When we meet other parents (straight), if it happens to come up in conversation that each of us carried one of our children, the relatively consistent response is approximately “What a great idea!” or “I wish we could do that!” Members of two-mom families, who understand the work and luck it takes to get pregnant as lesbians, and who have experienced some of the pitfalls and struggles of building our families, know it might not be all that rosy. But in general, I tend to agree with the positive assessment of surprised straight parents who sometimes seem to think we’ve invented something new and amazing by structuring our family this way. It is great. We got a deeper level understanding and empathy for each other by both experiencing both paths to motherhood. Residual tension around the donor’s place in our family, that we hadn’t even known we still had, has fallen away not least because he no longer poses as much of a threat (albeit hypothetical) to our family structure. Instead of moving onto parenting our second child with the previous relatively comfortable roles we’d developed, we were forced to question some of our assumptions and find some new ways to interact as a family. Parenting Ira has made me appreciate even more what I built with Leigh, and I’m loving watching Gail and Ira form a similar bond. I think Gail has experienced a similar shift, all for the good.
But among all the good, there’s one thing I’m finding somewhat difficult about this arrangement. This isn’t all about looks, but I’ll start there. Our donor, bless him, seems to have a peculiar genetic quality of producing “mini-me’s.” If anyone were to look at our family portrait (that is, if you could get all four of us into a photo at one time), there would be absolutely no guesswork involved in figuring out who was genetically linked. Ira has my coloring to a T. Comparing pics of him as a baby to me as a baby, the resemblance is undeniable. Leigh looks like a mini-Gail, to every detail except her dimples (which I like to claim credit for…). But the similarities don’t seem to stop at looks. From all the stories I’ve heard from my in-laws, Leigh is much like Gail as a child, extremely talkative and curious, thrilled to connect with people but a little shy around new ones, deeply compelled by stories of all sorts, intent on figuring out how people interact and why they do what they do. There are differences, and she certainly also has many of my speech patterns and mannerisms, but still, it’s hard to deny the similarities. Now that Ira is getting older, we see pieces of my personality in him. He’s a little more sensitive, and focuses intently on his little baby “projects,” patiently trying to figure out how his sister’s scooter works, or diligently and persistently undoing our various childproofing efforts.
But the thing I wonder about is how much of this is that we’re perceiving our kids with too much of a framework of genetic determinism, particularly since the only genetic piece we see is our own contribution, and the donor is still anyone’s guess. We’ve both birthed one of our kids, so I think we may end up missing the lesson that straight families learn easily, that kids are different, even with identical genetic contributions. I should know this. My sisters and I, all of us with the same genetic make-up, are different as night and day. We look around our neighborhood kids and see this, too, but it’s a lesson we’re not primed to learn in our own family, in it’s current structure. During the fleeting moments when I wish for another child, it is this lesson that I’d love to learn. In the meantime, I’m looking for ways to remember more often that our kids are not us. They really are their “own people” — as we frequently remind Leigh when she tries to treat Ira like an overgrown doll.