This week and next week are the annual construction holidays in Quebec. For a U.S.’er like myself, the idea that everybody working in a given profession has the same vacation days is completely foreign. The roads are quieter, the metro less congested and the mood on the streets even more relaxed than usual. This little detail is but one of the many cultural differences I have experienced as an immigrant in a foreign land. Yes, this was a surprise even to me: Canada is another country, and Quebec even more an “other” land. Getting to understand the vocabulary, the history, the customs and idiosyncracies has been a long process and in spite of it being an interesting one, at times it has left me wondering if I will ever feel like an insider here.
Another place I have been questioning my belonging lately is in my circle of lesbian friends. Pregnancy and then having a baby, in most heterosexual contexts, in our contemporary age of the nuclear family, has certain implications that nobody bats an eyelash at. For example, it is expected that the mother will take more time off than the father and perhaps even choose not to work anymore, if that is an option economically. Friends and relatives expect that the couple will be, at least for the first year, exhausted and consumed by the demands of an infant. If they can afford it, the couple will probably hire somebody to help since most extended families (in the U.S. anyway) live elsewhere. Daycare is inevitable at some point and extraneous activities like showering and cleaning dishes are suspended for a given period time.
As a gay woman with one foot inside political lesbian culture, expectations are much more murky. Even the idea of lesbians having babies is, to some members of this tribe, suspect-it reeks of mimicking hetero culture. A friend of mine, to this day, refers to lesbian parents as “breeders,” a joke that I‘ve heard more than once.
Perhaps not surprisingly, political lesbians I’ve known value independence for women far more than straight people-in large part, I’m sure, because of women’s dependency on and subservience to men in so many cultures for so many years and the oppression women live because of it. Getting one’s identity tied up in anybody else’s is a social no-no.
The first big change I noticed as a new mother is that I had absolutely no space, emotionally or time wise, for being intimate with my friends, people who have been my family of choice as an adult. This dynamic is different than heterosexual families. Because my family is fairly uninvolved with my life and, as an extension, with Alexi, I’ve made efforts to socialize with my friends along with my partner and baby. This of course is not the kind of closeness I had with my friends before becoming a mother. Talks don’t reach the level of personal disclosure and sharing of emotions that enable people to feel like their hearts are shared.
Suddenly I am in a different world than the one I shared with my close friends: the world of strollers, sippy cups and swimming in the wading pool. I am researching infant sleeping patterns, food intolerances and patterns of teething. It’s hard to make time to pick up the phone, let alone figure out how to explain what I am living to people who have never had a baby before. Sometimes, on those rare occasions that I am actually free and available for phone chats or one on one strolls in the park, I find myself uncomfortably justifying the parenting choices Lucie and I have made, which are far more time consuming than mainstream methods. Are my friends judgmental or am I projecting? Do they just miss me or maybe they don’t relate to or like the mother I have become? And why is it so hard to just talk heart to heart like we used to? My place of belonging in the hearts of close friends who aren’t parents is suddenly unclear, at least to me.
Surprisingly, there is an easy connection between all mothers of young children, and when I take Alexi to the little playground down the street, even the language and cultural barriers melt because of this shared experience that is so intense. In many ways, the belonging I miss with my friends now exists with women who are virtual strangers, at least in the beginning.
But after a bit of time, when casual neighborhood conversations graduate to an invitation to lunch or play date, the differences between my family and heterosexual families is revealed, and the connection becomes wobbly. Our new friends are very open minded but the fact remains that, as straight women, they live something different than two lesbians raising a child, even here in Quebec where both law and climate are, probably, the best on the planet.
So, here I sit, sweaty and straddled between the two worlds. We are lucky to have a gay and lesbian parenting group in Montreal, something that doesn’t exist in many other places in Canada. Maybe, after the vacation period and once fall schedules have settled in, I will check it out. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the sleepy heat of midsummer with Alexi, soaking up his squealy belly laugh as I toss him in the air at the wading pool, all four of his baby teeth glinting in the sun.