Like most lesbian moms, I'm often asked some version of this question: Did you have your kids? After I say "yes," the frequent follow up is, "Um, er, if you don't mind my, uh, asking — how?"
Rather than responding, I'm now going to hand over a copy of the new book, Knock Yourself Up: A Tell-All Guide to Becoming a Single Mom (Avery). The author, Louise Sloan, is an out lesbian who offers an entertaining blow-by-blow account of her twisty journey toward motherhood.
With pluck and humor, Knock Yourself Up covers everything from "trysts with the turkey baster" to "single and pregnant" to "the daddy question." The book also includes interviews with 50 other single moms and mothers-to-be — mainly straight women, but a handful of lesbians, too.
Sloan's own saga began about 15 years ago when she and her then-partner attended a touchy-feely seminar for gay men and lesbians with parenting dreams. With the help of a donor friend who could serve as Uncle Dad, "Joan and I would each bear a child performing the inseminations at home, by candlelight, and we'd all live happily ever after," Sloan writes.
Right. Thirteen years and three breakups later, however, Sloan found herself at her family's summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine — down the road from the Bushes — waiting with her mother for a tank of semen to arrive on the doorstep. "Clearly I'd lost perspective," Sloan writes, "expecting my 70-year-old conservative Republican Southern mama to be totally cool with having a stranger's frozen sperm FedExed to her front porch for the purpose of knocking up her single 41-year-old lesbian daughter."
After several failed attempts, a miscarriage and an exploding vial of sperm, Sloan realized her baby dreams last year. On Labor Day, she pushed her son, Scott, into the world, "surrounded by her lesbian friends and loving Republican family."
Still, it wasn't her intention to become the poster child for single motherhood. Knock Yourself Up was a fluke. By happenstance, she mentioned to a book editor she met in a writing class that she was single and pregnant and sent along an unpublished essay about lesbian motherhood. That eventually led to a bidding war among publishing houses, and then a deal to write a book whose target audience is more Carrie Bradshaw than Bette and Tina.
"There was some concern at the auction over just how lesbian this book was going to be," said Sloan, now 44, who lives in Brooklyn with her smiley, blue-eyed baby. (Yep, they're my neighbors.) "Though it's unusual for an out lesbian to be writing a self-help book targeted to a general audience, the whole lesbian thing didn't end up being that big of an issue. There's some graphic lesbian sex in one part of the book, but there's also some graphic straight sex, too. I felt that fair is fair."
In conducting interviews for her book, Sloan was surprised at how accepted single motherhood by choice has become. "I thought outside of big cities there would be all these tales of heartbreak and struggle," Sloan said. "But though there is that, women in Kansas, Texas, South Carolina and even Utah told me they got almost nothing but support. In fact, most of the women agonized much less than I did."
Like many of the women, gay and straight, that she interviewed, Sloan worries about Scott growing up without a father. "I was raised without a father, and I wish I'd had one," she said. "Ideally I had wanted a father figure plus a perfect woman to be co-parent. She would be a fantastic lover and help raise the baby. Well, I let that go, but some days I still wonder, 'Where's my damn girlfriend?'"
Once they've knocked themselves up — and as their children get older — moms like Sloan can graduate to advice from a number of wonderful blogs like Mombian, LesbianDad, The Other Mother and Suburban Lesbian Housewife, to name a few, that offer seasoned advice and insight for lesbian mothers.
Last spring, Are You My Mothers? became the newest lesbian blog on the block. Written by Harlyn Aizley, it is hosted by Parents.com, the website brought to you by Meredith Corporation, the folks who publish mega-mainstream magazines like Ladies Home Journal, Better Homes and Gardens and Parents.
Having a lesbian voice in a sea of millions of straight parents is definitely a first. And a quirky, edgy voice like Aizley's makes that first even more significant.
"Last April a lesbian editor at Meredith read my book and approached me about writing a blog," said Aizley, the author of Buying Dad: One Woman's Search for the Perfect Sperm Donor (Alyson) and editor of the anthology Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All (Beacon Press). "I had never blogged before, but the offer was a struggling writer's dream. They took a leap of faith with me."
Writing out of her home in Boston, Aizley's clever and often screamingly funny blog covers the misadventures of life as a lesbian mommy raising a spunky, 5-year-old daughter. In a recent post, she offered this riff on June Cleaver:
I was thinking about June Cleaver as I made breakfast for Bets. I was wearing a pair of boxer shorts, a pancake batter stained T-shirt, my hair standing at right angles from my head. I was thinking how June and women of her ilk rose from slumber possibly hours before the rest of their families to fix their hair and make-up, and don dress, pearls and apron. I was thinking how today it's not the career women, or the lesbians who make babies from frozen sperm, or the stay-at-home dads wearing Baby Bjorns, who appear odd. Here in Boston in 2007 it's June Cleaver who would appear downright mentally ill. Imagine looking through your window at six a.m. and seeing your next-door neighbor in pearls and a starched skirt, flipping pancakes — cuckoo city.
Comments in response to her posts, Aizley says, have ranged from supportive to scary. "Recently someone commented that gay families ruin children's lives," said Aizley, who posts three times a week. "Before I could respond, someone had posted, 'love never ruins children; hatred does.' It's great when that kind of banter gets going."
Aizley has a word of advice for Louise Sloan as she looks for Ms. Right. "Don't look," said Aizley, who knows about these things. She is raising Betsy with her ex, musical-comedy performer Faith Soloway. She met her current girlfriend, Lucy, when her daughter was just out of diapers.
"It doesn't matter whether the woman you meet is a parent or not. Make sure she loves children and understands the fact that the child will always hold a place in your heart that's unique."