Community shows its family pride; Same-sex partners who became dads praise Chilliwack residents for their support
Justin Mallard, left, and Brett Rancourt with their baby twins Sawyer (in blue) and Jordyn outside their Chilliwack home.
Photograph by: Mark van Manen, PNG
Justin Mallard knew he was gay years before he came out. Holding him back was the fear that being openly gay might mean he’d never become a father.
“I couldn’t accept that I wouldn’t be able to have a family,” he recalls. “I was scared of everything I’d lose.”
Almost a decade later, Mallard, 29, is in the midst of the exhausting days of early parenthood. Along with partner Brett Rancourt, 31, he is daddy to two babies, Jordyn and Sawyer.
The twins are fast asleep in matching baby swings as their fathers share their story with the Sunday Province, hoping to inspire and give hope to other same-sex couples ahead of Pride Week, which starts Monday.
Mallard and Rancourt’s journey to parenthood took place in a somewhat unlikely setting: Chilliwack, a city with deep religious roots.
The couple is full of gratitude to their community, believing that without its support, they would never have become parents.
“I only planned to move out here for a little while and then I thought we’d move back (to Vancouver),” admits Mallard, who is business development manager for Murray Honda. “I didn’t think we could raise a family in Chilliwack and not be ridiculed.”
But he says he fell in love with the city and “my perceptions were totally wrong.”
Rancourt, who was born and raised in Chilliwack, was not as concerned. “I came out here at age 15,” says Rancourt, a personal banker with HSBC. “I knew the support I had.”
Lawyer and activist barbara findlay works with same-sex couples across B.C. and believes that while Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are “definitely more liberal,” attitudes toward homosexuality are changing in other communities as well.
“Fifteen years ago, you may have found no one in Chilliwack (supportive of LGBTQ rights),” she says. “Now you do and you don’t. The visibility of queers in general is growing, and it’s having an impact everywhere.”
But while Mallard and Rancourt have experienced and benefited from changing attitudes, their story remains a far cry from a fairy tale.
Parenthood is hardly the topic for a first date, but it wasn’t long before Mallard and Rancourt began talking about the future.
The men met about five years ago through the dating website Plenty of Fish. A few months later, they met in person at a restaurant and “there was an instant connection,” recalls Rancourt.
As their relationship developed, babies were a frequent topic of conversation. After Mallard moved to Chilliwack, they began exploring different options, from adoption to assisted reproduction.
Raylene Bussinger, Mallard’s co-worker and a mother of three, offered to be a surrogate. “She said I want to see you guys become parents and offered to help,” says Mallard.
Unlike the United States, where surrogates and egg donors can be compensated, Canada’s Assisted Human Reproduction Act prohibits paid surrogacy and bans the sale of eggs, embryos and sperm. Any assistance must be altruistic.
Mallard and Rancourt began the process of purchasing an egg from the U.S., but quickly became discouraged by the costs involved, which could run into tens of thousands of dollars without any guarantee of success.
“There were some dark moments. We didn’t know if we could afford to have kids,” says Mallard.
Lisa Wooldridge remembers getting a text message from her best friend, Bussinger, asking if she would consider egg donation. The Langley woman knew exactly what Bussinger was talking about from previous conversations about Bussinger’s decision to become a surrogate.
Wooldridge didn’t hesitate.
“I said yes, totally. I have a 13-year-old. I know what it’s like to be a parent, and I wanted Justin and Brett to have that experience,” she says.
After that, the process moved quickly. Before long, Mallard and Rancourt were in an ultrasound room, learning that they were expecting twins. (One of the babies is biologically Mallard’s and the other is Rancourt’s. The men have decided not to find out which is which, although they have their suspicions.)
Thirty-four weeks into the pregnancy Bussinger was admitted to hospital with high blood pressure, and Jordyn and Sawyer were born six weeks premature by C-section at Royal Columbian Hospital on June 2.
