Are strangers having babies a reality show too far? A new TV programme encourages ‘co-parents’

Things are going swimmingly for the handsome couple having a few drinks in a cosy restaurant. They barely know each other but this first ‘date’ is changing that.

They are discussing music, TV shows, holidays taken, who will stay at home with the baby and who will go back to work.

This all sounds a bit intense for a first encounter. Not a date at all then?

‘No, it wasn’t,’ admits 40-year-old Trinity. ‘There are obviously similarities to a blind date. You are getting to know the other person, assessing if you get on.

‘But with dating, there are sort of ground rules. You have to build up to talking about whether the other person wants kids. You don’t do it on a first date.

‘This was the opposite: we were here to talk specifically about having a child together.’

Episode one of Strangers Making Babies, a Channel 4 series matching strangers to have children. Pictured: Sarah and Ian

Welcome to Strangers Making Babies, a new Channel 4 series which matches up strangers wanting to have a baby. Bonkers as it may sound, the phenomenon is called ‘co-parenting’.

Every divorced or separated parent will be familiar with accidental co-parenting, where a child is raised by two parents living in separate homes.

Deliberate co-parenting has the same end result but starts in a very different place — with two people who are not romantically linked, and have no desire to be so, committing to start a family together.

This controversial series, which would have been unthinkable a decade ago, is reflecting a growing trend, say the programme makers.

For in the past few years, there has been a huge rise in the number of internet sites and forums claiming to match potential co-parents. An estimated 70,000 people in the UK are signed up to such sites, seeking platonic parenting partners.

Episode one, JP and Victoria (pictured)

Episode one, JP and Victoria (pictured) 

These sites are unregulated, however, and negotiating them is to tiptoe through a legal, moral and ethical minefield. One of the men who has already been on Facebook co-parenting matching groups sums it up thus: ‘****ing hell. There are some nutters on there.’

What Channel 4 claims to have done, however, is to take the idea and — they insist — make it less risky for those involved.

Three single women, all of whom feel deafened by the ticking of the biological clock, are matched with a selection of potential ‘dads’ for their as yet non-existent babies.

The men hoping to find a female co-parent include younger chaps who are desperate to be dads but haven’t yet met a wife-to-be, a divorcé who had struggled with fertility, and a man who already has a brood of teenagers but fancies another little one (or two).

Professional matchmakers — one from the online dating industry, one from the fertility sector — assess which men and women might make good co-parents, and the paired couples then have a series of meetings. Drinks are the first step.

Fertility tests are also carried out to assess the chances of the two matched souls actually being able to make a baby together

Fertility tests are also carried out to assess the chances of the two matched souls actually being able to make a baby together

Then, as the women narrow down the field of men, comes meeting families. Finally, it’s a weekend spent with their potential co-parent.

If they do decide to go ahead and have a child, help will be given with the legalities. While co-parenting contracts — addressing such issues as how much contact each parent will have with the child and where he or she will live — are not legally binding, they can help clarify expectations at an early stage.

Fertility tests are also carried out to assess the chances of the two matched souls actually being able to make a baby together.

How would this all-important deed be done? That is up to the couples, but while there is jokey mention of a turkey-baster, the reality is that conception would more likely be via clinical artificial insemination.

So is this a case of Brave New World — or is it a step too far even for a broadcaster known to push the boundaries?

Well, the fact a leading fertility expert is involved does raise eyebrows. Dr Marie Wren is deputy director of the Lister Clinic. She devised the programme with help from medical and legal experts.

The vetting process is similar to that which prospective adoptive parents undergo. Every aspect of their lives are examined. Criminal checks are done. Questionnaires cover everything from hobbies to values.

Dr Wren says she felt there was a need because she was seeing more and more clients seeking fertility treatment to have a baby with a stranger. ‘Society has changed so much,’ she says. ‘People seem to struggle to meet someone to have a child with.

‘Anonymous sperm donation is not ideal for all single women and surrogacy with egg donation might be an appropriate option for some men seeking to be parents, but co-parenting is for some a far better option.’

She warns that many online sites for co-parents to meet are ‘totally unregulated’, adding: ‘I would always be concerned about the welfare of the potential children who might be born after parents have randomly met via an internet site.

‘The hope was that by providing this thorough and considered framework, we’d give possible co-parents greater reassurance and safety.’

The four-part series was filmed over the space of a year, with Covid interrupting proceedings but not derailing them. (The couples continued to talk, via Zoom, during lockdown.)

Do we hear the patter of tiny feet? Well, while we have agreed not to give away the outcome, we did speak to three of the wannabe parents involved, who explain why they want to have a baby with a total stranger.

Trinity, from Essex, says she agreed to take part because she desperately wants a child and simply did not want to go it alone. ‘I’d had relationships but none of them had worked out.

‘My mum had died the previous August, and that was a real pivotal moment for me. I think I was mourning both her and the children I might never have.’ She’d contemplated becoming a single-mum-by-choice, getting pregnant through a one-night stand or with the help of a sperm donor — but in the end she ruled that out.

‘I was quite ill with pneumonia, which scared me, because I thought, ‘What if I was a single mother in this situation’,’ she explains.

‘I’ve also always had a career that is important to me, but working five days a week and having a child on your own seemed difficult too. I came to the point where I realised I wanted any child to have a father in its life, too — but if I waited to find love, well it might not happen.’

For all the women, it came down to this difficult question: do I wait for love, or choose the man without it?

Venicia, 34, is from Croydon but she has spent the past 20 years enjoying a fabulously glamorous life nannying for very high-worth individuals (yes, there have been yachts involved). She is currently working in Dubai but has also lived in South Africa and Turkey. All in all, it hasn’t left much time for meeting a soulmate.

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