‘Oh shit.’ Panic rises in my throat and forces my voice out in a high, strangled squeak.
‘What? What did you do? Is it in? Has it gone wrong?’ Emily’s interrogatives add to my state of distress.
‘I got some on your tummy.’ I say. What a failure.
No one told me anything about the ups and downs of home insemination. The support I received came in the well meaning if not predictable form of jokes about turkey basters. This was our first attempt at home insemination and it would be a mild understatement to say that I was nervous. The journey to this point in our relationship had been an emotional one, and I will begin at the beginning.
I’ve been many versions of ‘other’ in the past; other sister; other granddaughter; other half; even the other woman. I never thought I would be the other mother. While my relationship with Emily was still in the friendship stage she told me that she wanted children eventually, and that she wanted to carry a child. We even joked about the prospect of a ‘co-op’ baby should she fall pregnant with the one man she decided to sleep with in her life. After their break up there followed a couple of fraught weeks of being ‘late’, until it became clear she was not pregnant, and also that she was not going to venture in to the land of heterosexual intercourse ever again. Apparently once was more than enough. At the time I did make numerous inappropriate jokes about their baby having two mums. This was due to the fact that the potential father was more comfortable in a frock than trousers; more often than not found in the local ‘friendly’ bar flashing legs which would be the envy of many women. On reflection I do not think this was one of my most sensitive moves as Emily’s closest friend.
Although I had no internal battle with myself over my sexuality, I had never felt a desire to tell my family about my sexual experiments with women, why would I? My sex life was really no one's business but mine. If they asked I would tell, they never asked. However now that I had fallen in love with another woman the time had come. In preparation for this event in my life I began reading memoirs written by women in similar situations to my own. I found myself drawn to Ellen Degeneres. This unfortunately led to somewhat of a crush which was enhanced further by my discovery that she was the voice behind ‘Dory’ in Finding Nemo. I also read various memoirs written by gay women on the stresses of coming out, same sex parenting, and gay marriage. The exhaustive diatribe from these authors was monotonous and painfully clichéd. At times these memoirs or autobiographies could easily have fallen in to the depressingly popular mis-lit genre. The torrid tales of family rejection, exclusion, and heartbreak became unbearable. The women battling with their sexuality for years, struggling to accept themselves and hiding their sexuality from their family became self gratifying and pitiful. Those that confessed to always preferring to play with Ken instead of Barbie and boasting an enviable collection of Action Men were mildly comical if not slightly obsessive. As a child I had no action men, and I think I managed to keep Ken happy with his harem of Barbies and Cindys. Everything was pink and pretty and I loved a frock, in fact I still do. I do not own a single pair of Dr Martin’s boots, I have not shaved my hair off, and I rarely wear checked shirts. I am unable to furnish this memoir with a horrific coming out story filled with rejection and heartbreak. My family were very accepting, my dad’s response being ‘Well I thought you were gonna tell me something serious like you’d turned veggie or something’.
‘How fabulous’, everyone says, ‘You have the possibility of being a mother without any of the messy and painful inconveniences of pregnancy and childbirth’. It sounds like every woman’s dream doesn’t it? My original response was one of utter relief, when Emily told me she still wanted to be a mother and she wanted to try to carry the baby. This initial feeling of being ‘let off the hook’ soon diminished and a gaggle of anxieties wound their way in to my thoughts. I don’t have to feel that wonderful sensation of my child growing and developing inside of my body. I don’t have to watch as my body goes through one of the most natural progressions attributed to mammals. I don’t have to, but how will it feel when I’m not, when I am the ‘other mother’, the one who did none of the hard work?
Will I be too other,
To be known as your mother?
I’ll never know the hell
Of when my ankles begin to swell.
To feel my skin stretch,
Or the early morning retch.
I won’t scream you in tothe world
With fists clenched, lip curled.
I’ll be watching as you grow,
Will you know that I am there?
