CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two people meet. They fall in love. They commit their lives to each other, and often the next step is becoming parents together. It's a common life journey for Dick and Jane; but what happens when you're Nancy and Jane?
Nancy Michael and Jane Fenton glow when they are together. They finish each other's sentences and laugh at the shared memories of how they met, things they've done and people they care about. They are two women in love, and they are also each a parent to the same child, a 5-year-old freckle-faced boy named Drew.
Nancy, 43, grew up in West Virginia and is a Marshall University graduate. She met Jane, 45, online in 1995. "We met on the Internet before it was scary or easy. We actually had to install software and type backslashes and such to communicate," said Jane. At the time, Jane was working at Oklahoma State University and taking computer classes. The two women liked each other right away.
"We actually met twice online," said Nancy. "The first time we met, Jane was coming out of a relationship, and the second time I was under a different screen name but we still recognized each other."
Coincidentally, both Nancy and Jane were dating women from Huntsville, Ala.; all was well until Nancy inadvertently set them up on a date.
"I'm such a naive idiot," said Nancy. "I was like, 'You don't know anyone there and she doesn't know anyone there ... you both want to go to the Pride Festival, you should go together.'" Nancy and Jane's girlfriends took that advice, met up and went to the event together.
They were gone for three days. It turned out they hit it off better than Nancy had intended.
Nancy and Jane remained friends and eventually Nancy realized that she was growing very attached to her social chat room friend. "I thought we're typing an awful lot. An awful, awful lot. So maybe I need to go to Oklahoma. Five months later I went, and five months after that I moved there."
That was 1998, and six years later the couple decided to make a five-year plan for their relationship. Central to that plan was having a child, but that decision precipitated several other serious decisions. Oklahoma was not a progressive place, and Jane was adamant that having a child would mean relocating their family to a more socially accepting community before their son or daughter started school.
Like so many new parents, as they worked through their options, Nancy and Jane listed a support system for their family as a crucial element of successful parenting. In short order, they realized that their best option was to return to West Virginia, where Nancy's parents lived in St. Albans.
The third immutable piece of the five-year plan was transparency. While not actively hiding their relationship, both Nancy and Jane knew that many people simply assumed they were roommates.
"We decided we had to be open," said Jane. "Any child we had would be bullied if he didn't own the fact that he had two moms. We had to be OK with it if he was going to be OK with it. We had to say this is who we are and not apologize for it. We had to just expect people to treat us the same as anyone else."
Expecting to be treated "the same as anyone else" did not always translate into that happening, however; the fertility clinics they approached in Oklahoma refused to help them on the grounds that they "did not treat single women."
At one point, Nancy was told, "We don't treat those people" -- a phrase she believes meant homosexual people. "The clinics are run by the hospitals, and the hospitals were run by Catholic churches. I went to Dallas a couple of times a month," she said. In Dallas, the only requirement was that the couple pass a psychological screening, which they did.
They cut their five-year plan short so that Nancy could deliver before she was 35. At age 35, a woman's risk for a range of birth defects in her child increases exponentially. They had the right time, the right home and the right plan. Now they needed the right sperm.