"I'll see you in court."
I hadn't expected to hear those words from my former partner of 16 years.
After all, our split is years behind us, not to mention the fact that we did it in a big-hearted fashion.
It wasn't a court that helped us figure out who would get the house, or whether our 13-year-old daughter, Sadie, would see me on Tuesdays and my ex, Rachel, on Sundays.
But here we are at 393 University Avenue, Superior Court, Family Division, where lawyers for both sides, garbed in long black robes, lay out our story before Justice Paul Rivard.
The thing is, we're sitting on the same side, along with Sadie. Together with three other lesbian couples, we're part of a joint Charter challenge, Rutherford versus the Registrar General of Ontario.
The issue is that while birth mothers are allowed to name another parent on birth registration documents, they are not permitted to name another woman.
Our lawyers, Joanna Radbord and Martha McCarthy, have presented a 77-page submission outlining why lesbian parents have the right to register our kids' births in harmony with our actual familial relations - and why not being allowed to do so is a violation of Canada's international human rights commitments and Charter values under the guarantee of equality, liberty and security.
If our case is successful, both lesbian parents will be able to claim parentage at the time of the birth. We would no longer have to pay $1,000 for a second-parent adoption after the fact. Or, for separated parents, a $4,000 declaration of parentage before a judge.
Personally, I have been a mother for 21 years, but always as a parent outlaw. The fact is, I have never given birth but have helped raise two children - the result of two different loving relationships at different points in my life. My son and daughter are brother and sister. And there is no document to declare this. They go on my word.
When Sadie was born, my ex, Rachel Epstein, and I tried to put my name down as father. In her affidavit, she describes this. "We wanted to both be registered legally as her parents and we wanted her surname to be a hyphenated version of both our names. I checked off the 'cultural heritage' box as the reason for this digression from the norm.
"Our registration form was returned to us, with the information that they did not accept the hyphenated version of two women's names. When I received the long-form birth certificate and saw the blank space under father - the complete absence of any recognition of Lois - it felt like such a hurtfully inaccurate representation of the reality of Sadie's life."
We listen to the government's argument: "The Ontario birth registry under the Vital Statistics Act records at first instance the particulars of a child's biological mother and father." That's its key function, lawyers for the attorney general's office argue. "Non-biological parents may obtain an order of parentage under the Children's Law Reform Act."
But what happens, as in the instance of one of the couples in our case, when the gestational mother is implanted with the fertilized egg of her partner, and their babies have a biological connection to each of them?
In fact, the deputy registrar general in this case did recognize that each of the woman had a genetic connection to their babies and did register them, but not before the onerous requirement that they prove the DNA connection through medical certification. This is not asked of fathers.
When a sperm donor is used by different-sex parents, the mother fills out the form and lists her partner as father, and the deputy registrar general accepts the registration.
In this courtroom full of lesbian moms, children and friends (the babies are banished from the room so the judge can hear clearly), Radbord reads part of my daughter's submission. Sadie describes the discomfort of having to misrepresent her family in her passport signature, at the border and even in listing her legal name on her affidavit in this proceeding.
"Most of my friends have not had to think about things like this - they take for granted that their parents are legally recognized as their parents. It would help if the government and the law recognized that I have two moms. I want my family to be accepted just like everybody else's family. It would feel like we would not have to lie any more. I could just be who I am and sign my own signature, Sadie Rose Epstein-Fine."
The other side gets up to argue their case. The other side? Wait a minute, this is Michael Bryant's ministry. I'm a constituent in his riding, for goodness sake. Isn't he part of the same Liberal government that supports same-sex marriage?
And since my ex is the coordinator of the Queer Parenting Network, I happen to know that Bryant's cabinet colleague George Smitherman just approved permanent funding for the group. So what is he trying to say? That we can have kids but we can't register them legally?
Well, not exactly. We can have them, and we can register them legally, but just not right away, and not until a judge agrees that we are parents.
As counsel for the government, Vanessa Yolles and Elaine Atkinson argue, "Your honour, this isn't a matter of whether these women are parents, but rather a matter of when."
When I hear the words "There is no question that they are parents," I want to hug them. They're the government, the powers that be, and they're saying I'm a real mom. It's embarrassing to think I want to thank them. But only momentarily. Their further arguments quickly throw a cold, wet blanket on my open heart.
I know I'm not supposed to get personal, but I really wonder how either of them would feel if they were told that when their child was born they would have to pay a huge fee no one else is required to pay to apply for parent status. And to face the possibility, in the case of separated couples, that a judge could decide the baby isn't properly bonded with the other parent and deny the application.
Still, sometime on the afternoon of the second day, seemingly out of nowhere, Justice Rivard speaks straight into my non-biological mother's womb. "Will counsel draft a declaration of parentage for the families that I can sign today?" My uterus explodes at the sound; my ovaries stand at attention. The government consents, everyone agrees.
Of course, I remember now, it isn't a matter of whether, it's a matter of when. The judge simply decides that it will be today.
Rivard acts because he knows the larger constitutional decision will take months. But he decides, nonetheless, that the unrecognized mothers here aren't going to have to wait even one more day to be acknowledged in law as well as in love.
The document declaring that I am Sadie's mother sits by my bedside so it's the first thing I see when I wake up each morning. I feel like I should be giving out cigars. And yet, in our house nothing has changed.
I'm determined to ride the coattails of this personal victory into the greater domain of the true win - the win for all of us.
What lawyers from the office of the Attorney General say:
"The differential treatment of biological and non-biological parents is not founded on stereotype nor does it promote the view that biological parents are more valued or respected than non-genetic parents. "Rather, it is based on the fact that biological parents have an indisputable right of parentage whereas those without a biological relationship to the child may or ay not be parents and require confirmation of their status.'
[Having to acquire a declaration of parentage] does not reflect a view of the Applicants that suggests they are less capable, undeserving or less worthy of recognition or value as a human being or member of Canadian society, and accordingly is not discriminatory within the meaning of the Charter.'
From the government's factum.