The Question of Carrying

I knew we would get the “whose the real mother” question eventually, but I hadn’t figured it would come like this.

A little background: Nico’s just moved up to from the baby room at daycare to the toddler room. The two rooms are separated by an open door with a window in-between so it’s not all that much different, but it feels like a big step. In the toddler room the kids sit at a mini-table to eat instead of in highchairs. They have a mini ball-filled mosh pit to play in and they take one set nap from 12 to 2 p.m. every day. They also get to go out on buggy rides from time to time, which makes me want to be a toddler again.

The other difference is the employees working with them. In the baby room, I grew close to this woman Corina who was with Nico in the mornings. She’s a highly Catholic daughter of Mexican-born parents who talks a lot about her church and family, but she also had this lovely gentle and accepting spirit. Though I am sure we were the first same-sex couple she’s known, she always treated us with complete acceptance and ease (which is not as much as I can say for other people around here: they never say anything directly to us, but it’s clear they think we’re odd).

In the new room I like most of the staff, but there is one woman who works in the afternoon who always seems to be looking at me askance. Then the other day, when I went to get Nico, she said to me, “Do you carry her?”

Nico was crawling toward me from across the room when she asked this, so I wasn’t paying all that much attention thought at first that she had asked the question in the present tense. How odd, I though, of course I carry my daughter. But then I reheard what she had asked: “Did you carry her?”

I was so surprised that I answered the question without thinking. “No,” I said, “Marta carried her.”

But afterwards I was unsettled and, then later, kinda pissed off. I don’t mind discussing the dynamics of our family with people, but I want to be the one who initiates that conversation. I also think it depends on context. With some people, like this woman, you know they are asking because what they really want to know is who the “real” mom. And that underlying question is what grates at me. You wouldn’t ask a heterosexual woman if she carried her baby–even she might not have. She might have adopted. But she gets assumptive motherhood, whereas with lesbian couples there can be a tendency to try to legitimate one mother while de-legitimating the other. If only slightly.

And so, I’ve decided I need to have a ready-made answer on hand so I don’t get taken by surprise again. Both Marta and I want and plan to be open with Nico about her biological origins, but that doesn’t mean we need to be open every Dick Tom and Harry who asks. I also don’t want to make sure her daycare and (in the future) schools support the idea of her having two “real” moms.

Do any of you other lesbian moms out there have a strategy that works? Or do any of you other creative folks (Uncle Bob, I’m talking to you of course) have some ideas?

The two moms:
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16 thoughts on “The Question of Carrying

  1. Well, thank you for eliciting my thoughts because lesbian motherhood is not one of my areas of expertise. When you’re asked intrusive questions, I suggest you decline–politely or otherwise– to answer. Works every time.

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    • Thanks Bob. I’m just realizing a second option is to just answer with and invasive question of my own. Like: “How much do you weigh?”

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  2. They switch ’em to the toddler room earlier than my daycare does. They do it at 18 months at ours. I think in a way, it’s easier for them to do it at a younger age. Because the kids who transition from infant to toddler at our daycare have a very hard time adjusting to the switch – mostly b/c they’re attached to the room, other babies, caregivers.

    No answer on the bio stuff…but I totally and completely understand why that question pissed you off!

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  3. I suggest responding with a puzzled look, and a simple, “Oh, does that matter to you for some reason? It doesn’t to us…”

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  4. We only get asked every so often. I try to look at it as innocent curiosity about a process that’s totally unfamiliar and a chance for me to educate in whatever way I think will make that person vote for me to have more rights :). That said, I haven’t met anyone who has asked with an undertone of “you’re not the real mother” so it makes it easier to assume the best. If I really don’t want to talk, I just say “My wife carried her – it was a wonderful gift to both of us.” and without a pause say ‘are you planning to have kids?’ or “how old are your kids now?’ etc.

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  5. What about ,,,,”well, we have not decided yet. What is your advice Mr. Driftwood?”
    (Note: the important key in this answer is always say “Mr. Driftwood”. Indenpently of the sex, name or fungi specie of the asker. At least you will know if “it” has elemental classic movies culture or if you should talk about the weather)

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      • Well, if the kind of “barnacle” person doesn’t have classic movie knowledge, when you call it as Mr Driftwood, trust me, you will not need weather insults.

        But, for the case that you have to insult somebody using weather talk … You should use a little of European comic culture. You should visit to Captain Haddock … he has a few pretty impressive expressions. But I like the sweet Spanish expression: ¡¡¡QUE TE PARTA UN RAYO!!!

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  6. I have two mothers. I really resent it when people ask me “who’s your real mum?” because the implication is that one isn’t real/authentic/my mother. However, I generally think it’s ok for people to be curious about a family dynamic they’re not familiar with – if they word their questions carefully to avoid making judgements. For instance I might reference my ‘birth mother’, which tells someone that (obviously) only one of my mothers gave birth to me, but that both are still my mothers – that one gave birth to me is merely factual and doesn’t make my other mother any lesser. It actually sounds to me like the person asking who carried Nico at least avoided asking who the ‘real’ mum was – but of course tone and situation is important too, and I don’t know what their body language/response/tone indicated so might have been equally annoyed if I were in your place! Sometimes I don’t think my parentage is anybody’s business but my family’s, but equally people learning about alternative families should be encouraged, and I guess it’s better that people recognise you’re in a lesbian relationship than totally ignore the truth and assume (because it’s easier for them to accept) that one mother is just a family friend… which also seems to happen a lot! Better to recognise than ignore?

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    • Well said, and I agree. I think in this case, I’ve felt this woman judging us, but I know we are also the only lesbian family folks in our community have ever met. So we’re like ambassadors, which is both a privilege at times and a burden. It sounds like you’re found a really nice way of approaching such questions. Welcome to the blog!

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      • That’s a lovely way to put it – it’s wonderful to be an ambassador, but not 24/7, and only on your own terms. Hopefully one day we’ll live in a world where LGBT+ families can simply get through a day in the same way that heteronormative ones can – without having to explain themselves constantly.
        Really looking forward to exploring more of your blog 🙂

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    • Well said, and I agree. I think in this case, I’ve felt this woman judging us, but I know we are also the only lesbian family folks in our community have ever met. So we’re like ambassadors, which is both a privilege at times and a burden. It sounds like you’re found a really nice way of approaching such questions. Welcome to the blog!

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  7. Folks ask me that only rarely–likely because I’m old as dirt and tough and leathery. But I always say something along the lines of “Maggie did that. I’m not brave enough to do that. Do you KNOW what happens when it’s time for those things to come out? It looks really hard. But Maggie felt like it.” I try really hard to interpret the question as an innocuous one–because we do have to go through some experiences and decisions mixed couples* don’t, and I think that’s what folks are curious about. But if it seems like the “Real mom” subtext is there, I’d just jump right to it: “We’re both real moms,” I’d say, maybe offering an arm so they can feel its tangibility. “We both know and love her. We’re both constantly on her about improving her citizenship and keeping her pants from sagging. We both listen to her when she talks, even though she seems a little crazy.”

    Here in the progressive West we do a lot less ambassador-ing than you guys, I know…but I think it’s vital to know in your bones that your family’s just right as it is. People respond to that confidence.

    *by which I mean man/woman couples…

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