Since my early 20s, I’ve been actively bookmarking online articles about how to raise healthy, progressive kids, and – straight privilege alert – I never gave the logistics any thought.
Despite being in my late 20s, I still sometimes feel more like a baby dyke than a dyke ready for a baby. And yet, from the beginning of my be-coming out, my queerness has forced me to question the connection between my feelings of being a woman and giving birth. Of course, some women, both cis and trans, can’t or don’t want to give birth for multiple reasons. This does not diminish their claim to being women or mothers. But the process of pregnancy is tied up in my notions of being a woman and a mother.*
I need to unpack this, and it seems I’m taking you with me.
As a straight woman, I always assumed that unless I was physically unable to, I would carry and breastfeed my child. Now, even if my future partner and I decide to have a child by pregnancy, I don’t need to be the womb. The physical side of pregnancy scares me, but at the same time, I worry that I will feel less a woman for never having such an iconic female experience. Will I feel less a mother, too? Will I miss out on the magical bonding of breastfeeding? If I was physically unable to have a child, the decision would be made for me. It’s this newfound sense of choice that irks me.
As one of my friends said, heterosexual couples can ‘oops’ their way into pregnancy. Although I think bringing a new life into the world is an important decision that all parents should seriously ponder, the utter intentionality of queer motherhood heightens my awareness and anxiety about bringing a life into the world. Throw climate change into the mix and it gets all the more existentially difficult…
Another difficult aspect that often comes with queer parenthood is the logistical complexity of it all. In vitro fertilization and adoption are both expensive and time consuming. Also, if you go with in vitro, you have to choose your sperm. Do you use sperm from one of your relatives or friends? What if you have a falling out with them? Do you use random sperm? Will the child always wonder about the other half that gave them life? What if your child is born with a heredity disease – is it because you picked the wrong sperm? It all feels a bit too much like playing God to me.
In regards to motherhood, my queerness has brought on a peculiar sense of grief. Until I found Jessie Randall’s article, I never felt I could label my loss of so-called 'natural' motherhood as a loss (natural meaning cis man impregnates cis woman). But the reality is that I spent my straight youth imagining my straight future. And that future included natural motherhood. Therefore, as I celebrated my burgeoning queer identity, I also mourned the loss of some aspects of my straight identity. As Jessie Randall’s article describes, when a heterosexual couple can’t reproduce, they experience deep pain. This pain has a name – infertility. On the other hand, I feel alienated by a grief that bares no name and goes culturally unacknowledged and unsupported.
I do not want to downplay the pain of heterosexual couples, but what I do want to say is that queer infertility is also painful, and for those who weren’t ‘born this way,’ it is also a loss. Due to the lack of recognition of loss, we are not given any tools to navigate the emotions and the institutions connected with having a baby ‘by other means.’ Ultimately, I think this is because the medical system is heteronormative and still thinks of queerness as a lifestyle choice. Therefore, not being able to have a child the ‘natural’ way is part and parcel of our decision to lead an ‘alternate lifestyle’.
I’m still not in a place in my life where I am ready to have a baby. But be-coming out has revealed to me the barriers, grief, and complexities of queer parenthood. Society is not set up to support queer, or other non-normative parenthood pathways. I’m hoping as my future unfolds, my path to queer motherhood and progress towards a more equitable society will unfold with it.
*I want to emphasize that I think all women are women, regardless of assigned sex at birth. Sara C wrote a fabulous article on the chromosome lie if you want to understand this further. As well, any of my anxieties or concerns on the topic of queer motherhood are my internal worries, not reasons for why queer people should or shouldn’t have children. I think queer parents are just as valid as heterosexual parents. Any parent can be prepared, unprepared, lovely, horrid, and everything in-between.