Since many lesbian couples contain two working uteri, and possibly two women willing to conceive, choosing who will try to get pregnant is a place where lesbian couples have options that a straight families don’t. In what follows, I’m making the assumption that both partners are open to pregnancy (though perhaps with a discrepancy in desire to carry), and that both women can have a reasonable expectation of fertility, both of which are pretty big assumptions. Obviously there are lots of factors at play here, and many couples contain one member who is clearly the designated child-bearer from the outset, but even in these cases, it is useful to think through why you have made that choice, and what impact that might have down the line.
We made a lot of our decisions on accident, but we can see now that some of them did a lot to shape our family and how we think about parenting. In our case, we both wanted very much to birth a child, but Gail was 6 1/2 years older and was in her mid-30s, so she got dibs on birthing first. We were also both committed to having two kids, and planned that I would try for our second.
Carrying, birthing and nursing a baby is a lot of work. But don’t underestimate how hard it is to be a non-bio-mom in this context. It takes more work to get engaged as a parent, and a mother, when you are not carrying the child. There isn’t a lot of support, and what there is out there often operates on the assumption that you should be a secondary “supportive” parent (including many of the essays in Confessions of the Other Mother, and much of the published writing on queer parenting in general). But it wasn’t that way in our family, and one of the main reasons is that both Gail and I prioritized getting me on solid footing as a mother as soon after birth as possible, and I was motivated to get in there quickly and do the work of building a relationship with our kid without the aid of biology. Our personalities are such that, had roles been reversed, things likely would have worked out differently. Gail is a bit more generous, a bit less territorial, and was generally quite willing to share the “mother” turf. I am more likely to speak up when something feels strange, upsetting, or just interesting, making me somewhat better suited to the less traveled path. See here for more on this idea.
Perhaps paradoxically, it might be worthwhile to seriously consider having whoever wants a child less and/or cares less about getting pregnant or birthing get pregnant first, even if just as a thought experiment. It can be good to have the more motivated party in the non-bio role. Carrying, birthing and nursing an infant will pull whoever is pregnant into a care-taking role, whether she is really into it initially or not. But a non-bio-mom who wants a strong relationship with her child(ren) needs to be really excited to take care of her baby and spend the time building the relationship — excited enough to do it without much social support and without a biological need. In our case, this ended up also being true in a way, because I am very much a “baby” person. Gail is a bit less so, and that did pose a challenge when Ira was little, but by that time we had a lot of practice at navigating and working through stuff like this.
It is also useful to consider economics, and, depending on your goals, it might be a good idea for the parent with more economic power (i.e. who earns more or has more earning potential down the line) to give birth, or to birth first. This might seem to contradict common sense because of the way that pregnancy and birth negatively impact a career. However, if the partner with less economic power gives birth, she will have both biological and economic pulls toward care-taking. The non-bio-mom will be pulled toward work because of her greater earning power, and increased financial needs. Such a family might be more likely to adopt a structure that looks much like a traditional heterosexual family, which of course works great for some, but if you had planned or hoped otherwise, it can come as an unpleasant surprise (this happens to straight families, too). In our case, when Leigh was tiny, I was still in grad school with minimal earnings and a lot of flexibility, so I “naturally” stepped into more of a care-taking role, and though Gail earned more of our keep, her initial biological/nursing connection to Leigh helped to make sure she stayed very connected at home. This was completely by accident, but ended up helping us to discover a balance in our parenting that we love. See more here on how this played out for us.
Finally, there are great advantages to both mothers giving birth, but it is not without emotional hurdles. If a second baby birthed by a second mom is in the works for you, think hard about setting up some level of planning for number two. If you are talking to a known donor, do what you can to get his commitment for a second pregnancy. If you go with frozen, go ahead and dish out the money once you achieve the first pregnancy for a hefty number of vials from the same donor, before the baby starts sucking your bank account dry. Discuss time lines, even if just hypothetically. Think about how you are going to afford a second child and how this might impact plans for childcare or a stay-at-home parent. Particularly if a future pregnancy is important to the non-bio-mom, you don’t want to take a “we’ll just wait and see” approach. It is amazing the number of pressures that can conspire to make that second pregnancy disappear or transfer back to the mom who gave birth first, despite the best intentions. We’re pretty adept at hashing this kind of stuff out, had vials in the bank, enough money to try again, and were both firmly committed to having a second kid, and we still had some problems with difference in motivation level and engagement when it was time to get back on the TTC bandwagon.
So in summary, here are some things to things to consider:
- If one of you has a knack for noticing and communicating about hard stuff, and the other tends to ignore issues or keep quiet about them, you might consider having the quieter partner give birth (first).
- If one of you makes more money than the other, consider having her get pregnant (first).
- If one of you is a little less into the whole baby and pregnancy scene, consider having her give birth (first).
- No matter who gives birth, make sure the whole family prioritizes the connection between non-bio-mom and her baby, including making sure that she has sufficient leave after the birth.
- If you both hope to give birth, plan for round two, at least a little, before the birth of your first — thinking about time line, method, and finances.
No matter what you decide, good luck.