Go On, You Choose: The Ethics of Getting Pregnant by Nagging
I wanted kids. My lover didn’t.
If only she were a man, I could have done what so many straight women have told me (in whispers) they’ve done: waited for an accident, or tricked him into it. But as it was … well, I used to daydream.
Whoops, sweetie, I happened to walk into a fertility clinic today, thinking it was the post office, and fell onto a vial of sperm!
Nice straight friends often assume that a lesbian couple, both being female, are both equally eager for motherhood. It’s certainly true in the case of many of our circle, which makes women like Chris feel even more like freaks, even more backed into the corner by the transformation in lesbian and gay culture over the last decade. (Some call it civil rights, some assimilation; Chris and I tend to call it, ruefully, a bit of both.) There’s a technique familiar to most parents, because it works so well with toddlers: the false choice. Instead of telling a three-year-old that he must wear a long-sleeved top or else he’ll get cold, you say, “Do you want your Thomas the Tank Engine shirt or your red hoodie?” If he shakes his head, you repeat yourself in a more seductive and urgent tone: “Thomas or hoodie. Go on, you choose!” Briefly dazzled by a sense of his own agency, he picks one. Your job is to hustle him into the garment before he remembers that he really wanted to stay in his Dora the Explorer T-shirt instead. Your reward is threefold – your child is warmly dressed, you’ve taught him about decision-making, and (ha ha!) you’ve fooled the little bugger.
Unfortunately for my purposes, Chris was not three but thirty-five when I (twenty-seven, and already ogling babies at airports) first raised the possibility of reproduction, and her mental arsenal was fully stocked. Unlike many — sometimes it seems like most — Westerners in their thirties, she was suffering from no confusion about whether or not she wanted children. She had never had a broody thought in her life, she told me — very gently, because she was already glimpsing how sad this news was going to make me. She didn’t really notice children, she explained, except for a select few of whom she’d seen a lot of over the years because she was close to their parents. Despite what I saw as her wealth of nurturing qualities, she imagined pregnancy as an alien invasion and motherhood as a terrifying state of captivity. In fact, one reason for Chris’s jubilation on discovering she was a lesbian in her twenties had been what seemed an inevitable side-effect: no kids. Instead she could be an intellectual, a biker, a friend and lover, a culture vulture, and stylish dyke-about-town.
She was all those things, and still is at forty-four, as much as she can manage, given that she is one of the mothers of our three-year-old son Finn, and I’m currently pregnant with our second child.
Then the tale of tables turning:
In the early days, Chris (on six months of fully paid parental leave from the university where she teaches, which helped) coped much better than I did; she’d had such grim expectations that the reality of sitting around with a snoozy baby on her shoulder wasn’t too bad at all. (She’d feared she wouldn’t like the child, that she’d have to spend the rest of her life faking it, she admitted now, gazing down at him with pupils dilated by adoration.) Whereas I, who had spent more than five years repeating positive propaganda about babies, went into shock when breastfeeding proved hellish, and felt so overwhelmingly responsible for this tiny creature that I was often woken up by aural hallucinations of his crying. I never once regretted having him for a moment, I just regularly indulged in a fantasy about a doctor telling me our baby had to be put in a pharmaceutically induced coma for a fortnight, so Chris and I might as well go to the Bahamas.
This piece is another example of how Who’s Your Daddy? And Other Writings on Queer Parenting is a book less about causes than sharing real accounts about real parents. But, y’know, a reminder that the definition of family values should be inclusive can’t hurt either.
Check back over the next few days for more excerpts from Elizabeth Ruth, Jamie K. Evans and N. Gitanjali Lena.
If you want to catch the post from yesterday on Syrus Marcus Ware and his visit to the fertility clinic, click here