Planned Parenting: how I found a childless community with my LGBT friends

September 25 | Guest post by Jaclyn Paul
The author and friends at the place where dreams come true…

For two-and-a-half years I walked through life like a ghost, waiting for my baby. Then I discovered I could not conceive a child with my partner. Suddenly, that hope and suspense was gone. A simple biological fact I had assumed was my birthright vaporized before my eyes.

One day I was kvetching to my best friend — who is gay — about this shocking news, and he stopped me and said. "Listen: this is new to you, but it's not new to me. So don't you walk in my door talking about doom and gloom. You have to understand, this is just our life. It's been our life, and now it's yours, too."

I had found an unlikely community willing to welcome me with open arms… well, once I stopped crying and feeling sorry for myself. Unsurprisingly that community was not my fellow hetero married couples. My gay BFFs have had my back since the third grade, but who knew that as we all approached 30, we'd be joking and narrowing our eyes at those couples who could just have a child totally by accident? Who would have guessed I'd be there, too, bantering about buying our "Expensive Science Baby?"

Granted, I am still legally married to my partner in all 50 states, and that alone strips me of any concept of a level playing field. But knowing my friends, who love me and have always been here for me, can sympathize 100% on the child-bearing front makes this new reality feel far gentler.

I can't stand the idea of delivering that sense of awkward pity to the conversation while I watch everyone avert their eyes, so I just don't.

Among straight couples, we're an anomaly. People ask about babies — rather, the potential for babies — so carelessly when you're a man and a woman wearing rings. Babies are expected. I almost always opt to keep my mouth shut in these situations to avoid clarifying that Oh, well, you see… it's not exactly that simple. I can't stand the idea of delivering that sense of awkward pity to the conversation while I watch everyone avert their eyes, so I just don't.

Baby talk with people who can't just have babies is such a relief because the starting point for conversation becomes getting babies. When getting babies precedes having babies, the whole picture changes. Different topics crop up: how will we afford our baby? Will we be able to have more than one? Maybe we should try for twins so our child has a sibling even if we don't have the funds or the physical capacity to go through the process again.

Not only that, there is a significant issue of planning. And not as in family planning, which amounts to the choice to use or not use birth control. No, getting a baby differs from having a baby because the getting is difficult. There are expenses. Legal documents. Genetic tests. Infectious disease panels. Countless consultations, lab visits, doctor's appointments. Psychological evaluations. A wealth of statistical data. Ethical dilemmas.

The jungle we wade through to get our babies gives us pause. It puts tasks on our calendars and introduces a complex decision-making process to our partnership. We have plenty of time to ask ourselves: am I ready? Is this the right time?

And as we contemplate our readiness, each and every one of us learns: if you think too much about getting your baby, you'll always discover you're not ready. You'll always discover the logistics aren't quite right. Your vacation was already booked, or it wouldn't be a great time to be away from work. Maybe you should save up to buy a house first. Because guess what: it's never 100% practical to have a baby. You are never emotionally ready. That's why you just have to dive in and do it. But diving in head first is so much easier when all you have to do is get a little drunk and decide to stop using birth control.

Those of us who can't breed, though, have to make our own chance. We have to spend months or even years reading documentation, making follow-up appointments, and hoping the whole thing doesn't fall through. We have to persevere through all the stress and anxiety and tears before we can even get to the social norm's starting line. For all of us, there comes a moment when we fear it just won't end up happening. Because these things don't just end up happening. They take hard work, money, heartbreak, time, and a keen mind for logistics. The price of admission is higher, and like that fancy theater on the other side of town, part of us fears we'll never get around to buying our ticket and getting our nice clothes dry cleaned.

As I wrestle with these complex realities, my gay friends get it. They give me a strength I may not have had on my own.

Maybe there is an element of novelty here, of finally being able to cross one of those invisible lines between us. Something has finally given me a visitor pass to the clubhouse after all these years. Most of all, though, I'm glad that these dear friends can provide not only the love, laughter, and support they always have, but something else, too. On the cusp of this most important, most terrifying and most complex transition in our lives, they not only get it, they've been getting it for way longer than I have. They've learned that the best way to approach life is with wit and cynicism and delight. Because, sweetheart, life isn't getting any easier. We can't take a single thing for granted, but that's no reason to stay at home and wallow in self-pity. Life is all about keeping your chin up and taking things one fabulous day at a time.

