10 truths I’ve learned as a married queer femme mother
I turned 40 this year, which has made me quite reflective about my time here so far on earth, as well as the world around me. I find myself gazing at my children’s faces for longer lengths of times when I am speaking with them, noticing just how long their lashes really are, how the roundness is slowly shifting into angles on their cheeks and chins, and how their eyes burst into galaxies of expression as they learn more about the universe in which we dwell. Being a mom is one of my many roles as a person, and it’s more than a hat I wear because as a mother, I’m always on duty. All parents are always on duty, whether they’ve clocked in or not. I take showing up seriously. My young twin sons need me and their mama, and it’s an honor and a gift to be there for them in all our capacities. Since we had them nearly eight years ago, I’ve learned a lot about myself, them, my partner, and some universal truths about queer parenting.
THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS NORMAL
No matter what kind of angle you’re going for in life, what story you’ve told yourself is the ideal way to be, there’s no way you’re going to be like everyone else. And that’s OK. We all have our own experiences, communities, beliefs, values and behaviors. Some of them are ones we need to work on improving upon, sure. And it’s likely we’re going to have a lot in common with a lot of people, but no two families are alike. How someone else does family is not necessarily how you’ll do family. Comparison is the thief of joy.
KIDS DO NOT NEED ONE MOTHER AND ONE FATHER
What a kid needs is love, safety and acceptance. Whether that comes from one, two or more parents or a blessed caregiver, the heart of the matter is loving kindness. A warm embrace for hugging, a sturdy roof that doesn’t leak and can shield from the elements, enough money that there is a steady supply of food, hands that do not hurt, mouths that speak of encouragement and selflessness, and a heart as deep as the ocean with endless compassion. Masculine and feminine energies come in many forms, and you will help your child find and learn everything they need to know about becoming a spectacular human. Trust in your own abilities to foster relationships and connections for your child to learn from other people who share in your belief system. Build your community for your child.
MAKING A BABY IS HARD WORK
Sperm and/or eggs aren’t always easy to come by when you’re a queer person TTC (trying to conceive). First, there’s the matter of money. It costs an extraordinary amount of money to buy sperm—and eggs are much more expensive because you’re also usually having to rent the womb too. And that womb is attached to another human whose time and medical expenses you must pay for and whose character you need to feel pretty good about. That’s no small feat. If you or your partner is going to be carrying the baby, there’s the matter of being healthy enough to get pregnant and then also healthy enough to carry the baby. And then, if you are healthy enough, that doesn’t automatically qualify you in the luck factor of actually getting pregnant and staying pregnant. These are all huge obstacles to overcome while trying to become a parent.
Each hurdle passed in becoming and being a parent is worth a victorious end-zone happy dance. When you find the perfect sperm or egg donor, throw those hands in the air. Got through insemination or egg retrieval or transfer? Take a long nap or get a massage. Better yet, give each other a massage or get a couple’s massage and then take a snuggly nap together. Gotten approved to be a foster parent? That calls for an ice cream sundae. Scored a positive pregnancy test? It’s (probably) safe to jump up and down! Every healthy check-up is worth a celebration: play your favorite song while you dance it out in the kitchen, take an extra long walk, make yourself a delicious pregnancy-safe treat, binge on Netflix, or whatever else floats your boat. Because when that baby comes, time for you vanishes. It will feel like you are no longer you. And you will gladly give yourself and your time (though it’s completely OK to feel rage and resentment at everyone including that button-nosed angel for stealing your sleep, your money for massages and even your walking time that has to be cut short for wailing, wet diapers and reasons you cannot even imagine).
When that baby who you worked so hard to bring into this world miraculously does not cry all night and actually sleeps long enough for you to sleep, celebrate that gift with sleep. When your two-year-old is kind to a kid who is feeling sad, it’s really OK to pat yourself on the back for raising a decent human. There will be moments on repeat throughout parenthood that make you want to rip out your hair and head for the hills. But through it all there will also be milk-breath kisses, sticky fingers reaching for yours to hold, eyes looking at you for approval, a head laid on your chest where there’s safety, buckets of belly-shaking laughter, attention paid to wisdom learned from you and kindness spread while your little heart wanders and adventures and learns. It’s all worth celebrating.
YOU WILL DOUBT YOURSELF
Mom guilt. Dad guilt. Nonbinary parental shame. We all feel it. You cannot avoid it if you have any hopes and dreams for your pregnancy, surrogacy, adoption, fostering: parenting. Because guess what? We don’t get everything we want, and we’re going to let ourselves down. At some point or another, you’ll not do the very thing you hoped to do in some critical moment. Or you’ll see some other parent doing something far better than you’re doing it. And maybe it’s true, and you could step it up. But probably what’s really (also) true is that you’re doing a really good job, and you need to give yourself a break. Strive to set down the guilt and start the next day better than yesterday. Learn from your mistakes and move on. Feeling doubtful, ashamed and guilty for not being superhuman helps no one.
