My name is Ranae and I live in Dublin, Ireland with my wife Audrey. Our daughters Ava and Arya are 4 and 2. Our girls have two mothers, yet I am still seen as a single parent.
Audrey and I were an unlikely couple from the start. She was in her fourth and I was in my first year of acting in a theater school in Dublin. We were paired together at an open day and became friends. We were so different, yet we immediately clicked. I knew Audrey wasn’t straight, but over the course of the next year, I had no idea that I was developing feelings for her. The day before my 21st birthday the realization hit me like a bolt of lightning. The feelings I had for her were so much more than just friendship. The rest, as they say, is history.
We have been together for 12 years now, and married for five. Audrey and I always knew we wanted to have kids and talked about this from the moment we started dating. We both have lots of siblings and knew that life wouldn’t be complete for us without having our own kids. I always dreamed about being pregnant and going through the process of growing and birthing a baby. Audrey, on the other hand, didn’t really want to be pregnant as long as she could become a parent. It was almost an unspoken thing that I would be the one to carry our child, should we go down the IVF route.
One night in early 2015, after a few glasses of wine, I had an idea. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could use Audrey’s eggs but I would carry the baby? This way, our children would genetically be Audreys, but I would be the birth mother. At the time it was just a silly idea we had. Little did we know that conversation would change the course of our lives. We decided to Google it and lo and behold, we found out that it wasn’t that crazy of an idea. Reciprocal IVF was actually an incredibly popular fertility treatment option for same-sex couples. At that moment, we knew that Reciprocal IVF was right for us.
When we tried to book a clinic appointment in Dublin, we were disappointed to find out that they wouldn’t treat us in Ireland. Back in 2015, Reciprocal IVF wasn’t licensed yet. In fact it’s only been licensed in the last year. We were given the option to do IUI/IVF with my own eggs, but at that point we had our hearts set on using Audrey’s eggs. Despite the setback, it made us more determined to find a way. We found a clinic in Spain and to be honest it was a bit of a crazy time for us. We didn’t know any other LGBTQ+ parents, let alone any who had undergone treatment abroad. We had no clue what we were doing, and made so many mistakes along the way. A few months later, we conceived our first child with the help of an anonymous sperm donor.
Conceiving our first child in the wake of marriage equality in Ireland was like a dream. Wrapped up in our little bubble of happiness, we went through that pregnancy with a sense of hope for our future. We got married when I was five months along and we celebrated a future that was finally equal. Little did we know what lay ahead of us.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, we learned something that devastated us. LGBTQ+ parents in Ireland were still not equal. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with emotions and going through various stages of shock. My first reaction was ‘but we are married and we voted for marriage equality last year.’
After consulting with a solicitor, we found out more. From the moment our daughter was born I would be a married woman but considered a single mother. I would be forced to register myself as a sole parent and our family would not be recognized under the law, simply because we were a same-sex couple. The simple difference was that I was married to a woman and not a man and because of this, Audrey would be a legal stranger to her own child.
There are some moments that stick with me. Moments that were stolen from us as a young family and ones that we will never get back. The day we registered Ava’s birth, we walked into the registration office and saw all the proud parents with their babies. When they called us into the room, the registrar sat down behind her desk. Without looking up she asked, ‘OK, so which one of you is the mother?’ We said, ‘We both are.’ ‘But which one of you gave birth?’ I said, ‘I did!’ She looked at me and said, ‘OK Ranae, I will be directing all my questions at you, if that’s OK?’ From that point on, she didn’t even look at Audrey. It felt like a kick in the gut. It was just all wrong.
That was the day I promised Audrey I was never going to stop fighting until we fixed this. I joked and said, well at least this will all be sorted out by the time we have another baby. How wrong I was. Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2018 and I lie bleeding in the recovery suite with a second daughter, listening to fireworks, my heart breaking because I knew we were still in the same position as before. As it stands today, I am considered a single parent to our daughters. Our children, along with countless others in Ireland, are denied the right to a legal connection with both of their parents simply because their parents are a same-sex couple.
Much has changed in the last five years. In 2019, following on from an online petition that I started, we started a campaign called ‘Equality For Children’ along with a group of other LGBTQ+ parents. Since then we have been successful at lobbying the government for change and raising awareness of these issues within Ireland. Legislation was finally passed in 2020 that would allow certain LGBTQ+ families to have both parents legally recognized. Sadly it’s legislation that will only cover certain methods of conception. It’s great to see progress in the right direction, but it’s galling for anyone who falls outside of this and is still being actively discriminated against. Only female couples who have conceived in an Irish clinic with a non anonymous donor and a child born in Ireland are covered.
I can’t really put into words how damaging this has been for our family. To be reminded every day that you are ‘less than.’ That you are not equal. For your kids to be punished because their parents aren’t straight. In practical terms it’s an issue for children when one of their parents is unable to give medical consent, unable to travel freely with them, unable to make decisions on their behalf. But it goes beyond that, the emotional and physiological damage it has done to our families is immeasurable.
Following on from lengthy legal proceedings, our family soon hopes to be recognized. If we are, we will be one of the lucky ones. What about all those who fall outside of this? Are their children less deserving of equality? Because they have two dads? Because they were conceived outside of a clinic? Because they have a known donor? Because they weren’t born in Ireland?
This fight will never be over until every child of an LGBTQ+ parent in Ireland has the same rights and protections as any other child in the country.
Ranae von Meding is a writer and a same-sex parent to two young daughters with her wife Audrey. They live in Dublin, Ireland where she has become an outspoken advocate for equal rights for children of LGBTQ+ families. She is the co-founder and CEO of ‘Equality For Children.’ You can find her on Instagram at @ranaevonmeding.