There’s more than one way to start a family.
For some straight couples, it can be fairly straightforward. But for Ashley Knezevich and her partner, deciding to have a baby was just the first of many, many steps.
Fostering, adoption, in vitro or in utero fertilization are among the alternatives for couples who cannot conceive – and for same-sex and other LGBT+ couples, it’s often just the start of a complicated journey to parenthood.
Knezevich’s story is one of success. Today, the principal of talent brand and communications for Walgreens has an even more important role: mom to 6-year-old twin girls. As part of our monthlong Pride celebration, Knezevich and other LGBT+ team members across WBA share their varied and unique stories of becoming parents.
It wasn’t long after their civil union in 2013 that Knezevich and her partner Jocelyn decided they wanted to begin the process of starting a family. It was something they had both always wanted to do, so the “why” question was already answered. Now it was onto the “how?”
The couple decide to pursue in utero insemination (IUI), in which a sperm sample is placed directly into the uterus of the parent who will carry the pregnancy – in their case, Knezevich. The next big decision? Selecting a sperm donor.
“Since it was going to be my egg, and my DNA would be represented in that way, we wanted to make sure Jocelyn would be represented by the other half,” says Knezevich. “And so we had to look through this catalog of men and find ones who were taller, had dark hair, green eyes … you’re trying to find someone who looks like her, but you know it’s not her.”
Knezevich got pregnant on their very first try – a rare and lucky occurrence in the world of IUI. They were also delighted to find out they would be having twin girls. In July 2014, Harper and Holland were born, and the family was complete.
And that’s when things began to get complicated for the new parents.
A month before the girls were born, same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S., and they upgraded their civil union to a marriage so they could have both of their names on the babies’ birth certificates. But they learned that some states they’d be frequently visiting or traveling through to see family, such as Indiana and Ohio, may not recognize Jocelyn as a legal parent to the girls, since a birth certificate was not, they learned, a legally binding document.
The couple was also shocked to learn that Jocelyn would have to file to legally adopt her own daughters.
“Some of these states could potentially deny my wife the legal right to make decisions on our daughters’ behalf if something ever happened to me,” Knezevich explains. “They can’t deny an adoption record. It’s something we wouldn’t have to do in a heteronormative family situation, but we needed to protect her rights as their parent. So we did it, despite the added legal, procedural and financial burdens.”
Knezevich and Jocelyn have since divorced, but they remain amicable with each other – they both coach the girls’ softball team. They maintain a 50/50 custody split as they continue to co-parent their twin girls. The decision to have Jocelyn formally adopt the girls made such an arrangement possible. Both parents can remain involved in their daughters’ lives.
But there will always be another person involved: the donor. Knezevich isn’t sure when she will talk to her daughters about him, but she knows that she wants to be as honest as possible with them about how they came to be.
“When you’re a same-sex or LGBT+ couple, and you want to have a family, at some point you’re going to be welcoming a third person into your relationship,” says Knezevich. “Whether it’s a surrogate, a donor or the birth parents of an adopted child, there will always be an extra person involved. I am thankful for him, and he will always be there with us in some way.”
If you asked Adam Mallaby at this time last year if he’d see himself parenting a 16-year-old girl, he might have laughed at you.
Last spring, Mallaby, senior communications manager for WBA, had just bought a house and was preparing to enter the months-long lockdown living alone amid the oncoming global pandemic. But just days before the UK shut down, he met a man who would change all that in very short order. After a chance encounter – both reaching for the same loaf of bread at a local Sainsbury’s market in Nottingham, England, Mallaby and his partner, Tom, went from casually dating to serious relationship to living together over the course of the year.
But Tom wasn’t the only person Mallaby would be adding to his life. He would also make a commitment to Tom’s foster daughter, Elisha.
“So here’s Tom and his daughter, and then I just appeared one day, without an instruction manual,” says Mallaby. “I’d known about Elisha from the start, and so I always knew I’d be entering into a relationship with both of them, and that’s definitely something I have always wanted to do.”
Hitting it off quickly, Mallaby and Elisha soon discovered they had just as much in common as he and Tom did – and perhaps even a bit more, as they both note their similar “need to recharge” after social interactions. But the most striking thing they have in common is their love for Tom.
