It’s been a long week and tomorrow I will turn 5o years old. I keep getting the same response from people who know me, “age is just a number.” If that’s true, I’d like a lower one please. I generally don’t believe in looking back but for the sake of a few friends that’s where I am headed right now.
In December of 1962 the number one song was Big Girls Don’t Cry by The Four Seasons and the movie Lolita by Stanley Kubrick was a new release. It seems I born into a society that thought the story of a middle-aged man who slept with his teenage step-daughter was entertainment at the same time it congratulated grown women on their ability to keep their emotions bottled up. Of course now everything is different and sex with your underage step daughter is back in the closet and as far as I can tell, crying is no longer something I need to avoid in times of sorrow. However since finding this stuff on Google, I now partly understand some of the reasons I have had a therapist for most of my life.
So many things have changed since 1962 and motherhood is no exception. When I was a kid, Mom was the lady who stayed at home, kept house and took care of me. She was pretty, wore dresses and rolled her hair. She loved my Dad and Errol Flynn movies; she was also heterosexual.
Homosexuality did not exist in my southern middle class white suburban childhood, it simply was not allowed. By the time I made it to High School, I had some vague ideas and thought maybe one or two of my friends might be gay, but that was it, a few very fleeting ideas. Even into my 20’s and 30’s I remember hearing people say, “You know, it’s just not natural” and “I hear there’s a doctor working on a cure” Much to the credit of my parents, I never heard anything so stupid in our home. When my cousin, Dana came out one Christmas in the early 1980’s our combined families accepted her sexual orientation and her partner as if someone had decided to serve ham instead of turkey. To this day, I am proud of my family for the non-judgmental love they expressed but baffled by their inability to talk about it.
It’s no surprise that I had never given the idea of Lesbian Motherhood any thought, until this year when I ran into a couple of old High School friends on Facebook who’ve managed to overcome the 60’s and live life on their own terms. Both of my friends are Lesbians and they are moms. One adopted two children and the other had children from a previous marriage and is also like me now a grandmother. Both ladies proudly post pictures of their kids, share great on-line deals and occasional political views. It would be easy enough to look no further and proclaim them no different from their heterosexual counterparts, but I think doing this would be a huge injustice.
In her book, How Lesbians Decide About Motherhood, Dr. Nancy Mezey explores the decision-making process Lesbian women go through as they approach the role of motherhood. Decision making process! What’s that? I didn’t realize there was one…isn’t motherhood just something that happens? Once you get married, it’s a natural progression to motherhood. As far as I could tell girls grew up, they got married and then they had babies. There was nothing to decide. The fact that getting pregnant was given so little consideration in the heterosexual world leads me to wonder just how many women my age gave birth but really didn’t want kids, fearing if they failed to reproduce they would be labeled disappointments. It appears to me that the gay community may have one up on the heteros in the parenting department, at least in the planning stages. For most of my life, there has been this common bond, a sisterhood that rallies around the women who have trouble conceiving children via sexual intercourse with their partner, what happens if your partner doesn’t have a penis? Who’s there for you then? I think it is a valid question. Why aren’t fertility clinics airing commercials depicting young gay women in committed relationships who want nothing more than to give a loving caring home to a child?
Both of the Lesbian mothers I know are good at the job of mothering. Their kids are clean, well fed, go to school and church and live in homes with loving parents. I asked both a few questions about their experiences as mothers. I was awed when I learned of one’s journey to a third world country to adopt. Her eyes welled with tears as she spoke of the months she spent sitting in an orphanage refusing to leave her newborn children until the day she could bring them home. She told me she always wanted to be a mom and that it was the most wonderful thing in the world. Her story is a welcome relief from the usual complaints of swollen ankles and morning sickness which inevitably culminate in gruesome tales of horribly painful labor. The other simply said, “We never lied to them about our love for one another or about our love for them.”
The world has certainly changed in the last 50 years. Technology and medicine have gone beyond anything we could have imagined. There is something called Global warming and growing your own veggies is now considered sustainable living. Yet when I close my eyes, I can still see myself sitting in front of the television glued to the newest episode of The Brady Bunch, exploring with the rest of America the new founded idea of the blended family. And I wonder, if the networks could sell us on two divorced people with six kids living in perfect harmony while successfully navigating all the trials of parenthood in the 1960s, why then is the idea of gay parenthood still so far out of the mainstream media? I don’t know. But I look forward to a day when the term motherhood is defined by its purpose and the word mother is defined by the love of the women who choose to endure and sustain it for all of us.
I posted this on my birthday as a personal thank-you to all the non-traditional parents in the world. It takes courage to be yourself and it takes unending love to raise a child, consider yourselves remarkable…..you have both.