How do fathers do it? How do they bond with a child they have not nurtured for the first nine months of its development? I know that not all fathers can do this and there are extensive case studies on how and when the paternal bond is established. These men, even the failing ones, all have one advantage over my situation. They are biologically connected to their child or children. Saying that, my daughters’ father has a biological connection to her but that has made no difference for the first ten years of her life. Perhaps I should learn from Emily’s example? Entering into Lily’s life on the other side of a very traumatic period and at the tender yet opinionated age of seven years, Emily excelled at ‘other mother’ status. The bond between the two females in my life is remarkable. Lily refers to Emily as her ‘mum type thing’. There is definitely a parental role there for Emily and one which is respected by Lily; however the buck usually stops with me. Any decisions that Emily is unsure of or Lily feels are unjust are inevitably referred back to me. Is this just the advantage of time as an authority, or does it boil down to the fact that I am the biological parent and Emily is not? If this is the case does that therefore mean that Emily’s parental role is inferior to mine? What if I am considered by Emily to be the inferior parent due to a lack of biology? I had a glimpse of how this could feel while we looked after Megan for the day.
I am sure if she could have Emily would have carried everything out of the house herself including her 13 month old niece, Megan. Perhaps the purpose of this was for Emily to demonstrate her competence to Megan’s slightly homophobic parents, or perhaps because I had been deemed incapable? In the car every whimper was met with close scrutiny and explanations from Emily as to the cause of Megan’s vocalising. Megan’s day was planned out in the car; right down to the ginger bread man Emily was going to buy her from the café where we were to meet my Mum and Nan. If I was a comedy writer there would have been a sketch handed to me on a shiny plate as we emerged from the car in the multi-story car park. There was a sense of frantic panic as Emily raced to the rear passenger seat to get to Megan. It became apparent that my role for the afternoon was to erect and collapse the push chair and direct Emily to the lifts in all of the shops. As I had ‘done it all before’, it was deemed I was the best candidate for this task. Over coffee and cake there were knowing glances from my Mum and Nan. This in itself was tough for me to process. The idea that my mother was trying to communicate with me was awkward enough, but added to the idea that she had some form of intuition with regards to child care and it was verging on terrifying. Credit where it is due, this time my mother had a point. The shiny plate was handed to me once more while I observed Emily begin to locate a bib from the mummy bag, find a sippy cup, hold out her hand to collect half chewed gingerbread limbs, and move anything dangerous from within a two meter radius. All of this was achieved while trying to hold a squirming 13 month old baby who was not in a high chair as ‘they don’t look safe and I don’t like the ones that are just wooden’. I drank my coffee, and ate my cake, and kept an eye on the push chair.
Reader, I married her. Less than 24 hours later we were discussing extending our family. After some research many months previously, it became apparent that as the non biological parent I would have no parental rights over any children Emily carried. The one exception would be if they were conceived after we were married. The law was allowing us to be married, a very forward thinking move. However, it was sticking with the traditional values of penalising unmarried mothers, but only if you were in a same sex relationship. I am aware that when reading this it may appear to you that our marriage was purely to lay the foundations for extending our family, I must however, disagree. Our wedding was all about us, and family. We stood bare foot under spring blossoming trees in the warm May sunshine and promised to love each other for the rest of our days ‘all-a-day’, as we would say.
Wellies and flip flops,
that’s what we need.
Some days will be winter,
the sky it will bleed.
Take hold of my hand
and in spite of the weather,
we’ll pull on our boots
and jump puddles together.
My then nine year old daughter had asked Emily if she could change her surname too. We arranged it all and she even got a mention in Emily’s speech:
While we are on the subject of Lily, I would like to announce that not only has Annie become a Price today, but so has Lily. I think my fellow Prices in the room will agree, just how proud and honoured we all feel that Lily has chosen to take our name. So ladies and gentleman please raise your glasses to Lily Price.
I am a firm believer in the phrase ‘no time like the present’. Couple that with my extreme impatience and Emily’s desire for more children, and we were off on our quest in search of sperm.
It is amazing how many men will readily offer you their sperm. Even wives and girlfriends will offer their man’s services. We had a few offers like that, and some from single male friends with jokes about a natural insemination. Hilarious. However, these offers are rarely serious. Emily found our first real offer, a distant work colleague. She was very keen and it was at this point I think I started to feel excluded. If I was going to be putting someone else’s bodily fluids in to my wife then I really wanted some say in the origin of such things. I was encouraging, but began my own search. I came up with Mr P. He was one of the casual offers, but I thought it was worth pursuing. He had also refrained from joking about having sex with my wife which had instantly put him at the top of my list. First contact needed to be made and I chose red wine for fuel and text messaging for my vehicle.
