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Who We Are
In preparing to write this book, we interviewed a number of lesbian mothers about their experiences. We asked them about their family background; their decision to become lesbian parents (or to come out as lesbians after becoming parents); about their children's experiences, inside and outside the family; and about their concerns and hopes as lesbian mothers. We talked with women in different areas of the country, who had come to be parents in many different ways. Their experiences as lesbian mothers vary greatly. You will probably see yourself in one or several of these women. You may recognize their situation as similar to your own, or you may read about a particular incident and think, "Oh, that happened to me too!" We hope that you will begin to feel a sense of community with this group of women and realize that there are a lot of mothers out there just like you.
While statistics in this area are hard to come by, it is probably safe to say that, historically at least, most lesbian mothers started out as heterosexual mothers. Sometime after their children were born they ended their heterosexual relationships and began lesbian relationships. Diane is one example of a woman who followed this path. Diane has one child, Alyson, who is twelve years old. Diane and her husband divorced when Alyson was two. Diane entered her first lesbian relationship three years later. That relationship lasted for five years. Currently, Diane is single. Alyson maintains ties with her father and her mother's former partner, both of whomlivenearby. Diane is very involved with the local gay and lesbian community, and she and Alyson regularly attend functions and marches. Alyson attends a small private school, where the teachers actively promote awareness of diversity. Diane works as a college professor in Massachusetts.
Another family that had its start within a heterosexual relationship is Gina's family. Gina works behind the counter of a deli and has a seventeen-year-old daughter, Carla. Carla's father was only briefly involved with Gina and has never been part of Carla's life. Gina first became involved with another woman while pregnant. She dated a few different women when Carla was a child. She has been with her current partner, Kathy, for seven years. Gina, Kathy, and Carla live together in New York, where they moved three years ago. Currently, Gina is not out to her coworkers and employer. She fears that she would lose her job. Carla has told only a few close friends that her mother is a lesbian. While Carla and Kathy have a friendly relationship, it is not parental.
Often, when a woman leaves her husband and falls in love with another woman, she is fearful that her lesbian relationship may cost her custody of her children. Several of the women we spoke with had this experience. Tess has three children: Evan is thirteen, Caitlin is nine, and Sean is eight. She and her husband divorced four years ago. Shortly after that she began her relationship with Barbara. Tess's ex-husband tried to get custody of the children, claiming in court that Tess's relationship with Barbara made her an unfit parent. He lost; the judge did not consider Tess's sexuality a relevant issue. The children now live with Tess and Barbara and visit their father and his new wife. Tess's ex-husband has mellowed since the custody battle and no longer criticizes Tess and Barbara's relationship. Tess and Barbara work in the publishing field in Washington.
Not only do custody issues arise; so do the tensions surrounding stepparenting and what role the mother's partner will play with the children. Irene and her partner, Kitty, have been together for two years. They both work as salesclerks in department stores in Missouri. Irene has two children, Bradley, age ten, and Brittney, age nine. There is a joint custody arrangement for the children, who live with Irene and Kitty for one week and with their father, Mike, for the next week. Mike reacted quite negatively to Irene's involvement in a lesbian relationship. He tried to use that fact to deny her custody and made a number of disapproving remarks to the children about Irene and Kitty. Since the judge's decision to award joint custody, things have improved. Mike has stopped making homophobic remarks to the children. Bradley, who initially blamed Kitty for his parents' divorce, is becoming more comfortable with her.
Not all lesbian mothers are in a position where they feel they can be open about their relationship. Marie and Shirley have been together for twenty-four years and have raised eight children together in Utah. When they met, both women were in heterosexual marriages. Marie had five children and Shirley had three. After becoming friends, they realized that they were in love and that they could not deny that and remain unhappily married to their husbands. Both women divorced, and they and the children moved in together. Marie and Shirley were not open about the fact that they were lesbians, to their children or anyone else. The kids told their friends that their mothers were like the ones on the television show Kate and Allie, in which two divorced mothers move in together. Marie and Shirley finally "came out" to their now grown children four years ago. The children all said they already knew. Marie and Shirley now have fourteen grandchildren.
