I have been chewing on this post for a long time. I am a non-gestational parent to my youngest child, Ira. I didn’t give birth to him, my husband Ezekiel did. When Ira was born, Ezekiel and I were sharing the job of parenting as two moms, and we both wrote a fair amount about what it meant to each of us to be non-gestational parents not genetically connected with one of our children. Some of our thoughts can be found here from Ezekiel (from back when his pseudonym on this blog was Lyn) and here from me.
But both of those posts (and many more) were written a while ago, when our kids were pretty little. What is it like being a non-bio-mom for me now, and has it changed at all because I now parent with a man, the father of my children, not with another mother?
Many of the issues that I experienced as a parent with no genetic or birthing connection to my son really have just faded with time. I don’t give much thought to how my children came into the world in my day-to-day life. I don’t think about their births in an average week, or even think about them as young babies. However, they both continue to resemble the parent who is genetically connected to them both physically and in other ways, and we do notice these connections. Our observation of them is in some ways heightened by the the fact that each of us gave birth to one. I notice Ira’s tendency to anxiously prepare for the worst and Leigh’s tendency to be delightfully annoying and intense because of the presence or absence of those tendencies in Ezekiel and myself. And of course I never do forget how they came into this world. I clearly remember both of their births, and the time that we spent recovering and getting to know them and to know ourselves as a family after those births.
So I would say that my genetic/gestational relationship with my kids has gradually faded into the background over time — still important and easily brought to mind, but also ancient history and largely unnoticeable.
But with Ezekiel’s transition, my experience of being an NGP has absolutely changed. I realize now that it took active work for me to maintain my status and understanding of myself as Ira’s mother. Because Ira had another mother who had a claim to being the most important mother, it was like having a little bit of sand in my shoe. It didn’t disrupt anything, but I noticed it, and I noticed it in a way that sometimes didn’t feel good. It was nowhere near the most important aspect of my relationship to Ira, but it was there, and the only way that I know it was there is that it’s now gone. I didn’t suddenly grow a genetic connection to Ira because Ezekiel is now seen as a man, but I did become THE mom in our family. I have a defined, unambiguous, and unshared family role. This is true in my relationships with both of our children, but I feel the shift with regard to Ira. I am his mother, and I am his only mother.
Because I am now the only one, I realize the effort that it took to be one of two, and the one with a claim to the role that was arguably less strong. I feel a release of tension, and my relief and enjoyment of my new status creeps me out a little. I certainly do not think that non-bio-moms are somehow less important than bio-moms — I will fight you if you try to claim that is true! But the tension that was released with Ezekiel’s transition is clear when I think about Ira, and it was never there with regard to Leigh.
Was there an internal part of me that wondered if I was the lesser of two moms, and thus is now relieved to be the only mom? I have certainly absorbed the messages that come from from our society that say moms are of primary importance to children and that there can only be one “real” mom. Messages like those drilled their way into me, despite all of the work that I and my family have done to counter them, both in how we structure family care and interactions, and in our writings about our experiences as NGPs.
But I don’t think that’s the whole story. I can see now that it took active effort to parent as one of two moms, to craft a family that so directly countered the narrative of a central singular mother. Part of what I’m experiencing now is relief from that work, and I would like to thank those of you who are still parenting as non-bio-moms in two-mom families. This is real work that you are doing, and you do it every minute of every day. It is important work — creating a new reality in which all kinds of families and all kinds of parents are seen as real. I can see how hard you are working because one piece of that job was taken off of my back. I’m still with you (and with dads and other parents who have children via donor conception) in navigating the waters of parenting without a genetic connection while my spouse has that connection. I’m also with you (and many others) in the push to share the work of parenting, not place it de facto on the mother’s shoulders. But that’s not the only work that you are doing; you are also showing yourselves, your families, and your communities that non-bio-moms are real moms. You are, in fact, part of the dismantling of the patriarchal view of families that both elevates (bio) moms due to their wombs and chains them to the work of caring for their children, often without support. Your work of parenting is about love and choosing to parent, not about a biological mandate to nurture, and in doing this work you are opening up new possibilities for all parents. Society may not always remember to thank you for that work, so I leave my thanks for you here.