There are some phone calls that are never going to be easy. And so it was I found myself talking to my mother, one Wednesday, at lunch time, eleven months ago. We made small talk for a few minutes; discussed the weather, our jobs, before I could bring myself to share my news.
“Um, you know how I date girls?”
“Yes…” Mum waited for me to continue. After more than a decade she was accepting, even proud, of me, her gay daughter.
“Well, I’ve been experimenting with boys. Er, men…” I swallowed. This was almost as awkward as coming out had been, when I was nineteen and so very earnest.
Silence from Mum.
“…and I’m pregnant.” I rushed the rest out before she could interrupt. “The father and I aren’t together. I’m having the baby. He doesn’t want anything to do with it and I know it doesn’t matter, but the baby’s going to be mixed race.”
Oh, indeed. I found out I was pregnant about an hour before I took part in a Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras event. Nature has a sense of humour it seems. After a few failed long-term relationships that seemed to falter just before children, this to me seemed an absurd, but very real, chance at motherhood. An accident, but I’d take it.
I immediately went about telling everybody I knew – to hell with being sensible and waiting for 12 weeks.
One friend slapped me across the head, for forgetting to use a condom, just once. ONCE.
“Hey Juno,” another friend greeted me, giggling. My face flushed red. At times I did feel like a stupid sixteen year old.
A lesbian couple I knew asked how much money I wanted to get some more sperm, since donors were in short supply. I think they were only half-joking.
I walked into the ultrasound room, nervous beyond any rationality. And also desperate to pee. I was vaguely convinced it was a phantom pregnancy, that I’d tricked my body into vomiting three times a day for eight weeks, and that I was going to be found out when they scanned my belly to find it empty.
“There’s the heartbeat,” the technician said, pointing.
I thought she meant my heartbeat, which filled the room to bursting. Lub-dub. Lub-dub.
After my twenty-week scan I flew to Hawaii, alone, for three weeks. I was having a boy, and so far he was healthy. It seemed the perfect moment to escape on the holiday I’d booked before I fell pregnant.
Traveling pregnant was hard work. Pelvic problems set in and I could do no more than hobble to the beach and back. I read 20 books, ate pineapple every day, and walked around my apartment salty from the surf, and mostly naked.
One day I went from being theoretically pregnant, to really, actually, about-to-have-a-baby pregnant. I cried for six hours without let-up. I don’t know why. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, raise a child alone in my thirties. I couldn’t imagine him. Would he be white like me, or dark like his father, or in between? Was there something more I should have done with my life before this? Was it all a mistake?
I did what you eventually have to do. Picked myself off the floor and went shopping for baby clothes. With each purchase of a little romper suit here, and a pair of overalls there, excitement replaced trepidation.
I hated the world, hated my body, and only loved the little kicks I felt from deep inside No, I lie. I even hated them sometimes, especially at night when I couldn’t sleep and he connected with my bladder. I wanted it over, I just wanted to meet my son.
One good friend, a gay guy, started helping more than others, attending birth classes with me, turning up on my doorstep with nappies and large blocks of chocolate. We decided he could be ‘Gunkle’ to the baby. Short for Official Gay Uncle. Another friend, a drag queen, wanted to be known as the Fairy Godfather to my son. I picked a female couple as Godmothers.
We all laughed at the hapless teacher that would one day ask my boy to draw his family tree.
It was horrendous. I was a screaming idiot when it came down to the business end. My doula and Gunkle tried everything they could to help with my natural birth plan but only medical intervention was going to get my baby born. Fifty-eight hours after my waters broke. Too high, posterior, dysfunctional contractions, oh the drama.
And then…just when I’d given up hope, he arrived. Big brown eyes open and alert. A soft cry; tentative. Midwives looked from my black-haired, caramel baby to my red- haired and pale-skinned Gunkle, a little unsure.
“Don’t worry,” I said, “he’s not the father. It’s complicated!”
We both laughed. Again, I lie. I did say that, but only after I had sobbed for what seemed an eternity.
“It’s my baby, my baby, my baby. We did it. My son.”
I hold my boy, Elliott James, in one arm, angled into my breast for a feed. He sucks loudly, making grunting sounds; banging his fists against me when the flow is too slow, and kicking his legs like he could push off and fly.
Then a sly grin appears from behind the nipple as he takes a break, and his eyes meet mine. He is having the time of his life. I am too.
I look at him in awe. All I wish for him is that he can run out into this world one day with the same determination, and discover it to be as colorful as his beginnings; full of love and easy laughter.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem