When we started talking about having kids, we had discussed that we would both ideally like to have one each, but planned on Sarah going first as she definitely wanted to carry (I was on the fence about it!) and she is 5 years older than me. We decided after initially wanting to try IUI, to do IVF mostly due to Sarah travelling a lot for work – we found IVF much easier to plan our lives around, whereas with IUI twice Sarah ovulated on the day she was heading to an important meeting or away was for work!
I didn’t feel at all concerned about not having a biological connection to my child – I think maybe it was because from early on we knew that if we were to have kids that it would be likely the case for one of us (whether it was through one of us having the child, or if we’d adopted), it wasn’t something I spent much time thinking about. Also, I love Sarah with all my heart so I knew it would be incredible to have a mini-her running around!
Out of the two of us, I am very much the organiser, planner, researcher, and one that puts plans into motion, so I think that is how I made myself a really big part of Sarah’s conception and pregnancy. I made all the appointments, packed the bags, helped her through every step of the way – even though the procedures were happening to her, I was reassuring, asking questions, there for everything. I made her smoothies every day to help her get nutrients, gave her shoulders a massage for almost every day of the pregnancy, and even gave up everything Sarah had to give up for the pregnancy, food and alcohol-wise. It just helped me feel like I was the very best partner I could be for her, and for our baby. Sarah was really good about helping me ‘get to know’ our baby in her belly – we’d spend ages every night using a little Doppler to hear her heartbeat, and after her first kicks at 17 weeks trying to get me to feel them too. I’d also sing baby a lullaby every night before bed (‘Blackbird’ by The Beatles), which she actually ended up responding to after she was born, which was incredible!
The day of the birth was magical – Sarah had a planned Cesarean because baby was breach, and it was a lovely sunny day – so I did what I do best, packed all our bags, snacks, games, things to help make Sarah comfortable – and we headed to the hospital. We had a day of playing board games in the sunshine at the hospital before we were called for our C-Section, and in the room we were able to put on a playlist for Annabelle to be born to. It was wonderful. Nobody questioned who I was on the day – baby came to me first, and I was able to cut her cord – both of which were such memorable experiences I’m so proud of. I was really a part of the birth, as well as the pregnancy.
When Annabelle looked up at me with her big dark eyes, I felt a million emotions all at once. I couldn’t believe that we had made her, she was here, she was ours! I was her mother, responsible for her life, happiness and well-being. Wait that can’t be right, we’ll get to take her home? On our own? Are you sure? What have we gotten ourselves into!?
It was there, at the hospital, where my concerns and worries actually started, and where I finally started to realise that things might be harder for me than I expected. The first few days of Annabelle’s life, in the hospital while she and Sarah were recovering, numerous staff members referred to me as the mother’s ‘friend’ – which while we quickly corrected them, was my first taste of feeling ‘other’ in the life of my little girl. It was angering as surely in a hospital situation where only partners can stay until a certain time, it should be assumed the person there is partner first? It’d be less hurtful to assume someone was a partner and be corrected than the opposite. I also found it really tough in those first few days while Sarah’s milk was coming in not being able to comfort my baby – I remember on Day 2 Sarah got up to use the bathroom and was gone for like 10 minutes (as she moved so slowly due to her C-Section!), and Annabelle screamed because she was hungry for that entire time. By the time Sarah came back, Annabelle was crying, I was crying (I’m actually tearing up now, thinking about it!) – I felt like the Dads in the room all thought I was completely over the top, but I hadn’t considered that not being the Mum breastfeeding meant I wouldn’t be able to soothe my own child.
It was not being able to be Annabelle’s comfort through breastfeeding early on that I’d say has been my biggest personal struggle in Annabelle’s life so far related to not being the bio-Mum. I’m the more cuddly of the two of us, more calming – within our roles in our relationship Sarah’s the more ‘fun’, playful one, I’m the protector and comfort – this is the case for Sarah, for Bisbee even, but not for Annabelle – her comfort is Sarah, she needs a lot of comfort at times, and I can’t say I don’t struggle with a bit of jealously about that. If Annabelle is tired, or really upset, sometimes she dives off of me reaching out for Sarah, which has been really tough to not take personally. Luckily, Sarah is really understanding, and never wants me to feel less than or left out, so when that happens, we regroup and then both focus on having her do more with me to try to even the scales again. I do believe that this is mostly down to the time and bond she’s had with Sarah through feeding, and if I had my time again, I’d try to induce lactation myself, so I could have that bonding time with her as well from early on, and be more equal when it comes to comforting our girl.
