Welcome to the 3rd edition of the “What is it really like” series, which explores the less familiar, or talked about issues and situations of motherhood. I have personally always been curious what it would be like to be a family with two mums, what an amazing dynamic it must be to have two have to lesbian parents to provide for and nurture you, and it’s that right there that is the topic of this month’s instalment.
I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to interview Laura, one mum in a lesbian family and the blogger behind Becoming Mums for “What is it really like…being a two mum family”. And so with that in mind, here is Laura to share their family’s story, and what it’s really like being a family with two mothers….
Could you share a little about your two mum family?
We are Laura and Laura (collectively known as The Lauras), two primary school teachers who met at work, fell in love, got married and decided to start a family. Our twin girls were born in July 2012 after one round of IVF using an anonymous sperm donor. I stay home with the girls (although I do a little work from home) and my wife still works full time as a teacher.
Can you explain a little about the parenting split in your family? Do you think your parenting styles differ to the more traditional Mum Dad families?
I think one major difference is that we don’t have to worry about stereotypical gender roles. Our daughters have both a stay-at-home-mum and a full-time-working-mum as their role models. I think our parenting style differs from traditional or mainstream styles, but I feel that’s not to do with our gender, but just to do with how most people choose to parent compared to how we do.
I think that having twins has forced us to share the workload a lot more than we would have done with only one baby, but I don’t think that sense of equity is down to us both being female. I think it does dads a disservice to suggest that the reason my wife pulls her weight is because she’s female – it’s just because she’s a caring partner who values my role as much as her own and I think this is true of lots of dads too.
I suppose we also work hard not to push gender roles on our children. Again, I know plenty of straight couples who feel the same way about highly-gendered clothes and toys, but I imagine our experiences as being non-heteronormative mean that we pay more attention to the impact of gender roles on children’s development
You have twin daughters so having two mums, which almost seems like one for each at any given time, must be an amazing thing for your daughters to have, but what do you say to those people who think that a male role model is missing?
Firstly, I think it’s important to note that I don’t really ascribe to the idea that men and women are so fundamentally different. I think that a lot of the differences we perceive between men and women and the things they enjoy or are good at are more often than not to do with social conditioning than a natural gender divide.
However, our daughters do have men in their lives. They see their granddads several times a month and their three uncles slightly less often. They have good relationships with them and enjoy playing with them, although I am not sure these male family members offer any different experiences from the female family members they also spend time with.
Could you share a little about the challenges in actually becoming a two mum family?
The cost is a major hurdle. We were fortunate to both be earning decent teachers’ salaries and were able to save for the IVF. I believe there is a tiny minority of NHS Trusts that will fund the first round of IVF for same sex couples (although this may not still be true under the current government), but we were not living in one of them, so we had to self fund our IVF treatment as well as paying for donor sperm and the “pregnancy slot” that entitles you to use that sperm to make a family.
It’s also a big undertaking emotionally as well as financially. We weren’t able to just come off birth control and see what happened – we were making a very definitive decision to have a family, which felt huge. We also had to undergo the challenges of me going through the IVF protocol, knowing that it could potentially make me feel pretty rubbish (and it did at times) as well as knowing that it may not be successful and we could have gone through all that hardship and spent all that money to have nothing to show for it at the end. Emotionally, that is really something to be reckoned with.
What are the advantages of being a two mum family?
I don’t know that there are “advantages” as such. I don’t think we are fundamentally all that different from families with parents of different genders. Possibly we have a bit more empathy and understanding when the other one has PMT!
I suppose that we were very deliberate parents, although that is not the exclusive domain of same sex couples, in that we didn’t just fall pregnant accidentally. We had to make a very considered decision, which possibly means we were better prepared for parenthood, although I’m not sure anything can ever really prepare you for the culture shock of having a baby for the first time.
What is the hardest thing about being a two mum family?
I think the hardest part is probably the assumption of straightness when people see you have a child. When you first come out as gay, it is obviously a big thing to do and a big relief, but then you realise that coming out is a constant process – you meet new people and you have to come out over and over again. The hardest part about being two mums is that it increases that assumption that you are heteronormative and that we potentially have to come out to well-meaning strangers who ask, “So, who’s the mum?”
I guess there is also the element, which applies to any family who have had to use donor gametes, that we need to make sure our daughters learn how they came to be and to enable them to make choices about whether to make contact with their donor and any potential half-siblings.
What has been your best moment so far as a two mum family?
I think the moment our daughters were born has to be right up there. We didn’t know what we were having and everyone seemed convinced we would have at least one boy, so it was a real surprise (but a lovely one) that we ended up with two girls. It was such an amazing, emotional moment as we realised our family was finally complete.
Another wonderful moment was when one of our daughters decided to differentiate between us by calling me “Mama”. We had always both been Mummy, thinking that they would find a way of telling us apart, although other people always seemed to find it strange and assumed the girls would just be confused by the whole situation, but they did figure it out themselves and we were proved right.
Would you say people’s perceptions towards two mum families have changed, or is there still more to be done to embrace the notion of two mum families?
I think there is definitely still more to be done. I think perceptions have changed and are continuing to change, helped by things like same sex marriage being legalised, but I know there are still people out there who would criticise our family or find it hard to understand. Whilst the word “gay” is still being used as an insult (that a lot of people don’t seem to think is offensive), it is clear we still have a long way to go before true equality and acceptance.
Is there anything you would change about being a two mum family in this day and age?
I think I would like the NHS to fund one round of IVF for same sex couples, the same way they do for straight couples who cannot conceive naturally. I would definitely like our family’s status to be more widely accepted and not seen as particularly different from the norm.
How did you explain the notion of a two mum family to your children? And how in turn to you educate them to explain this to their friends?
Our daughters have just turned three and are just starting to understand the different family set ups we see around us. They talk a lot about mummies and daddies because that is primarily the family set up they see in books and on TV. Sometimes they talk about “their daddy” in a very abstract way and if it feels appropriate I will remind them that some people have two mummies, some have two daddies and some have one of each.
I think the way we discuss it will change and adapt as they grow, so that we are always being honest with them, but in an age-appropriate way. We mention the donor in front of them, but I can’t see us having a discussion about him until they ask how babies are made. I would like to think that the words we use when explaining our family to them would be words they can use when explaining it to their friends.
Is there anything else you’d like to add on the subject?
Just that our daughters are very happy little girls. They know no different than having two mums and all they do know is that their parents – and the wider family around them – love them very, very much. I really think there is nothing more vital for a child than to feel loved and respected, regardless of who, or what gender, their parents are.