THE AGES OF PARENTING
Like through periods of history, I can clearly define several Ages in our parenting story. There was the Idea Age, the Medical Age, the Pregnancy Age, and the longest and most complicated one so far, the Parenting Age. Let me take you on an historical journey through these Ages.
THE IDEA AGE – circa 2005 to 2007
When Leonore and I first started to talk about being parents, we were the only lesbians we knew who were interested in being 2 mums. This is partly because of who our friends were, partly because we didn’t open the discussion too readily with other lesbians, and partly because, until then, we hadn’t done any research at all. Our friends were a mix of my old school friends, and Leonore’s new soccer friends. We had recently moved from The Netherlands where Leonore grew up, and where we had spent 2 years living together. And when we arrived in Sydney, Leonore joined a lesbian soccer team, to make new friends. Which she (and we) did.
Our parenting-ideas conversations took two routes. The first was in private with us wondering if it was the right time, how we would get pregnant, who we would ask to be our donor and what it actually involved. We had no idea about any of it. The second was me talking to my old school friends who were already having babies, or who were starting to plan when they were going to get pregnant. I remember clearly and genuinely being excited for them. But I did wonder how it would all happen for us.
After a little while, these conversations expanded to our families, and Leonore’s mum presented an idea to us that we had dismissed earlier. She asked if we had considered Alexander as our donor, Leonore’s younger brother. We said we had, but we thought it was complicated. I remember my face screwing up and thinking that it would be weird…. Our baby’s father would also be its uncle. Complicated. How would the rest of Leonore’s family feel? Would they understand? And how would my own mother feel? How would we talk about him as our donor? What language would we use? Uncle? Donor? Greatest and most generous man in the world?
My brain was overloaded with conflicting ideas about the best way forward. Even talking it out with Leonore didn’t help. She listened to my confusion and took it on herself.
As the confusion around Leonore’s brother being our donor grew in my head I dismissed the idea. Until one day at an afternoon tea with my school friends. There were 3 of them there, and I was cradling the first baby from this friendship group. And I just blurted the idea out, as if the faster I spoke, the less weird it would seem. I said, ‘Leonore’s mum suggested Leonore’s brother to be our donor. It’s weird.’ And when I think back now I realise I was speaking in an apologetic tone, to these women who had seen me through the best and worst of my life. My apologetic tone was also a plea for understanding and kindness from them. They gave it. They gave it in the most honest and genuine way they could; the way in which we had been speaking to each other since we were 12 years old. It was a barrage of ‘That’s a fantastic idea!’, ‘Do it!’, ‘Yes, absolutely ask him’, ‘Why would you think this is a bad idea, are you crazy?’ There were questions about why I was worried about it, and the afternoon soon became about me and my longing to be a mum. It was the first true moment I felt that Leonore and I becoming parents was really, truly a possibility. It was a turning point in my life. They don’t know it (I should probably tell them), but they gave me the courage to talk to Leonore decisively and without waiver, leading to us making a decision that has turned out to be the best one of our lives.
THE MEDICAL AGE – circa 2007 to 2008
The title of Greatest and Most Generous Man in the World is one that we didn’t throw around lightly (or actually ever), until Leonore’s brother said that he would happily and without complication be our donor. He was so easy-going about it all that all we had to do was tell our families, book him a flight from The Netherlands, make arrangements with the Women and Babies department at RPA Hospital and have him donate. Which he did without fuss in July 2007. When he was leaving to fly home to The Netherlands he even gave us a gift to say thanks for having me, which made us both smile and rendered us unable to talk. I mean, the man was giving us the chance to have a family, and he was grateful that he could stay with us for 3 weeks. It seems crazy, but it was a true representation of who he is: unassuming, gentle, happy to help, grateful.
We waited the obligatory quarantine period of 6 months, and when the time for our first insemination came around, we were ready. What we weren’t ready for was month after month of no success. It took us 10 months of going to the hospital at 7.30am for my 4-5 days of ovulating per month, to realise we weren’t going to have success this way. The medical team at the hospital called us in after the 10th month and said, ‘it’s time to see a specialist’. We had multiple tests, lots of appointments and then finally IVF was recommended. It was a relief. At the time, our whole world was about trying to get pregnant. It’s the same for so many hopeful would-be parents. Month after month of failure, becoming more and more engrossed in what your body is doing, the rollercoaster of hope followed by the low, low feelings of not getting pregnant. So for us, IVF was a huge relief. It still didn’t come easy, but after a couple of tries, only one suitable egg, and another long wait, we got the phone call we had been waiting for. We were having a baby!
