Our Family is a series that celebrates two-mommy families and delves into some of the challenges they face. The goal of the series is to depict same-sex parent families in a way that’s authentic and dispels myths associated with same-sex childrearing. Today we talk with Lib, 32, her wife “A”, 26, and their adorable 2-year-old daughter, “Little A”.*
ELIXHER: Tell us a bit about your family.
LIB: “A” and I were married (civil union’d) in July 2007 in New Jersey. “A” had “Little A” using an anonymous donor via a sperm bank. Actually, we were both trying to conceive at the same time, using the same donor (makes for interesting conversation when the FedEx man is delivering a large box that says “biological shipper” on the side). We did inseminations at home and “A” was lucky to get pregnant on the second try! As fate would have it, I have been determined to have unexplained infertility and have been trying off and on for the last 2 and half years to get pregnant. I’m in the midst of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle and we are praying that this works.
ELIXHER: How would you describe your partnership?
LIB: “A” and I balance each other. She’s very detail-oriented, the planner and organizer. I’m more the laid-back one. Even still, we help balance what doesn’t come easy to the other. Right now we are both teaching, “A” having switched from the finance and business world, me having taught for 10 years. We also are both in grad school, so to say our lives are hectic is an understatement.
ELIXHER: How long have you and “A” been together? And how/when did you know it was the “right” time to start a family?
LIB: Officially, we’ve been together for almost 5 years. We spent a year being friends and remained strictly platonic. During that time we became very close. We discussed everything under the sun, including our desires for marriage and family. When we both became single around the same time, it seemed like a natural progression to become engaged, then married and start our family. We joke that we don’t even know how the proposal happened (or who proposed to whom) because it was just understood and known. We were engaged for a year and soon after the marriage, we started researching all the ways to start a family. We knew the time was right when we found a donor and had a plan for conception. It took about a year. We knew we were ready for baby #2 because we both will finish grad school soon and don’t want to be in this area forever. Because NJ is mandated to cover IVF (which isn’t mandated in most states and can cost up to 20K a pop), we knew that we needed to capitalize on this time.
ELIXHER: What was the choosing a donor process like?
LIB: The donor process was tedious. We had to decide between a known donor or anonymous. Legally we don’t have much protection using a known donor because they have rights that an anonymous doesn’t. Also the legal fees associated with trying to set up a contract that may or may not be used in a court of law was more expensive at the time than a year of buying frozen sperm. Then there was the emotional task on a relationship knowing that there’s another person that could technically claim parent status is more than we wanted to deal with. After vetting out and building relationships with a few known donors we ultimately went cryobank route. The complications with that was finding an African American donor that was in great supply and met our other personal criteria. We ended up using a multi-ethnic donor.
ELIXHER: How has the IVF process challenged and strengthened your relationship with one another?
LIB: It’s challenging, especially because we both started trying to conceive together in 2008. “A” got pregnant on the second try and I’m finishing my 3rd year of trying. So our journeys to pregnancy have been completely different. She’s extremely supportive but infertility isn’t something that someone on the outside “gets.” She’s always there to comfort me through my multiple negative pregnancy tests, very early miscarriages, procedures and the like. But ultimately it’s on me to go to my frequent morning monitoring appointments. I’ve seen infertility drive a wedge between couples but it hasn’t for us. I think that we both accept that we’re in it together, though we have different experiences with it. “A” also usually defers to me when it comes to treatment options because she feels like it’s my body that has to go through so much, like injections, appointments, ultrasounds, tons more meds and she doesn’t want to tell me to do something that may seem like an easy choice to her.
ELIXHER: How do you define “family”?
LIB: Family can mean so many things. For us, when we describe family, we’re talking about ourselves and our daughter. We also include the typical definition of those people that share relatives with you. We also consider our close friends as family – the people we trust with our daughter and vice versa, the people who we choose to care about.
“A”: I value my friends over my blood relatives because I know them better and spend more time with them. I’m not as close to my biological family.
ELIXHER: Describe a typical day for you and your family.
