A much needed book that addresses the many questions and important issues associated with lesbian and gay parenting, by a well-known psychotherapist and lesbian parent.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.12(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.07(d)
Read an Excerpt
Keisha's moms host the preschool picnic in their backyard early in the term. They introduce themselves to the other parents as Keisha's two mothers. One father can be overheard explaining to his daughter that, yes, Keisha has two mothers, and isn't that nice?
Isaac, eighteen, gets a send-off to college from his family. His biological mother, Roberta, her partner, Elizabeth, and Roberta's friend and former lover, Shirley, have all shared in the financial and emotional work of raising him. Shirley's daughter is considered by all to be Isaac's sister, and the man who is now Shirley's partner, along with his two children, are also part of Isaac's family circle.
Ryan's junior high school friends know that if it's Monday, he can be reached at the home where his mother, Liz, lives with her partner, Gina. Gina has recently given birth to a baby boy, and Ryan invites his friends to see his new brother before they go off to soccer practice. The second half of the week, Ryan lives with his other mother, Rosemary, and her partner, Ellie. In that household Ryan has a sister, the child Ellie and Rosemary adopted together.
Jorge snuggles on his Daddy's lap, listening to a story aboutBabar the elephant, while his other father, Papa, is in the upstairs bathroom running his bath. His grandparents on Papa's side were there today, fussing over him and spoiling him as usual. It was a good day.
My own children, Emily and Jesse, are sitting with me on the couch while we look through old family photos. There are pictures of my lover, Susan, and me when we were pregnant with them. They love to hear the stories, over and over, of how we wanted them and came to havethem.
Susan and I began planning our family fifteen years ago, when we first fell in love. I was twenty-nine at the time, and up until then I always assumed I'd marry a man and have children in the usual way. My long-term relationships with men were basically good, though for one reason or another they didn't work out. I assumed that when the right man came along, I would get on with becoming a mother.
Becoming a mother was very important to me, and always had been. As a teenager in the sixties, when everyone I knew was trying hallucinogens, I was adamant about not wanting to take any drug that might affect the health of my future offspring. When I was in therapy in my twenties, I felt keenly that working out issues about my own childhood and my relationships with my parents was the best way I could prepare myself to provide a healthy environment for my future children. When the time came to have a baby, I wanted to be ready.
Graduate school, writing a dissertation, and struggling to pay the bills took up my early twenties, but once I had my degree I felt ready to think about having a family. The trouble was, Mr. Right didn't seem to be there. The men who loved me didn't offer enough of what I wanted, and the ones I loved didn't feel the same way about me. It began to occur to me that I might have to adapt to life as a single woman. While it was not my first choice, I felt I could manage it. I immediately realized, though, that having a child was important enough to me that I wasn't prepared to forgo it. If the right man was not going to come along in the next five years or so, I was going to plan to become a single mother.
With therapy came more self-awareness and maturity, and long-suppressed feelings came to the fore. For the first time I allowed myself a consciousness of the strong desires I felt for women. It finally became possible for me to put two and two together. Before I quite knew what was happening, I found myself deeply, urgently, and passionately in love with a woman. To my amazement, she loved me back with an intensity that matched my own. Finally, the right woman had come along.
In general, Susan tends to be less of a planner than I am, taking things more as they come. She had never had a timetable for marriage and family the way I had. She hadn't necessarily been looking for a mate, male or female, but she wasn't one to pass up true love either. Though we found ourselves stepping into the title "lesbian," we didn't know very much about what that meant. We hadn't heard of Stonewall, and knew nothing of the history and complexities of the lesbian community. We were just joyfully and naively in love. Being lesbians was a little scary, but the fear was not all that important compared to the joy of discovering how much we had in common. Between us we had five cats, and we moved them all in together.
I don't remember our first conversation about having children, but it was within the early weeks of our marriage. I was probably the one who brought it up, but maybe not. What I do remember is singing "Tea for Two" together in one of our silly exchanges, coming to the part about how "We could raise a family, a boy for you, a girl for me," and both of us agreeing that it was a lovely idea.
That was in 1978, nine years after the first gay riot at the Stonewall Inn heralded the birth of militancy in the demand for gay rights. It was just five years after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its manual of mental diseases. It was the decade of the feminist movement, paralleling and incorporating the Civil Rights movement. Though I don't remember thinking much about the debt we owed to those movements and the changes they effected, Susan and I were among the generation that came of age in an era which promised to celebrate differences.
It was also a time when divorce rates were skyrocketing. When I was growing up there was one divorced woman in the neighborhood. She lived with her daughter in the house across the street. Though people were nice to them to their faces, a certain tone of disparagement was always present in references to them. In a white suburban neighborhood, they just weren't considered a proper family.
By 1978 much had changed. No longer was the same stigma attached to a mother raising her children without a man. Unmarried, middle-class heterosexual women who wanted children were becoming single parents by choice. Though it wasn't common, it wasn't a rarity either. The ancient specter of illegitimacy became a dowdy old notion. There were possibilities.
If it hadn't been for these changes, Susan and I probably would never have considered having children. We have never been mavericks trying to defy the system against all odds. On the contrary, we are both homebodies whose ideas of adventure are very tame. We wanted to know that the children we brought into the world would have a reasonable expectation of having friends and community acceptance. The social climate had given us an opening.
At the time we knew of no one who had done it. We started discussing it with our friends, both straight and gay. Their reactions ranged mostly from polite to enthusiastic, but no one we spoke with had ever heard of it being done. We knew we couldn't be the first lesbian couple to start a family, and we know now that thousands of other families like ours were out there, but there was no network for finding them.
The library revealed very little. We could find nothing about lesbians or gay men choosing to raise children in a gay context. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon's classic book Lesbian/Woman at least provided a start by talking about lesbian mothers who had been heterosexually married and divorced. The few things that were written about lesbian mothers seemed to presume that heterosexual marriage was the only way to start a family, but at least they offered some direction.
Then we heard about the Lesbian Herstory Archives. Founded in 1973 by Joan Nestle and Deborah Edel with a collective of about twenty women, it is a combination of a library, a museum, and a family album. It collects, preserves, catalogs, and makes available the books, both fiction and nonfiction, papers, photographs, artwork, tapes, personal memoirs, newspaper accounts, and other records of our lesbian and gay culture. I went there as a newly "out" lesbian and felt that I had come home to my people.
Though the Archives didn't have much at that time on the topic of lesbians choosing parenthood, what little I found there excited me tremendously. A tiny pink pamphlet entitled Woman Controlled Conception, by Sarah and Mary Anonymous, published in 1979 by Womanshare Books in Berkeley, California, gave us all the go-ahead we needed. In twenty-three pages of text and drawings, it described how two lesbians used artificial insemination to become pregnant. It discussed ovulation and showed how to chart a menstrual cycle. It talked about finding donors. There was a drawing of a woman inseminating herself with a turkey baster. Any mystery about the process was completely dispelled. It was thrilling to discover it could be done so easily.
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