I remember when I realized I could have kids.
When I came out to my parents at 18, it was a difficult thing for them. My dad, a minister, did his best to catch up quickly, even helping me to tell him by asking, “are you trying to tell me that you’re a lesbian?” I wasn’t there when he told my mom, but I don’t think it went quite as well. She didn’t disclose all her difficulties in accepting it, but she was quick to say, “I’m so sad you can never have children.” That was what we all believed at the time.
Being 18, I wasn’t thinking about children- she was way ahead of me on that, but I probably agreed that realizing I was a lesbian ruled parenting out.
I certainly knew lesbian mothers, but they had all had children before coming out. The trip across country during which I first fell in love with a woman was mostly mothers and their children. Still, I didn’t apply that possibility to myself.
It was several years before I really thought much about it at all. I had sort of a natural defense system against that loss. But I remember the exact moment when it all changed.
I worked in a restaurant that was a hangout for lesbians, Berkeley hippies, politicos- sometimes all in the same person. It was a collective, 8 of us trying to run the place together, all of us a little on the fringe of society- the kind of experience you remember for a lifetime. One day, a friend of ours, a lesbian, came in and said that she was planning to get pregnant by artificial insemination (the first of its many names) within a few months. I immediately thought, “I could do that.” The world was suddenly bigger.
From then on, it was as if a floodgate had been removed. My life changed. I wanted a baby. More than that, I wanted to give birth. I became almost obsessed. I knew some day, pretty soon, I would parent.
That wasn’t more than a few years before I actually did become pregnant, become a parent. I was in the second wave- not the first group of lesbians I knew to have babies, but right behind them. That created some interesting and humorous experiences (although it didn’t feel funny at the time). I would go to lesbian events and have women glare at me, as if I was a traitor to my kind. On the street, strangers suddenly felt they could touch my belly or speak as if they knew me, and almost always with a comment like, “your husband must be so happy!” I was suddenly invisible as a lesbian, after years of being out.
When my first child was born, I cared less about those things. I went from being a lesbian to being a mom lesbian- yes, mom came first. And this utterly changed my sense of myself, because the thing about me I had considered the most important now took a back seat. My daily life was completely different from the people I’d had the most in common with such a short time before. I had a new appreciation for what most women in the world do with their lives, and how much it takes.
There’s no way to know what might have happened in my life if I hadn’t had children. But I do know being a mother has expanded me as a person like nothing else. I am so grateful to live at this moment in history, when I could accept my lesbianism and also invite what I truly wanted- I could love and nurture children of my own.