It’s 9:42 pm and I am finally sitting down to write. I wanted to write a blog post about things that are going well in my life as a non-gestational parent, because there truly are many, but I think I need to save that for another time when I feel like I have the energy to articulate that in a way that feels real and doesn’t inadvertently breed the oppressive ghost of parental competition.
What is real for me tonight has less to do with being a queer, non-gestational parent and more to do with being lower middle class and living in a society that doesn’t exactly make it easy to be a family with two full-time working parents living in our individualistic, far from family-friendly culture. Even with that statement, I have a caveat: I truly feel blessed to have a circle of wonderfully supportive friends who have graced us with the gift of never having had to hire a babysitter in the 2.5 years since our daughter was born (well, there is that full-time daycare bill). And an extra shout out is seriously due to our dear friend, who I will just call “A”- I will never be able to spell out in words how much it means to us that he commits to weekly hang out time with our family so that he can connect with our daughter, help us make dinner after a long day of work, and take a shift of scrubbing dishes. He is a gift in our lives and I am thankful. Even still, even with this support from our family of choice (our families are supportive, but they all live far from us), I feel like I can barely keep my head above water since this semester started three weeks ago. I know I am not alone in this. I feel like some nights I wish I could shape-shift into a toddler myself and just have a good cry, “IT’S HARD!” (Which I sometimes do.) And we just have one kid and we’re very privileged in many ways. I am in awe of single parents and parents of multiple children.
So I guess I write this blog post now to say (both to parents and non-parents): a) I wish I had more for you dear readers (soon, I promise); b) try to suspend your judgment the next time you witness a “parent miss” when you’re at the grocery store, the library, waiting in line somewhere; I bet they’re doing the best they can in that moment… why not offer support instead of judgment? (“Is there anything I could do to help? It’s really stressful when a child is having a tantrum in public.”); c) if you’re able, help a parent-friend out who could use a couple hours to themselves (I swear I’m not making a shameless plea for our family; I just know it’s so hard to ask); d) work in whatever ways you can to create a more family-friendly environment, whether that be in your workplace, public places you frequent or places of worship.
And with that I say to you and myself: “good night, and good luck.”
When M was barely out of S’s vagina, one of the midwives turned to me and said, “It’s your turn next!” She said this with the same amount of excitement one would expect after you have waited in line for 30 minutes for that new roller coaster you have been dying to ride and it is almost your turn. There were/are several things wrong with her statement. First, I had just watched S’s body turn inside out to push out our child. There was swelling and all sorts of fluids and some things we both vowed never to speak of again. I had just watched that and she says it is my turn next. Are you freaking kidding me? No way! Why would I put my poor little vagina through that when I have a very willing partner to do the dirty work for me? (And yes, I know it is a beautiful thing to gestate and birth a child. But seriously, NO WAY!) Second, I have no desire to give birth. No desire to have a being grow in my womb. Frankly, the thought of another human growing inside my body freaks me out more than anchovies.
I have not always been so able to voice my position on this subject. I have spent a lot of time working through feelings of guilt and sadness around all of this. As a female identified woman with a uterus, I have felt pressure from the outside to want to gestate and give birth to a child. It is not infrequent that people ask me when I want to start trying to get pregnant. The assumption is that with two women in the relationship, we must want to take turns popping out babies. I have spent a lot of time wondering if I will regret never having given birth. Will I feel like I didn’t make the team or got left out of the club? Will I look back on my life and add never having been pregnant to my list of regrets? Right now, I don’t know the answer to those questions. I hope the answer is no on all accounts. I guess time will tell.
My entire life, I knew I wanted to be a mother. When S and I were first dating, I told her it would be a “deal breaker” for us if she didn’t want to have kids. At that point, I had not really thought about how those children would come to me, to us. After many years of being together, we began to talk more seriously about having children and it was decided that S would carry. She is older than I and, for very personal reasons, felt a primal urge to carry, birth and raise a child. What I came to realize through all of our discussions was that I didn’t have that urge. I always knew I would be a mother, but I never dreamed of pregnancy. I dreamed of holding that tiny baby, sometimes holding a onesie to my shoulder and patting it as if it were already full. Through these discussions, I realized that no matter how my child came to me, I knew I would be a good mother.
It is interesting to watch people’s reactions after they ask me if I am next. It is only women who ask and, if they have given birth, they most often have a sparkle in their eye like they are ready to welcome me to the table of gestation. I do think that sparkle fades after I say I am not interested. I always follow-up with a joke, “Are you kidding? I watched my son come out. Why would I do that?” There is a little giggle, but I can tell they are a little sad. Maybe they are sad for me, thinking I am missing out. But I don’t feel sad. At this point in my life, I feel liberated to be able to be true to who I really am. After having spent so many years questioning who I am and what I stand for, it feels good to be able to say that I am a great mother to a wonderful boy who didn’t come out of my vagina.
