Redefining Family, Whether I Like It Or Not

I didn’t come out until I was 23. I’m still not entirely sure why—I knew my parents would love me unconditionally, and I hadn’t been raised to believe that loving the ladies was a ticket to hell. I didn’t know many lesbians, but in college I had lots of friends who were gay guys.

I thought they were funny and savvy and sweet. I saw the musical Rent 14 times (more than any gay male I knew, just to dispel some stereotypes there) before it dawned on me that all that attractive androgyny could be mine in a slightly more female form. In other words, I had to discover a queer culture that seemed glamorous and exciting to me before I could own what I’d known about myself all along. It was almost like I had to convince myself that I’d chosen to be gay simply because it was more interesting than being straight.

Flash forward ten years. Cecilia and I get married in Vancouver. We visit our friendly neighborhood lesbian-owned sperm bank. I think, Maybe I won’t be a late bloomer this time! My over-achieving heart finds this incredibly appealing. A handful of our straight friends have kids, and we know two lesbian couples who’ve gotten pregnant on the second or third try. It all seems the same, plus or minus a couple hundred bucks for frozen sperm.

But three IUIs, one cycle of IVF and one miscarriage later, I know it’s not the same. I escalated to infertility treatment faster than any straight woman would have. In some ways, this appeased my impatience. But Cecilia and I never had the luxury of thinking, Maybe it will happen when we least expect it.

I know many infertile straight couples have wrestled feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and lack of control. (And, as the owner of a blocked fallopian tube, low progesterone, and “thick egg walls,” I can proudly count myself among the Infertiles as well as the Gays.) So maybe you’ll know what I’m talking about when I say that, instead of feeling like I’d happily chosen a more fun and edgy life than my peers, I felt like a kid who’d been pushed out of the closet—kicking, screaming and unprepared.

Cecilia and I were always open to the idea of adoption, so having non-biological kids didn’t require a paradigm shift on our part. But realizing that our lives and our family will be different from those of our friends because of it? That’s taken some adjustment. We wonder if we should have a baby shower—what if the expectant mom decides to parent at the last minute? Will it be painful to have a house full of pastel onesies and ducky blankets?

Like most gay parents-to-be, Cecilia and I have thought about the day when our child will come home from school crying because of something ugly or confusing a classmate said about having two moms. Although our family and friends are uber-supportive of our decision to become parents, our culture at large is more skeptical. I’m not talking about flat-out homophobes—I’m talking about the people who “gently” suggest that having gay parents is “a lot for a kid to deal with.” You hear a similar refrain when it comes to adoption.

And it’s true: having two moms or two dads, plus a birthmom and a birthfather, is a lot for a kid to deal with. But you know what? So is starting kindergarten. So is moving to a new house. So is losing a tooth or a pet or a grandparent or a parent. So is the birth of a new sibling or the diagnosis of a learning difference or realizing that your best friend wants to be best friends with someone else.

Life is a lot to deal with. And because new parents and pregnant couples tend to be idealistic, I suspect they don’t like to be reminded that there are certain realities they can’t protect their children from. When those challenges are known from the start—as is the case with LGBT parenting, single parenting and adoption—there’s a tendency to blame parents for bringing kids into a difficult situation on purpose. But I don’t think of it that way: The challenges you know about are the ones you can prepare for. We LGBT/single/adoptive parents can’t pretend our kids’ lives will be sheltered and easy. But I like to think that we’ll be better parents for it.

A few years ago, my friend Daisye and her partner Laura moved from Olympia, Washington—an idyllic city for hipsters, queers and other Portlandia types—to a tiny town on the Hood River. They opened a store where they sell secondhand oddities. Most of their friends and neighbors are straight and over sixty. The whole town is on a finicky septic system, and they help each other out when someone’s toilet breaks or someone’s house floods.

“We realized that we could live in Olympia for years,” Daisye told me, “or we could take a leap of faith and really embrace a different kind of life.”

Sometimes that life is a choice. Sometimes it’s not. But the embracing of it is always a choice. And when I imagine our future—birthmom dropping by, bouncing our child while she updates us about her new boyfriend or her college classes or the kids she’s raising herself—it looks like a different-kind-of-life I can love. I also know that, no matter what I imagine, the reality will be something different. And I think I can embrace that too.

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