Reflections on Queer Parenthood and the Holidays from the contributors of Swelling with Pride
December 20, 2018
by Sara Graefe
With holiday get-togethers on our radar, we’re turning our thoughts to family: the different kinds and journeys to making one. Below editor Sara Graefe and contributors of
Swelling with Pride: Queer Conception and Adoption Stories (Caitlin Press) give us our thoughts on queer parenthood—its surprises, funniest moments, lessons, and more.
There’s no straightforward path to LGBTQ2s+ parenthood. Just as every queer person has their own coming-out story, every LGBTQ2s+ family has a unique conception or adoption story. In Swelling with Pride: Queer Conception and Adoption Stories, 25 creative non-fiction writers from across North America celebrate their LGBTQ2s+ families and the myriad ways they’ve embarked upon their queer parenting journeys. This is the book I wish had been out there when my wife and I had our first conversations about having kids back in the mid-2000s. As the submissions poured in and I began to shape this collection, I was struck by the diversity of people’s experiences as well as our shared common ground as queers trying to create family in a predominantly straight, cis-gendered world. With the festive season now upon us, I caught up with some of the contributors to chat more about queer parenthood and celebrating the holidays as an LGBTQ2s+ family.
Sara Graefe: What was your biggest surprise on your journey to queer parenthood?
"How much love my daughter inspired in me." – Susan Meyers
"That queer parenting came at 55." – Jo Jefferson
"Two things continue surprising me: one, how being queer is so upstaged by all the regular in-the-trenches parenting. I can often forget for weeks at a time that we are different from straight families; and two, how perfect my cis-gendered son is for us, when I was pining for a rebel girl-child. In retrospect, that mythical little girl would have been far too similar to myself for things to be as joyful and simple as they usually are chez nous." – Gail Marlene Schwartz
"After battling through years of infertility and pregnancy loss, I thought I’d struggle with a sense of belonging once my wife had our son. I worried that I wouldn’t feel like his 'real' mom. Our immediate bond was a delightful surprise, and I’ve been amazed at how much which of us gave birth to him doesn’t even register during the day-to-day of our lives with him." – Katie Taylor
"That I would build such a supportive community in the process of becoming pregnant and raising a child, and that I would build strong friendships with other queer and trans parents. Having a child has brought us into a tight-knit circle of parents who understand what it means to be a queer and gender non-conforming in the world. The cis/straight parenting world can be a tough place for us and our kids, but we genuinely have each other's backs and it is the bubble-wrap I've needed on many occasions." – Corinne Mason
"We really didn't know how our parents and extended families would react to the news that my girlfriend and I were expecting a baby. As it turned out, I don't know of any other child, in our circles at least, who needed TWO events to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend her Meet the Baby Party (we rented a room at the Legion and partied all day!). We were truly surprised and deeply touched by how many people in our lives – friends, family, and coworkers – were there to support and celebrate the early days of our journey with us." –Nicole Breit
"As soon as my wife and I shared that we wanted to try and have a family, suddenly people all around us, queer and straight, began to tell us their own stories. Parenting stories, to be sure. Some birth stories, but it was remarkable how those struggling with infertility or those who wanted children but who could not have them suddenly felt connected or licensed to speak. It was as if this door opened in every day life and other people's stories poured through." – Natalie Meisner
"That the journey never quite ends, even when you think the story is over. I was shocked to get pregnant with twins on the first try (after being told to consider fertility meds by a physician), shocked to lose one of the twins at 14 weeks, shocked to go into labour with the other at 18.5 weeks. A much better surprise was that my next pregnancy was largely uneventful, leading to a healthy, happy, and wonderful rainbow baby. But the latest unexpected twist in my queer parenting journey has been going from a “we” to an “I”, since in the time between completing my essay and the publication of Swelling with Pride, my 13 year relationship with my (soon to be ex) wife has ended. This new development has been every bit as unpredictable and grief-filled as the many obstacles I faced on the road to queer parenting, and it seems I didn’t realize that another chapter of my essay was yet to be written. In dark moments I try to remember that just like the obstacles I faced on my journey to having a child, this too shall pass and one day I – and my daughter – will be on the other side grateful for having made it through." – Amanda Roth
SG: Saddest moment?
