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What LGBTIQA+ families need to know about parenthood

In Features, Pregnancy, Pregnancy + Birth, Stories by Nicole Fuge

Becoming a parent is already a challenging time. Even more so if you don’t see yourself reflected in mainstream parenting resources, culture or even language. Which is why Jasper Peach is on a mission to prep LGBTIQA+ families for the arrival of a new baby.

By Jasper Peach

Whether you are doing this solo. With a friend or partner. Or with multiple co-parents. I bet your family story has had or will require some fairly intentional action.

And with ever-shifting rules, laws and possibilities when it comes to creating a baby, you’re likely to have multiple options around how to get this party started.

There are many questions and a lot of discussions to be had, with yourself and/or with others….

Where are the parts you need to make this baby coming from?

Do you have an egg?

How about sperm?

Do you have a place for this kiddo to gestate?

How do you make these decisions? And what implications do they have for this child and, indeed, for your family, your community and the world?

What are your values?

If you are in a partnership, is it important that you agree on every single aspect?

How do you feel, and then react, when conflict arises?

How are you funding this undertaking?

Also, how many times will you try?

What could your other options look like?

That’s all before you’ve even reached the starting blocks. You cannot cover everything all at once, and you can only do your best.

“If you are two people who identify as women, you may face insensitively worded questions such as ‘Who will be the mum?’ or even worse ‘Who’s the real mum?’.”

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PACE YOURSELF: THIS IS A BIG DEAL

A strange phenomenon that arises when a baby becomes part of the conversation is that people filter your experiences through their own lived lens.

Diversity gives way to dogma. And there can be an unwelcome sense of ownership around the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do family, pregnancy, birth, breast and chest feeding. Along with all the parenting rules you never knew were up for discussion.

mama disrupt

YOUR FAMILY IS COMPLETELY UNIQUE AND YOURS TO DEFINE

Creating it takes energy. You are absolutely entitled to conserve yours, and not spend it filling the gaps in other people’s self-education. Consider this your official permission.

We are conditioned to be polite. To not make anyone feel uncomfortable. Often at the expense of our own agency and ownership of our hard-won identities.

Correcting takes courage. Not only do you have to deal with the other person’s discomfort. But too often their reaction also shifts the onus to helping them feel better after their misstep.

You can choose whether or not to engage in a discussion. But it is never your sole responsibility to educate. A wealth of information is available to the wider community at the swipe of a smartphone.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. And, when feeling robust, to offer my perspective on how their words felt as I absorbed them. The outcome can go either way, and in some unimaginable directions too.

parental guilt, mama disrupt

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD [AND TO CREATE ONE]

There are often many moving and mutable parts, people who selflessly help to balance the scales of injustice.

Egg donors, sperm donors and surrogates give of their own bodies, time and energy, releasing into the ether an element of themselves that they possibly, even likely, will have no further contact with or influence over.

Some of these donations are anonymous; depending on policy, your child may be informed of their donor’s identity when they come of age.

In our case, we opted for a known donor. He was someone who knew being a parent was not for him. But he could see that it was for us and couldn’t think of any reason not to help. Despite being honest and saying he didn’t know how he would feel when our baby was born.

It is truly humbling when your family can be formed with this incredible generosity.

If you’re forging ahead as a couple with two uteruses at your disposal, there’s the task of deciding who will be the birthing and non-birthing party. If you are two people who identify as women, you may face insensitively worded questions such as ‘Who will be the mum?’ or even worse ‘Who’s the real mum?’.

Ditto similarly invasive and reductive questions in a dynamic of two dads. And for adoptive or surrogate couples. Who confront not only a labyrinthine and at times hostile bureaucracy, but the assumptions and preconceptions of a world where provenance and biology rule supreme.

Philosophical notions of what the word ‘real’ even means aside, this kind of discourse can chip away at your sense of self.

third trimester, mama disrupt

FINDING THE RIGHT MEDICAL CARE CAN BE VERY DIFFICULT

It can feel a bit strange – even frightening – walking into a space where you are the minority and are there seeking healthcare.

In my family, we opted for IVF and were in the privileged position to have the means to do so.

After a few missteps with the first IVF clinic, we found a private IVF doctor who we could see exclusively for a tiny extra cost. That was all it took to get continuous care from someone we got to know and trust.

The best way to find these doctors is to ask people in your community who have babies; someone will have a name to pass on to you.

If you’re lucky like us, they’ll make a call on your behalf, and the personal connection makes everything possible. It goes without saying that things shouldn’t be this way; everyone deserves excellent care regardless of who they know.

mama disrupt

A LOT OF THE SYSTEMS WE LIVE WITHIN LET US DOWN

Sometimes in ways as simple as the options available in a drop-down menu.

I remember not knowing how to answer the question of whether I was the primary parent. Did they mean the birthing parent? In our family we were equal. When a trans man sees a birthing staff member and they list their gender as male, many of the routine check-ups and procedures during their gestation are no longer on the menu.

Medical erasure and discrimination are worse when your identity sits at an intersection.

Most people in the LGBTIQA+ community have enough wherewithal to check our privilege. We know what it is to be marginalised. The fertility industry is just that: an industry, part of a capitalist system that prioritises profit over empowerment and care.

