Today, while spending time with my same sex partner and our one year old daughter in a clothing store the sales attendant approached us. She cooed over our baby, which I love because I happen to think my baby is THE MOST AWESOME BABY THAT EVER BABIED. I’m a very proud mumma bear, and talking about how awesome my family is happens to be one of my favourite topics of conversation.
We made small talk about the clothing I was trying on and I mentioned that I was trying to find some new things for my wardrobe as nothing from before I was pregnant fits right anymore. In saying this I had inadvertently given her an in to start asking the 100 burning questions she has obviously harboured her entire life about how two women make a baby.
You know this conversation is about to start because most of the time it starts with a sentence along the lines of “So, I know this is a personal question but…”. As if somehow prefacing it with this absolves you from any wrongdoing when asking a perfect stranger to answer very detailed questions about their vagina. This whole acknowledgement that it is a personal matter is never given in a way that is permitting us to actually opt out of the conversation, there is no pause to see if you can push ahead. Just an acknowledgement that you know what you are about to ask is considered invasive, and are going to go ahead and do it anyway. If you’re a straight woman and have never actually been on the receiving end of these sorts of questions, but would like to have a taste of how awkward being put in this situation makes you feel try this. The next time you meet someone new find a way to work the words cervix, sperm, catheter, vagina and uterus into your first conversation with them. I’ll leave it up to you how you want to work these words into the conversation. Heck, you can even communicate these things to them in interpretative dance if it floats your boat. But I guarantee you this, by the end of it you and probably everyone else around you will be feeling pretty awkward.
Sometimes people don’t bother with the “I know this is personal but..” line. The burning questions just seem to all tumble out of their mouths the moment they meet you and realise that you have managed to pull off the impossible feat of two women making a baby. Surely, we won’t mind answering these questions because we seem so friendly and approachable. Except the thing is, you are not the first person to ask us this question. There are times where people have asked us ‘how did we make our baby’ upon meeting us and they are literally the third person in the last half an hour to do so. The thing is, for us and many lesbian mums the problem isn’t that we don’t want to talk about how we made our families or we are ashamed. The issue is, we may not want to talk about them with the postman, or the lady at the clothing store, or the girl who just made me a sandwich at Subway. This is shit is personal, as you most accurately acknowledged before you accosted us with your barrage of questions. The very nature of personal information is that the holder of such information should be the one who chooses to share this with who they want to share it with, when they want to share it.
So without any further delay here is my list of things you really need to stop asking lesbian mums.
- So how did you make your baby?
This is usually the first question in a long list of invasive questions that follow. If I have just met you, chances are that I don’t want to have a conversation with you; usually in a public space; that involves me having to talk about my vagina and sperm. How often does a stranger put you in the situation where you need to use these words in conversation upon first meeting them? I get it, two women can’t make a baby alone. You’re exceedingly curious as to how we pulled that little bit of magic off. But the thing is, there are many ways a lesbian couple to make a baby, so sharing our story with you certainly won’t make you any less curious about the next lesbian family you run into and save them from the same intrusive questions you have asked us. If I thought it would I would take one for the team. If you’re really that interested to know how two women make a baby just Google it. This amazing thing called Google is literally in your pocket or handbag at all times. It is so much quicker and easier than having to wait until you stumble upon a lesbian family to find out the answers to your burning questions.
- (Said to the non carrying mother) So aren’t you maternal/don’t you want any babies of your own?
So the problem with this question is that the way it is phrased makes it pretty clear that in your opinion the non carrying mother is somehow less of a mother than the one who carried. This is not only rude but incredibly hurtful. When you’re elbow deep in shitty nappies, enduring sleepless nights and teething, have shin splints and backache from spending hours wearing the baby when she won’t sleep you feel like a mum. My partner was the first to hold our daughter, she would get up during the nights with her when she was small, spend hours pacing the room with a screaming newborn with reflux who wouldn’t sleep anywhere but on us for months. She was there with her for her first vaccination (and all of them since), every health nurse appointment, every bedtime and dinner time. She starts her day at 4.30am so she can be home in time for our daughter’s dinner and bedtime. Our daughter’s face lights up when she comes home. She makes her laugh more than anyone (I still can’t tickle her ‘right’). She has been holding and playing with our daughter for the last half an hour in your store while I try on clothing, while I have literally not even touched the child once. Yet you have the nerve to ask her if she just isn’t maternal? Or doesn’t she want her own baby? She is maternal and she already has her own baby. Seriously stop with this question. Just no.
- What about the dad? What is he like, does he keep in touch with her, can she know him? What does he look like, does she look like him, what does he do, why did he donate his sperm to you?
