As Pride month draws to a close, Waterford couple Zoe and Casey Evans share their love story and journey to parenthood, as they await the arrival of baby number two
Now married and about to become parents for the second time, Zoe and Casey Evans first met when they were teenagers. They both attended the same secondary school in Waterford, where they grew up and still live. “She was two years ahead of me in school,” Zoe recalls of her wife, who had finished school by the time they became a couple. “I was in fifth year when we started seeing each other.”
She was Casey’s first girlfriend. “But she wasn’t mine,” Zoe smiles. “I actually came out when I was in first year in school. My mother is gay as well, so I grew up around a lot of gay people. When I went into secondary school, listening to all my friends, I knew straight away; ‘all these girls are mad about the lads and I just have no interest’. I came out straight away.”
Zoe describes the experience as very straightforward; she was surrounded by support. For Casey, coming out in the years just after secondary school was slightly more difficult to begin with. “She did find it kind of daunting to tell people, she struggled a little bit with it at the start.”
Zoe, now 25, heard through a mutual friend that her now wife, who turns 28 later this summer, had come out. She sent her a message on Facebook, wishing her congratulations. “I haven’t been able to get rid of her since,” she jokes.
The pair became engaged roughly nine months after becoming a couple, two weeks after the same-sex marriage referendum in May 2015. “When it passed, I said to Casey, ‘we’re going to have to get engaged now’,” Zoe laughs. “She kept saying ‘will you go away, we’re not getting engaged’. I was telling everyone, ‘Casey’s going to propose to me’,” Zoe smiles at the memory. “But she actually did. Two weeks later she asked me to marry her.” They eventually wed in June 2019.
When she was younger, Zoe explains, she always said she never wanted to get married or have kids. It simply didn’t seem like a possibility. “I never saw myself being able to have a family, because I was gay. I didn’t think it would be very easy.”
But around the time they got married, the couple did begin talking about having a child. “All our friends have kids; we were literally the only two in the group with no children. It was bothering me a lot.” After yet another conversation, they decided to look into what would be involved if they were to try to become pregnant. Having heard about the ReproMed clinic (repromed.ie), they attended the Kilkenny branch. In December 2018, through what was intended to be a fact-finding consultation about IUI, ended up becoming the appointment that kickstarted their fertility journey.
“We just went up to find out and we ended up getting the tests done that day. We just started going for it straight away.” After speaking to their doctor, the couple were required to go for counselling before they could progress with donor selection and start IUI.
“I suppose it’s not a straightforward way to start a family, so she just wanted to make sure that we understood that.” In the counselling sessions, they discussed how they would explain to their baby the process by which they had become parents, and how they would respond to the reactions of others. It was also explained by their doctors at this point that in choosing a donor, picking one who was an open donor rather than an anonymous one, meant that both parents would be able to go on the birth certificate and have full legal rights.
When it came to choosing a donor, they looked for one who shared similar physical and personality traits to Casey. “There’s two websites. It’s like going on to Asos and picking out your clothes,” Zoe explains. “You get a drop-down menu of features, eye colour, hair colour, skin tone, and you choose what you would like to narrow down to.”
The couple also received pictures of potential donors, as a baby at six weeks, at six months, and two years old. “The donor we picked, his baby pictures are actually identical to Casey’s baby pictures, which is why we went with him. His personality traits were also the same as hers. She’d be quite sporty, a really driven person, and he was the same.”
They began their first cycle in February 2019. Baby Ivy was born in July 2020, and Zoe is now pregnant with the couple’s second child, due at the end of December. The first time getting pregnant cost approximately €10,000; it took three rounds for Zoe to become pregnant.
“It was awful, very hard,” Zoe says after the disappointment when the first round did not work. “Because we can’t just jump into the bed like, and keep trying. You have to put your mind and your body through so much. I think Casey found it hard because she felt so helpless, she literally had to sit back and watch and try to support me.”
“I couldn’t even describe how I felt,” she says of the day they got the news that she was pregnant. “I remember I cried and cried and cried.” Zoe was five months pregnant when lockdown set in, so Casey was able to be there for the majority of the scans. She spent three days in hospital on her own in slow labour, induced because of gestational diabetes. “It was very lonely. Poor Casey was on the outside. She can’t sit down if there’s something going on, she needs to be in the middle of it, to know everything’s ok.”