As it was clear early on I wouldn’t be comfort to her, at least for the moment, I threw myself into trying to figure out what I could be to Annabelle if it wasn’t cuddles – I focused on trying to make her laugh, which is still my favourite thing to do with her. It was harder for me than expected, especially as I am not a naturally ‘silly’ person, but I’ve overcome it as I’d do anything for that smile! I also took charge of any responsibilities that would give me time to bond with Annabelle – I would change every diaper when I was at home, and became the master at rocking her to sleep! Two of the best milestones in my bonding have been when we started weaning Annabelle, as I am the main cook all of a sudden I was a source of food too, which I loved so much. I also really love food so found it so fun to show her different foods and textures, and watch her devour them! The other most amazing thing was when she started wanting to help us do things, which has been more recent. She loves to ‘help’ me cook, so I do a lot of one-armed cooking and let her stir pots, and taste along the way. She also is a decent cleaner – she loves to dry dishes and help move the hoover.
Our families have been nothing short of amazing – mine in recognising Annabelle as their grandchild without a biological connection, and Sarah’s in never making me feel like they think I’m less than Annabelle’s Mum. We’ve both been pleasantly surprised at how excited our families were, but I suppose they see that family is more than just blood, and especially as she is the first grandchild and niece on both sides, she was always going to be wanted and loved as much as she is!
Strangely, the place where I have felt most dismissed as Annabelle’s Mum was at the hospital, after she’d been born, but I think that is because we learned our lesson there. When we are in a new situation now we very quickly identify ourselves instead of waiting for the other person to guess, almost always incorrectly, or to assume. ‘This is Annabelle, and we are her Mums.’ or ‘I’m Sarah, and this is my wife, Laura.’ Often if we are in a situation like a Doctor’s appointment where we are together, I will carry her in, I will answer the questions, and as Annabelle looks a lot like Sarah so she doesn’t tend to be dismissed, this tends to mean we don’t get questioned. On holiday recently if Sarah had Annabelle and someone said ‘Oh your baby is so cute, how old is she?’ or another question, naturally I answer ‘Thanks, we think so! 14 months.’ or whatever the question may be, not allowing myself to be the assumed ‘friend’. We both find it frustrating that we feel we have to do this in order to come out in front of the public’s assumptions, but it’s worth it to not feel invalidated. And really, for us as two femme lesbians, it’s an extension of what we have done for our entire relationship – mentioning ‘my wife’ early on in a conversation with a new colleague so they don’t assume I’m married to a man, requesting a room with a queen bed in a hotel as in the past when we’ve arrived at check in they’ve changed us to a twin room, and insisting on going together despite questioning to the window at passport control as we are a couple, and now a family, who they wouldn’t query if we were a male/female couple!
Because we are on the defense about being treated as a family, the times where someone has assumed us a family before we’ve had a chance to state it, really stick out in our minds. On our first outing as a family, to Stratford-Upon-Avon a few weeks after Annabelle was born, Sarah was feeding her on a bench by the river and I had Bisbee on my lap, just watching my beautiful newborn. A woman came up to us specifically to tell us what a beautiful family we were, and what a gorgeous baby we had. It was soon after the hospital experience, so I teared up at this simple act of validation. It was the first time we’d been recognised as a real family. We also have felt very accepted at the daycare that Annabelle goes to a few days per week. The nursery manager, who showed us around initially, didn’t make assumptions as to who I was – she just showed us around like we were both equally important in Annabelle’s life. Which of course, is the way it should be. We love that there is at least one other two Mum family in Annabelle’s class, and that they really think about how to make the children feel included – for Father’s Day, Annabelle made a card at daycare, and her teacher said to me that they’d left it blank so she could give it to one of the special men in her life. We feel very lucky that she goes to such an inclusive daycare.
In short, being the non-bio Mum is complicated – for me, more so than I expected it to be. If you’re like me, you’ll struggle a bit with feelings of inadequacy and a question around your role as Mum in your baby’s life. My best advice for this is to always talk to your partner, communicate your fears, your worries, and come up with a plan together to combat or help you with your feelings. Also, and this is advice that sounds obvious but is comforting in relation to this, but also to a lot of things when it comes to a baby – everything is a phase. Baby isn’t sleeping more than two hours at a time? Hang in there, the stints will get longer. Baby tends to favour one parent? This will likely change or at least become more equal as they start to discover the world around them. Babies seem to change so frequently, in a few weeks you’ll have found your place and you’ll be worrying about new and completely different things! (Like us currently – ‘Why has Annabelle seemed to skip walking and insisted on running absolutely everywhere??’) The other issue you will almost definitely come across is people who, often without meaning to, make you feel ‘other’. It is tough, but now I choose to look at it that I have the opportunity to teach these people, who possibly have not come across a family like mine before, not to assume, but to ask (politely), or to think partner over friend first. You’ll also come across plenty of amazing people who don’t make you feel lesser than, who support you and assume your role correctly. But best of all, at the end of the day, none of those people matter – what matters is you and your other half, and your baby (and if you have one, your pet, who already thinks you’re the best ever!). And as long as you are the best parent you can be for your little one, you’ll not be only the non-bio mum, but just simply ‘Mum’.