Posted in Birth, General Parenting, Public Perception
Tagged birth, carry a child, gestation, lesbian, lesbian parenting, non-bio, non-bio mom, pregnancy, queer, queer parenting, toddlerhood
I am exhausted. Down to the bone; can’t breathe; can’t sleep kind of exhausted. As the non-gestational parent, I have had the pleasure of being the primary enforcer of night-weaning. Here we are, night-weaning attempt number four, and I am so tired I yelled at my son in the middle of the night. The whole time I was yelling, “GO TO SLEEP!!! YOU ARE MAKING ME REALLY ANGRY!!! GODDAMN IT!” I was also thinking, “This is not the parent I want to be.” Granted, I yelled after he had woken up for the fourth time, every hour on the hour: 9:40. 10:40, 11:40, 12:40. But still. I don’t know why we decided to do it this way with Ima going to “work” every night and taking her nanas with her. Somewhere along the line we decided that I should just tough it out for a week or so and, by then, M would get it and we would all be one big happy, well-rested family. BULLSHIT! I am tired. We are all tired. I am training for a marathon in the spring and I have only been able to run once this week. When I did, I felt great. Then a couple hours later I developed a fever and cold chills. Seems like you can’t really squeeze distance running out of your butt. You have to have some reserves. So, here we are at night six. He woke 5 times total last night, if you count being up from 5am to 6am as one wake-up. In the middle of the night, while I rest my forehead on his crib rails as I pat his back through the slats, I dream about having breasts from which milk flows. I would give him a bendy straw attached at one end to my nipples and I would sleep on the floor while he drank himself back to sleep. Anything for sleep. Tonight, S said she wanted to put him down and all I hear is crying on the monitor. “NANA!” “PLAY!” “UP!” He just wants the juice!
I know people come from varying camps on this whole issue, from night wean at 6 months to let them nurse whenever they want until they can drive. Let them cry! Never let them cry! I am somewhere in between. I have always wanted him to sleep, but to also retain the closeness to his gestational mother through nursing. This became especially true after she went back to work full-time. Don’t get me wrong, we have tried before. He was doing great until he got bronchitis and stopped eating and the doctor said to nurse him as much as we could. Another time, I freaked out because he was crying so hard he almost made himself throw-up. I pulled the plug on that one. The third time…I can’t remember but I am sure it was equally draining on us all. I have learned a lot since becoming a parent. I am sure there are many topics on which I can wax-poetic and feel proud of my successes. Sleep is not one of those. In fact, I would say we have failed in the area of sleep. I know there is a lot of time and he will learn to sleep. I know that all hope is not lost, that one day I will again sleep more than three hours in a row. I will try to remember that, but tonight, I am just tired.
Hello readers & (dare we say) fans of Turkey Baster & a Bottle of Wine! We are putting out our first call for stories- we’d love to hear from you! Beyond sharing our own experiences as queer, non-gestational parents, part of our blog’s mission is to hear from other parents and have the blog be a forum for connecting with others. The theme we’re focusing on for our call for blog posts is around being a queer, transgender, non-gestational parent. We’d love to hear about your experiences as a parent and how being trans informs and shapes this experience (if at all) and how others respond to you as a trans parent. We welcome stories with your name included or anonymous (whatever feels best to you). To submit an essay for consideration, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday, September 21st. We look forward to hearing from you! Please forward this call for submissions widely!
Charlotte & Betsy
If everything had worked out the first time, S and I would be the parents of a 3½ year old, but we wouldn’t have M. When S was pregnant the first time, I shouted from the rooftops to anyone who would listen that we were having a baby. A BABY! I bought little shoes and sweet smelling creams and, when the “danger zone” had passed, posted on Facebook. The day we went in to hear the heartbeat for the first time, I felt like I had taken caffeine pills. As that excitement coursed through my veins, I watched the color drain from S’s face. She already knew the baby was never going to be. I held her hand and tried to get her to look in my eyes, but she just kept looking past me, searching for something beyond either of us. I can remember calling my best friend from the parking lot of the midwives’ office bawling as S continued to live in her body with the remaining “product of conception”. It took about a month for whatever was in her womb to leave. S could hardly move some days and there was nothing I could do to make it better. Yes, I too was deeply grieving the loss of this much planned and already adored baby, but I could get away from it all. I wasn’t living with the betrayal of my own womb or the physical pains that served as a constant reminder. I, the great protector, wanted to engulf S in me and make the pain duller so that at least she could breathe. But I couldn’t do any of that, so I bought chocolate cake. HUGE, thick, gooey slices of 1000+ calorie chocolate cake. Two forks, chocolate cake and silence. And that was all I could do. I kept telling myself that it would all make sense one day. That wasn’t the right body for our baby’s soul. It wasn’t the right time. Now was the time for chocolate cake.
