How Many Dykes Does It Take To Have a Baby

How many dykes does it take to have a baby? The Problem of motherhood without a man.

How many dykes does it take to have a baby? The Problem of motherhood without a man.

Earlier this year, I announced to those around me, my intention to become a parent. With no partner, no steady job and a fairly solid and consistent lesbian identity, I suppose I knew that there were a few challenges ahead. And I do admit that this is not the way I foresaw my entry into parenthood; I always imagined that I would do this with lots of money in the bank, a partner with a full head of wild hair, and under the adoring gaze of my extended family. But when my 35th birthday came and went with no baby, no partner, and a dubious financial history, I have decided the time has come to forego pre-conditioned family construct and begin the process of figuring out how I can really become a mom.

Having told people about the intent I now have to suffer the flood of advice; input from all sorts of people, not limited to, but including, my mother who has surprised me with her positive approach to the process. Helpful as the flood is meant to be, it is mostly ignorant. No one seems to have any clear ideas about how a woman gets pregnant without a male lover or boyfriend or husband. In fact, most people are confused when they happen upon a lesbian who actually wants to give birth—I get the feeling that the desire to be pregnant is seen as part and parcel of being in love with a man. Plus the religious right insists that the creation of life is sacred and should be left to the ordained copulating Christians who have been joined by God. I have even met some people who believe that being lesbian renders us infertile.

Many people have said out loud to me that they believe it is imperative that babies have two parents. In other words, rather than actually creating a brand new baby, perhaps it is better for me to foster or adopt a kid who needs parents. In short, being single, and Black, make for sub-standard parenting skills and such a fate should only be visited upon children who are already at a disadvantage.

So it is in this mire of myths and untruths and prejudices that I am attempting to document my own journey to parenthood.

If I lived in an ideal world, I would meet Jane. Jane and I would spark in love. We would burn in the fire of our nuclear passion, and then we would get married in Boston. In two or three years we would opt to put a bun in the oven. And when that bun turns three or four, we would adopt a second little bundle of joy. But the events or my life have not been so quaint, and I am hearing the wheels of my ovaries screeching to a halt. And though I have always wanted to adopt a child, I have also always wanted to get big and round in the belly, wear pretty, loose smocks in the summer and painfully push a slippery wet being out from my vagina and assign her a name. I would like to raise him as a feminist. Dress her in androgyny and allow for any identity that emerges from the process of him becoming. I want to give birth to children in my family. I want toys on the floor and arguments about curfew and someone to make me weep during the seven million graduations. I want the all the moments, from, “Oh, my God! I’m pregnant!” to “I know it was rough sometimes, but honey, I’m so proud of how you turned out.”

And even though it’s not a permanent worry, there are flashes, moments, instances, when this business of finding the right sperm, and working out paternity agreements, and taking my vaginal temperature seems like a lot of hard work for something you are not even sure your body can even do. As I age I have flashes of the earlier years I spent dating men, and I lust after the plentiful supply of sperm and the frequency of opportunity for insemination. My Christian cousin says, lesbians and gay men are not meant to have babies. And if I really wanted to be a part of such a blessing, I would renounce my dykeness and ask God to send me a good husband with which to have my babies. I have begun to see that that perspective is not so uncommon. And every time I hear stories about lesbians who do not believe they have the right or are short on resources, or information, or the support to get pregnant, it reminds me that this issue is a human rights issue.

So now Tiona and I are making a film about non-traditional motherhood. At the heart of this film will be the thread of narrative as it unfolds around my choices, my questions, my fears, and the eventual destination—be it motherhood or no, we intend to follow it to its natural end.

We also intend to interview a series of women about the paths they have taken, or are taking, or are considering taking around the challenges or joys or tragedies, or sometimes the mundane details of motherhood. I would love to include women who have tried artificial insemination and failed, women who have succeeded at it, women who have adopted, who have considered adoption, women who simply gave up and went the traditional route of sex with a man, women who are mothering the children of relatives or lovers, or friends, and the cross-section of people who work with these women as they make the incredible journey from singular person to mother. We hope to talk to midwives, and donors, and doctors, mental health personnel, and anyone else who may be able to shed some light on the less than transparent processes that are employed in the field.

Hopefully, this film will serve as a catalyst for discussion about motherhood; to whom does that right belong? Family; do they all have to look the same? Sexuality; what are the particular challenges that non-straight women face when they decide to become mothers? Partnership; is it a prerequisite to parenthood/good parenthood? Biology; how much does it really matter in these matters?

Perhaps the film will find itself among the archives of women’s history, and serve as a resource for other women—who are either black, or lesbian, or single, or working women—so that some of their questions will be answered, or at worst, the film may let them know that the issues and desires and experiences are not only shared but relevant to millions of other women around the world.

(Staceyann Chin is the author of “The Other side of Paradies: A Memoir“)