Though millions of children are being raised by LGBT people, the process of bringing a child into the world is one that’s still laden with heteronormative traditions and expectations. As a same-sex couple, we have been faced with the friction that bucking that norm can cause, and have had to consider to what degree we wanted to embrace customs, ignore them or, in some cases, create our own.
Bracing for impact
On my first day at my new job, two weeks after we found out Ashlee was pregnant, I had to tell my boss that my wife was expecting in order to figure out PTO allowances. Inherent in that statement was also my coming out to him, a message that I had to keep sharing with other coworkers once Ashlee hit the 12-week mark (which most doctors advise waiting until before going public, as most complications occur by that point). After 10 years at PGN, I had little apprehension about coming out, but it was still an interesting experience when each new person would come into my office, see the framed ultrasound picture I had put up on a shelf and congratulate me and my husband. There was often a second of embarrassment on their part, and thankfully little else; I tried to take it in stride and be realistic that, while LGBT parenting is becoming more common, no one is immune from assumptions.
Ashlee has faced the same thing in her workplace, a healthcare setting. While she is out to all of her coworkers, she doesn’t necessarily share her personal life with her patients, some of whom can’t help but notice that she’s pregnant. She’s casually told some that she and her wife are expecting, and others (largely the older, more conservative crowd) she’s just allowed to congratulate her and her husband out of convenience. From neighbors to the mailman to random passersby in a store, every single time Ashlee being pregnant has been addressed with new audiences, it’s another time we’ve had to come out.
Even from those who have long been a part of our personal lives, we received some strange reactions. One friend thought we both were pregnant at the same time. Another friend of the family pointedly asked Ashlee, “Wait, how are you pregnant?” Lots of folks hesitantly asked who the baby would look like, to try to figure out whose egg we used. We were braced for the, “Who’s the father?” question, but fortunately that never materialized. We decided to try to be patient with any such questions, recognizing that even Ashlee and I learned a lot about family-building through this process, using it as an opportunity to educate those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of artificial reproduction.
We chose to tell our close family members in person at about 10 weeks (with individualized “aunt” and “grandparent” gifts), followed by phone calls to other family members and close friends. As many people do in this digital age, we opted for a social-media post to announce the pregnancy widely. We thought about creating a post that played off our relationship (there are some hilarious LGBT-centric images you can find online that poke fun at the inevitable questions same-sex parents face), but decided not to highlight that aspect; we wanted everyone to view us just as expectant parents, not expectant same-sex parents. Ashlee hit 12 weeks in mid-February, so we spelled out “August 2018” on the back of a bunch of heart candies and took a photo with the ultrasound and a pair of baby shoes and then watched the love pour in. Social media can, in a way, keep us in a protected bubble of like-minded loved ones, so we’ve tried to remind ourselves that the rest of the world isn’t necessarily as accepting as our circles. We know that so many LGBT Americans face much more resistance when building families, and that unfortunate reality has helped us to really be grateful for the support we do have.
An inclusive experience
One of the most common questions we got after announcing the pregnancy was whether or not we wanted to know ahead of time if we were having a boy or girl. As LGBT people, we’re a lot less committed to the gender-binary expectations many have during pregnancy. We’re of the mindset that our future children can choose to express gender however they please as they grow up and plan to eschew the traditional dolls-and-trucks trope. However, in part for planning purposes (we intended to put the baby’s name on one of the nursery walls), we chose to go ahead and find out the sex. Most 20-week ultrasounds will be able to determine sex, but we actually found out a few weeks earlier, as we opted for Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing, which screens for risk of genetic disorders (and also can tell the sex). We had our doctor write the sex on a slip of paper in a sealed envelope, which sat on our dresser for a long two weeks.
Part of our motivation for doing a “gender reveal” event was being able to share that moment with our family and close friends, as so much of the fertility process was solely between Ashlee and me — our loved ones knew we were planning to start a family, but we kept the details private, as we rightfully predicted lots of ups and downs. We invited a few family and friends over and, in keeping with our “Harry Potter” theme for the baby’s nursery, a friend covertly read the slip of paper and put a pair of baby shoes (we had gotten both blue and pink, for convenience’s sake) under our “Sorting Hat.” With tons of smartphones at the ready, we lifted the hat to reveal … blue!
While we went semi-traditional for the gender reveal, we’ve also invented a few of our own traditions throughout this process. As the baby will have a biological connection to Ashlee and not to me, we have tried to be intentional about making sure we all feel equally connected. We both try to use language such as “our baby” and “we’re pregnant,” so no one (us included) gets the sense that we’re not both equally invested in becoming parents. Ashlee has been filling out a weekly “Baby Book” journal, while I’ve also been writing my own recollections of this experience for him to eventually read. Instead of the traditional “baby bump” selfies many women take, I’ve been taking a weekly picture of Ashlee that I intend to make into a slideshow for him. Ashlee has been experiencing all of the physical sensations of preparing for a baby, and I’ve been gearing up in my own way: painting the nursery (all the snow days this winter came in handy), organizing the house for the influx of baby belongings and reading up on the next symptoms Ashlee may experience. We’ve found that it’s important to make the experience inclusive; we started this journey together and want to experience as many steps as we can side by side.
Being “nontraditional” expectant parents comes with its challenges, but it’s also an opportunity to define the experience for yourselves, an approach we anticipate will continue once Jackson Anthony makes his entrance in a few short months.