Gail’s post got me thinking about how we handle the inevitable somewhat awkward conversations that come up due to our family structure. As she wrote, we’ve both noticed they come up much more now that we’re back in pregnancy (and later, little baby) land. I noticed some time ago that we had developed some mix of official and unofficial guidelines:
1) Before Leigh’s arrival we decided that divulging who gave birth to her was not forbidden. I understand why some families choose this route, but we feel strongly that Leigh should not have to feel secretive about her family structure, and so we need to model that for her (though see comment 4 on how we handle donor questions, which is different).
2) That said, when discussing such matters, we are careful in our language. We do not say that Gail is Leigh’s “bio-mom”–rather we might say that Gail nursed Leigh, or that Gail gave birth to Leigh, so that her genetic link (and fallout from that link) is not also presented as representing her motherhood of Leigh. Her motherhood of Leigh is based on the same stuff mine is, the day in and day out love and hands on parenting. Along the same lines, I don’t refer to myself in casual conversation as Leigh’s “non-bio-mom.” I’m just a mom (or Mama as the case may be). That said, in conversation with peer parents around the nitty gritty issues that come up around buidling our family this way, I will refer to myself as a non-bio-mom or and “NGP” (non-gestational-parent, my dad coined that one)–but only with people who understand our family structure.
3) In response to subtle prying on first meetings, say someone new at the playground, or a new work colleague, I usually don’t divulge information on how we formed our family, either regarding our donor, or who carried Leigh. I understand people are curious, but you need to wait until at least a second meeting. We want people to see both of us parenting before we give information that might lead you to decide one of us is the “real” mom. My least favorite type of prying is resemblance talk. Seriously. I hate it when Gail and I show up somewhere with Leigh, and someone pointedly makes a comment about her hair or eye color (brown and brown) and then says she looks just like me (red and blue), pointedly staring at me for clarifying information, while Gail is standing right there (with her brown hair and brown eyes–yes, this really happens). It really drives me crazy and I make special note of who does such things and vow never to give them any tidbit of information ever. However, if I’m out with Leigh alone, and someone casually says she looks like me, I secretly glow and take it as a compliment.
4) We do not provide any details on donor information (other than we went with frozen). Not which bank. No tidbits from the profile. Nothing about appearance. We feel very strongly that that information belongs to our kid(s) and they should decide who should know and how to handle the information as they grow. It belongs to them, not us. And if anyone asks, that is what we tell them. I know other families handle this differently, meeting up with donor siblings early for example, and sharing all information freely from infancy, and I can see the attraction there. But for us, it feels a little wrong to have a whole slew of people knowing potentially sensitive information about Leigh that she doesn’t even understand yet. Note, this does not contradict number 1, because we don’t feel that Leigh should have to be secretive about her donor information. But we don’t want to decide for her who and what people outside of our family will know. If another queer couple or single mom working towards TTC asks us how we made decisions around donor selection, we will definitely talk to them about it, and will probably give them more info (e.g. the thinking we did on ID release vs. not), but that is only for folks trying to work their way through the same decisions.
I’m sure there are more unofficial or official guidelines that I’m not really thinking of right now. Most of this stuff we just make up as we go along really. And we have no idea yet how this will shift as Leigh grows and understands more about her family. But for now, it works. I’d love to hear other folks thoughts on those inevitable awkward questions.