Mommy Delirious

Confessions of the Other Mother

By Harlyn Aizley

Moments after I gave birth to our daughter, my partner Faith scooped the baby up, cooed into her squishy newborn face, and said, “Hello there, I’m your mommy.”

I wanted to kill her. Faith, that is.

Granted I was doped up on hormones, painkillers, and fatigue. Granted I had been up all night struggling to learn how to place my cracked and excruciating nipples into our child’s rosebud of a mouth so that I might offer up every ounce of nourishment and energy I had left in me. Granted I had not had an Advil, a glass of wine, or sushi in a very long time. Still.
Who was Faith to call herself “mommy?”

I wanted to be mommy, the only mommy. Yes, we both had planned for the birth of our child; yes, we both had been present and accounted for at her conception; yes, we both were women. But hadn’t I earned it?

And so we were off, into the beautiful - though often unexpectedly complex - terrain of two-mommy parenting. To extend the metaphor, while frequented by many, we soon learned that this new land that was our home remained virtually uncharted. Where were the guidebooks? Where were the stories from other settlers? As a new biological mother, I had at my disposal mommies’ groups, lactation consultants, my obstetrician, and my own mother, all of whom wished to share advice, support, and stories of their own similar initiation into parenthood. But where was Faith’s experience? Where were the anecdotes from women who, like Faith, had opted to postpone or forgo their own birthing experience to assist their female partner in hers? Where were the tales of life at home raising another woman’s child who also was your own, but in a wholly different way? Faith needed them. I needed them. And one day our daughter would need them too.

A search for literature on the subject revealed a sad wealth of horrid and fearsome custody tales, news and scientific reports about the battles between women over their children, made all the more painful and divisive as they had the added pressure of creating precedence for custody cases yet to come. There were stories about states that forbid adoption by same-sex parents, and harrowing tales of a biological mother’s relatives exercising their assumed blood rights over those of a non-biological mother. While valid and critical to our understanding of the social and political impact of same-sex parenting, these stories provided little in the way of support and/or relief. They emphasized the need for adequate legal safeguards – writing wills and powers of attorney, accessing the right to second parent same-sex adoption when possible – but shed no light on the every day experiences of the non-biological mother. Legalities aside, lacking were what we needed most: tales from the frontlines of non-biological motherhood; optimistic, funny stories of otherwise happy and contented lesbian moms struggling to make sense of their family structure at the playground, at PTA meetings, in carpool listening to three year olds discuss what it means to have two moms, or when slamming headlong into unanticipated maternal longings – their own as well as those of their bio-mom partner. (As far as this bio-mom was concerned, the reluctance to share the title of mommy was just the tip of my biological iceberg).

The narratives in this anthology are stories from these settlers. They are anecdotes about what it means to be a macho butch politco more accustomed to passing as a man than as a mother, or a woman grieving her own infertility while supporting a partner who has easily become pregnant for the second time. They are honest, candid confessions of jealousy experienced while watching a partner breastfeed, and exasperation at having to come out publicly a dozen times a week thanks to the question, “Who’s the daddy?” These are the stories from childbirth class, from the nursery in the middle of the night and the tot-lot first thing in the morning. They are humorous and poignant, exquisitely personal and deeply reflective.

Confessions Of The Other Mother is not a guidebook, because as any one of the women featured here will tell you there are no universal rules for two-mommy parenting – or any parenting for that matter. It’s more like a campfire around which a non-biological lesbian mom can listen to tales told from a bunch of gals making the same journey as her self. It’s a place where that same exhausted mom might at last slap her knee and exclaim, “I know exactly what you mean!”

The essays that make up Section I, Birth, Babies and Beyond, explore the experience of non-biological motherhood from conception to childhood. Almost every author addresses the issue universal to lesbian couples desirous of biological children: Which one of us will get pregnant? But from there they diverge, with some women using the brief telling of a moment in their lives as parents or parents-to-be to convey the emotional significance of their role: watching a partner breastfeed, battling homophobic bureaucracy in the maternity ward. Others consider the place in society their mothering has created with longer pieces that capture both the personal and political sides of non-biological mothering. Still others challenge the presumptions of language, suggesting that all female parents need not be mothers, and that words like “non-biological” and “non-birth” are negatives that do no justice to the very positive fact of their parenting.

Because lesbians have at their disposal varieties of parenting that far exceed those available to couples sporting opposite genders, we include two shorter sections. Section II, Mucking With the Stuff, gives voice to women who have straddled both sides of the mothering fence. In it we hear from two biological moms whose partners chose to become pregnant, as well as from two non-biological mothers who later birthed a child. In Section III, Arriving After the Show Has Started, a lesbian “step-mom” shares her story of picking up the parenting pieces after her partner’s failed marriage.

Some of the essays are funny. Some are sad. Some are both. All are riveting enough to keep you up at night pondering the meaning of motherhood, parenthood, and the nuclear family. This is a campfire after all. Hold tight to your marshmallow.

During share time at a group for new (biological) mommies, I confessed my dirty little secret about wanting to be the only mom in the house, wanting to delegate to Faith some new word that does not yet exist to represent her role as parent. Thinking myself homophobic, an embarrassment to gay parents everywhere, I was shocked when the only other lesbian mom in the group guiltily nodded her head.

“Me too,” she said in a voice full of shame.

As both Faith and I are Jewish (albeit of the non-practicing variety) a well-meaning heterosexual mommy suggested Faith refer to herself as “Ima,” the Hebrew word for mother. This seemed to me like a great idea. Maybe we even would join a temple to lend it context.

“You be Ima,” was Faith’s response.

“But I’m her mother, her American mother.”

“So am I.”

That it took me some time to grasp that Faith was as much our daughter’s mother as she was a red-blooded, blue-state American, I blame now – thanks to my contributors - on the limitations of language, rather than my own lack of comprehension. With no name for her role, Faith had only her heart to guide her as she carved a place in the world for herself and our family. Sheepishly, I shoved over and made room.

Ultimately, our daughter decided for us. She refers to us as Mommy Faith and Mommy Harlie. Sometimes to save breath, when either one of us will do, she shouts from across the house, “Mommies!”

This collection is dedicated to Faith, and to non-biological lesbian moms everywhere who grapple not only with the usual trials and tribulations of parenthood, but also with the sometimes arduous and revolutionary task of creating their own role as mother/parent in their homes as well as in the outside Cheerio and Elmo filled world. It’s for the women who would remind us that just because they are women with children, that doesn’t mean they are moms or mommies. It’s for those who until now have had to look toward fathers in an effort to locate themselves in the vast open waters of parenting. These are your stories. May they provide support and laughter, strength and kinship, and may they serve to educate the rest of us as to the historical enormity and cultural significance of your mothering. Have at it, girls!

Harlyn Aizley
Boston, Massachusetts





© 2003 Harlyn Aizley