What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by Rose.
There are days (a lot of them), when I desperately want to start a family. When I daydream about having a baby, a toddler, a child or teen; about the books I would read with them, the songs I’d sing and games we’d play, the science fair projects and family vacations and music lessons and birthday parties. I’m not at a time in my life when I can have children—I’m in grad school, will be for another three or four years, and then a post-doc for two or so years after that before I can even really hope for a job. While I can support myself on my stipend, it’s not really enough for a family. Other grad students do have families, but I just can’t imagine managing it, especially as I’m away doing field research for two months every summer. Additionally, while my partner and I have been together for over two years, we’re not at the point in the relationship where we could have children. Logically I know that we have plenty of time—I’m only 24, I started grad school young, there will be time—no matter how impatient I may feel sometimes.
But there are other difficulties. Because the partner I mentioned is another woman. And while my local community may be completely accepting of that fact, that cannot remove the added difficulties of starting a family. We will never be able to simply decide that we want a child and get pregnant. All of our options need more—a known sperm donor or purchase from a sperm bank, medical aid for insemination, or the time and expense of adopting. While I am interested in fostering and/or adopting from the foster care system, I would like to raise a non-special needs child from infancy at least once. And that is not something that will be straightforward for us.
There are few people who seem to understand. Straight friends comment that having children is always expensive (yes, but try adding on $20,000 in adoption fees! Or the medical costs for the artificial insemination alone, not to mention the cost of sperm from a bank and the other costs of pregnancy. And insurance that covers infertility treatment may not cover services for healthy lesbian or single women. It’s not like the costs of food and clothes and diapers and childcare and college are any less after all of that.) None of my lesbian friends seem particularly interested in children in the near future, or talk about having families. Older couples with children focus on the joy of having a family; I can find hardly anyone talking about how unfair it can feel that it’s so much harder for us to even start.
It’s not the same experience as infertility. As far as we know, we’re both reproductively healthy, so if we decide to try artificial insemination, the chances are high that one of us will be able to conceive and carry a child. We haven’t been through the heartbreak of months or years spent trying to conceive or of losing a pregnancy. There are many ways in which my experience has been easier.
But there are also similarities. I look at my peers who are pregnant, and I’m jealous that they can just do that so easily. While my friends talk about buying houses, I think about saving for both a down payment and adoption fees. When they talk about timing a pregnancy to coincide with writing a thesis, I wonder if it’s even possible to begin the adoption process when we’d be likely to be moving to another state within a year. When I catch myself thinking that our child would inherit such-and-such, I must remind myself that they will have genetic similarities to one of us at most. While I do firmly believe that adoption is a wonderful way to have a family and biological relationships don’t determine love, I can’t help a pang at the thought that at least one pair of grandparents won’t be able to find a family resemblance. There are days when I am so unspeakably and irrationally jealous of my cousin, who was careless and ended up with a child, while I must wait, and save, and plan, and be responsible, and wait some more. It is so much harder for us than for most straight couples, and I do envy them.
And that doesn’t even include the difficulties after a child is born or adopted. Last year the people of our state voted to outlaw not only marriage, but any legal recognition of our relationship, and second parent adoption was recently dropped as well. This means that we could not have a legally protected family. If I was the biological or adoptive mother, my partner would have no rights or power to protect our children. If I lost my job, there is a high chance that her insurance could not cover the kids. If we ended the relationship, I would have the ability to remove her from our children’s lives entirely (not that I would). In a medical emergency, she would not be able to make medical decisions or even see her child in the hospital. While some of these can be managed with the appropriate legal steps, not all of them can. This makes the thought of having children while living here incredibly scary; the legal protections that most families don’t even think about are entirely out of our reach until the law changes. Such a situation does the opposite of protecting families.
There is also the social bias. Our children will learn so young about prejudice and intolerance, about the people who wish our family didn’t exist or think that we cannot be good parents, the children who will have been taught that our family is inferior and may tease them for that. All I can do to protect them is to live my life openly and lovingly, to be honest and caring and find them safe spaces, and show through our living that our path is as loving and joyful and valid as any other. That hardly seems like enough.
There is a gift in these challenges, though. We cannot take the straight and easy path, the one that our society overwhelming presents as the way of making a family. My straight friends don’t even think about how they’ll have children; one friend who likes children but not babies still seems set on bearing her own instead of considering adopting an older child who needs a home. If the easier, more straightforward, more expected path is available, there are fewer reasons to consider others. But we’ve started from a position where we must consider the other options, and we have so many choices for how to make a family; bearing a child and adopting an infant or older child(ren) later, adopting siblings out of foster care, each of us bearing a child at some point. . . there are so many possibilities, and we are considering many of them. The goal of more equal parenting seems so much easier, too, when separated from traditional gender roles. I had no idea how much I had internalized the role of the mother as the primary caregiver until I thought about having a family with a female partner and felt such relief that it wouldn’t all rest on me. It’s not that straight couples cannot do these things; but the fact that we are a same-gender couple makes it easier to break away from the limited range of traditional molds and decide for ourselves how we want to have our family. The challenges bring the gift of opening our eyes to all the possibilities.
What do I want you to know? Regardless of sexual orientation, I want a family just like many people do. I really think that we have the potential to be good parents and raise happy and successful children. There are enough inescapable obstacles for us in the road to parenthood; the additional legal and social difficulties just make it that much harder for us to have a family. I want people to know that every time another law is changed in order to make it harder for us to have a recognized partnership or equal rights, it feels like an attack not just on me but on my future family. I want people to, when they’re teaching their children, to teach them their beliefs and to be sure to include respect for other families, so that my children won’t suffer prejudice. I want people to know that my family will be a valid and loving family, and that we will be good parents, regardless of gender. I want the people who know families with LGBT parents to remember that it is harder; that while we may achieve the happy result, there is a greater difficulty in getting there. An understanding of the concerns and obstacles that we face is helpful—don’t talk about my future family like it will be as easy as yours, because it likely won’t be, don’t minimize the additional difficulties. Allow me to be jealous occasionally, while still sincerely joyful for those who are expecting children. And remember, above all, that we will be a family. Because while at times it seems so difficult, I have faith that we will one day have a joyful, loving family.