LIB: We have 2 – 3 “typical” days, all depending on who has class that evening. In general, “A” leaves the house around 5:45/6:15 to work in NYC. I wake up around then, get “Little A” ready, drop her off at daycare at 7 and rush across town to get to work around 7:15. In the evenings, I leave work at 5:30 to pick up “Little A” from daycare or to meet “A” there. If I have class, she takes “Little A” home and drops me off at the train station. I head into the city and return home around 10 – 10:30. While I was in class, “A” was playing with “Little A,” making dinner, fixing “Little A’s” lunch for the next day, bath, story, and bed. The nights that I don’t have class, I usually entertain “Little A” while “A” does dinner.
We switch off between whatever chores need to be done (laundry, dishes, etc.) and try to squeeze in time for lesson planning, grading, fielding student phone calls. Typically on Thursday or Friday, “A” will stay late at work to get a head start on the next week or to do grad school work. I’ll fix something for dinner and “hold down the fort.” On weekends, “A” has class every other Saturday, so me and “Little A” hang out at home, mostly watching movies, or letting her tear the house up. On Sundays, I go to church and “A” keeps “Little A.” They grocery shop. Or if it’s a Sunday that I take “Little A,” she’ll go to the movies (her alone time while mine is church). Somewhere in there we find time to catch up on DVR shows, eat cookies, and fall asleep on the couch. Tré boring, I know!
ELIXHER: That’s team work right there! What’s your favorite family activity?
LIB: Before having “Little A,” our favorite activity used to be the movies. Having her has totally shifted what we even have time for. We don’t get a lot of opportunity to just “be” together without having something we need to do–chores, work, etc.
“A”: When we lived in the city, I used to love going to the park and going for family walks, although Lib hated it. It was my favorite family activity.
ELIXHER: At what age and how will you explain to “Little A” that some families have two mommies or two daddies?
LIB: “Little A” is only 2 years old, so we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
ELIXHER: What has been the biggest challenge raising children as a lesbian couple?
“A”: Not wanting people to judge your children because you’re a lesbian couple.
LIB: The biggest issue we face, I think, is for people seeing us equally as her parents. They assume that either she was a product of a heterosexual relationship, that the other parent birthed her and is therefore the primary parent. For the most part, people see us as “weird” more because of our parenting choices (cloth diapering, alternative vaccinating, home-made food) than as us as parents. Within our families, it’s been interesting watching them accept us as a legitimate family because they all weren’t supportive of our union to begin with. Somehow, having a kid has legitimized us in their eyes.
ELIXHER: What has been the greatest gift?
“A”: It’s pretty amazing to watch “Little A” get bigger. She never stays in the same stage for very long. It’s like the next day she’s on to something bigger and better, when it seems like a moment ago she was just learning how to walk.
LIB: Being a parent is a true honor for me. It’s rewarding watching her little (big!) personality shine and seeing how absolutely smart she is. It’s the little things, the fact that she finally started calling me “Mama” this past week (as opposed to just speaking to me with no name or calling me “Mommy” because that’s what she calls “A”), seeing her light up when the other parent comes home, watching her budding independence. I really love being a parent.
ELIXHER: What advice do you have for other same-sex couples thinking about starting a family?
LIB: Do your homework! Talk to other lesbian couples, but above all, do your homework! It sounds nice to say that you’re going to find the perfect donor and conceive at home and share eggs, etc., but all of that has pros and cons. There are risks and costs to everything. Don’t assume that a certain location will be gay-friendly because being gay is legally protected. There are trade-offs with everything.
Even though we don’t do that great of a job of it, schedule couple time. It’s so easy to lose yourself in the role of parent, employee, sister, cousin, that you forget you are a wife too. And it’s easy to forget that you were a person before it all. Did I say do your homework already? Don’t assume that every family’s journey will be your own. For example, I never ever expected to have fertility issues because I am in excellent health and have never had any reproductive problems. But here I am.
There will never be a “perfect” time. Aim for the manageable or possible time instead because you’ll be 85 waiting for that perfect time.
“A”: And get mentally prepared for your child being your life for an indefinable time.
*Names have been changed.
Visit Lib’s blog, l.i.b.e.r.a.t.i.o.n. theory, to learn more about her journey.