Two moms, better than one?

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By Karen X. Tulchinsky

My partner and I have decided to have a child. We've been together for four years, we own our own home complete with picket fence and yard. We're in a loving, committed, long-term relationship and we adore kids. We're healthy, we're mature, and we have the support of friends and family members. But there's one slight problem. We don't have any sperm. Since we're lesbians, we don't usually worry too much about sperm, or our lack of it, but now we're alarmingly interested in it, concerned with obtaining it and full of wonder at the impact it will have on our lives.

Until recently, it was taken for granted that lesbians didn't have kids. One of the deepest regrets for the parents of many gay people is that we will not provide them with grandchildren. Although parenthood has been biologically possible for gay couples, it has rarely been a goal. After all, in the '70s lesbians were too busy organizing music festivals, leading Gay Pride Parades, counselling at women's shelters, playing softball, operating coffee houses and fighting for equal rights.

But in the early to mid '80s, many women realized that "lesbian mother" was not an oxymoron and the lesbian baby boom began. Gay women all over North America traded their picket signs for picket fences, motorcycles for strollers, flannel shirts for nursing bras, and leather jackets for leather teething rings.

When my partner and I made our decision to have a child, we decided that she would be the one to get pregnant, but there were other considerations. Like the sperm. Should we use an anonymous donor or a known donor? Involve a male friend who would be known to our child as the "biological" father or register with a donor insemination program at a fertility clinic?

After much debate, we decided on an anonymous donor insemination program. Like many heterosexual couples with fertility problems, we don't want a third person involved in our lives. But for lesbian couples another question inevitably pops up: Doesn't your child need a man in its life?

Well, there will be men in our child's life. We have our brothers, male cousins and male friends. Our child will have lots and lots of uncles. But that's not what the questioners really mean. No.

What they really mean is: Doesn't your child need a father?


In the Oxford English Dictionary, the word father is defined as: 1. A man in relationship to a child or children born from his fertilization of an ovum. 2. A man who has continuous care of a child. 3. A person who deserves special respect.

Hmm, let's see. I plan to take continuous care of our child. I am taking part in the conception, and I think I am a person who deserves special respect. Perhaps I will be the father. And if our child asks who the biological father is, we'll tell the truth.

So, with that part of the plan worked out, we visited our doctor who referred us to the Genesis Fertility Centre, a clinic that, with a doctor's referral, routinely supplies sperm to would-be parents gay or straight. On our first visit we sat anxiously in a waiting room that was tastefully furnished with easy chairs, a fish tank, track lighting, house plants and polished mahogany coffee tables. There were racks of fertility and parenting pamphlets and magazines. We thumbed through a copy of Parenting Today, while we waited.

Minutes later, we were ushered in to see the clinic doctor. Acknowledging but not judging our status as same-sex parents, she explained that my partner would need to have a full physical, then we would pick a sperm donor, track my partner's cycle and return to the clinic to inseminate. "It can take some time," the doctor warned. "Be prepared for a roller-coaster ride."

She escorted us into a private room to select a suitable donor. She handed us a large binder. Inside was a brief, one-page profile of each donor, numbered, with no name attached. We were to narrow our search to a handful, then we would receive a five-page report on the donors under consideration. The longer report included physical characteristics of the donor. Everything. His height, weight, hair and eye colour, ethnicity, occupation, hobbies, blood type, popular celebrity he resembles, whether he has attached or unattached earlobes, immediate family, hereditary diseases and allergies. On the last page was an essay written by the donor entitled "Why I want to donate sperm." This was arguably unnecessary, but nevertheless helpful in narrowing the choice down. The donor we picked, Number 6974 L, wrote about his family, his childhood, interests and passions with charm and honesty. And his earlobes were attached. He was perfect. We'd found our man.

Now we had to wait for the right moment. Over the course of several months, we clocked my partner's cycle to determine the exact day of ovulation. Then we packed a "conception" bag with a teddy bear, baby bottle, photo of my partner's late father, a portable cassette player and a tape of children's music. On the optimum day we drove across town to the clinic for our first insemination attempt.

At the clinic, the receptionist led us into the waiting room where we joined other anxious couples. We leafed through magazines nervously until our names were called.

The small insemination room had a large window with a romantic mountain view. But in the corner was a nurse's desk with a terrifying assortment of latex gloves, syringes, cotton swabs and speculums. The walls were covered with extremely unromantic but colourful drawings of female reproductive organs. And there was a rather formidable gynecological examination table, covered in white paper, with stainless steel stirrups. The technician, we were told, was unfreezing our vial of magic potion: the sperm.

It was all a little clinical, but we were determined that our child be conceived in love. While my partner changed into a green paper gown and lay down on the table, I plugged in our tape player, popped in the cassette and the room was filled with Burl Ives' version of Polly Wolly Doodle. I arranged the teddy bear, the baby bottle and photo on the floor. The nurse returned. She smiled at us. Hummed along as Sweet Honey In the Rock sang Little Red Caboose. In her hand was a small plastic vial. She held it up to show us. "Number 6974 L. Right?"

"Correct," I replied. We had long since memorized our number. 6974 L. Like a magical chant.

The insemination procedure is fairly simple. Sperm is inserted into the woman using a syringe with a long, thin tubing designed to go beyond the cervix and into the uterus. The nurse set everything up, then stepped aside. Looking deep into my partner's eyes, I poured every ounce of my love into my thumb as I pushed the plunger to inseminate her.

Now, there are theories about conception. There are many. Some say sexual activity culminating in orgasm speeds along the process. I won't go into detail, but let's just say that after we got back home and completed the private part of our conception ritual, I prescribed a half a glass of wine and a full day of bed rest to my partner. I also placed a cushion under her legs to keep them elevated. My prescription, like chicken soup, might not help. But I figured it couldn't hurt.

It turns out that getting pregnant is easy only when you don't want to. Currently, we are still waiting, still trying, and we've had plenty of time to consider the consequences.

Years ago, when I told my mother that one day I planned to have a child, she shrieked as if disaster had fallen. "Oh no! That'll kill me," she declared. "That'll just kill me."

"Ma," I said, "if I wanted to kill you, there are lots of easier ways than to make a decision that I'll spend the rest of my life living with."

My mother thought it would be unfair for me, a lesbian, to have a child. "Think of what the child will have to deal with," she warned.

My partner and I are not naive. We are prepared for the worst (and the best). We cannot know what our child will experience in a world that often shuns gay families, or in schools that refuse to recognize gay parents. But we do know what the child will experience in our home. Our child will know other lesbian and gay families. We will teach our son or daughter to respect others, to be proud and rejoice in diversity. We will honour our child's feelings and respect her struggles. Whatever the challenges, there will be no shortage of love, laughter and leather teething rings. And although some people may say our child has two mothers, I happen to think I'll make a very fine father.

Vancouver writer Karen X. Tulchinsky is the award-winning author of Love Ruins Everything, a novel, and In Her Nature, short stories. Her article first appeared in the Vancouver Sun.