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Pride And Joy: How I Changed My Mind About Becoming An LGBT Parent

20/02/2017 17:35
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I was never one of those girls who dreamed of becoming a mother. I was an only child with little exposure to babies, unable to see what all the fuss was about.

When in my teens, I started to realise I was gay, and when I came out in my early 20s, it seemed to make sense. My lack of interest in motherhood was caused by my gayness, or my gayness by my lack of interest in motherhood. I didn't understand it, but was sure they were connected somehow.

I hadn't come across gay parents in any of the feminist books or magazines that I furtively read as a teenager. As far as I was aware, they did not exist.

If this seems unlikely, remember, it was before Ellen or Elton, before the repeal of Section 28, and a time when civil partnership, let alone equal marriage, was barely conceivable.

But I was gay - and that was good. Then I met my partner Rachel - and that was even better. The only thing that troubled us was the question of children. She wanted them. I didn't. So, for a while, we fudged it.

We celebrated our commitment in church and legalised it with a civil partnership on the first day possible. Somehow, over the following months, our conversations about children became less about 'why', and more about 'when' and 'how'. Because 'how' is a crucial and complicated question for any same-sex couple wanting to have children.

Recently Rachel and I interviewed dozens of LGBT parents for our new book Pride and Joy and I learnt all about 'how': surrogacy, adoption, fostering, egg-sharing, IVF, sperm banks, and known donors are all ways in which LGBT people create families. But back then, I had no idea.

Rachel and a long-standing gay male friend had joked for years about becoming parents together. Eventually, we plucked up our courage and asked him and his partner whether they'd consider embarking on parenthood with us - not as a joke, but for real.

This began months of talking, praying, reading and researching. We got to know each other better, discussed our hopes and fears, consulted lawyers and our families, read up on home insemination, had health checks, bought ovulation testing kits, and visited friends of friends who were in a similar arrangement to the one we had planned.

This visit was a turning point. These were the first gay parents I had ever met. I was ready now. As much as anyone planning to be a parent is ever ready, that is, I was not ready in the slightest. But I did not want to be pregnant. An advantage of being in a lesbian partnership, rather than a straight one, is that I could make that choice.

In researching Pride and Joy, I heard the experiences of LGBT parents who, in previous decades, decided to hide their sexuality to protect their families. For us, negotiating appointments and antenatal classes as a lesbian couple, and as a four-parent family, could cause confusion, frustration and misunderstanding, but we never experienced outright discrimination.

I had still never held a baby, changed a nappy or soothed a child to sleep until my own daughter was born. Like any new parents, we were sleepless and overwhelmed, but in an enviable situation. With two dads around the corner, and four sets of grandparents in regular contact, there was always someone to love and look after the baby.

Just as I had reversed my conviction that I did not want to be a parent. I reversed my decision about pregnancy too. Two years later, I gave birth to our younger daughter, and our family was complete.

We are just like any other family. Yet in some ways being an LGBT family shapes who we are: from our questioning of gender stereotypes to our celebration of Pride; from our decision to seek out other LGBT families to working out how we give our children the language to talk about their unusual family.

So, in creating Pride and Joy, we decided to gather the stories, wisdom and advice of a diverse range of LGBT families into a practical and positive self-help guide because we believe that LGBT families have much to teach each other, and much richness to share with all sorts of families.

If you'd told my teenage self that I would be among the first of my friends to have children, I'd have laughed you out of the room. If you'd told me then that I would co-write a parenting book, I'd have laughed even harder.

Yet I know now that my gayness is not a barrier to becoming a parent, it's part - but only part - of what makes me the parent, and person, that I am. It's a cause of both pride and joy.

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