YOU WILL FEEL EXCLUDED AT TIMES
Trying to get pregnant, adopt a child or raise a child? Say hello to mountains of heteronormative paperwork. From insurance companies to medical offices to sperm banks to pediatricians to schools and the PTA, nearly everyone is going to have those two lines for you to see and subsequently either rage or feel somehow less than: father’s name and mother’s name. Eventually you might become like me and scratch through them with a capital MOTHER where father used to be and then take it further like me and write in the margins SOMEONE NEEDS TO CHANGE THESE FORMS FOR ALL PARENTS! But maybe that’s not you, and that’s OK too. We’ll change the world together in all the ways that we can to accept queer parents, nonbinary parents, trans parents, two moms and two dads. It won’t happen overnight, but it is happening. When you feel safe to do so, suggest to the doctors, nurses, front-desk folks, teachers and principals that it will be a more inclusive environment for all of us if we can start to refer to parents as parents, not “mom and dad.” It teaches a message of inclusivity for families outside of LGBTQ+ people, and that’s a lesson (most) everyone can get behind.
PEOPLE WILL SAY STUPID THINGS TO YOU
I’ve been out in some semblance or another for 22 years. But the most idiotic things said to me in regard to my queerness or my family came after my partner and I started the journey to become parents. Most recently, a man who’d I’d just met and simultaneously learned in our very first conversation ever that I am married to a woman and that we have two sons, felt the sudden need to wonder aloud how our children would ever learn to change a tire on a car. (Answer: my incredibly butch and capable wife will teach them that and much more.) A relative upon seeing our autistic son act out in an emotional tantrum asked what we were doing in terms of having a man in our sons’ lives, as if my wife isn’t masculine enough or neither of us are tough enough to discipline our children. And as if autism is best dealt with a firm hand, but that’s another essay. The first question following many strangers’ discovery that I’m a married lesbian with children is nearly always one of curiosity upon how lesbians get pregnant. I understand the mystery, truly. But the way and manner in which these questions get pelted out with hardly any semblance of respect of privacy and society’s exclusion of our families in both laws and paperwork, there are gentler ways to get answers. Family, friends and strangers will say something idiotic to you. And it may hurt your feelings. Try to remember they probably don’t know any better and assume their good intentions. Gently correct them when you feel safe and guided to do so. Or scream. Sometimes a good scream can feel good too.
RESIST TOKENISM, FIGHT FOR INCLUSION
This will be a tough juxtaposition to navigate. Some people will love having gay friends who just had a kid because it shows just how [insert hip word for cool that people who aren’t yet 40 use] they are. It will be their badge of honor to say that their kid’s friend has two dads or two moms or a trans dad. This might feel good or it might not. Be aware of your feelings here. Things might get murkier when you get the feeling you’re on display at birthday parties or school functions as the two-mom family. It’s hard to acknowledge these feelings when you’re so grateful to even have your family accepted as a family in the first place. But once you’ve gotten past the boundary of being seen as a family, then it’s time to urge your friends and acquaintances to also be allies for you and your family, to pony up with their voice for equality—whether that’s policies at your church, school or activity center or laws in your county, city, state or country. Laws that support “religious freedoms” hurt families like ours because we can be denied services—including life-saving medical treatments—simply for being LGBTQ+.
ALWAYS CARRY YOUR PAPERWORK
My spouse and I live in the south. We were married in Georgia before it was legally recognized. We reject the term “commitment ceremony.” We had a wedding and we got married. After our marriage in Georgia, I had to go before a judge and make a case for changing my last name to hers. I had to pay to run an ad in a newspaper for four weeks before the judge would say OK to this request. Once we were both Palladinos, we hired a lawyer to create advance health care directives, which stated with absolute clarity how we each wanted to be treated in the event of a serious health crisis or death. These directives explicitly outline that our spouses have full authority over these decisions. We had to do this because we do not live in a nation of full acceptance of LGBTQ+ people. Even though this was pre-federal marriage equality, which passed June 26, 2015, there are still areas we have to be afraid of traveling through. If either of us or our children needed medical care, our family status would be questioned.
Maria and I both are full and equal legal parents of our children. We are legal spouses (thanks to a second wedding in New York). We have legal protections to speak for each other and to be in the room for the treatment and care for one another and our children. We cannot legally be denied. But people will deny us and they’ll continue to try. Expect to be denied and always carry your paperwork. Keep copies of your advance health care directives and adoption papers in your car. Take them when you travel, especially overseas. Keep your lawyer’s phone number in your cell in case you are caught without them and they need to be faxed in case of an emergency. We are not fully safe yet. Stay prepared.
We are incredible unicorns. Different is OK. Rainbows are beautiful. We have much to teach the world with our differences, our sameness, our struggles and our happiness. We deserve all the joy and loving kindness as our fellow cisgender heterosexual neighbors and their nuclear families do. Our children are looking to us as examples of how to navigate the world, how we respond to injustices and how we stand up for ourselves and other people who struggle to be accepted as well. Our LGBTQ+ elders have fought with blood, tears and their lives for us to be where we are. If it’s safe to be out, be out. But don’t let anyone steal your pride for being exactly who you’re supposed to be. You’re carrying a message for the rest of us. Shine on and live your beautiful truth.
Kirsten Ott Palladino
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