When you’re a gay mum, every day is an outing. I’ve referred to this in the past but now that I’m thinking about it, it feels worthy of a post to itself.
Before I had children my colleagues didn’t even know that I was dating a woman. When I announced my pregnancy with a picture of the ultrasound and an email announcing that Josephine-dog was going to be a big sister, they thought that I was adopting two puppies. One of my bosses clearly assumed that it was an accidental pregnancy and almost fell over himself trying to make sure that I was alright with the news that in seven months’ time, my life was going to be taken over by not one but two babies.
I think that they were all rather surprised to be told that yes, I was indeed expecting two human babies and that the pregnancy had been meticulously planned and engineered by IVF. And why. So that was one outing. There was another when we hired my maternity cover and she asked whether my husband was excited. Another with the lady who waters the office plants every week. Another with the chap who delivers our post. In case anybody wasn’t aware by the time that the twins arrived, I circulated a picture of the whole happy family with the email announcement that they were here. It was a relief when everybody knew. But then new people joined, and a new series of announcements had to be made.
When it comes to people with whom I interact frequently it makes sense to tell them about my unconventional family dynamic. It would be weird not to when natural conversation dictates that I refer to my partner and the mother of my children. And then the ‘outing’ is over with and that person will never need to be told again. But what should I do with people whom I do see often but not closely? The lady at the private couriering company that we use for sending tracked mail, for example. She saw me weekly throughout my pregnancy but it wasn’t until after the twins were born that she asked me whether they looked like me or my husband… and I really didn’t know what to say. Was it too late for the ‘Oh we used a donor, my partner is female’ conversation?
The thing is, there’s always the potential for awkwardness. My awkwardness: is this cool? Are they going to judge? Will they whip their children away from mine in horror? Their awkwardness: Should they have known? Is it ok to be surprised? What should they say in order to seem accepting of it?
And then near-strangers. People who see the twins with one of us, and then the other. Doctors wondering which of us to address, “Who’s mum?”. The suspicious look the nurse gave me when I brought the twins for one of their vaccinations but she had previously met Kirsty. Lady, I gave birth to these children. Don’t look at me all astonished because their mother suddenly has a different face.
People we strike up an idle conversation with on the bus. Those are the people to whom it might be easiest not to have to explain, to let them think that Lysander inherited his striking blue eyes from his daddy, not his donor. To let them think that we’re one mum and a doting friend, or two mums meeting up with our singleton babies for a playdate. But should we? I don’t know. It would be easier.
Of course, I understand. It’s not the norm. It’s not even a variety of the norm for some people – case in point, until signing up to twitter, mine was the only same-sex family I knew. In some respects it’s a privilege that ours are the faces that normalise the idea of a gay family for those people. But sometimes it’s just exhausting. Sometimes it would be nice not to have to explain. To be an instantly recognisable family like the mum-and-dad sets pushing their little ones on the swings. Not to have to justify ourselves. “They’re my genetic material but Kirsty has legal parental rights.” For it to be easy.
It makes me wonder what it will be like for the twins. Whether they too will tire of explaining, whether sometimes they will skirt around a conversation because they know that the subject of their father will arise. Whether sometimes they’ll pretend to have one because it’s easier than having that conversation again.
At least it gives us something to blog about. And I wasn’t scarred by having divorced parents in an era where it was not the norm, so perhaps there’s hope for the twins.
Is your family dynamic easy to explain? Do you know any alternative families?