Wednesday, 27 February 2013

What's DNA got to do with being a parent?

It wasn't until I was expecting a baby to which I will have no genetic connection that I realised how obsessed we were as a culture with biological inheritance.

For example, how often do you hear phrases like:

  • She looks just like you...
  • Oh he doesn't look anything like his dad does he?
  • Well they are your flesh and blood after all
  • And blood is thicker than water...
  • Oh he takes after his grandfather
I'm sure that I have uttered all of the above - which is shameful because apart from anything else they are all such unoriginal cliches (but I digress) - without even thinking about it. 

I know rationally that of course I will be bringing up mine and R's child as its mother - or Mama to be more precise. But, will I ever legitimately be able to see myself in him or her?

A friend recently reassured me about this, having been through the same experience. Indeed, I am sure many step parents can relate to this too, although the dynamics are different there again. She reminded me that ultimately a child's behaviour, outlook on life and future are down to their upbringing. Yes, there are genetic predispositions, but it will be my actions that will have every bit as much of an impact as R's.

One thing I never worry about is whether I will love my baby. Ten years ago I worked with children with special needs who needed respite care. It was a chance for them to get away from their parents, and a chance for their parents to have a breather. I remember one particular afternoon spending time with a boy of 12 who had very severe learning and physical disabilities. His communication consisted of being able to demonstrate that he was happy or not. I spent an afternoon watching television with him and trying to make him laugh. It was a couple of days before Christmas, and I remember very strongly feeling a real connection with him. His home life wasn't always as good as it might be, and I recall simply wanting to take him away from it all, and thinking how proud I would be of him were he my child. That had nothing to do with biology.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

So, what *do* you do when the sperm donor comes round?

The first time our sperm donor came over to our home to make his donation, we ran round tidying up and anxiously tried to work out where he would like to provide his sample. It was a toss up (apologies) between the spare room and the bathroom. We got our special wide rimmed specimen pot ordered online ready and sat on the sofa nervously.

When Fred (not his real name) arrived, we talked slightly nervously, before asking where he would like to 'do it'. He opted for the spare room. We gave him the plastic container and watched him disappear down the hall. The door shut and there was silence. In fact there was far too much silence. What if we heard him 'donating'?! I immediately put on a CD and R went into the kitchen to empty the dishwasher, wondering if we should have provided him with some 'reading' material.

After about 15 minutes Fred re-emerged, having left the sample on the bedside cabinet. I offered him tea and a biscuit - I felt it was only right. That's what they do when you give blood right? He declined the offer politely and went on his way, wishing us luck.

It was at this point that the technical bit started. I was in charge of the sperm, so I collected it and wrapped the pot in tissue. It is important it doesn't get too hot or cold. It is best when left for about half an hour. I suspect this is deeply scientific, but don't ask me why! Then, well, it's about insertion. The most important piece of equipment you will ever need is a sense of humour...

We were fortunate to get pregnant after just a few months. On the last donation Fred apologised for there being 'less than usual'. I immediately reassured him that it was still infinitely more than I would be able to produce...

Monday, 25 February 2013

Why I'm mama, not mummy

This is our little teeny tiny baby, cosy inside mummy's tummy. We had our 12 week scan today. It was incredible. It's amazing to think about how well developed it is already, even if it is only 7cm long!

But today I wanted to write a bit about why I started this blog. I will be mama to our little tot when it is born, although I will have no genetic link with him or her. This won't make me any less of a parent. In fact, in the eyes of the law, all is good. Both mine and R's names will be on the birth certificate.

