“Which Of You Is The Mother?”: On Becoming Queer Parents

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Before my partner Charlie even got pregnant, before we decorated the nursery or made a spreadsheet of name options, one thing we knew for sure was that we wanted a home birth. We figured it was not only our best chance to have a minimally interventive, physiological birth, but also our best shot at a birth experience that recognizes and honors our identities. We found a phenomenal home birth midwife who’s comfortable calling Charlie by “he” pronouns and talking about “pregnant people” and “parents” instead of “pregnant women” and “mothers.” She had never attended the birth of someone who didn’t identify as a woman before, but that mattered less to us than her sensitivity and understanding. We were very excited to do birth our way.

Well, if conception and pregnancy hadn’t taught us this lesson already, here it is again in big neon letters: You don’t always get to do things your way. So we found ourselves nervously watching the clock as Charlie’s due date came and went and the pregnancy crept ever closer to the 42-week mark, at which point, per the state of Colorado, we would be considered too high-risk to have a home birth.

Charlie was exactly 42 weeks pregnant when he went into labor–just hours too late for the home birth we’d planned. Now, instead of settling in at home with our comfortable pajamas, birth playlist on Spotify, and a bottle of champagne to toast the baby’s arrival, we found ourselves heading for a hospital we’d never even toured, carrying an overnight bag so hastily packed it did not include toothbrushes. I texted my mom from the hospital saying “Charlie’s in labor, can you feed the cats?” Which I will not do again, because she is far too susceptible to feline emotional manipulation and my cat gained like three pounds in the two days we were gone.

Our home birth midwife, whom I believe I previously gave the pseudonym of Gina, accompanied us to the hospital to act as our doula. She wasn’t just our advocate when it came to wanting to avoid unnecessary interventions; as soon as we got to the hospital, she stepped into the role of The Queer Whisperer, standing up for us when Charlie was too distracted and I was too frazzled to do so ourselves.

“Actually, he goes by Charlie,” she said when the receptionist called Charlie by his legal name. “Can you put a note in the paperwork?”

“There’s not really a place for me to do that,” the receptionist replied with a shrug.

“Well, can you at least call him Charlie? And tell whoever else you talk to that they should call him that?” Gina wouldn’t let up until the receptionist agreed to put the word out.

Although it didn’t seem that the hospital staff had much experience with same-sex couples, and even less with genderqueer parents, I have to give them credit for making an effort. No one gave us a hard time about Charlie’s name preferences or my role in the family–although that might just have been because there were so many other things about us that were getting on their nerves.

“No, I’m not getting out of the bathtub so you can hook me up to the fetal monitor,” said Charlie for the third or fourth or eleventh time. “The tub is the only thing that feels good. You can monitor me in here.” Which is true, but only sort of: sticking around to apply a Doppler to Charlie’s belly after every contraction takes up more time and person-power than they want to spare. Instead, they handed the machine off to Gina and had her listen to the baby’s heartbeat instead. After Charlie repeatedly refused Pitocin or having his waters broken, they pretty much gave up and left us alone for something like two hours.

Which I appreciate, because watching Charlie give birth is actually really fucking magical, and I’d rather not share it with anyone except him and Gina. Charlie runs the shower as hot as it will go until the bathroom steams up, and I sit on the tile floor humming with him through each contraction. He’s in the zone, and Gina and I are mostly just trying not to be in the way.

When Charlie finally gets out of the tub, squats by the side of the bed, and starts pushing, I’m briefly afraid to look lest my squeamishness be triggered. But when I see the top of our baby’s head appear, slick with blood and covered in dark hair, I’m amazed and awed, not disgusted. Charlie’s body, unaided by any medical intervention, is accomplishing something both totally everyday and completely miraculous. I have never in my life felt even the slightest desire to be pregnant or give birth, but suddenly I do. What I’m watching is a miracle. I want to know what it’s like.

Gina and I cheer Charlie through the last few pushes. The resident and the attending physician, who between them have about a thimble full of experience with unmedicated childbirth, try to convince Charlie to lie down, but he absolutely will not, so they settle for getting him to squat on the bed. The resident guides the baby’s head out, but nobody catches her body, so she sort of flops on the bed and lies there for a couple of seconds before she starts sniffling, then crying. The first words she hears in this world are me saying “Oh my fucking God, that’s our baby!” The attending hands me a pair of scissors to cut the umbilical cord, but it takes two tries because my hands are shaking so much.

77382946photo by Antonietta Marrocchella/Getty

Our daughter is born just before midnight, but it’s six in the morning before we go to bed. Even once we manage to get a few hours of sleep, there are people coming into our room constantly to take temperatures, help Charlie breastfeed, request information for the baby’s birth certificate, and on and on ad nauseam. I wasn’t prepared for this, and it’s definitely my least favorite thing about having a hospital birth. There’s no time to ourselves, no time to connect with each other and process the enormous change we’ve just gone through. If hospitals want to become more queer-friendly, that would be my number one suggestion: Allow time for processing.

Once the shift changes, only some of the rotating cast of nurses and doctors has gotten the memo about Charlie’s name, so we spend a lot of time correcting people who use his legal name. Also, several of them come into the room and ask us “Which of you is the mother?” I know what they mean, but come on. If they want to know which of us just gave birth, just ask that (or, you know, look and see who’s in the hospital bed). I am my baby’s mother, even though I didn’t deliver her. One nurse even asks me if I have “any children of my own.” I stare and say “Besides this one?” and she stammers and corrects herself.

559350409via Lawrence Roberts/Getty

I do, however, appreciate the woman who doesn’t bat an eye when Charlie asks if he can be listed on the birth certificate as our baby’s father. Unfortunately, since Charlie still has an F on his driver’s license, our baby will on paper have two mothers. But she took the time to find out without making Charlie teach her an impromptu Genderqueer 101 lesson, which is pretty impressive.

Ultimately, I’ll always be a little sad that we didn’t get to have the birth we planned, the one where everyone was on the same page about things like gender and who’s the mom. But I’m very glad to learn that, with a little (or a lot) of advocacy, it’s still possible to a queer-friendly, minimally interventive birth in a hospital setting. And holy shit, you guys, I’m a mom now. It took a long-ass time and a lot of hardship to get to this point, but we’re happier than I ever even hoped. Thanks for hanging in there with us on this journey.

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