"When my daughter finally bowed under the persistent pressure of the heteronormativity of her preteen peers and introduced me as her grandmother instead of her mother." – Susan Meyers
"When our donor broke up with our housemate and we realized they would no longer be a regular presence in our house." – Jo Jefferson
"A sweet and sad moment was successfully reaching the end of my first trimester (I'd had a miscarriage scare) which coincided with the first anniversary of my mom's death. She loved babies and tiny kids." – Janet Madsen
"When I was diagnosed with secondary infertility and we made the heartbreaking decision to stop trying for number two, a sibling for our sweet son. I’ve never in my life tried so hard to create something and walked away with nothing." – Sara Graefe
"There were so many sad moments as we tried to become parents. I lost two pregnancies, and hearing the ultrasound tech say that there was no heartbeat was one of the saddest moments of my life thus far." – Katie Taylor
"Realizing that one of my twins would have a far better life with a different family…and making the wrenching decision to let him go." – Gail Marlene Schwartz
"I wrote an entire chapbook about the saddest parts of our journey to have our son. I learned a lot about patience, grief, and letting go from my experience with fertility treatments and pregnancy loss." – Nicole Breit
SG: Funniest moment?
"A friend, on hearing I was pregnant, asked 'Was it planned?' and then immediately sputtered and blushed in realization." – Janet Madsen
"After being badgered at the fertility clinic to disclose our 'fertility problem,' getting to see the look on the med. student’s face when I, a cis-woman, announced that I had a very low sperm count." – Susan Meyers
"While pregnant, I worked at a social service organization that served women, and one day one of our clients who hadn't been in for a while looked at my belly and said, 'Well! I'd like to know how that happened!'" – Janet Madsen
"I induced lactation so that I could also breastfeed our son. The whole experience of pumping in the delivery room and then introducing nurses to the concept of co-nursing was pretty ridiculous. I felt a bit like a circus act!" – Katie Taylor
"When our daughter was maybe six or seven months old, a Costco employee handing out samples started fussing over how cute she was and asked which one of us was her mom. 'We both are,' I said, but she wouldn't accept my answer. 'OK. You know what I mean,' she insisted, 'Which one of you is her REAL mom.' 'Do you want to see her birth certificate?' I asked. 'We're both on it.' It became increasingly awkward, and I was starting to get angry, because how is it OK to start debating a parent's 'realness' in public, in front of her child—ever?' That obviously wasn't the funny part. As we started to walk away, our friend—who'd been shopping with us and kind of hovering—grabbed the cart and started pushing the baby away from the scene as she shouted over her shoulder, 'And I'm her mom, too!'" – Nicole Breit
"Our two boys distinguish between their two mothers by calling me Mom or Mommy (which is common in Canada) and my wife Mama, as she is Dutch and that is a more common nickname there. Several years ago, when the boys were young enough to both sit in the top of the shopping cart, my wife was in the grocery store before the holidays and an older gentleman bent down to speak to these two cuties. He said something like, 'Make sure your Mommy gets you something nice for Christmas.' And our sons began to laugh: 'That's not Mommy! Look, see, that's Mama.'" – Natalie Meisner
"My eight-year-old son announced recently that he would have 10 children, all conceived with both egg and sperm donors at a clinic." – Gail Marlene Schwartz
SG: How has becoming a queer parent (or not, as the case may be) transformed your life?
