Parenthood in the Lesbian Context
On Our Terms: Parenthood in the Lesbian Context
Parenthood signals an important milestone in the family life cycle. As I approach the threshold to thirty, my partner and I are discussing children, homeownership, and other family oriented matters. Sometimes, I joke with her that we won’t have an authentic family until we have kids. On one hand, parenting is a significant life transition, and this fact feeds my ambivalence. But on the other hand, the prospect of small companions—someone to look up to me and listen intently —is exciting. Though parenthood is far down the road for me, the experiences of the following self-identified lesbian women are an informative resource. Their stories cover a variety of topics ranging from conception to interaction with family of origin, heterosexual culture, and the LGBT community.
A 32-year-old Tennessee native and recent graduate from the University of Louisville, Shannon has always imagined herself as a mother. “When I turned 30, I decided to look into the process of using donor sperm, with the intent to inseminate sometime after I established my career. However, I came to a point where I realized that I was ready at age 31 to begin the process.” Though she believes it is best to have a reliable partnership established before becoming a parent, she also understands that sometimes it’s not possible and a strong, single parent is more than sufficient.
The Process of Conception. Shannon is near the end of the third trimester and excited about meeting her baby girl. The experience of conception was a challenging adventure full of twists and turns. Shannon contemplated several methods of conception. “I considered having sex with a male friend who was thinking of being a sperm donor for me. However, it did not seem like the most authentic method for me, and that is mostly because I prefer to be with women. In the end, having a friend to donate did not work out, but if it had, I would have chosen to utilize ICI [intracervical insemination] with his sperm, not via sexual intercourse. I went with an anonymous donor, and used a needleless syringe to inseminate myself at home.”
A Parent’s Concerns. Similar to most parents, Shannon has concerns about her child’s future. “I am concerned about providing financially for my child. And making sure she has support from my friends, as my family lives a distance away.” Despite the distance, Shannon does have a network or friends and family members who are involved in her life and enthusiastic about her pregnancy. The only other fear that she has is prejudice. “I do fear that she will suffer discrimination because of who I am. Luckily, I think the area I will be raising her in has enough diversity that she will hopefully not be the only child in her classes growing up who has a gay/lesbian parent. I fear she will have to defend me, something that no child should have to do for a parent. If she chooses to dodge certain conversations, I will understand, but I want to raise her to be confident in who she is and in who her parent is.”
Shannon’s Advice. “Utilize the interne; there are a lot of resources out there! Try not to stress if you are trying to conceive; it will not help the process. And do not tell everyone you are trying to conceive, even if they are supportive and mean well. It is very nerve-wracking to be asked each month, ‘Did it work? Are you pregnant?’ and have to say ‘no’ time after time. The conception process is very emotionally draining, so be prepared for disappointments and give yourself space to grieve should you not get pregnant right away.”
Future Conversations. Shannon feels that conversations about conception with her daughter should be open and an ongoing process. When having the conversation, she will use age-appropriate language and consider her daughter’s developmental level.
Conception: Things to Consider. The decision on how to conceive can spark many emotions from one or both partners. The non-conceiving partner may feel inadequate, or both partners may feel angry about donor sperm or involving a male in any shape, fashion, or form.
Tia is a 33-year-old Louisville native, student at Spalding University, and mother of a daughter and son. In 2006, after six years of marriage and her sister’s passing, Tia decided to leave her husband and pursue her identity as a lesbian woman. The death of her sister gave her the strength to leave the unsatisfactory relationship. “I was going to live my life and be who I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be miserable anymore.”
Conservations With Her Children. Tia’s story is not uncommon to many lesbian families. Within the community, there are a significant number of women who divorce or separate from men to reconstitute a new family. Tia’s daughter was seven and son was six at the time of her separation. Tia informed her children about her sexuality after pursuing a relationship with a woman she dated for a year. However, due to age and maturation, the conversation “went over their heads” and she re-explained the situation to them later. “I sat them down and asked what they knew about lesbians and gays. Then I explained to them that I was a lesbian and what that meant for me and our family.” The family talked in depth about her sexual orientation, and of course, her children had a lot of questions, which Tia patiently answered.
