Heidi + Rachel: Two Moms, Three Kids, a Daddy and a Papi
Rachel and Heidi, a devoted lesbian couple who has been together for 13 years and married for 10, are moms to Zeke, 5, Baylor, 3, and Opal, almost 2. The two-mom family makes their home in Athens, Georgia, where Rachel works full-time as an attorney, and Heidi, a creative spirit who has made headlines with her music as lead singer for the Heidi Hensley Band, as well as her painting, now focuses on managing the day-to-day needs of their growing brood.
Q What inspired you to become parents?
A Heidi: As a lesbian, I didn’t see being a parent as a reality. I have always loved children, and when my sister had her first child, my biological clock exploded! I was two years away from thirty and had an overwhelming desire to “birth” a child. I wanted to have a family with Rachel. I wanted big family dinners, and little lives to love, and nurture. Rachel had always wanted a child. It was a lifelong dream for her, and her sexuality was never a question as to whether or not she would make that dream reality.
What method(s) did you use to have your children?
After considering several options, we went to Heidi’s 10-year high-school reunion where she reunited with her childhood boyfriend Keith and we spent time with him and his partner John. Both couples fell in love with one another and we decided to ask Keith to biologically father a child. We went up to Washington, D.C., where they live and had a wonderful weekend (albeit intense at times) discussing bringing a child into the world together. We didn’t have all the answers and couldn’t predict the future, but vowed to continue to love and respect each other as couples and always keep our children first. After that, we visited D.C. again when the time was right and inseminated at home.
How much did the entire process cost? Was it what you expected?
The insemination process cost us nothing but plane tickets to D.C., because we inseminated at home, using a small open-ended syringe with a small catheter on the end. All parties expected that we would continue this process for a while and possibly have to travel between D.C. and Athens many times – no one expected Heidi to get pregnant on the first try!
What was the journey like for each of you?
The thought of having the responsibility of another life was so overwhelming to me (Heidi). Exciting but overwhelming. I was worried I couldn’t even get pregnant. Our timing was terrible! Rachel was finishing Law school, and studying for the bar, and was not the most “available” partner. But I knew in my heart that I needed to have a child, immediately. It was hard. Rachel was away a lot, we were both working hard to just make ends meet, and my hormones were raging! Not to mention I was extremely stressed about how my family was reacting to the news. They wanted and expected me to “do the right thing” and raise this child on my own. I was also given the guilt trip of being selfish to want to bring a child into such a “hard” situation. This was not easy to hear coming from people I loved. But with Rachel’s support and the overwhelming support of her family – I managed to see the joy in my pregnancy, and miracle that we were about to meet.
What was your biggest concern before becoming parents?
Heidi: I had the concerns – would the child be healthy, etc. – but as a lesbian coming from a non-accepting, southern Baptist family, I worried about how my family would accept the child. I really felt that they would love him or her, but I never wanted my children to feel judged for coming into a “gay family.” Rachel: When Heidi became pregnant with our first child, I was finishing up law school and then studying for and taking the bar exam, as well as looking for a job. I don’t think I’ve ever been so stressed out in my life. But once we knew our baby boy was healthy and everything was good, I can honestly say I had very little concerns about becoming a parent – and no concerns once I passed the bar and found a job! I did worry about Heidi and how her situation with her family would affect her both during her pregnancy and once our child was here.
What was that moment like, meeting each of your children for the first time?
Heidi: It’s interesting how I felt differently meeting each child for the first time. When my first was born – Zeke – I remember feeling a little panic. His big blue eyes looking at me, trusting me – “I’m here Mama, it’s up to you to take care of me now”. Love is not even a big enough word to express how I felt about him. I wouldn’t let him leave my side. When Baylor came, I was a little more confident. Equally in love (even though I worried I couldn’t love another child as much as my first) and he immediately gave me a sense of peace. I love that I had the chance to be on the other side of birth with our daughter Opal. I worried so much for Rachel during her pregnancy and delivery. Our midwife literally let me deliver Opal. I held her in her first seconds in the world and instantly felt a connection to our daughter. I couldn’t stop smiling – this extension of the woman I love so much. I started singing to her and she hasn’t let me stop since.