There need to be affordable, equitable and accessible pathways to reproductive technology so that it’s not just possible for some of us. Equality will remain elusive as long as some of us are excluded and left behind.

If you feel that you can, a quick email to a feedback address can go a long way. It can also help you to release some of the grief involved, knowing that you’ve taken a step to protect others in your position from similar experiences in future. But you are under no obligation to retraumatise yourself to fix a system that is not necessarily made with you in mind.

For every instance you’re lectured – authoritatively – on the way things are, there will be an opportunity to make a decision and definition for yourself.

mama disrupt

WHATEVER THE PROCESS, BRINGING A BABY INTO YOUR FAMILY CAN BE DIFFICULT

It’s a journey that will stretch you to your limits, and it’s vital to remain connected to and communicate with whoever it is the you’re on the road with.

Conception via assisted reproductive technology is forging your family through fire. The process and its impact on everyone involved is not to be underestimated.

My wife bore the physical and hormonal brunt of IVF, and we clutched one another for dear life throughout.

Along the way we faced police checks. Blood screening for both of us (with no clarification offered as to why my blood was needed too). And counselling to determine if we would even be approved, both for us as a couple and for our donor.

We were labelled geriatric, bariatric, socially and psychologically infertile, and countless other derisive things that have fallen through the cracks of memory.

It was a marathon.

I injected the person I love in the belly every morning, hurting her for what felt like years. I wept on long drives to our local capital city (where great IVF treatment was available) because the hope was sticking in my throat and I couldn’t see or feel anything else.

mama disrupt

REMEMBER, YOU ARE A TEAM

During this time, I found it impossible to give much to anyone other than my wife. To hold the woes of friends or family like I usually have the capacity for. I knew I needed to safeguard every shred of energy I had as we were preparing to become a fledgling family of three humans (plus two dogs, one cat and multiple chickens).

It was important to gently let people know this. Rather than simply removing my dependable presence in their lives. Once I explained, people generally understood, and it was positive, proactive preparation for life with a baby, where everything – and everyone – else takes a back seat.

Giving to others is only possible when the people in your immediate circle are safe, loved and have what they need. I had never experienced that before, but I felt it viscerally in every fibre of my being. It was a primal urge.

My wife let me process things in my own unique way. She knows my peaks and troughs well, and allowed me to have my moments. I held her or gave her space as needed. And did my best to be thoughtful about her experiences and how to support her in the ways that counted.

Being the person that not only shows up for others but can prioritise care for yourself demonstrates that you will do what it takes to stay strong and present.

Although we needed our space, this period was also incredibly lonely.

Many non-conventionally aspiring parents know this isolation well. Whether it’s the legs-up-the-wall anxiety of insemination. The nail-biting weeks between surrogate check-ups for news. Or the seemingly interminable hurry-up-and-wait bureaucracy of adoption or fostering.

sleep deprivation, mama disrupt

WHILE IT’S IMPORTANT TO HAVE BOUNDARIES, DON’T FORGET THAT YOUR COMMUNITY IS THERE

I asked my wife’s nearest and dearest to send me something to bolster her through the incredibly gruelling hormonal treatments, day surgery, invasive tests and ultimately endless waiting ahead. Getting my crafternoon on, I used these to create a shimmering mobile of affirmations to hang above our bed, for her to see and feel held and encouraged by.

For prospective single parents preparing to welcome a new addition, you may wish to have a special person or a trusted group of people to be key supports as you traverse the ups and downs.

What matters most is that you give yourself space to have your needs met.

Daring to dream can be such a leap of faith. A tender place to find yourself when things are completely out of your control.

Whichever way you plan to bring a baby into your family, everything could go just as you imagined, or you could be faced with zigs when you expected zags, the blueprint gone belly-up in ways you could never have anticipated.

third trimester, mama disrupt

KNOW THAT ALL YOUR EXPERIENCES CAN HELP TO MAKE YOU A BETTER PARENT

Carve out time to process it all as you go.

Rest, nutrition (including comfort food), moving your body, debriefing, creating. Do whatever works to anchor you to your most grounded centre, as the sands shift beneath your feet.

Being told what to make peace with or why fortune did or did not favour you can be the most crushing blow.

There are as many complex belief systems as there are people, and when – not if – others try to gift you theirs, it’s ok to turn away and seek your own answers inside yourself.

Think of believe like shoes. If they’re not comfortable and don’t feel good from your head to your toes when wearing them. They’re not fit for the path you are following.

Remember, you are trying very hard to achieve something that is ultimately luck of the draw.

It’s like falling in love. Impossible to force, a game of chance, and fraught with emotions like grief, fear, hope and joy.

If you are lucky and the statistical fair winds favour your plotted course, it can be a challenge to let go of the terror that you may yet be becalmed.

What matters is that you are a person of worth, no matter the fickle seas.

lgbtiqa, mama disrupt

Jasper Peach

This is an edited extract from You’ll Be a Wonderful Parent by Jasper Peach, published by Hardie Grant Books. Illustrations by Quince Frances. Available in stores nationally, RRP$24.99.

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