And as I make yet another round of appointments and write a check for yet another bill, that's exactly what I plan to do.

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  1. Lovely piece…. I will say I'm sure I'd have kids by now if I could've gotten pregnant by having sex. Alas. I always thought I wanted them, but when it gets down to the logistics and money, I'm not so sure I do. Then I think if the logistics are enough to dissuade me maybe I don't want it enough. Then I think that if I had kids I would be happy I did…. I go back and forth about it all the time. It's a peculiar dissonance.

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  2. I had better not make sure my mom sees this piece. I'm 27, and my husband and I want to wait to have kids until we buy a house and have lived in it for a year. Add time for trying to get pregnant, add 9 months, we're looking at having a child at 30. My mom (desperate for more grandchildren) constantly reminds me that fertility goes down after 28, IVF is expensive, adoption is expensive and risky (all adoptive children are drug babies, didn't ya know?), etc. I finally had to send her a "buzz off" email to say that having children is OUR decision, and I won't be guilted into having kids before we're ready. It almost worked….now I only get emailed articles about infertility or the cost of adoption. *sigh*

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    • Wow. Please tell your mother to back off. That's painful.
      -Mother a week before my 30th birthday in similar timing circumstances to you, whose own mother had her at 29, and three more up to age 40, who is an extremely young mother in DC, where I live.

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  3. I stumbled my way into the LGBT community by way of a square dancing group, consisting of adults mostly over 40. So many of them have children from marriages before they came out (which I would guess is a product of an older generation?) that I never considered they might have a point of view where producing combined biological offspring is not a given. Thanks for the fresh perspective, and I wish you every good fortune in creating your family.

  4. I love this. It's such a new perspective, something I never thought of, and so wellwritten.
    Thank you.

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  5. This has been a truth for me as well: one of my lesbian friends has been so super supportive of me, and even though I don't think she's at the wanting-kids stage herself, there's certainly a Venn diagram sort of overlap that the infertility community and the LGBT can share.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective. As someone who has been trying for almost a year and beginning to wonder if we should start making doctor's appointments, I needed to hear this.

  7. I just came across your blog tonight after a friend read my most recent post and likened it to a blog post you wrote earlier this spring. I am so happy to have found you and your words. I too have been welcomed into my community of gay friends. It began long before infertility was in my vocab. I've always gravitated toward them because they are oftentimes more fun (simple as that), but have now reached a new depth with many of them since discovering our struggles with getting pregnant. We are new on our "getting a baby" journey and will soon be courting our first cycle with the turkey baster method…..fun stuff! I look forward to following along with you. Thank you for your words.

  8. I think this is an excellent article in and of itself, but for me it brought up heavy feelings of anger, shame and depression.

    I have been married since I was 19 years old and I am now 27, it's been 8 years in December. When I read articles of hear people talk about how they are infertile and have been trying for 2 years, I want to scream (this is my own issue, I know). I've been trying for 8 and feel absolutely at my wits end. It's almost been a decade and I feel pretty lousy as a cisgender woman.

    All I've ever wanted was to be a mom and I know these visceral and awful reactions are my own to hold and keep. And, I'm not judging Jacklyn at all, I'm just realizing that I need to take some introspection and look at what makes me have such a reaction to other women.

    Any suggestions on deep questions I can ask myself to see why I react that way?

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    • Hi Becca. I try to take a Buddhist tack when I have feelings like yours – acknowledge them, let them pass through me without judgement or anxiety, and let them go.

      I completely understand your feelings of frustration, but your anger at people with similar but "less serious" problems than you might be a red herring – your anger is not really about them. Just like Jaclyn and her LGBT friends, you might find that you have more in common with women who have been struggling with infertility for a relatively "short" time than you think. Try finding support with them rather than letting your anger take over.

      Good luck – I hope that your situation improves soon!