A relatively recent means for lesbians to become mothers is through the use of alternative insemination. Since the 1980s, lesbians have created their own baby boom using donor insemination (see Considering Parenthood, by Cheri Pies, for example). Some women choose to use unknown donors, preferring anonymity and no ties to a father figure. Others choose someone they know. In some cases this is because they want the donor to play an active part in the child's life. Sometimes it is a relative of the nonbiological mother, whose service as a donor ensures that the child will be genetically linked to both parents. Some women are just not comfortable with the idea of an anonymous donor. Clearly, women who choose donor insemination represent a diverse group.
Most of the women we spoke with who chose an anonymous donor were in a relationship when they became pregnant and did not wish for a third parent to be involved. Rosita and Gabriella have two daughters, Katya, who is six, and Sofia, who is four. Gabriella is the biological mother of both girls, who were conceived with the same anonymous donor. Rosita has adopted both children. Rosita is a school guidance counselor and she also works part time as a photographer. Gabriella is an admissions clerk at a local hospital. Rosita and Gabriella first started seeing each other while they were in high school. They broke up for a few years, but then got back together as adults. They had known each other for sixteen years when Katya was born. Their family lives in New York.
Susan and Andrea have been together for eight years and have seven-month-old twin boys. Susan gave birth to the boys, who were conceived via an anonymous donor. She is currently a stay-at-home mother. Andrea is employed full time as a nurse. They live in a state where second-parent adoptions are not legally recognized, so only Susan is a legal parent. Once the twins were born, Susan and Andrea felt that they wanted their family to have regular contact with other families like their own. They started the first lesbian mothers' group in their area. The members of the group get together regularly for play dates.
In some cases, both mothers wish to have the experience of pregnancy and childbirth. Deirdre and her partner, Meredith, have two children: Kelsey is five and Tyler is eighteen months. Deirdre is Kelsey's biological mother and Meredith is Tyler's biological mother. Both children were conceived with the same anonymous donor. Deirdre and Meredith went through a second-parent adoption for each child, so they are both legal parents for both children. Deirdre works full time as a psychologist, and Meredith works part time as a graphic artist. Their family lives in Illinois.
Not all couples who have children together manage to stay together. Joanne's fourteen-year-old son, Will, is being raised by four women: Joanne (his biological mother by an anonymous donor); her partner, Denise; Joanne's former partner, Rebecca; and her partner, Elaine. Joanne and Rebecca split up when Will was four years old. They worked out the custody arrangement between themselves. Will spends most of his time with Joanne and Denise. Both Joanne and Rebecca are therapists. They live in California.
For women who do not wish to use an anonymous donor, asking a friend to fill that role can be the solution. Cheryl and Jeanine have been together for seventeen years and have a two-and-a-half-year-old son, Adam. Jeanine is Adam's biological mother. He was conceived through alternative insemination with a known donor, a friend of theirs. The donor is one of Adam's godfathers and sees him on a regular basis, although he does not function in the role of a parent. Cheryl has full legal custody of Adam, as second-parent adoptions are not legal where they live. Cheryl has been a stay-at-home mother since Adam was born and plans to return to work part time within the next year. Both Cheryl and Jeanine have master's degrees in special education.
Not all known donors have, or wish to have, a special relationship with the child they helped conceive. Tara has one daughter, eleven-year-old Tracy. Tara and her ex-partner, Wendy, who live in Ohio, broke up six years ago. Wendy has a new partner with whom she has another child. Tara and Wendy share custody of Tracy. Wendy used a known donor to have Tracy. Tracy sees her biological father, who lives in another state, about once a year. Tara also has a new partner, but they do not live together and do not plan to do so anytime soon. Tara's new partner has a very friendly relationship with Tracy, but it is not a parental one.
It is not uncommon to find children in our community who were conceived by a lesbian mother and a gay father. Lauren and Julie have a two-year-old son, Nathaniel. Julie met Lauren four years ago. At that time, Lauren was trying to become pregnant with her friend Simon, a gay man. Lauren and Simon intended to share parenting responsibilities. Julie understood this and was happy to take part in parenting as well. After some difficulties, Lauren became pregnant and Nathaniel was born. Nathaniel spends one evening during the week and half of each weekend with his father. Julie, who is retired from the military, stays home to take care of Nathaniel during the week. Lauren is employed full time as a physician in Pennsylvania.