ME: Hello lovie, this might be a bit out of the blue but I know you have joked about being our donor and we were wondLilyg if it was a serious offer or not? If it was just a joke then please just say, there will be no hard feelings or awkwardness xx
The reply was more then either of us expected:
MR P: You and Emily are amazing. If I could help two people that love each other as much as you and Emily create something as precious as a baby, then beyond the pleasure of helping friends, I would consider it my duty xx
The realisation that someone lovely was willing to help overwhelmed me and moving from obsessing over wedding arrangements to obsessing over arrangements for reproduction was a smooth transition for both of us.
My mind at the moment feels like a gum ball machine, full to the brim with a rainbow of coloured thoughts. There is no way of knowing what will come out at the next turn of the handle. The latest morsel is all about biology and its importance. A meeting with Mr P to discuss our requirements has raised an issue between me and Emily. It has become apparent that Emily feels it would be ok to lie to the child about its other biological parent and I think I am expected to do the same. It appears we have found something to disagree on. I could not tell our child I didn’t know who the other half of its biology was if it was a lie. I was raised by a single mother, but always knew who and where my Dad was, and saw him as often as possible. Even during the seven years in which I had a step father. Knowing my biology is very important to me. Initially I believed that Emily’s very conventional childhood blessed with no divorce or separation had effected the value she puts on knowing ones origins. Having never experienced a fractured family she also never had the desire to cling to her roots as they were never far away. This notion was dismissed a few minutes in to the mini gay rights speech which my wife expertly delivered. In her opinion ‘all a child needs is love.’ Ours would have plenty of that, and two parents to supply it. The idea that every child wants to know its biology seemed ludicrous to her, and ‘we don’t need a man in our family to make it a loving one’. I love her dearly but occasionally she likes to wave the ‘man hating lesbian’ flag. The climax of this discussion was Emily exclaiming ‘What’s the point then? Let’s just forget it’ and walking out of the room. Following a lengthy period of cup clanging and kettle boiling I was handed a cup of tea, an olive branch perhaps? ‘I’m sorry I got huffy’ Emily’s apology, but I know this conversation is not over. ‘If you’re having any doubts maybe we should put things off for a bit?’ Emily throws down the gauntlet. I responded with ‘just about every prospective parent has some sort of doubt or concern at some point and that the human race would be extinct if we all thought like that.’ Then I was asked if I had any other doubts. How could I lie? I tried and failed. The down side of loving someone who can pretty much read you like a book.
‘I just don’t think you are very excited, sometimes I just don’t think you want to have a baby’. Emily is worried, and not without good cause. I know I have purposefully kept a check on my emotions surrounding us adding to our family. I believe the notion of being the ‘other mother’ is a huge draw back for me. I know how to be a mother, but not an ‘other mother’. What do they do? Emily has wanted to carry a child for many years and I have concerns that I will be very much a spare part. My mother in law is a kind yet forceful woman, a true matriarch, and Emily is her only daughter. I am in no way positioned to stand up for myself should I need to flex my parental muscles during Emily’s pregnancy and birth, let alone over the child it will produce. How much of an ‘other’ am I actually going to be? There are other reasons for my reservations, and I do not feel I would be doing this memoir or its reader justice by not including at least one of them.
When I was 27 I had an abortion. I had already grown a baby and given birth to it and loved it more than anything else in the world, but I chose to throw this baby away. Did I choose though? I’ll never forget my Mum’s reaction; ‘Well you can’t keep it!’ I loved him though, while I had him. He was a boy, I'm sure of it. I fed him well, and gave him somewhere safe to live. The pain I feel from the terrible choice I made has not eased, and in actual fact I believe it has got worse over the years. I force myself to not think about how old he would be now or what he might look like. I don’t feel like I have the right to do these things. Why should I deserve another shot at motherhood if I threw my last chance away? Maybe the ‘almost but not quite’ aspect of being the other mother is the best I deserve and almost a punishment for what I did. On the way home from the hospital that day, I told myself that I would never have another baby, I didn’t deserve one. I knew it was the wrong decision, even then. Perhaps my reservations are rooted in this belief.
I cannot hold you in my arms,
so I hold you in my heart.
In my thoughts where you can play,
climbing trees and falling down.
Your little hands all cracked with mud.
Glowing cheeks with happy eyes.
You’re waving at me from the garden,
miss-matched socks and welly boots.
My little boy, my son, her brother.
What if what if what if.
