Summer has arrived in Montreal. In our neighborhood, this means that social and family life pours out onto balconies and sidewalks, into the parks, the playgrounds and the wading pool. Through being active outside, we’ve met many other neighbors with kids living nearby.
As we swing, slide, build, splash and hang upside down with other parents and children, I usually forget that our family is different. But every now and then, something, like Father’s Day, happens and we are quickly shaken back to the reality that we are a lesbian couple parenting a boy conceived by in vitro fertilization and, therefore, unlike most other families we meet.
Last Saturday, the one before Father’s Day, we were out front pushing Alexi on his new-to-him $2 yellow construction bus when our neighbors, Marie and her 4-year-old son, Luc, walked by. We’ve watched Luc on occasion and we’ve even exchanged phone numbers so it’s becoming a bit cozier than a casual street friendship. Marie, a Francophone, began speaking to us in English to make sure Luc didn’t understand. “Luc ask me today about Alexi father. He want to know where he is. I try to explain about different kind of family...he keep saying, but mama, WHERE Alexi father? Is he dead? Finally I make drawing of five different family, two mama, a mama and a papa, two papa, one papa and one mama. He understand after that.”
On Father’s Day itself we received yet a second wakeup call from other neighbors. A mother with two little girls passed Alexi and I on the sidewalk as they were out for a stroll. My boy, being the ever charming social butterfly that he is, went up to the older girl to give her a particularly cool piece of mulch he had found in our garden. I heard the mother, in French, tell the girl, “ Say thank you to the little boy, Alexia.” I said, “Oh, what a coincidence,” and, pointing to my boy, “his name is Alexi!” The mother said, “Oh, yes, I think we’ve seen him at the playground with his mother.”
His MOTHER? His MOTHER? In my head I am ranting. Who do you think you’re looking at!!! I wanted to rip off my shirt, point to my 20 inch long nipples and let her see that it was ME who had fed him from my body for 15 months, ME who had carried him and his twin brother for 8 months, ME whose curly hair he shares, ME who is biologically related and, therefore, somehow, even more legitimate than that other mother she saw at the playground.
I am not proud of these thoughts. I even shared them with my partner who has had way more moments of invisibility than I will ever know. Deep in my heart I get that Lucie is as real of a mother to Alexi as I am. On a day to day basis as we nurture, guide, feed and play with our boy, we both truly do forget that we are a lesbian couple and that Alexi does not have a father. But when those reminders come, I get a sinking feeling inside and wonder about the day when Alexi will have to handle those questions and how they will affect him.
Before we decided to try to have a child via IVF, the lack of a father was something I questioned. Was it unfair or even damaging to raise a child, in particular a boy, without a father? We had tried to find a known donor, somebody who was interested in a bit of contact outside the parenting role, but had no luck. The best we could do was select an “open identity” donor, for a bit more money, which means that once Alexi is 18 he has access to the donor’s identity and contact information. Obviously we will have many conversations with him about his history before then; we are totally committed to supporting him and helping him through whatever hurdles he encounters.
In the meantime, he is a boy with a Maman and a Mommy-no father. My guess is he will meet questions like Luc’s in various ways throughout his childhood and, indeed, throughout his life. He might feel sad, different, and possibly weird at times, even if he does have other friends who share his difference. He might ask us what’s wrong with him that he doesn’t have a father. He might feel like a have-not. Then again, he might have reactions I can’t even imagine. All this unknowing makes me uneasy.
As somebody who loves books, I tried pacifying my angst by searching for books written about lesbian mothers of sons, hoping to get the perspective of somebody who had researched the matter further than I had. I was fortunate to find Peggy Drexler’s book, Raising Boys Without Men. In this research driven book, Drexler concludes that boys raised in households without fathers, meaning both single women and lesbian couples, benefit in numerous ways and show no indications of being damaged. Although this book was a relief to read, how the rest of the world reacts to our boy’s history and what those reactions mean for Alexi at different ages remains to be seen.
In the meantime I am practicing a new approach: trying to train my brain to create new neural pathways and new associations. Indeed, having two moms could make a boy a true “have” rather than a “have not:” four breasts to suck and snuggle, two bodies with soft hairless skin to stroke, tons of hugs and kisses, no pressure to be a tough guy and hide his soft spots, and lots of training in communicating and expressing feelings. What kid wouldn’t kill for that kind of childhood?!?
Whether these pluses have to do with being two women or being Lucie and Gail I can’t be certain. But the next time we’re at the park or playground and a neighbor asks where his father is, I just might have the guts to answer with a question: “Actually, I was standing here wondering the same thing: where is little Susie’s other mother?”