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    • Hi Becca,
      I can't imagine trying for eight years without knowing anything, and I don't blame you for being at your wits' end!

      I don't know if you have the means to do this (since many insurance companies don't think it's necessary to cover — another rant for another day), but have you done any tests for you and your partner? The reason I only tried for two years is I just COULDN'T STAND the not-knowing, and there was a lot of anxiety wrapped up in "is there something wrong with me?" I am impatient and stubborn and don't tend to take no for an answer, and it turns out the answer was we could have been trying for our whole lives and there was a 0% chance we'd ever conceive.

      I know there are a lot of people out there who will try to give natural-remedy suggestions, tell you a story about their cousin's best friend who though she could never have children and miraculously got pregnant, etc. etc. For some of us that is teasing at best, intensely hurtful at worst. No amount of trying 'til our wits' end would have done it.

      I guess what I'm saying is, if you can at all, I would recommend searching for some answers so you can begin to come to terms with whatever the full scope of your situation is. I've found that being able to put a name to it does help, and so does realizing there are more young, reasonably healthy people out there with the same problem. The mystery, the waiting, and the hope-disappointment cycle get to be too much for anyone to bear after a while.

      Good luck, wherever your journey takes you.

      Jaclyn

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      • What I should have said is that we just found out the reason why we couldn't have kids and nothing we have tried since has worked. I was recently diagnosed with PCOS and have been taking hormones and they don't seem to be working, so we may have to go higher than that. The hardest part is that we don't have insurance, so I have to save up for every doctors appointment

    • My mother-in-law got married at 18 and didn't get pregnant with my husband until she was 36. She thought he was a tumor when she went to the doctor lol. She has told me how it was incredibly difficult for her because in those days you simply did not talk about fertility issues with anyone and she had the extra layer of being Lithuanian Catholic and the guilt that goes along with not making lots and lots of babies. She said she literally hated women with children for years and that stemmed from not having a 3rd party person to just vent her frustrations to. When I had my miscarriage, she really pushed me to go to therapy sessions and support groups because she didn't want me to suffer in the same way she did.

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  9. WORD. This speaks to me so much! We're currently going through IVF and our biggest supporters and best friends through this have been my man of honor and his partner. They want a baby as much as us and are having about as much success with nature as us as well, so we're saying screw mother nature, we'll make a baby our own way! ­čśë
    If this works and I'm able to have a baby through IVF, I've offered to be their surrogate or donate eggs, or whatever they need to help their dreams come true.

    Our fertile straight friends have been as supportive as they can, but they just can't relate like my infertile and LGBT friends can.

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  10. I've often talked about how as a couple that cannot just get pregnant, my wife and I, as well as our peers, put so much more pressure on ourselves to make sure everything is perfect. We ask is the timing right, is the money there, and so many other things. I really identified with that part of your post and the rest of it as well. Good luck on your journey. It took us 4 years to get our son.

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  11. I'm on the other side of this (a queer lady in relationship with another lady, and I really want to be a parent) and yes, I think infertile straight couples have a lot in common with queer couples who want to parent!

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  12. While it's true that people struggling through infertility may have a lot in common with GLBT people who are trying to have babies, it makes me feel a little queasy as a pregnant lesbian to be lumped into that category. When I began the process of trying to become pregnant, one of the most reassuring things I was told by my OB was that with my medical and health history, there was no reason to assume that IUI would not work, and that we could proceed optimistically. During the time in which I was actually pregnant and didn't know it yet, a well-meaning parent I know who had had fertility issues herself (and who did not know that I'd been trying) tried to foist a copy of "Taking Charge of Your Fertility" on me and went on and on about how it helped so many of her friends who had fertility problems become pregnant and how it could help me. She also made some extremely inaccurate comments about what insurance would cover for me when my time came, saying that because I'm a lesbian all of my procedures would be covered because I'm automatically considered "infertile." All of this was unbelievably upsetting at the time; the last thing I wanted was to have this assumption made about me or to think of myself in this way. There's a huge difference between actually being infertile and having to biologically jump through a few more hoops to become pregnant.

    1 agrees

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