People are funny creatures. They’re especially funny (read, weirdly over familiar) where pregnancy and children are concerned, and if you think it’s different for pregnant lesbians or same-sex led families, think again.
My partner and I have been together for 19 years in January next year. We spent 4.5 years on fertility treatment trying to form a family. Thankfully, we were blessed with our daughter in September 2007.
As a couple, pre-children we had always been very open about our relationship and we very purposefully decided that if we were going to have children, then for their sake, we needed to be open and unashamed of who we are as a family. To us, this meant being open to everyone – family, friends, neighbours, local Coles staff, even the little old lady who didn’t quite understand what we were telling her when we said, “She has two Mums”.
But it hasn’t always been easy.
There are some people whom we’d rather just walk away from, let them assume that we’re sisters or some other equally benign configuration, but who would that help in the end? Certainly not our daughter who takes everything in and might gather by our silence that we’re somehow ashamed of our family. And it wouldn’t help the inquirer either.
People in the community, everyday people, need to know our families. They need to have any stereotypes they may have broken down and reassembled into acceptance by loving couples who adore their children. They need a dose of reality. And they need patience.
And they need this reality served up to them by families who are willing to share of themselves. I’ll admit, sometimes the question around, “Who is the real mother?” can set my teeth on edge, simply because of the amount of times we’ve been asked, but the truth is that even though we’ve heard it a thousand times, to the inquirer, it’s all new and the vast majority of times, it’s not asked to offend or hurt, it’s a genuine question.
Usually we respond to this question with, “Charlotte has two Mums” and leave it at that, and the response overwhelmingly directed to Charlotte is, “Oh, what a lucky girl you are to have two Mums!” I’m not sure she’ll feel that way when she’s a teenager with both of us on her case, but for the moment, it’s a lovely positive message for her to receive about her family.
The other thing we have found that people are curious about is how she was created – that is, who is the donor. Do we know him? Do we see him? We’re relatively open about this as well, even though the temptation might be to ask how their child was created – did they have sex with their husband/partner or did they use IVF? Again, I remind myself that more often than not these questions are not to hurt or judge, but to gain knowledge. I’ll admit that they can be invasive and sometimes we give away minimal information, but we never dismiss questions. Every question is an opportunity to educate someone.
We once met an elderly couple on a tram in Melbourne and they were quite taken with Charlotte and of course, one of them asked her who her Mum was. She responded that we both were and he then proceeded to tell her that this wasn’t possible and that she could only have one Mum. This clearly made Charlotte uncomfortable and at this point, we stepped in quite firmly to tell him that he was wrong and that Charlotte did indeed have two Mums and that there are lots of different families in the world today and it’s never wise to make sweeping generalisations about them. His wife was mortified by his behaviour and gave him a good ticking off. Charlotte was visibly pleased that she received support from not just us but the man’s wife as well and again, such an affirming response can only be good for her, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make her Mums feel inside.
For the last 7 months we have been respite foster carers to 16 month old twin boys, 2 year old twin girls and lately, a 3 month old baby girl. Of course, now the answers to the questions become even more complex as we try to explain that Charlotte is “ours” but the other children are only with us temporarily. And in fact, it’s the foster kids now who elicit most of the questions, as if suddenly, our original, same-sex family unit is somehow completely last century.
And what a nice feeling that is.
Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne is a prominent voice for marriage and parenting equality in Western Australia. She is also a poet. Kelly’s latest collection of poetry, Domestic Archaeology is from the publisher, Grand Parade Poets and from the Bookshop Darlinghurst.
Gay Dad Rodney-Chang Cruise discusses the importance of visible Happy Gay Families here.