Teaching Acceptance. Even though there are harsh opinions, strong attitudes, and unequal policies against same-sex individuals and parents, Tia will not let that harm her family. Because she is educating her children, she does not fear negative sentiment from the public or family members. She is teaching her children about difference and making them aware of their environment. “The key to fighting ignorance is education. I’ve taught my children…so I know they can handle themselves in a debate.”
Parenthood Beyond Labels. Tia doesn’t view any major differences between childrearing in a same-sex versus opposite-sex relationship. She believes the way you raise your children is dependent upon each parent’s family of origin experience and personal narrative. Regardless of sexual identity, she is open and honest with her children and trains them to be strong, independent young adults. Plainly stated, “I know good parents in same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships like I know not-so-good parents in same-sex relationships and opposite-sex relationships. It depends on the person.”
Community Support. Building parental support networks in the local lesbian community is slowly progressing. While Tia has grown close to and been welcomed by many lesbian mothers, she believes a collective mentality is absent. “Village mentality is missing and building relationships with women is hard.” Though, she does believe it is possible.
Tia’s Advice. Her advice to same-gender-loving parents is to be open and honest with your children. “If you are ashamed of who you are, then your children will be ashamed of you too.”
Family Dynamic. Each family unit establishes a collective identity with rituals, rules, and language. Every family is different, unique, and influenced by factors such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and geographical location. When a family is a member of a marginalized group, external sources can cause distress and create barriers to family satisfaction.
B.J. is a 42-year-old Louisville native, mother of three sons, and grandmother of four. Her curiosity in women began when a bisexual woman pursued her. Even though she was not interested in this particular woman, “I knew I was changing for along time. I had stopped dating guys almost two years before. I felt like I had no need for them in my personal life. My boys were pretty much raised and there was always an active presence of men in their lives—their fathers, my brothers, or other male relatives.”
Community Support. B.J.’s first contact with a female was when she was thirty-one. She didn’t find much support from the lesbian community, and if there was support she didn’t know where to go. So, she depended on God, her family and friend, and her psychologist for assurance and support.
Disclosure With Children. B.J.’s sons were teens when she was forced to disclose her growing interest in women. “They walked in on my first girlfriend and me passed out in my bed after watching a movie cuddled up underneath the covers, clothes on. We were still in the dating stage. I hadn’t even kissed her yet. I just so happened to open my eyes and found the oldest two standing at the foot of my bed staring at us. Dag, I had told them they could stay out pass curfew! So the next morning I explained to them that I might be [lesbian].”
Late Bloomers. Late-blooming lesbians—women who identify as lesbian after the age thirty, marriage, and children—are on the rise. In 2010, the American Psychological Association held a conference in San Diego titled “Sexual Fluidity and Late-Blooming Lesbians.” Researchers cite that a combination of factors are making women more comfortable with ‘coming out.’ First, same-sex attraction is not a new emotion for some late-blooming women. Many women experienced same sex attraction in adolescence or early adulthood, albeit they didn’t act on it. Late-bloomers are also becoming more common because varying life circumstances, less homophobia, and increased societal acceptance. This, along with other contributing causes, are moving women beyond heterosexual, religious, and cultural boundaries.
Family Support. B.J. acknowledges that her own three sons wish she were “normal.” But, they do support her personal choice. As a grandmother, she says lesbianism is not a factor. “My role as a lesbian being a grandparent, or a grandparent being a lesbian doesn’t have anything to do with one or the other. I love them unconditionally. I will teach them, I will punish them, and I will spoil them, and do anything in this world for them. I hope that as they get older and form their own opinions of the world, that they will still love and except me and my potential life partner.”