However, this is all about so much more than legal status. I will become mama to a little baby in the Autumn of 2013, but when I looked around for resources for other women in my position, I struggled to find anything. Look online and there is heaps of stuff about how to get pregnant, different options for parenting, how to legally protect yourself etc. But there is very little about people like me. The 'other' parent. There is no one to talk to about those late night worries which include:

  • I have more of a genetic link to my sister's child than my own
  • People might judge us for choosing not to have an active father present
  • Will I be a good enough parent? (ok, fair enough, all parents go through that one!)
  • If people see me with the baby and assume I gave birth, should I correct them?
  • Will I be able to pass on valuable parts of me through social interactions alone?
This is not an exhaustive list, but it gives you a general idea. Generally, rationally, I can answer all of those fairly easily. But, still, there is a lack of support out there. So, this is what my blog will be about. Finding that support.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Back to the beginning

Me and R knew even before we got married that we wanted children, so it was simply a case of working out how to do it. We had several options:

  1. Pay for artificial insemination at a hospital, using 'anonymous' sperm. I use parentheses because at 18 any child conceived with donor sperm in this way can still get in touch with the sperm donor.
  2. Ask a friend to donate sperm to us without taking on parental responsibility and inseminate at home.
  3. Use a third party website to identify a local sperm donor and inseminate at home.
We both knew that R would be giving birth, so I took the decision initially that I would prefer option 1. It seemed the most 'scientific' and legally protected. However, after an unpleasant appointment at the 'infertility clinic' (in spite of no evidence of infertility), and a potential cost of £750 a go, we had a rethink. How hard could doing it ourselves be?

So to option 2. A friend had flippantly suggested to me that he would be willing to help some months before. I went back to him in the cold light of day to see if the passage of time and sobriety might have made him think better of his offer. It hadn't. So we started to plan how it would work. Several months later though he felt unable to continue for personal reasons. It was a real blow. Not his fault, but it definitely brought home to us how much we wanted this child, and how invested we were in the process.

And finally... Option 3 was the one I was least keen on. Basically, it felt like just getting in touch with a stranger and asking him for sperm. It felt odd. I changed my view though after speaking to a friend who had done just that. She pointed out that it wasn't that different from the clinic option, if much cheaper and less exact. We'd have full control over the donor, and as civil partners we'd have legal rights as parents.

So option 3 it was. We set about putting together a profile. It was a whole step into a different dimension to online dating, although there were definite similarities. For example, when we'd found someone we thought we liked and had exchanged photos, we arranged to meet. Inevitably it was in a public place - a cafe. Somewhere safe. This was as much for his benefit as ours. There we sat, teapot full, expectations high, and in he sauntered. Thankfully he looked like his photo, and not like some weirdo. Not of course that looks have any correlation with weirdness. But I digress... We had a lovely chat and resolved, by the end of it, that he could be our sperm donor. 

The whole process from option 1 to 3 took us about eight months. It's at times like that I question people who say gay parents cannot provide for a child. We have to work so much harder and think about it so much more to become parents in the first place!

The sleepless nights begin early

No one tells you that the sleepless nights begin almost as soon as you discover that you are pregnant.

In December 2012 R and I found out that we are expecting a baby. This wasn't a complete surprise as we have been trying since September 2012. However, given that I am also a woman, and we have employed the services of a sperm donor, we figured it would take longer than it has done. I will come back to that process at a later date...

Since we've found out, poor R has succumbed to the somewhat dubious experience of what is, flippantly, termed 'morning sickness'. The initial excitement has now been replaced by me trying to offer R dry crackers, and her rolling her eyes, which now have bags under them, and looking as though she's going to be sick. As someone who has always been very healthy, the fact that she has spent the last few weeks virtually bedbound thanks to nausea and dizziness is something of a shock to us both.

I have become more of a house wife than I ever was, now finding myself in charge of all cooking and domestic tasks. When I'm not trying to find something she'll eat without wretching, I'm fetching her a mug of water that is at the precise temperature that she can swallow comfortably - that is luke warm. It is good to feel useful though. For the first few days, I was wondering what my job was going to be in the next few months as R did all the important growing stuff.

With R feeling so unwell, I have abandoned my usual heavy sleeping routine for a very light sleep that means I wake up every time she sighs or shifts in any way in bed, in case she needs me to do something for her. I know that once the baby is born we'll have our fair share of sleepless nights, but suffering sleep deprivation this early on I was not expecting!