Ian Jenkins, Alan Mayfield and Jeremy Hodges say they had to endure a legal battle to bring their two toddlers into the world
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Ian Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Jeremy Hodges
Ian Jenkins, Alan Mayfield and Jeremy Hodges
| Credit: Sweet Me Photography

For one California family, three is far from a crowd.

Ian Jenkins, Alan Mayfield and Jeremy Hodges are a happily committed throuple, defined as a relationship between three people. Despite the unique circumstances, Jenkins tells PEOPLE they're just like any other modern family, save for the legal obstacles they've had to overcome to get their happily ever after.

"I've got all these wonderful families accepting and loving us, and rejoicing in our children," says Jenkins, 45. "We have two beautiful kids. I have two more partners than I thought I might. For me, it's kind of like winning the lottery."

The family's journey began like any other love story: Jenkins and Mayfield, 43, met and fell in love while Mayfield was a third-year medical student assigned to Jenkins, who was a medical resident, in Boston in 2003. By 2012, they'd moved to San Diego, and after meeting Hodges online, they brought him into their relationship.

"I really love pizza and I also love ice cream and there's not anything wrong with one or the other," Jenkins, a hospital doctor and associate professor, explains. "It's possible to love more than one food, and want both of them in your life. Most people understand that because very few of us know someone who's only had one partner their entire life."

Ian Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Jeremy Hodges
Credit: Courtesy Ian Jenkins

Though Jenkins says that he worried he was "not a baby person" before he became a father, Mayfield, a psychiatrist, had long dreamed of parenthood, and with Hodges, a 39-year-old zookeeper, now on board, the trio started planning for the future.

After a childhood friend of Mayfield's offered to be an egg donor, and another friend agreed to be a surrogate, daughter Piper was born in 2017, with all three men present in the delivery room.

Ian Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Jeremy Hodges
Ian Jenkins with Piper and Parker
| Credit: Jeremy Hodges

Still, things were far from ideal: the day before their baby shower ahead of Piper's birth, a judge was to decide whether all three men would be allowed on the birth certificate, an important move that would promise them all legal rights in the child's life.

"I didn't want a court battle," Jenkins says. "I just wanted to be a dad."

Despite the judge's argument that there was no legal precedent for a situation like this — and a suggestion they add a third parent years down the road — she eventually acquiesced and granted their wish, wrapping an effort that involved upwards of $120,000 in medical and legal fees and more than 20 legal contracts, Jenkins says.

Ian Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Jeremy Hodges
Ian Jenkins
| Credit: Jeremy Hodges

With their roadblocks behind them, the throuple welcomed son Parker into the world in 2019, using a different surrogate but the same egg donor, a woman the children consider an aunt. This time, they say all three men were listed on the birth certificate, no court date needed.

As their children grow up, Jenkins says he and his partners are making sure they're well aware of their unconventional origin stories, which Jenkins recently chronicled in his book Three Dads and a Baby.

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"[Piper] knows exactly where she came from. We've told her, 'They took a little bit of Daddy Jeremy and they took a little bit of Mama Meghan and they put you in our surrogate, Delilah, and she helped you grow for nine months, and when you came out she gave you to us and we're your three dads,'" he says. "It doesn't confuse her in the slightest. She has met and loves both her surrogate and her biological moms." [Meghan and Delilah are pseudonyms the trio use to protect their identities.]

The concept of three parents isn't so foreign to him, as his parents divorced and his father remarried.

"It's not that wild," he says. "My stepmother is a valued parent of mine. She was definitely a major force in raising me. The only difference here is that we all live in the same house and we all love each other."

Ian Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Jeremy Hodges
Ian Jenkins
| Credit: Alan Jenkins
Ian Jenkins, Alan Jenkins, Jeremy Hodges
Credit: Jeremy Hodges

At home, where the throuple also has two goldendoodles, each father has settled into his role: Jenkins is Papa, Mayfield is Dada and Hodges is Daddy.

They've adjusted to parenthood with ease, and have even learned new tricks, like how to braid their daughter's hair.

"It's a pretty domestic, boring, pragmatic life," Mayfield tells PEOPLE. "We're cleaning the house. I'm doing the kids' laundry. We have the same fights over, 'What are we going to have for dinner? What are we going to watch on TV after the kids go to bed?'"

Though the three cannot legally marry, they have combined their finances, and consider all of their property community property.

"[I think] 'Ah, this is why we did it,'" Jenkins says of the moments he gets to give his daughter a goodnight hug and put her to bed. "This is why we had [so many] attorneys help us have a family."