Jordyn, who weighed just shy of 5 pounds, was breathing on her own within 24 hours. But Sawyer, weighing just under six lbs., suffered a small tear in his lungs during birth, says Rancourt. Still, the tiny baby fought through, his vital statistics noticeably improving when his older sister was placed next to him in the crib.
After a month at RCH, the twins were transferred to Abbotsford Regional Hospital, where their parents experienced another hiccup.
A social worker who wasn’t fully informed about the laws around surrogacy initiated unnecessary paperwork, telling them they lacked the proper authority as parents to make medical decisions.
“It was an awful 24 hours,” says Mallard. The situation was resolved when the social worker realized her mistake.
B.C.'S PROGRESSIVE FAMILY LAW
University of B.C. law professor Susan Boyd says B.C.’s family law is the most progressive in Canada, with new regulations coming into effect in 2013 that made it easier for same-sex couples to be recognized as parents immediately after birth.
Parents are no longer defined as a man and a woman, and regulations for surrogacy and egg and sperm donation are now clearly defined, she says.
In order for both their names to appear on their baby’s birth certificate, a couple using a surrogate must obtain a written agreement before conception that spells out who will be the legal parents. Otherwise, the surrogate could be considered a parent. The process no longer requires the parties to appear in court.
As a result of the 2013 changes to B.C.’s Family Law Act, both Mallard and Rancourt’s names appear on their children’s birth certificates.
“I think B.C. has done a very good job of bringing the law into line with what is actually happening. All the ways of being a parent have been carefully considered,” says findlay.
“I see no remaining discrimination in the law, but that’s not to say the fights are over.”
She says homophobia continues to be “rampant” in the B.C. school system.
Boyd says while the law may help to “level the playing field” for same-sex couples, society lags behind.
She points to MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert’s recent revelation that he and his husband were rejected as foster parents for a child because the child’s extended family didn’t want a same-sex couple as foster parents. She also points to the court battle over Trinity Western University’s proposed law school. (TWU requires students to sign a covenant prohibiting sexual intimacy outside of marriage, which they define as being only between a man and a woman. Many believe the policy discriminates against the LGBTQ community.)
“It’s a pure clash between religious rights and equality rights,” says Boyd. “I think it’s a huge question that will eventually have to be considered by the Supreme Court.”
Jordyn and Sawyer are too young to understand their place in history, being among the first generation born to same-sex couples in Canada, but it’s something their parents won’t shy away from explaining.
The joys and challenges associated with their birth are the subject of a blog Mallard writes called Love and Science — Our Modern Family.
With a global following, the online journal is intended as a gift to his babies, detailing the love and support of the community that helped to bring them into the world.
When Jordyn and Sawyer begin to fuss, their dads scoop them up and start feeding them.
A dropped bottle results in a puddle of milk that their dog laps up. Mallard runs to grab a wash cloth from the kitchen and returns with a copy of a newspaper.
He points to a letter to the editor that appeared in the newspaper in response to an article about the twins’ birth.
“We expected some backlash from telling our story to the public,” he says. “But we didn’t expect this.”
The writer of the letter urged the dads to give up their children for adoption and called the young family a “mockery.”
The letter caused a “social media storm” in Chilliwack, says Mallard, with hundreds of people commenting on the letter, expressing their disgust with the person who wrote it.
Mallard says that when the family goes out these days, people stop them to say they are sorry about the views expressed. “We’ve had nothing but support,” adds Rancourt.
After some thought, the men, who are now engaged, wrote their own letter to the editor in response.
“Our children will grow up in a home with two loving parents that will love and support them every step of the way,” they wrote.
“We will fill their lives with opportunity and they will always know that they have unconditional love and support from us and the incredible community of family and friends around us.
“Your message of hate will be used as a tool for parents to see the importance of raising our children with an open mind and an open heart full of love and acceptance.
“Thankfully for us and our children, the world is becoming a better place by the day.”
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