Things They Don’t Tell You About Becoming a Non-Carrying, Queer Mom

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.

When you become a non-carrying queer mom, they don’t tell you how much taking your kid to the doctor is going to suck. My wife and I sat in the ENT specialist’s office, a squealing toddler between us, and one of the first things the doctor asked was, “does she have a family history of ear infections?”

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 about the guilty pleasure you’ll feel when you and your toddler are out, just the two of you, and someone remarks on how much you look alike. Once, when we were going through airport security, the TSA agent looked at me, then at my daughter, and said, “well you’re certainly your mother’s child – you look just like her!” They don’t tell you the guilt outweighs the pleasure more often than you think.

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.

The most important thing they didn’t tell me was that those fears wouldn’t last forever.

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!” and 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!” asking 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.”

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Jálynn Castleman-Smith

Jálynn is a Black, queer, neurodivergent writer, mom, and professional nerd living and growing in Brooklyn. When she’s not reading, writing, or co-parenting, you can find Jálynn in the kitchen, or working on the same scarf she started knitting almost 5 years ago. She hopes to finish it before her toddler goes off to college.

Jálynn has written 2 articles for us.


  1. This is lovely. I’m also non-gestational parent whose wife carried both our children, and it really resonated with me. I found being an NGP very difficult in the beginning, but most of my fears have receded now that my children are 6 and 8. In my experience, the longer one parents, the less birth and genetics has to do with your parenting life.

  2. Thank you so much for this. We’re starting this journey and my partner will be carrying, it’s so wonderful to read this from someone who’s been there! Eases my heart a little, and makes me feel seen <3

    • I’m so glad my piece made you feel seen! There may not be a ton of us, but you’re definitely not alone. Sending you and your partner lots of baby dust! ✨

  3. I REALLY appreciate this. Thank you thank you for both acknowledging the hard parts and showing how they’ve diminished with time. This was both meaningful and beautiful to read.

  4. In my country, when a queer couple has a child together and they are married, the non-carrying person has to adopt the child in order to be legally recognized as a parent, which can be done only after two years and regualr assessment from the officials. So the non-carrying parent really has to prove themselves to everyone and is not on the same eye level. If the couple breaks up in this time, the non-carrying parent has no legal rights whatsoever, as the child is legally the carrying person’s child. This opens door to everything Sarah Schulman often spoke/wrote about when queer couples were not acknowledged as a family and in terms of conflict/separation, one could deny the other the contact to the child, and the child to the secondparent. With all the anti-queer legislation in numerous countries, this is bound to happen again.

    • That sounds horrible Marie. In the UK you can both be on the birth certificate if you’re married or if you get pregnant through a HFEA registered clinic (which is all clinics but it excludes if you get pregnant without a clinic), but as we’re all seeing in Italy this can all be taken away from us at any time.

  5. Tears streaming down my face as I read this, thank you. I wish I could have read this when my wife was pregnant and I had all the fears you had about connection and bonding and really feeling like a mom. Now that my little one is 4 and we also have an infant, the fears have subsided. If anyone were to question my motherhood, I’m quite sure my 4 year old would proudly explain who her two moms are and that we are both equally and 100% her parents.

  6. Sitting in a cafe reading this and it brought me to tears, thank you for sharing your story… my son is now 4 and I didn’t think it was going to be as relatable as it was but boy was I wrong! It’s true the connection and bond we have formed is unconditional and there’s never been a moment where I don’t feel like his mom. I feel so fortunate!

  7. Love this! I’m the genetic but nongestational mom to our kid (we did reciprocal IVF, with my egg and spouse’s womb), so we’ve encountered similar but different twists on the “he looks just like you” comment. Also, FYI, a great anthology I’d recommend is “What’s in a Name? Perspectives from Non-Biological and Non-Gestational Queer Mothers,” ed. Emily Regan Wills, Raechel Johns, and Sherri Martin-Baron.

  8. „The most important thing they didn’t tell me was that those fears wouldn’t last forever.“

    They really don’t and how wonderful that is. The before is sometimes scary though and it’s so good to recognize I‘m not alone with this feelings.

    Thank you so much this piece.

  9. Thank you so much for this piece. I am the non-bio mum of two daughters, now aged 6 and 9.

    I definitely don’t feel like this anymore, but I certainly did after our first baby was born. And there was so little written, or that I could find, at the time.

    My absolute favourite book I found was The Other Mother, by Jen Brister. She is a stand up comedian so it is funny, but not without touching on some of the more emotional issues mentioned here.

    It was not out in time for me, but available for any of you still on the journey.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!