"Parenthood has changed me and my life in so many beautiful ways. Becoming a parent transformed my heart, increased my capacity for love, generosity, and patience beyond what I could ever have imagined. It taught me the meaning of the word 'unconditional.' I am so deeply grateful to my children for teaching me so much about love." – Nicole Breit
"Becoming a queer parent has transformed my life in many of the same ways I think becoming a non-queer parent does. I go to bed at 9:00 and spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my toddler’s sleep schedule. My house is always a mess, and I generally have a crazed look on my face. I also experience more joy and wonder, and I marvel daily at how much I can love another human being." – Katie Taylor
"My connection with my older kids (in their 20's) has undergone a transformation—watching them play with the youngest family member had given me a lot of joy." – Jo Jefferson
"It’s made me far more creative and willing to question everything…like school…and make tough decisions, like to homeschool, understanding that inventing a new kind of family life is part of the job description. I also have healed generations of trauma and I’m not sure I could have done that in a family with a traditional structure. Part of the healing was re-envisioning what it meant to love one another while raising a child and doing things very differently." – Gail Marlene Schwartz
"I feel like being a queer in the first third in my life was a great life hack or perspective changer. You are never really on the 'inside' of most of the structures that govern mainstream life, so you had to 'MacGyver' it to make it work. This was both frustrating at times but also liberating. Now, as a queer parent and artist, I feel similarly. We parent—we mother, to be sure and work at this every day—but it might not look much like conventional forms of mothering to the naked eye. I feel lucky to be a part of helping this new generation find their way to equitable and loving relationships with their peers." – Natalie Meisner
"Due to the challenges and heartbreak of infertility, I've learnt that life itself is truly a gift and a miracle and one not to be taken for granted. My capacity for love and compassion deepened as a direct result." – Terrie Hamazaki
"Just over a year after the birth of my kid, I find myself unable to remember what daily life was like without her. Whatever difficulties have cropped up, we've been able to navigate more or less well; now that she is crawling and cruising and chatting and learning about the world, it's so enjoyable to be along for the ride. When I pause and reflect, I feel overwhelmed with gratitude to have her in my life. (Everyone except the cat feels this way.) More broadly, in terms of my role as a parent in the world, I am still struggling to ask people to refer to me by name, or as her parent—I am not her 'mom.' She has her dad and she has me. Even the people who love and care about us don't quite always remember that where there is a dad there isn't always a mother. Sometimes I am able to assert that gently but firmly, and other times I freeze and just feel inwardly sad or unseen. Everything in North American life is very gendered but I was lucky before, in terms of the number of times per day or week that I needed to correct people. Becoming a queer parent has significantly increased it! We need to make friends with more queer families so that we can have a space to breathe and not wear a little suit of self-armour, I think." – andrea bennett
SG: How does your queer family like to spend the holidays?
"In a great big ball of love, oranges, and chocolate." – Susan Meyers
"We don our gay apparel, snuggle together by the fire and crank the holiday tunes." – Sara Graefe
"Eating great food, drinking good wine and going for walks with the dogs." – Kira Meyers-Guiden
"One of our favourite holiday activities is hosting a Christmas PJ brunch. We also love lighting the Hanukkah candles and playing with dreidels." – Jo Jefferson
"My family is interfaith—my wife is Jewish, and I was raised Christian. Holidays can be a sensitive time, but our son helps to bring excitement for both of our traditions. He loves lighting the candles on the menorah during Chanukah, and he’s enamored by the Christmas tree. He hasn’t yet figured out that he’s about to get a heap of presents from the grandparents, but I’m sure he’ll love that too. – Katie Taylor
"We are a secular family and also like to try and keep a lid on the commercialism and the full-on environmental waste that can come with the season. For this reason we try to choose toys that will have a long life for our sons. We celebrate with friends and neighbours by giving consumable gifts of food and drink and inviting them over. We do put up a lot of lights and a tree and have special ornaments that we get out once a year. It is important to light up the darkest days of the calendar with a little glitz and glitter." – Natalie Meisner
"We sing. A lot. Christmas songs but also ABBA. We conceive and produce make an annual holiday video. I just downloaded the music for My Love, My Life and my son, who is just learning to sing on pitch, will sing to my accompaniment and I’ll make a video using photos and footage from our year to share with friends. Also more standard fare: we bake Rugelach and light Hanukkah candles and play dreydl. We volunteer on Christmas at a homeless shelter after opening stocking gifts. We make and send cards for LGBTQI+ prisoners. We make cheese fondue for New Years Eve with my son’s Mimi. We open our jar of favourite moments from our week that we’ve been jotting down each Sunday. We look at a photo book that I make each year. We dream together for the year to come." – Gail Marlene Schwartz
"Our favourite part: long stretches of pyjama time extending as far into the day as our plans allow. On Christmas morning we pile onto our big king size bed with new books, games, and chocolate and just hang out together, letting the day unfold. Since last Christmas our son has started asking if we can have days like that not just at Christmas, but on summer vacations and weekends, too." – Nicole Breit
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Thanks so much to Sara and all the contributors of
Swelling with Pride for their reflections, and to Sarah and Michael at Caitlin Press for making the connection!
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