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The Lesbian Gayby Boom

April 09, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 233

Most people reading this will remember the great TV series, The L-Word, in one of the storylines, lesbian partners Tina and Bette have decided that they would like to have a child. They ask one of their male friends to become their sperm donor, and just as Tina is about to be inseminated, the doctor tells them that his sperm count is too slow. Keen to proceed as planned, the couple then ask another of their friends, an artist from France to oblige. He agrees... as long as he can make love to Tina. As he delicately said "The penis and the pussy, they go together, no?" Our heroines decline and rush out, leaving him baffled.

Laura Goldberger, a family and marriage therapist from San Francisco says that a huge concern for lesbian couples, who are trying to become pregnant, is where the sperm is from. Laura runs a support group for these couples and advises that although information and genetic sources such as male friends and sperm banks are available now, the whole process of finding and selecting a donor is highly charged emotionally. As we are still in the early stages of this new exciting new world that has very few lesbian-mother role models and even fewer resources out there to guide new mothers through the intrinsic difficulties faced by lesbian mothers.

However, we must acknowledge that the obstacles are slowly reducing in number and more lesbian couples are now able to consider parenthood than ever before. The phenomenon has even attracted its own label; 'The Gayby Boom'. It isn't easy to accurately determine how many families there are with two lesbian mothers but an estimate based on the census of 2000 puts the figure at about 167,000 families. Many people think this is an underestimate as gay stigma still prevents large numbers of people from revealing information about their sexuality. A more recent report has taken the findings of several different surveys and estimates the number of families with two lesbian mothers at over 3 million.

In some urban districts of cities such as LA, San Francisco and parts of Brooklyn in NYC, two-mummy families are an every-day sight in the ever changing gay scene. Festivals celebrating gay pride are becoming increasingly common and help to promote child friendly activities which promote differences and diversity; an acceptance of the demographic changes. Media is also recognising the growing movement of lesbian parenting and way back in 2004 an edition of the NY Times magazine chronicled the lives of a family at the forefront of the movement. Gay and lesbian parents are also the target customers of a fortnightly magazine called 'And Baby', although the publication has been aimed at upper and middle class families up until now, it is currently being restructured and we are hopeful that their appeal will become more widespread in the future.

How much is the baby in the window?

One of the first shocks for a lesbian couple to overcome when considering their pregnancy options may be the high cost of modern techniques such as artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilisation (IVF). Although visiting sperm banks which cater to lesbian and gay clients is not uncommon, it is still a relatively expensive service to use. There is only one sperm back in the US which actively recruits bisexual and gay sperm donors and at the time of writing their lowest price service is $225. The establishment is based in California, but will ship all over the US for a further $260. When you consider how many shipments or visits may be necessary, it is easy to see exactly how quickly the costs of using a sperm bank can stack up.

There is no doubt that lesbians are financially disadvantaged when it comes to fertility treatment costs that are not payable via insurance companies and compared to straight couples. A study of lesbian and gay income that was published in 1998 found that lesbian couples brought home approximately 20% less salary that a straight couple in similar circumstances did. By the time that all the costs relating to fertility treatments have been taken into consideration, using a sperm bank is just not possible for lesbian couples in the lower and middle income groups.

Although full earning potential doesn't often coincide with optimal fertility, the home insemination approach is still available. A lesbian friend was telling me that she and her partner were lucky to have a friend who was happy to donate his sperm to them but was rather taken aback when they told him that they had no money for a clinic and that he would just need to go into the other room! 'We can't afford to pay for a doctor to do something that we can do for ourselves' My friend told him.

Another drawback to using the services of a sperm bank is uncertainty or doubt in relation to the sperm donor. Most clinics will supply a comprehensive document which provides considerable detail about him. Recently photographs have started to be included in these dossiers, but there are still some details which can only be obtained by meeting somebody in the flesh, personality traits, family history, sense of humour, all fall into this category. Despite all the information available, some couples remain insecure even after conception, Christie and Mara are expecting a baby boy after IVF and are concerned that he will be 'funny looking'. This is despite their careful choice of donor being the closest to them genetically.

Nevertheless, AI with an anonymous donor is a popular choice for couples who want full control of their conception. It eliminates the chance of the biological father suddenly showing up whilst retaining the option for the child to make contact in the future if they so choose.

Leaving the sperm bank option for now, lesbian couples also choose gay or straight male friends who volunteer to donate their sperm. Some lesbian couples even relinquish using a turkey baster all together and simply have sex with a man in order to conceive (Susie Bright, columnist for Salon coined the phrase "party" for this option). Another L-Word storyline tackled the subject of partying when Tina and Bette invited a willing and attractive male into their bed, but they foiled again when he produced a condom!

First comes marriage then comes baby...

After they had been dating for about a year, Maria and Janis felt ready to make a commitment to each other and were able to take advantage of the recent decision that permitted gay marriage in San Francisco. "Once we were married, we wanted a baby right away and became pregnant on our first round of AI. It was a lot easier than I had expected," Maria told me recently during a conference call where I could clearly hear their new born baby in the background. "The next baby will not be any time soon, but I want the next one!"

Although traditionalists and conservatives may look askance at lesbian motherhood, in reality lesbian mothers have existed for a long time, they have simply become more visible since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The main difference now is that instead of lesbians having a baby within a heterosexual relationship, women are becoming pregnant and openly starting families with their lesbian partner. This provides an excellent argument in favour of gay marriage as there is nothing more traditional than a child being raised by two married parents, but that had better wait for another article.