Now that you are parents, what’s your biggest concern?
Our biggest concern is how we guide them to grow and become loving, kind, compassionate, open-minded human beings.
And how do you address that concern?
We try to lead by our own example, but we are not perfect. When we fall short of living up to what we wish from them, we are honest with them. We try to learn from each other, and talk as a family about how we should deal with all issues that arise.
What’s a typical Saturday like for your family?
Busy, busy and busy! We are an on-the-go family! Our oldest often wakes up on a Saturday morning and asks immediately, what are we doing today? We spend a lot of time with our friends and their children, and are always on UGA’s campus for home football games. We also travel a lot between Rachel’s family in Albany, Georgia, Daddy and Papi (Keith and John, their dads) in D.C., and the mountains of Ellijay, Georgia, to visit more grandparents.
Tell us about yourselves and your children.
There are definitely roles between Mama (Heidi) and Mommy (Rachel). I (Heidi) stay at home with the kids and fill the role of meal maker, clothes washer, taxi driver, muppet (because being an artist – I’m always dragging them into some music video I’m making, or making them turn toy-pick-up into a one-act play). Rachel is “fun mommy.” The more serious parent who comes home from work at 5, cuddles on the couch and watches TV. She is less of a disciplinarian than I am, which makes her the more desired parent at the end of a crazy day. Zeke is our intellect with a big heart. He came out super smart: inquisitive and loving. He is a five-year-old who loves shoes more than a new toy, and can talk his way out of anything. Baylor is our gentle giant. He is stocky and a bulldozer. Very athletic and the kid who put a bucket on his head on the play ground just to make all the other moms laugh. He is a lover, and thinks that his older brother is god. You can tell Opal is wise. She is a watcher, and very alert and smart for her age. She also knows how to manipulate at a very, very young age. Though the jury is technically still out on Opal – I’m predicting her to be our sneaky genius: she has a devious glint in her eye, just like her biological mom.
What do your children call each of you?
We are called Mama (Heidi) and Mommy (Rachel) – and they call Keith (daddy) and John (Papi)
Tell us about your children’s relationship with your own families. Is there one?
Rachel: Both of our families adore the children. My family has always been extremely accepting of our family, both before and after children. But our children are the first nephews and niece, the first grandchildren and the first great-grandchildren on my side so they are loved and spoiled beyond belief. On Heidi’s side, things are more complicated; there is not acceptance of a “family” but they show the children love and we take the issues as they come day by day. Keith’s family is also involved – so they have a third set of grandparents and another aunt, uncle and three cousins who we see as often as we can.
How has your relationship changed since starting on the journey to become parents — and then realizing that dream?
Heidi: Where is the intimacy?! As I write this, Rachel is punching me, but it’s true. Gay, straight, etc. when children come along you have to fight for your time with each other. We do fight for it, and have to make “dates” for one another. But even through the struggles we openly talk about how we wouldn’t change our lives for a second. For me, having children has made me so much stronger in myself, and made us stronger as a couple. We have had challenges. Challenges with extended family, second-parent adoption, school situations – and we have bound together and found ways to fight through all of it. We love having a family and cannot wait for each day that we get to spend with each other.
Are you planning on sharing your children’s origin story with them and how much will you disclose?
We have been honest from the beginning with our children, and will continue to explain more as we feel it is age appropriate. But the bottom line is that they have two moms – and they also have a daddy and papi – and we decided together to bring them into the world.
How has where you live affected your ability and decision to have children?
We are lucky in that Athens is somewhat a “bubble” for LGBT families. We send our kids to preschool with kids from all types of families and have had no acceptance problems. We know that our surrounding counties don’t necessarily feel the same, and feel fortunate, but we do live in the south, and are constantly aware of our surroundings.
What’s your advice for other LGBTQ singles and couples in the process of becoming parents?
Do it! Love makes a child, not sexuality. Kids that have healthy happy loving homes end up happy and healthy.
To have your family considered for a Real Families feature, email us at hello (at) equallywed (dot) com.
Photos courtesy of the Hensley-Williams family
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