“It’s been really interesting for me to see it all unfold,” says Elisha. “Because I’ve seen Tom go from being quiet, being down and not feeling like he had a purpose for a long time. But then Adam came in and he kind of gave Tom a purpose, and it’s been what I’ve wanted to see for him, and it makes me happy. Adam’s changed all of our lives, really.”
But as simple and easy as the relationship between the three of them can feel, there’s a sea of logistical boxes to check and processes to go through … hoops that some families might not ever imagine having to jump through just to spend time together.
“There are a number of things we have to do and forms we have to fill out if we want to do anything like take a trip to another country together, or even if I wanted to have Adam stay overnight at the house with the two of us, early on in our relationship,” Tom explains.
Working in the social work sector himself, Tom is familiar with many of the procedures and processes in place for families with foster children, but that doesn’t make it any less of an obstacle. Things like speeding tickets from years ago can come up during the regular background checks that the UK government regularly performs to ensure the safety and welfare of the foster child.
Mallaby and Tom are currently in the process of being assessed and approved as a foster care couple by social services. Pending a panel recommendation that they expect to come in July, they would be approved to be Elisha’s official foster parents as a couple, rather than just Tom as an individual, completing their family unit.
Mallaby is grateful at how supportive his team at WBA has been throughout the months-long process, providing a supportive, inclusive space in which he can share stories with other team members experiencing similar challenges and receive a critical layer of support at work. He also gets to see for himself how many different types of family units exist among the members of WBA’s global Pride Alliance business resource group – something he and his family do not see or hear about enough through traditional media.
“Most of what you see on TV and in advertising are heteronormative couples and families,” says Elisha. “But it’s really important to show that different kinds of families – real families like ours – exist.”
Beth Williams, Walgreens store manager in Tampa, Fla., always wanted a family – she just didn’t think that meant she wanted to have kids, at least in what she was told was the traditional way.
“When I was younger, I always presented as more of a tomboy,” she says. “I think that’s what kept me questioning my sexuality, at least throughout my younger years.”
As she got older, discovered more about her identity and sexuality, and started seeing positive family role models with different sexual backgrounds, she became more and more open to the idea that she would be able to start a family one day. So when she met Cassie, her now wife, in 2008, and learned she wanted to have kids, Williams decided to make that happen however they could.
At first, they tried direct artificial insemination – known colloquially as the “turkey baster method.” But despite success stories from friends that had inspired them to try, multiple unsuccessful attempts caused them to push pause on starting a family for a few more years.
In 2015, the couple was in a good spot personally and professionally, and decided to try again. This time, using advice and a referral from a family friend, they pursued in utero insemination (IUI). One of the challenges they faced in using this method was that they had to find a sperm donor.
“Once we got all the boxes checked and we could start the process of trying to get pregnant, we sat down with a list of donor websites and found a donor who had the same visual appearance, hobbies, education level and other characteristics as my wife,” says Williams. “Basically, I’m looking for my wife in a vial.”
Williams and Cassie first tried IUI. However, after five failed attempts, they decided on in vitro fertilization (IVF), a method where an egg from one mother – in this case, Williams – is fertilized outside of the body with a sperm sample, and then transferred back into the uterus in embryo form.
The first IVF attempt was a success, and nine months later, on July 18, 2018, Williams and Cassie welcomed their daughter, Addison, into the world.
“The process from there was a pretty typical one,” says Williams. “My wife works for the hospital we decided to use, so we were familiar with everyone who cared for us, and they were all supportive.”
The only part of the process, Williams recalls, that strayed from “the norm,” was when Addison was born. Williams and Cassie were both invited to sign the birth certificate, but Cassie had to sign under the “father” section, with no option available at that time for a second parent, regardless of gender identity.
But for anyone who meets Addison, there’s little question who her parents are.
“Addison is a perfect combination of the two of us,” says Williams. “I’m not sure how it happened, but she looks exactly like me, and acts exactly like my wife. She’s a mini-me who acts like a mini-her.”
They are still deciding if, how and when they want to discuss the story with their daughter, and how much they would want to share about her donor. But in the meantime, Williams and Cassie are getting ready to try again soon, this time through IUI, to have a sibling – and this time, Cassie is going to carry the pregnancy.
“We were going to use the same donor as last time, but he’s no longer available,” explains Williams. “So now we want to find one who matches my looks and personality a bit more. Now we have to find Beth in a vial.”