For some couples, genetic links are extremely important. Some have found ways to have a child who is biologically related to both her mothers. Becky and Anne have a six-year-old daughter, Samantha. Samantha was conceived via a known donorone of her uncles. Becky and Anne do not typically tell people which one of them is Samantha's biological mother. Their daughter is biologically related to both of them and looks like both of them. When Samantha is older, they will tell her that her uncle was the one who helped her mothers have her. Becky is a therapist and Anne is a computer technician. Their family lives in Illinois.
Not all cases of known donors work out happily. Karen is a physician's assistant and lives in California. Her daughter, Jessica, is in kindergarten. Karen used a known donor to become pregnant. She and the donor had a written agreement stipulating the amount of contact he would have with the child once she was born. When Jessica was four months old he decided he wanted more contact and rights as a father. Karen wanted to stick to their original agreement. After several years of court battles, Jessica now spends almost half her time with her father and his partner, and half her time with Karen. Karen is not happy with this arrangement. Although Karen was in a relationship with another woman when Jessica was born, that relationship ended shortly before Jessica's first birthday. Jessica has no contact with Karen's ex-partner. Currently, Karen is single.
Lesbians also form their families through adoption, although they are not always able to do so openly as lesbians. They may have to pretend to be single, presumably heterosexual, women to some or all of the staff involved in the adoption. This was the case for Margaret and Sarah. Margaret and Sarah have been together for nine years. They adopted their daughter Alexa from Russia two years ago. They are currently awaiting approval to go to Russia to adopt a second baby. Because authorities in Russia would not allow a child to be adopted by a lesbian, Margaret officially adopted Alexa as a single parent. Once she was in this country Sarah adopted her as a second parent. Sarah is employed full time as a paralegal. Margaret works part time as a physical therapist. Their family lives on a small farm in California, close to many members of their extended family.
Lisa and Robin, who formed their family through domestic adoption, went through a similar process. Lisa and her former partner, Robin, have two sons: Rafael is seventeen and Joshua is eleven. Both boys were adopted as infants. Lisa adopted Rafael and Robin adopted Joshua, and later they did second-parent adoptions. Before they adopted their older son, Lisa and Robin drew up a contract specifying what would happen in the event that their relationship ended. Lisa and Robin broke up when the boys were eleven and five. As they had specified in their contract, Lisa and Robin now share joint custody. Each parent contributes equally to the financial care of the children, and the boys spend half their time with each. The family lives in New York.
Not all families fit neatly into one category or another. Some have been formed by a combination of methods, with different children entering the family in different ways. Paula and Nancy, for example, have been together for twenty years. They have four sons: Richard and Fred, who are now in their early twenties and were Nancy's sons from a previous marriage; Thomas, who is sixteen and is Paula's biological son conceived with a known donor; and C.J., who is ten and whom Paula and Nancy adopted as an infant. When they were children, Richard and Fred spent half their time with Paula and Nancy and the other half with their father and his second wife. Thomas has regular contact with his biological father and his partner. Over the years, Paula and Nancy have had foreign exchange students living with them, some for several years at a time, and they consider these young people to be part of their family as well. When the children were young, Paula worked only part time and assumed the bulk of the childcare. About six years ago, Nancy decided to stay at home and Paula returned to full-time work. (Both women are lawyers.) Gradually, as the boys have gotten older, Nancy has been taking on more work outside the home. This family lives in Washington state.
Yvonne is in the process of expanding her family. Yvonne is currently a single mother of one son, seven-year-old Enrique. Yvonne was Enrique's foster mother from the time he was four days old and has since adopted him. Yvonne is currently pregnant with another child, who was conceived with an anonymous donor. Yvonne, who is white, chose a Hispanic donor, so that the baby would look like Enrique. Yvonne has been single throughout all of her son's life. She has a close circle of friends who spend a great deal of time with her and Enrique. Yvonne is a social worker. She and Enrique live in Massachusetts.
These women came to motherhood from different paths, and they differ in other ways as well. They live in different areas of the country. Some are in large cities, some live in the suburbs, and some are in rural America. Some practice traditional religions, while others are devoutly antireligious. Some are very involved in lesbian and gay politics, while others are not even out to their friends or people they work with. What they all have in common is their concern for their children and their mindfulness of how their lesbianism may affect their children.