Your first mistake was using the term dad. A lot of people are not familiar with terminology generally used for this situation, so under a lot of circumstances I am happy to just correct them and say we use the term ‘donor’ and move on. Except, by this point you have already become a stranger who has way overstepped the line with your questioning and have already got me off side by asking some pretty judgmental and rude questions. So I am even less inclined to want to be patient with you when you get this one wrong. Most lesbian couples will refer to the sperm donor as ‘donor’ rather than dad. It’s usually not taken with too many hard feelings if you get it wrong the first time, but if you are corrected on it and still continue to use the term father/dad when referring to the sperm donor it can feel quite disrespectful. Don’t think this is important? Would you feel ok if I started referring to your husband and children’s father as their sperm donor? No, why is that? Because it’s a completely different you say? Yeah, exactly.
Secondly, if you are so curious about what motivates a sperm donor to be a sperm donor perhaps you should be asking them that instead of me. Or do some research. There are some interesting documentaries about. As far as the questions regarding the ‘Will she know him’ they sound as though you just can’t get your head around the idea that the donor is not her parent and does not play a roll in her life. But yes, believe it or not we actually spent a lot of time choosing a donor who we liked and who we are confident will be available to answer any of our daughter’s questions as she grows. We chose a known donor for this very reason. Perhaps you should trust that we actually have our daughter’s best interests in mind, and that your input as a stranger concerned for her upbringing and future questions regarding her origins isn’t actually something we haven’t considered at length ourselves prior to this enlightening conversation with you Miss/Mr Stranger in the shops.
- Are you both called mum don’t you worry that she will get confused?
So before I continue with my pissy rant let me stop and say that the first part of this question can be ok. Asking the names our daughter has for us isn’t in itself disrespectful or rude if you leave it there. It can be nice if you take the time to get to know what our daughter calls us, particularly if you are wanting to interact with her and us more in the future. The problem is the part that comes after, with the ‘aren’t you worried she will get confused’. You know what, she’s a pretty bright kid so no, I’m not worried. And I’m not stupid enough for the implication of this question to be lost on me that ‘having two mums is confusing and unnatural’.
Do you want to know what I worry about? I worry about the impact witnessing these sorts of conversations will have on my daughter growing up. I worry about strangers who say in front of her that her other mother isn’t a real mother to her and how that will make her feel. I worry about the way these people just seem to look right through her and past her. Like all the amazing little things she does just go unnoticed. That they didn’t really come over to admire her cheeky smile, or her gorgeous laugh and zest for life. I worry she will feel that to some people she is nothing more than a curiosity. That she will grow up knowing what it is to feel her stomach sink when a stranger approaches her and begins to say “I know this is personal but…”. To have to choose between providing them with the information they demand and hoping that when they have what they want they will stop and leave you be because they never really wanted to know you to begin with, and once they have milked you of your information you are no longer interesting and have served your purpose.
Or choosing to decline to answer the barrage of inappropriate questions, starting first with a light hearted deflection, followed by a more stern “I’m not comfortable talking about that” or “It’s not any of your business” when they don’t take the hint. It sounds easy in theory to shut these things down. The calculations going on in your head while you’re having these conversations and think about ways to just make it stop. But then the worry, can I afford to upset this person? Do I want to have to drive an extra ten minutes to the next shop over when I want to buy a litre of milk because I offended the checkout lady when I didn’t answer her questions. If I upset this nurse by answering with yes that is too personal, how unpleasant will things be for me during the next eight hours as her patient. Will I still be given as many shifts at work if I get on my employer’s bad side by refusing to answer. All these repercussions for choosing to decline answering these questions often seem too difficult to deal with so instead we begrudgingly go along for the ride. Close our eyes and think of England as we answer the same old questions time and again, doing our best to tune out the underlying judgements and assumptions in the tone of them.
Here’s the thing, if you actually took the time to get to know me, put the effort into befriending me I can guarantee you that at some point I would open up and tell you about our journey to conceiving our daughter and of parenthood. It’s actually a great story, and one I enjoy sharing very much. The problem is I don’t know you, and the information on how I created my family isn’t yours to demand. It is not my duty to bare my soul to you in order to educate you. I am just trying to live my life which I guarantee you is really just as boring and uneventful as yours once you get past the interesting ‘gay factor’.
If you want to talk to us that is great. There are a million things we can chat about that don’t involve my uterus and how a baby got in it. Our daughter started walking four days ago, we bought her first pair of shoes today right before we came into your shop. Ask me about that. Ask me about teething. Ask me about sleepless nights, the endless love, the temper tantrums, the constant juggling act that is motherhood.