After their daughter was born, in July 2020, the couple were met with complications over registering the birth. A new law had passed shortly before Ivy was born, and officials seemed to be unfamiliar as yet with its workings, Zoe explains. The final parts of the Child and Family Relationships Act 2015 were made into law in May 2020, meaning that certain same-sex female couples could now be legally recognised as co-parents. It allowed the birth mother and the intending parent (spouse, civil partner or cohabitant) of a donor-conceived child, in certain circumstances, to both register as parents.
After a Covid-related delay in getting Zoe’s new ID with her married name Zoe Evans, the couple went to register their daughter’s birth, to find that only Zoe could be put on the birth certificate, despite the new legal situation. “We contacted the HSE Civil Registration Services in Waterford, and told them, ‘we’re a same-sex couple, we’re after having a baby, we want to register her birth’.”
As the law was so recently passed, Zoe and Casey were told that the Waterford office was unsure of the process, and that they would have to contact the Roscommon HSE Civil Registration Services.
The couple were sent back and forth between the two offices, before being eventually advised to seek legal advice. A solicitor friend drew up two affidavits, and they went before a judge in the family court in Waterford.
“I had to declare that I wanted Casey to be recognised as my child’s parent. And then she had to declare that she wanted to be recognised as her parent as well. We got a court order within the week to say we had the go ahead to register Ivy and to both be put on her birth certificate.” Zoe suspects that things would be more straightforward now, as officials should have become more familiar with the new legal situation.
“I was very anxious I have to say,” Zoe recalls, “because it was very unknown. It’s annoying that it wasn’t just plain and simple; we’re both her mother.”
There was an option for Zoe to be recorded as the birth mother, and Casey as the parent, or for the two to go down on the birth certificate as parent. They chose the latter. Both now have full legal rights as parents. The whole process took eight weeks, not really what is needed when you are getting used to becoming a parent, and minding a newborn, Zoe points out.
“There was a big sense of relief when it was done. We did it; we got through that hurdle, we made a baby together as best as we could with our options. We went before a judge and told him, ‘we’re her parents’. We got there.”
In April 2021, Zoe became pregnant with their second child. They used the same donor, and this time the process, also IUI, cost roughly €6,000, as they were exempt from certain tests. Zoe became pregnant on the first round this time. “It really means a lot to get the same donor, I want the children to be siblings as much as they can.”
In talking to their children about their journey to becoming parents, she says they will tell them: “We’re two girls who are married, and we love each other, and we wanted to start a family. And we had to go to the doctor to get a little bit of help to be able to start our family. We ordered a children’s book, Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, for when they’re old enough. That will help explain it in a more child friendly way.”
It’s important to talk about these things, Zoe, who is documenting her family’s progress on her Instagram account, points out. “We didn’t have a clue what we were in for. Was it going to be easy, was it going to be hard? I would have loved to have known someone else’s story, to be prepared for what we would have to go through.”
They do get reactions to their family set-up sometimes, Zoe reflects. “If you have to sign consent forms, people will say, ‘which one of you is the mother?’ I always say, ‘both of us’. You can get a bit of a look. We’re getting Ivy christened soon and I was concerned we were going to have to explain we’re a same-sex couple, and that would be a little red flag. We were lucky it wasn’t, but you would worry about those kinds of things.
“We have had some people question how we became parents, and the fact that we are two women. You just have to take it on the chin and explain it to people. It’s up to them how they take it.”
To follow Zoe and Casey Evans’ journey, see @2mamasandivy
⬤ Since the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 was fully implemented in May 2020, in the case of any baby conceived by traceable donor post May 5 through a clinic in Ireland, to a same-sex female couple, both parents can register on the birth certificate. This is not currently possible for men in same-sex couples having a baby through surrogacy.
⬤ The Assisted Human Reproduction Bill is expected later this year, and while it is unclear if this will definitely be the case, it is expected to cover surrogacy by two men.
⬤ For more information, see lgbt.ie