “I must have spent $100 on iTunes sending him songs that I loved that I thought would make him happy,” she says.
When Bakht returned to Ottawa 10 months later, it had become clear that Elaan would have significant medical needs. He was eventually diagnosed with periventricular leukomalacia—essentially, portions of his brain are dead—leading to limited verbal and motor skills. He also suffers from frequent seizures and asthma. As a baby, he would often scream in pain as his mother ferried him to appointments, sometimes straining so hard that he’d vomit or burst blood vessels in his eyes. Bakht found herself overwhelmed.
“One day I said to Lynda, I don’t know how I’m going to do this by myself,” she recalls.
Maybe it was because she remembered how much she’d missed Elaan during their time apart, but Collins didn’t hesitate before responding.
“You don’t need to. I’m here.”