Queer birth stories: Diversity in families
By: Catherine McIntyre
In The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson reflects that ‘whenever anyone asked me why I wanted to have a baby, I had no answer. But the muteness of the desire stood in inverse proportion to its size.’
Wanting to be a mother with my partner, Claire, felt like a need. Yet, like Maggie Nelson, I couldn’t give reasons as to why.
We had been together about a year when we decided to start a family together. The GP told me it could take up to a year of trying so I assumed it would take a little while. But in the third month, I had a feeling we had already conceived. At first the pregnancy tests all came back negative, but I knew.
During a GP appointment, it was confirmed by the faintest line on a test. I walked home and greeted Claire in a burst of excitement. ‘Good morning, Mummy!’
Ettie was conceived in the same month Claire started HRT; our counting of the pregnancy continuing to term probably reveals a little of our personalities. A baby of an exact moment in time, the last opportunity.
I sometimes wonder how much better off we would have been if we had care providers that we were comfortable with.
Our GP clinic caters especially for the LGBTIQA+ community, and while we were getting great care there, the majority of the pregnancy and birth would take place at the local public hospital.
We didn’t feel comfortable disclosing our story to staff.
I was 27 years old when our daughter was born. Claire wasn’t out as trans yet, so to those looking in our family looked like mostly everyone else’s. In private, we were breaking all the rules.
In the first few months of Ettie’s life, we couldn’t go to queer spaces because we looked like a heterosexual couple, and early parenting places felt alienating and too gendered.
We were in our home a lot, just with each other, while the country was feeling legitimised to speak their minds about families like ours. This was in the middle of the same sex marriage postal survey.
Claire came out when Ettie was about five months old. It was such a relief, but it was a big few months.
By the time Ettie was seven months old, I had developed post-natal depression and had come to be aware of some unresolved trauma that was really kicking me around.
I wasn’t prepared for how much you need to face in yourself when you become a parent. The way the birth of my daughter opened me up meant there was nowhere to hide.
Fortunately, I had the resources to access care providers that were culturally safe for me and my family. I am so grateful for that. But that isn’t necessarily easy to come by.
The LGBTIQA+ health services I know of in my area alone are bursting at the seams; to me that says there is a lot more work to be done in the wider community.
You need the same ingredients to make a baby no matter how your family is structured.
Assumptions of family are so steeped in heteronormativity. When you exist in a way that challenges that structure, people often feel entitled to ask questions that they wouldn’t ask other families. A friend once said to me ‘having a baby was the straightest thing I ever did’.
Navigating the world with your kid becomes a daily exercise of coming out.
I have a list of answers in my head, lined up and ready for when someone might challenge my boundaries. Let’s just say this list is constantly being added to.
People are always surprising me. I’ve been interrogated in my own home by a furniture delivery person. I’ve been asked if the baby was from during our relationship or from a previous one.
At a workplace I got asked if Claire and Ettie got along, like Claire was some stranger looking after Ettie rather than her mum. This doesn’t just happen with strangers or workmates, it happens with childcare workers, care providers, and at the emergency department of the children’s hospital. The list goes on.
The challenges that our families can face are nestled amongst the universal experiences of parenthood and raising children.
We still need to access a wide range of services when we are making and raising our families. We may have high risk pregnancies or require specialist support, and not all these services are truly inclusive. While there is work being done, there is still a long way to go.
Doulas are in a unique position to provide the type of care that can really benefit any family, but especially a rainbow parented family in their pregnancy and early parenting. They provide support to people going through any of life’s transitions, whether that be birth, the adjustment to parenthood, abortion or pregnancy loss and even death.
A proficient doula will not insert or project their story onto someone else’s. They provide information, resources, practical and emotional support to their clients. An example of something a doula could do in the hospital room, whilst someone is in labour, is remind each caregiver that enters of preferred pronouns. Something that simple can make such a difference to someone’s birth experience.
I’m not sure if I’ll have any more children. But I want everyone who is thinking about it to know their options for their care and be able to access the best for themselves and their family.
It’s so important to be seen and heard, and listened to, by people who understand your experiences.
Catherine is a queer doula and family equality advocate. You can find more about her on Instagram @formationpostpartum.