Arriving at a campsite recently I went to reception to book us a pitch: ‘2 adults, a dog and a baby under 1 please’. When it was all sorted the lady, opening the gate for the van, said, ‘Ok, tell him to drive down’. By him, of course, she meant my assumed male partner and must-be father to the aforementioned under-1. I didn’t mind or correct her (perhaps others would); as a gay parent it’s the sort of common and innocent misconception that happens a lot.
And in some ways I object to the title ‘gay parent’ anyway, in the same way that when we got married I objected to the idea that it was a ‘gay marriage’. The marked term suggests a deviation from the norm but I don’t see it like that: we are a married couple and now we are parents. Parenting happens in all sorts of ways nowadays and I have found it a very levelling experience to become one. All parents are parents, right? That said, I do also feel very proud to be part of a growing community of same sex parents. And so perhaps there’s a constant conflict there: the same or different?
After my wife and I found out we were pregnant, things, fortunately, went very smoothly. We tried to remain calm and pragmatic throughout and were hesitant early on to talk about the future baby without saying ‘hopefully, fingers crossed, maybe’. But things progressed well and the maybe became more and more real. It’s absolutely true that each pregnancy is different so we did our best to enjoy it and to prepare. We said yes to all offers of hand me downs (brilliant!), tried to get the house renovations finished in time and bought the usual stock of beige or light grey baby grows. Occasionally yellow, to keep it interesting.
Towards the end of the pregnancy we found out the baby was breach: it had been a head in the ribs, not feet after all. We knew that Stace would need a C-section as a result which actually we felt quite positive about after an initial feeling of uncertainty. Gone were all the worries about going overdue, not knowing when it would happen, the hospital car park…we’d have a date and it would all be planned. Hoorah! How fleeting that plan would turn out to be.
Baby A arrived almost a full month early! On a Friday, excited about the weekend, tired of missing out on all the outside-the-womb fun. Quite the surprise: a mad dash up the M5 and a comedy-sketch-worthy packing of the hospital bag later (it was on our to-do list for the weekend!) we found ourselves at the hospital wearing gowns and scrubs about to welcome our tiny human into the world. I made a bet with the anaesthetist that it was a girl and lost a tenner but gained a son. Incredible!
I suppose the most obvious difference for same sex parents is that one parent is not biologically linked to the child. I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t ever worried that I would feel a disconnection but the moment I saw him, held him, looked him in the eye any anxiety I had melted away. I said a quiet thank you to the donor after he was born: he exists thanks to the altruism of someone we’re unlikely ever to know. But he was, undoubtedly, my son. Our son.
Ok, so I don’t get the joy of looking at him and being able to say, ‘oh look he’s got my legs/eyes/ears’, but he’s totally gorgeous (and I’m not just saying that) so he’s probably better off!
Another difference for same sex parents is one of titles. For the majority of parents mum and dad (or similar) is logical and easy. But what do you call yourself if you’re two of the same? Is mum and mum confusing? Is there a big one and a little one? Do you have a useful Spanish connection so you can be mamma? There’s no right answer! What fun! We tried out various options and settled eventually on Mummy and Mimmy. My sister and I had called our mum Mim for sometime so it seemed a nice link. And mostly I am happy with the decision. I say mostly because it does require constant explaining. And it’s different. A good thing and a bad thing sometimes.
Good because it’s original and works for us. Although time will tell if our little man will find Mummy and Mimmy hard to manage (we get muddled ourselves still!)
Bad because people don’t know I’m Mimmy until I tell them (which I don’t sometimes for ease) so it can feel like a private title. And, as Stace discovered after our first round of Christmas/birthday/mother’s day, it’s always going to require home-made cards. No Mimmy cards for a quick supermarket buy; thank goodness there’s Moonpig!
We also chose to change our surnames and merge them rather than double barrel. So the combination of made up names, for me, felt odd initially. But now that they’re bedding in and getting more familiar I am pleased that we decided to forge our own path. Have a go- it’s good fun!
In terms of making things up, parenting roles offers a fine opportunity for same sex couples too. No boy jobs and girls jobs round here. No daddy-day-care or mummy cuddles (well, there ARE mummy cuddles, but you know what I mean!). There’s a chance for a change of perspective. I should say that any parenting partnership has the same opportunity too, but in most cases I guess it’s easiest to fit into the parent-mould that society has prepared. I wonder if it’s like comfy slippers and there’s a bit more wearing-in to be done for same-sex parents?
That said, the non-birth mother will likely find themselves inhabiting the typical ‘dad’ role to a certain extent because there is the unavoidable reality of a biological connection between mother and baby. We use the name Team Umbilical in our house because there is absolutely a link there (strengthened by breastfeeding too in our case) which I’m not left out of because I’m another mum, but simply because I didn’t grow him. Anyway, me and the dog have our own team and it’s way cooler!
Overall, we have tried hard to approach things with equality and, although it largely goes swimmingly, we have, at times, found that challenging. But I doubt that’s a gay parent thing. More likely just a parent thing these days.
I’d love to hear about other same-sex set ups to hear whether there is a difference in male and females because we have both felt very strongly ‘maternal’ feelings and I wonder whether that is always the case or not?
One thing I am thrilled we chose to do was to share parental leave, something open to all couples but considered far less (in my small-scale research!) by men. We split the paid 9 months so that Stace had 6 months off and I had 3; a wonderful choice that resulted in a bonding and an understanding that I think would have taken much longer without doing so. It really was more challenging than I imagined being the stay-at-home parent! This was another opportunity for testing out the matter of household equality: now there were two ways to pack the swimming bag and both were valid!!
What I’m trying to get at is that, in my own experience, ‘gay parenting’ is both the same and different. And as obvious as that seems maybe it’s difficult to pick apart much further? As many times as I have celebrated that all parents are the same, I have identified a way that we have approached something that feels entirely not the same.
I started this blog entry a long time before I finished it because I felt like I was being inarticulate about the topic (maybe I am). And so here is the ribbon being cut on the conversation…what’s (gay) parenting like for you?