Fighting to restore her mum's name

17:00, May 24 2013
Doreen Shields
FOR MUM: Doreen Shields and daughter Rowen Sullivan, who wants to have her birth mother’s name on her birth certificate.

Rowen Sullivan has two mums, but to get them both recognised as her parents she will have to change the law.

The Upper Hutt 20-year-old was born in England, to her British birth mother Diane Sullivan and New Zealander Doreen Shields.

The family moved to New Zealand in 1999, but as a lesbian couple Ms Sullivan and Ms Shields were unable to fulfil their desire to marry.

In 2006, Ms Sullivan was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, leading the couple to investigate the possibility of Ms Shields adopting their daughter as only Ms Sullivan was listed on Rowen's birth certificate.

But because they were not married they could not jointly adopt and any order would have required the removal of Ms Sullivan's name from Rowen's birth certificate.

So Ms Shields applied for guardian status, but it expired six months after Ms Sullivan's death in 2010 when Rowen turned 18.


Leaving her with one parent but legally orphaned, Rowen and her mother decided to go forward with the adoption process.

This gave Rowen a new New Zealand birth certificate, but one that is missing Ms Sullivan's name.

She found having her dead mother struck off as one of her parents deeply upsetting, feeling both should be recognised as her parents just like in any other family.

"My parents both raised me and they should have it shown, I didn't come from a broken family . . . it wasn't like I was a mistake, they chose to have me together."

After Ms Sullivan and Ms Shields had been together about seven years, Rowen was conceived using in vitro fertilisation involving an anonymous male donor.

Ms Shields said she had been unable to look at the new birth certificate since it arrived as it was distressing to see her partner's name missing.

"Diane was determined to make it to Rowen's 18th birthday, she didn't but she worked so long and hard and it just seems so wrong to take someone like that off the birth certificate."

The pair contacted Labour MP Louisa Wall, whose marriage equality bill was voted into law last month. Under the legislation, the same situation will not occur in the future but because Ms Sullivan died before its passing Rowen is exempt.

Ms Wall suggested the pair lodge a private bill, a rare form of law-making that asks for a change to the law for the benefit of a single person or group.

The Sullivan Birth Certificate Bill will be supported through the House by Ms Wall, who said it was a unique piece of legislation that was simply about righting a wrong.

"These two women did have Rowen together but the law at the time didn't acknowledge that.

"How would we feel if one of our parents weren't on our birth certificate?"

The Dominion Post