In my efforts to become more involved I have excelled; to the point of ordering a home insemination kit from an online auction site. Our very own mail order baby! The kit comprises of ovulation tests, needle-less syringes, pregnancy tests, and specimen pots. The instructions reassured us that the wide rimmed design of the pots were the preferred style for most donors, perhaps too much information. I’m still a total mixed bag as far as my feelings are concerned. The baby making kit says Emily should begin testing for the chemical surge associated with ovulation from Friday. A rare child free night and the fact our donor is away for the weekend has prompted Emily to ask that we inseminate on that night. Sperm can live in the body for a few days so there is a chance that if Emily ovulates over the weekend that there will still be some swimmers up there ready to make contact. That’s the day after tomorrow. The day after tomorrow I may have to wait patiently while a rather large man does his thing in my bathroom. During this time I think I am required to get Emily ‘in the mood’. That will be it then, there is a good chance Emily could be pregnant this time next week? Really?
The big day arrived and we had our plan of action, and nerves-a-plenty. So what is the general protocol for a rather large man arriving at your house to orgasm in your bathroom and hand over a pot of freshly squeezed sperm? At the moment I am switching from terror to laughter. It just seems ludicrous. Does he need any magazines? I hope he doesn’t need dodgy internet porn as our broadband signal is appalling, I know this as I have tried myself! Will he be noisy? Oh dear lord will he be thinking about what we are doing upstairs to ‘get ready’. This is where my coping mechanism of making a joke of everything came in to play. It became obvious I was not the only one employing this tactic:
Mr P: Ooh that sudden realisation that in a few hours I’m going to be wanking in your bathroom! Lol x
I wanted to reply with something along the lines of ‘That sudden realisation that in a few hours I’m going to have your sperm in my hand!’ However, I thought better of it. Going to sleep is Emily’s coping mechanism so I was not at all surprised to find her in bed. In a crisis I am convinced I will find my Wifey sleeping in a corner! I know it is a total cliché but I love looking at her in our bed. Not being a skinny woman and not a particularly tall one either, she always reminds me of a little Buddha. Not in the fat smiley man way, but in the calm cuddly way. Twenty minutes later and we had both showered, Emily said she felt like she was getting ready for a first date, and I had to agree. To increase the chances of conception it was recommended that we have sex both before and after insemination, so it was obviously good manners to make sure we were well presented. However, Emily was putting on her best pyjamas and I was applying mascara, and worrying about what to wear. I think Mr P was as nervous as we were; after all he was the poor chap that had to perform and produce the goods. The hello hug went on for longer than usual, but it was a very reassuring one and in a way it said ‘its ok, it’s going to be ok’. It turned out he didn’t need anything to help him get in the mood, and thankfully there were no bad taste jokes about him thinking about us or anything else equally toe curling. I showed him the pot and we left him to it. Now it was my job to get Emily in the mood. No pressure. It is surprisingly difficult to have sex with your wife when there is a large man wanking in the bathroom downstairs. I did my best, as did Mr P who seemed full of concern when he called up the stairs to announce ‘There’s not much, I’m sorry’. Poor chap, I hope he didn’t think he was expected to fill the pot, they are huge! Now the tricky part. The sperm can survive at body temperature for roughly an hour, but is best left for twenty minutes before insemination so it liquefies. This means that one of us needs to keep hold of the pot to maintain the temperature while we try to have sex to get Emily’s body ready. Without resulting to graphic details and edging towards lesbian pornographic literature, my hands were going to be occupied, so Emily was in charge of our little friends. Now I’m not bragging but it is a rare occasion when I can’t satisfy my wife, and this was one of those occasions. We eventually loaded up the syringe. I joked about needing a nurses outfit, not a bad idea though? The smell hit me first. Not having had sex with a man in over two years it was a bit odd, and stomach turning. So here we are, all the build up has lead to this point and;
‘Oh shit. I got some on your tummy!’
Two weeks later I am woken at five am with Emily literally sobbing in the bed next to me. Her body is hot and clammy; I can feel the damp heat radiating from her back as I snuggle in to hold her close. I was warned about these episodes over two years ago. I think the scientific term is parasomnia. This is the first time I’ve seen Emily suffer with an attack, and I can’t make it better. I hold her close and wait for her to either stop, or to wake up. She wakes, and the sobbing gets worse. I just lay there telling her its ok, and that she’s awake now and I’m there. All I can think is ‘hormones’. What if this attack has been triggered by pregnancy hormones? An hour later we are settled in to our favourite sleep position, the classic spoon, and I lay awake.