THE PREGNANCY AGE – 2009
The fact that Leonore’s brother was our donor meant that I was the one who would be pregnant. Both of us felt fine about it at the outset. And now that pregnancy is a distant memory, we feel absolutely fine about it now. At the time however…. I was sick for most of that first pregnancy, and I was a big complainer. I have no doubt I drove Leonore bananas with all the things I was sure I couldn’t do, like find the remote control, cook dinner, generally clean. I got away with so many things that were so unreasonable, but she never let me know it. We were in baby bliss. We both went to every appointment, every scan, every opportunity to find out anything about our little baby. And as our 9 months progressed we got more and more excited, we told family and friends, and were greeted with so much enthusiasm that the rare occasion that someone felt worried about what it meant for a baby to have 2 mums, it didn’t stay with us for long.
My mum was worried that Leonore’s brother might want to be more involved than we had agreed, ‘What if he wants custody?’ was her question. We were able to allay her fears by talking her through the legal side of things that we were required to go through with the Counsellor at RPA Hospital. Leonore, her brother and I had to have counselling before we started the donation process. Leonore and I signed the documents to say that he would have no responsibility for the baby (legal, financial etc), and he signed that he would not have any parental rights to the baby (decision making, guardianship etc). This process worked for three of us, and it seemed to calm my mum’s fears. The only other concerned party was Leonore’s aunt in The Netherlands who voiced, at a family gathering in their home town (we weren’t there), that she was worried about Leonore’s brother and what kind of impact this would have on him. And again, it took an open and honest conversation between Leonore’s brother, her aunt, Leonore’s parents and sister to put her concerns to rest.
At 6 months pregnant I declared that I didn’t want to work much longer, and as I was doing contract work, I was able to tell my employer and be finished with work within just a couple of weeks. And then the real wait began. Happily, Leonore’s brother, mother, father and her 83 year old grandmother flew over from The Netherlands a couple of weeks prior to the birth. It was such an exciting time, and we were delighted that our little baby was already bringing so much joy to the people we loved.
THE PARENTING AGE – 2009 to present day
Our baby boy, Sebastian Alexander was born on 28 October 2009. He was beautiful and perfect and threw us into that parenting storm of first baby, no idea what we’re doing and sleep deprivation, that all new parents face. There were tears from him and us while we got to know each other. It was all so foreign and strange. And then weeks passed, and life got a little easier. Months passed and the three of us knew each other so intimately that things began to make sense. We learned sleep signs and sleep rhythms, feeding times, breast feeding, food transitions, nappies, play time, visits with friends and family, out to cafes, first babysitters and life. We faced some questions that, in the beginning, made us uncomfortable, such as ‘Who does he belong to?’, but we soon found our stride and easily responded with answers like, ‘Both of us.’
Our baby girl, Juliette Antonia was born on 5 August 2011. She was a strong headed little one right from the beginning, never wanting to take the bottle, only the breast for 7 months. She challenged us in the way that any second child challenges a family… an intruder to our threesome! But within about a week, Sebastian proved that he would be gentle and loving towards her. At 22 months, he was finding toys and bringing them to her, lying next to her on her rug, showing her what he was playing with. Neither of them, or us, knew that his kindness and her response would be the foundation of their sibling relationship. Leonore and I, through completely biased eyes watched them grow into the kind-hearted 7 year old and strong-willed 5 year old they are today.
For now, we feel proud of ourselves for taking such a studied and consistent approach to parenting. We talk about them often and figure out together what the best course of action is as their needs, behaviour and environment change. We have made very specific choices for our family because we know that at one point it may be challenging for them to have 2 mums. One of the biggest choices we made was to move to Summer Hill in Sydney’s Inner West. We were able to afford a small house with a decent backyard in this neighbourhood which made sense to us over a bigger house in a different neighbourhood. Summer Hill suits us because the people here are diverse – all types of people with all types of families. All ethnic backgrounds, sexualities, ages, wealth, religion, singles, couples, parents, big and small families, all types of families, all types of love.
For the future, I suppose I worry that the kids have enough male role models in their lives. I wonder what will happen when someone asks them why they have 2 mums. I wonder about the time when one of them asks how babies are made and I hope we can answer proudly and tell them about the Greatest and Most Generous Man in the World, their uncle Alexander. I wonder if having 2 mums will be difficult for them because it’s something different. I hope the friends they make stand by them when they are grappling with our family being different. I hope that being a little bit different gives them empathy for anyone else who may seem different.
And I truly hope that Leonore and I are demonstrating the kind of relationship that shows them that love is love, in whatever form it takes.
Photographs care of Death To Stock