What is obvious is that lesbians consider motherhood with a great deal more forethought and foresight than a broken condom will ever allow for. Laura Goldberger says that the whole process of getting pregnant is described by her group participants as a highly charged emotional rollercoaster despite the majority of them being in committed relationships. A very high number of lesbians that are considering becoming parents struggle around the issues of their legitimacy in society, concerns regarding guiding their child within an alternative but loving family unit and the changing identity and role of women in more general terms.

An example of the care and consideration taken by lesbians that are considering parenthood is that it is a generally believed that incidences of miscarriage are believed to be higher than in straight couples. However, Laura Goldberger's opinion is that because of the observation, virtue and patience which lesbians give to becoming pregnant, they are no more likely to experience miscarriage than anybody else. She points out that dealing with issues such as biology, fertility and other medical information is a huge learning curve, especially in the early days and emotionally, it can be very difficult. She adds that this may be why so many lesbian couples seek support from groups with similar experiences and therapy whilst attempting to become pregnant.

Who's your Daddy?

Leanne was telling me that she and her partner Melissa were keen to find a donor for their baby, but not a father. Leanne was the one to give birth and the women both felt that it was important for Melissa to also have a role; the daddy role. It can be difficult for the non-birth partner to determine her role, particularly when the sperm donor is known to the couple. Communication is vital in avoiding any misunderstandings regarding the roles of each individual partner when a baby is born.

Questions about role are not new to lesbians; dialogues regarding the female/male or femme/butch dichotomies are common place and have been so for a long time. However, a freedom from the traditional roles imposed by society does differentiate straight mothers from their lesbian counterparts. Laura Goldberger says that as heterosexual have to face the pitfalls of gender imposed roles, two women couples often have a much more flexible approach when it comes to dividing up family duties. An example of this would be the birth mother being the one to return to work due to her being the higher earner of the couple.

From marginalisation to acceptance

When a lesbian couple become pregnant and subsequently has a child, the world suddenly feels completely different. Celia told me that she was confronted by the reality of suddenly being accepted by other parents who happened to have children that were the same age as hers. She was shocked to be approached by people who didn't used to speak to her wanting to rub her pregnant belly or coo over her new born baby. She went on to say that having children is similar to having a pet in that people don't tend to speak to you when you are walking alone. However, if you are taking your dog for a walk, people will stop and discuss your pet with you. It's the same with children and you are much more approachable when you have kids in tow."

Laura Goldberger has also noted that lesbian mothers are regularly asked invasive and personal questions from random acquaintances and complete strangers. Very often and despite the lesbian couple's pregnancy announcement being met with congratulations, it is very quickly followed by the question, "Who is the father?" It is hoped that as more lesbian couples are openly parenting, this reaction may lessen.

In situations that include other barriers to acceptance such as religion, the announcement of a pregnancy can be too much for some people to accept. Lupe feels fortunate that her mother is liberal, open and excited about Lupe becoming a lesbian mother. However, she also freely admits that her Mexican grandparents are struggling to understand why Lupe and her partner don't adopt. Although pre pregnancy turmoil is upsetting for all those concerned, Laura Goldberger reports that they almost always subside by the time that the child is born.

The family of the lesbian partner without the biological link may also struggle to accept the child as a member of their family. Returning once more to the L-Word, in one episode Bette became very upset by her father who is an African American and refused to accept the child that Tina was carrying was his grandson. Laura Goldberger has seen this reaction many times and advises that it can be a slow and sensitive process to integrate both sides of the new baby's family especially if one side doesn't feel particularly connected. A great deal of patience needs to be exercised and openness can reduce any hostility until the baby arrives. As Lupe points out it is very difficult to stay mad with a new baby around!

Whilst various members of their extended families, parents and grandparents are dealing with the issues of acceptance, other lesbian families have to endure intolerant attitudes close to home. Celia told me that she has a neighbour that won't allow her daughter to play with our kids too often; however, she is much more open and relaxed toward us than she has been previously. Once the children of lesbian mothers begin school, even more external intolerance may be experienced. However, it is hoped that a future benefit of the gayby boom will be that gay and lesbian mothers will become less of an anomaly at school gates in the future. Laura Goldberger encourages the lesbian parents of children who are preparing to start school, to shop around and find open minded schools. Most cities now have several appropriate options which allow the child to spend their days amongst similar minded teachers and where the other students are used to diverse family structures.

Mainstreaming the lesbian mother image

When the New York Times Magazine published an article about the products of early lesbian parenting, a cultural shift was signalled and an acceptance of a hidden segment of a parenting population was gained. The normality of the profiled family was stark and painted a picture of 2 people who loved each other and therefore came together and went on to decide to have children together. It was as simple as that. Maybe the gayby boom is no more than a reflection of lesbian desire to become mothers and the ability of technology to assist in bringing that desire to reality. The willingness of the creative media to explore the role of lesbian motherhood on shows such as The L-Word also gives legitimacy that just wasn't available beforehand.

But however different and radical lesbian mothers may seem to the rest of society, they see their experiences as similar to every other parent. Celia says that lesbian mothers are just like other mums. We are up all night with children that won't settle; we live with sick on our shirts and carry nappy bags everywhere we go. We adore our children, just like straight families love their children; we encourage them, we support them, and we read to them and kiss their bumps and bruises when they fall over. Our children do what all children do and lesbian parents face the same challenges and joys as every other parent. If anybody thinks that a child will be ruined by not having a father you're wrong. The children who grow up in lesbian mother families will turn out fine.

Becky Downrose is the Founder of - The premier online platform for finding and connecting with alternative families, and information resource for same-sex couples and adoption, foster parenting, surrogacy, sperm and egg donation and co-parenting.

Source: EzineArticles
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