Tuesday, period day. No sign. I am trying to tell myself it won’t have worked, and that we will have to try for months yet. However, there is an excited child in the back of mind, saying ‘What if? What if?’ I remember being around five or six and dreaming of owning a Teddy Ruxpin. Teddy Ruxpin was the toy to own in those days, boasting a cassette player in his back, hidden behind his red t-shirt. When the various stories and songs played, his eyes and mouth would move appropriately. It was as if he was actually telling you the story or singing you the lullaby. Never in my wildest dreams did I think my unemployed single mother would ever be able to afford one of those. He made a hopeful appearance on to my Christmas list none-the-less. I did such a good job of convincing myself I would not be blessed with this amazing bear. When Christmas day arrived and I opened my present from my Dad there he was; Teddy Ruxpin. You can imagine my surprise and joy! For years my child’s mind was convinced that I had only received him because I had told myself I never would. My first lesson in not getting my hopes up paid off in spectacular fashion. Maybe today will be another Teddy Ruxpin day?
No little blue line. No Teddy Ruxpin. No baby. I am already feeling the dread of the next insemination cycle creeping in to my stomach. I honestly don’t think I had been expecting to have to go through it all again. In my naivety I think I had believed it would work the first time, with no actual confirmation of ovulation. Sometimes I am just too optimistic for my own good. I know it cannot be nice for Emily having to lay on her back while it all goes on ‘down there’ but I don’t think I have it too easy either. Especially as after a chat about the process, Emily confessed that it all felt a bit ‘rapey’. Lovely. It was not the fact that Mr P would be performing in our bathroom, or the fact that I would have to close my nose to that smell again. The actual palaver with the syringe was not that much of a worry either, it was the sex. It cannot even be called ‘love making’. It is just sex, methodical, emotionless, and matter of fact sex, a means to an end. I was dreading having sex with my wife. Not a good place to be.
I feel we have been waiting for half a year. Waiting for ovulation; for replies to text messages; for our donor to arrive; for sperm to be ready; for pregnancy signs; for the long three minutes of a pregnancy test; for the next ovulation cycle. Now we are waiting for it all to be over. One in three pregnancies miscarries during the first six weeks, and all that can be done is to wait. I am a person who fixes things, buttons on shirts; table legs; toys; broken ornaments; everything. Everything except this. I write lists of things; things to do, things that have been done; things that I need to remember. Today I have no list. The happy tears and secret smiles from seven short days ago still sting on our faces, but are now concealed beneath something else. All I can do is hold her and wait.
Fortune with her wheel, she turns her morbid art.
Another pair of welly boots
To bury in my heart
Fortune and her wheel, our fragile hope she mutes.
Prayed and hoped for memories,
Sting damp and tired eyes.
A mind full of treasuries,
And a fist full of lies.
Why did you come if only to leave?
A tender glimmer of life,
We now must grieve.
Fortune she wields an unkind knife!
So now we return to our patient wait,
For the knife to turn and deliver our fate.
The miscarriage shook me more then I had expected. One of my first thoughts following the appearance of the second little blue line was ‘I hope we don’t lose it’. As fate or whoever is in charge would have it, it wasn’t meant to be. Emily was distraught, even that doesn’t sound like enough of a word to describe it. The pain, and the anger.
To date we haven’t tried to conceive since the miscarriage. We all needed to gather our strength again. Even Mr P needed time to grieve. It is strange really, but we just didn’t think of him feeling the loss or the hurt, but he did. Our baby would have been in its twenty-first week now, due the day before Lily’s birthday. I spent weeks telling myself and Emily that things happen for a reason, and that there was possibly something not quite right with the development. It is a way of giving the loss a meaning. The little blue line sent me in to a fury of parenthood, downloading Ikea catalogues, eyeing up buggies and installing pregnancy apps. Where did the ‘other mother’ go? I have no idea, but I was definitely going to be a mother, and I was going to be the best non biological mother ever. Not this time. Losing our baby has shown me where my place as a parent to our child will be, and that place is right beside Emily, with no boundaries and no ‘other’. I said I could not furnish this memoir with sorry tales of family rejection, and I cannot furnish it with a tale of pregnancy and birth either. My tale is one of acceptance, in its many forms and guises.