There were many days after the miscarriage that no one asked how I was doing. I put on a brave face and talked about S and her struggles. Most of the time, people just thought about her and her empty uterus. I think that is what I did, too. I got so caught up with taking care of S and pretending to move forward that I didn’t stop to think about how I really was doing. The truth was, I didn’t know how I was. I didn’t know how I felt. I didn’t know how to move through the world as the non-gestational parent in this situation. There were no resources for me. No support groups where we lived. So, I kept pretending I was fine like I thought I was supposed to be, keeping in mind my mantra of, “This will all make sense one day.”
When we started getting ready to try again, it all felt different. It was as if had a keener sense of what was at stake. It was hope for the future and brighter days. It was beyond just our family, but became about the love we were ready to share with the world in the form of our child. Our child. I still lived with a ball in my gut where I stored my grief, but I had become so good at hiding it that I sometimes even forgot it was there.
M was conceived on the first anniversary of the due date for the pregnancy we lost. Some days, I like to think that he was waiting for us all along: that he had been in that previous body and it just didn’t feel right. Sometimes, thinking like that makes me feel better. To be honest, I don’t think about the miscarriage much anymore. If I really went there, I think I could let go of some of that ball of grief in my belly. Now that M is here, that ball serves as a daily reminder to what we have and what it took to get here. M is a beautiful boy. He is funny and spunky and so intrigued by everything in this world. He brings light into every day, even when he is cranky. I can look into his wide blue eyes and honestly say it all makes sense.
PS. When I shared this with S before I posted, I mentioned that I thought it was weird that I wrote this today, Sept. 5th, as I haven’t thought about any of this in a long time. Then she reminded me that today is the anniversary of not hearing the heartbeat. I must have remembered on a cellular level.
Posted in General Parenting, Pregnancy Loss
Tagged anonymous donor, anonymous sperm donor, artificial insemination, donor, donor sperm, lesbian, lesbian parenting, miscarriage, non-bio, non-bio mom, pregnancy loss, queer, queer parenting, toddlerhood
Earlier this week, I scanned my Facebook news feed to see an NBC news story that the FDA was slated to ban gay men from donating sperm to sperm banks.* Like many people I “shared” the story on my FB page outraged by the ignorance and bigotry in this imposed regulation. The reasoning behind it, as one spokesperson from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine was cited as saying in the article: “you can’t be too careful [in taking measures to reduce the spread of HIV].” As a former sex educator for a large reproductive and sexual health organization, I know full well that one’s sexual orientation is not the issue, but that certain sexual behaviors- unprotected anal sex in particular- are higher risk for spreading HIV and other STIs. Plenty of heterosexual couples engage in anal sex, but are straight men being cut off from entering cryogenics clinics (a related irk: the story referred to “homosexual sex”- there is no such thing people; there are different sexual acts that people of all sexual orientations engage in)? Shouldn’t they just ask would-be donors about recent sexual practices if they’re concerned about higher risk behaviors and then screen the semen for infections (really the only way to know for sure)?
There was also another part of me- for admittedly selfish reasons- that found myself having a moment of panic: our donor is a gay man. We have been hoping to use the same donor a few years from now so that I could try to get pregnant. Although we inseminated at home, I suddenly found myself scanning my brain, wanting reassurance that there wasn’t going to be a roadblock to this plan. What if we need to call upon the medical establishment for a little help when that time comes… will we reach an impasse? Some sperm banks, such as Rainbow Flag Health Services, actively recruit gay and bisexual donors. Although Rainbow Flag’s plan is to continue doing so for the time being since the ban is not currently being seen as a law, but rather a strong recommendation (if I’m following this correctly), will this affect their organization and scare some clients from using their services? I know for us, and many other friends we know, we were particularly drawn to our donor because he is a gay man. He seemed to understand and have increased sensitivity around the needs of our queer family-to-be. I would be incredibly disappointed if we weren’t able to work with him again as a donor. Also, I have been overjoyed at the thought of being able to conceive with the same donor who my partner was able to create our daughter with. I know this is edging into controversial territory, but I love the thought of my daughter being biologically connected to her sibling. I say that not because I think biology is the seminal part of what connects people together, but because my spouse and I are not able to create a baby together and I love the notion of my gestational child having some of the features of their big sister and her of them. In my mind, it’s as close as my spouse and I can get to being able to actually create a baby together (although I feel like I was a part of my non-gestational daughter’s conception process and pregnancy for sure).
I guess for the time being we’ll just have to keep fighting the good fight and hope that the FDA will see the scientific error of their ways and remove this discriminatory regulation that doesn’t breed safety, but rather ignorance and bigotry.
Posted in Anonymous Donor, Being Non-gestational, Insemination, Known Donor, Legal Issues
Tagged anonymous sperm donor, artificial insemination, donor, donor sperm, insemination, known donor, lesbian parenting, non-bio mom, non-gestational, queer parenting