Lily-May Woods is barely three weeks old and already the circumstances of her birth have provoked curiosity. 'How did you two make a baby?' asked the bemused five-year-old boy who lives next door to the lesbian couple who are Lily-May's parents. 'I said that we went to a special clinic which helped us,' explains Natalie Woods, who is genetic mum to Lily-May. Similar questions will doubtless occur to her daughter as she grows up minus a father, but with two mothers.
Natalie, 38, and her partner Betty Knowles, 47, who live in a neat terrace house in Brighton, will be known as Mummy and Mama B. The couple made legal history this week, as they are thought to be the first same-sex parents in Britain to jointly sign their child's birth certificate. Under the provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, which came into effect at the beginning of April last year, partners in same-sex relationships are now given equal status as parents. This means that in the box on the birth certificate traditionally reserved for a father's name, Betty's appeared. She was designated 'parent', while Natalie, who became pregnant through an anonymous sperm donor, is listed as 'mother'. 'I feel it's very important, both for my sake and our daughter's, that I'm recognised as a legal parent to Lily-May,' says Betty.
And the Act allows her to assume her parental responsibilities officially, with minimal fuss. Before, she would have had to go to court or would have faced the convoluted process of adopting Lily-May to have the legal status of a mother. 'We would have made sure Betty had parental rights and responsibilities either by seeking them through the courts or by adoption,' says Natalie. 'But as the law stands now it's very straightforward. 'We just had to sign a couple of consent forms that said we were entering into parenthood together. After that, it was simply a matter of us both signing the birth certificate.'
So, at the stroke of a pen, Betty assumed the title 'parent' and all reference to a father was erased. Which begs the question: how do Natalie and Betty justify their decision to bring up their adored baby daughter without a dad? They say they have addressed the issue between themselves exhaustively, and as Natalie points out: 'Even before the law changed, we wouldn't have been putting a father's name on the birth certificate, because we made the decision to use an anonymous sperm donor.
'A lot of lesbian couples choose to use a donor who is known to them. He would then be, technically under the law, the father. If he is also playing a role in the child's upbringing, I believe his name should be on the birth certificate. 'We talked about that, but decided not to use a known donor, mostly because there was no one in our lives who we considered suitable. 'Besides, you have to be really careful about the agreement you make with the man you use, so that everyone understands their role in the child's life, and we decided an anonymous donor would make it far less legally complex for Betty to assume her parental status.' But what of Lily-May? How will she fare without a father? It is the issue that exercises Christian groups and campaigners for traditional family values, and one every single-sex couple or lone mother must address.
'We decided to have a child without a dad, we can't deny that, but I don't think it's wrong,' says Natalie bluntly. 'There are plenty of kids brought up in both gay and straight families without dads. 'There are single mums; families where fathers have left; families where the dad has died - there are now so many different types of family out there and people should respect this diversity. We just have a different kind of "normality".'
It's different, not to say groundbreaking, given the historic nature of their daughter's birth certificate. 'I know people may criticise us for choosing to have a child without a dad, but for us, gender and sexuality are not what is most important. The most vital thing is to raise a child in a loving, stable home with the right moral values, whether it be with two mums, two dads, just one mum or one dad.' Natalie's justification is fraught with personal significance for a very particular reason: her Roman Catholic parents are estranged from her because of her sexuality. 'They are very disapproving of the fact that I'm gay,' she says. 'So there has been no contact with them since before Lily-May's birth. It's a great shame because they are losing out on a relationship with their new granddaughter.'
Natalie grew up, the middle of three daughters, in Manchester, but declines to talk further about her family, or the rift that has fractured it. She is a former nurse who has also worked with children in local authority residential care - an experience which has made her sharply aware of the damaging effect of abuse and neglect on children. 'There are lots of dads who don't do a great job raising their kids,' she says. 'In my profession I've seen quite a few of life's horror stories, and I know that Lily- May is going to get much more care and love than so many children in "normal" homes.'
Natalie, who manages a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender helpline while also working as a private counsellor specialising in fertility issues, is certainly eloquently well-informed on the subject of family diversity. But have they reflected on the impact of their partnership on their daughter as she grows up? They say they have considered every kind of question Lily-May might ask as she grows from childhood to adolescence - and nothing will be hidden from her.
'We will tell her how special she is and how much we wanted her,' explains Natalie. 'And we'll talk to her in a way that is appropriate to her age. 'Ultimately, it's about being honest and raising her in a way that allows communication.' But what will Lily-May's two mums say when their little girl asks why she hasn't got a dad? 'It's hard to say exactly what words we'll use,' concedes Natalie, 'But I think we'll tell her that all families are different; that we love each other very much and that we really wanted her, so we got some help from a clinic to have her. 'And we'll explain that's why she hasn't got a dad but has two mums instead.
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