“Mommy and Mama! Look at me!”
Heads whip around the playground as Zoe calls out to me and my partner, Gina. I notice some of the adults nearby looking quizzically at her–and then at us. Our daughter, an articulate and boisterous 3-year-old, is oblivious to the scrutiny. All she wants is to show us how high she’s soaring on the swing. In her eyes, her parents are as normal as anyone else’s.
As a two-mom family living in Hampton Roads, Virginia, however, Gina and I know we are different. We’re both a curiosity and a political statement, though we never set out to be either. We simply decided to start a family for the same reasons other couples do: We had been together for a long time and having a baby seemed the next logical step in our relationship. We both felt we had a lot to offer children, and now that Zoe’s in our lives, our goals are just like any parent’s: To love her with all our hearts and to raise her to be a happy and healthy adult.
Aside from the fact that we’re lesbians, our life story is pretty conventional. Gina and I met when we were freshmen at James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. We both had boyfriends at the time; I was actually engaged to my high school sweetheart. But as the two of us grew closer over the course of that year, we realized that our relationship was something more. The following summer, we both broke up with our boyfriends. We have been together ever since.
In 1996, Gina and I got married in the Unitarian Universalist Church-although, of course, our marriage is not recognized in the eyes of the law. We had a typical, traditional wedding: food, flowers, candles, a DJ, dancing, a big cake-the whole bit. Neither of us wore white, though: Instead, we opted for matching purple chiffon dresses that we’d picked out together. We celebrated with about 80 guests, including members of my immediate and extended family. It had taken awhile for my parents to get comfortable with the idea of us as a couple, but by then they had come around. Everyone in my family was supportive. Sadly, Gina’s mom and dad have never accepted our relationship.
They didn’t even want to receive a wedding invitation.
When we first started thinking about having a family six years ago, we met with a fertility specialist to discuss how to proceed. Obviously, we faced issues that heterosexual couples don’t encounter. Our first decision was which one of us would carry the baby; we both wanted to be pregnant. After long discussions, we decided that I would have our first child, and Gina would have baby number two. In terms of conceiving, we considered a variety of options. We thought about having one of Gina’s eggs fertilized and implanted in my womb. But we ultimately decided to go a less invasive-and less expensive-route: To have one of my eggs artificially inseminated with sperm from an anonymous source.
We chose a sperm bank in California, and began reviewing forms from potential donors. You can choose a donor based on physical characteristics, and we wanted to find someone who looked a little bit like both of us. Our 8-pound, 9-ounce little girl was born on June 22, 2000, after a 36-hour labor, which I couldn’t have endured without Gina. She was the best coach ever! As it turns out Zoe bears a strong resemblance to Gina; they both have the same blue eyes.
Our day-to-day lives are similar to those of other families we know, but we don’t fall into the typical gender roles of moms and dads. Aside from breastfeeding, we have shared virtually all mothering duties, from changing diapers to putting Zoe’s hair in pigtails. Both of us work full-time-I’m a freelance writer and Gina is a vice president for an environmental company-and we split household duties equitably.
But having a child has definitely changed things for us. Before becoming parents, Gina and I led very private lives. Other than close friends and family, not many people knew that we are lesbians. We weren’t secretive, we just didn’t talk about it much.
We quickly realized that with kids, we couldn’t be so discreet. It wasn’t right to expect a child to hide any part of her life. In a world of permission slips, teacher conferences, and play dates, the fact that Zoe has two moms would be out in the open, whether we liked it or not. We figured that this might make others uncomfortable, from babysitters to playmates’ parents-and we braced ourselves for the worst.
In fact, we’ve experienced very little outright bias-even though we live in a conservative Southern city, not a progressive place like San Francisco or New York. We intentionally chose a day-care center for Zoe where there is diversity: the kids come from various ethnic backgrounds and from all kinds of families, including single-parent and other same-sex households. So far, Zoe’s teachers haven’t expressed any disapproval of our lifestyle whatsoever, nor have any of her classmates’ families: Parents of her friends have sent their kids over to play, and Zoe gets invited for playdates all the time. That’s not to say that we don’t stand out, and the attention we get is at once entertaining and annoying. Zoe uses a hyphenated version of my and Gina’s last name, and acquaintances and complete strangers often ask which one of us is Zoe’s “real” mom. (We tell them we both are.) People wonder what Zoe calls us. (I am Mama and Gina is Mommy.) They ask if Zoe misses having a father. (She hasn’t complained so far, and we have plenty of men friends to provide male influences in her life.) Some people even wonder aloud if Zoe will be gay herself. (Probably not, according to research.)
The biggest issue for us is the legal hurdles we face as a same-sex family: Gina cannot adopt Zoe or put us on her medical insurance-and that troubles us. But we hope that it’s just a matter of time until our family is legally recognized. We’re optimistic that recent court decisions (the Supreme Court ruling on Texas sodomy laws and the Massachusetts’ ruling that it’s unconstitutional to ban same-sex marriages) will open the door for equal treatment for families like ours.
Gina and I are hoping to expand our family soon; we’re currently working on baby number two. And though we’re comfortable with our choice to have children, we fully realize there may be difficult days ahead: We worry about the teasing Zoe and her brother or sister might encounter in middle school, about how they’ll tell their friends about our family, and about how people will react. But after 16 years together and three years of parenting, Gina and I are prepared for whatever lies ahead. We are confident that we will give our children all the skills–and the support–they’ll need to meet the challenges that life may bring.