Illustration by mikroman6 for Getty Images, art by Autostraddle
Things they don’t tell you about becoming a non-carrying, queer mom.
When my wife and I first decided to have a baby, I assumed it would be a fairly straightforward process. Not easy, but simple enough: pick a sperm donor, pick a healthcare provider, and put the sperm where it needed to go. Rinse and repeat as needed. My wife had always wanted to get pregnant, so it was an easy decision for her to carry.
In practice, getting pregnant was a bit more complicated than I expected – spending my lunch breaks on the phone with our insurance company, trying to figure out if sperm from a Cryobank is a qualified HSA expense (turns out it is!) wasn’t on my baby making bingo card. Awkward conversations with customer service agents aside, our journey to getting pregnant was relatively (blessedly) uneventful.
While I wasn’t the one getting pregnant, I always saw myself as a mom, just as much as my wife. I knew I was going to be this child’s mommy, and I conducted myself accordingly. I attended every single doctor’s appointment – even during the pandemic, when my wife had to call me in on her phone. I looked up all the top practices in the city that were recommended for high-risk pregnancies, and found an amazing Black maternal fetal medicine specialist to be our doctor. Between Covid and the Black maternal health crisis in this country, my wife’s pregnancy was high-risk by default. I designed the nursery, set up our registry, and consumed way too much ‘mama-to-be’ content on social media.
It wasn’t until our baby was born that I realized just how ill-equipped the world around me was to deal with a mom like me.
The answer is yes. I had chronic ear infections for the first two years of my life, and ended up needing tubes put in. Right as I opened my mouth to answer her question, I had to stop and correct my response.
“No, she doesn’t.”
By “family history”, she meant genetic history. In other words, did my wife or our sperm donor have a history of ear infections. The doctor wasn’t curious to know if the child’s parents had ear infections when they were kids. She wanted to know if the genes my daughter inherited made her more prone to infections, or if frequent pacifier use was the culprit. Nature, or nurture.
They don’t tell you that sometimes you’ll be secretly relieved when carrying moms you know start complaining about the aches and pains of pregnancy, and the havoc it wreaks on their bodies. That relief will be immediately followed by feelings of shame and guilt.
They don’t tell you how hard you’ll work to show what a good mom you are. That you’ll go out of your way to manage doctor’s appointments, organize playdates, and throw beautiful birthday parties, not just because you enjoy doing it, but because – on some level – you feel the need to prove to everyone that you’re just as much as your kid’s mom as your wife is, even without the C-section scar.
They don’t tell you how lonely it gets sometimes, to feel like you’re on the outside looking into the experience of motherhood. When my wife was pregnant, I was desperate to feel a sense of connection with our growing baby. I bought a fetal Doppler and found an excuse every day to check for our baby’s heartbeat. (This is the part where my best friend, an OBGYN, reminds me that Dopplers are medical equipment, not designed for parent use).
I was afraid our baby wouldn’t know me. That she wouldn’t bond with me. I was afraid that no matter what I did, I’d always be seen as secondary to my wife in our child’s life.
Sure, there may always be a part of me that worries, but that part keeps shrinking as time goes on. Those fears get smaller every time I pick up my daughter from daycare and she cries, “Mommy!wp_postsand wriggles her little arms above her head, asking to be picked up.
Every time she looks for me when I’m not around, and constantly says, “Mommy? Mommy!wp_postsasking for my attention at every turn.
Those fears are virtually invisible when my toddler, after kicking and screaming through bedtime, fighting me at every turn, finally falls asleep with her face nuzzled into my neck.
And they all but disappear every time my daughter curls up in my lap on the couch, wraps her arms around my neck and says, “I love you, Mommy.”