It’s no secret that, when it comes to parenting, way too many people think your personal business is their business. I tend to be a pretty open book in most cases, so oftentimes questions don’t bother me. That said, it can even start to get a little much for a person like me. I think this happens to every family, but if your family happens to be at all off the beaten path, the curiosity — and just plain nosiness — can get seriously intense. My wife and I are a queer couple, and both strongly identify as mothers to our young child. We get questions from strangers, friends, family members, everybody. Most of them are respectful and no big deal, but lately I’ve been thinking about who needs to know what, and why. And one of the most important things I've realized? No one has the right, or even deserves to know, which mom gave birth to our son.
It’s one of the first questions out of many people’s mouths when they meet a family like mine, but you can’t convince me that there’s any real reason folks would ever need to know whether my wife or I gave birth to our son more than a year ago. Oh sure, people are curious, and maybe to some degree that’s fine. But given how urgently people ask us this question, it seems like something more than mere curiosity, and that sense of entitlement is starting to bother me in a major way.
It’s as if they think that hey, if he didn’t come out of my wife's body, she probably doesn’t know anything about him! It’s ridiculous, it’s insulting, and it’s mean.
In the first days of his life, it was fairly obvious: I was the mom who was recovering from a week of labor followed by a c-section, his other mom was the one running around changing diapers every two seconds (while also recovering from a week of lost sleep, staying up and supporting me through hell). In the hospital, I struggled to breastfeed and received conflicting advice — try to get some sleep but also we’d like to see you up and around more! — and had my blood pressure taken what felt like every five minutes. My wife had her own struggles while adjusting to new motherhood, but nobody took her blood pressure or asked her about her bowel movements (that I can recall), until our last day in the hospital.
The act of physically giving birth does not make a parent, and it's not the only way to make someone a mom.
I'd finally got the go ahead to take a shower, and I was in the bathroom while my wife held our adorable little baby. Since I wasn’t using it, she sat down on my hospital bed to snuggle with our three-day-old infant. While I was in the bathroom, an employee from the cafeteria brought my lunch in on one of those pink trays. She smiled at my wife, and said, “congratulations, he’s so beautiful. He looks just like you!” I only happened to hear it through the door.
Sometimes they ask very politely, “sorry if this a rude question, but if you’re both moms, which one of you, you know, had him?” and other times they ask the question they are really thinking: “Which one is the real mom?”
We laughed about it afterwards. But genetics and physical similarities aside (my wife and I both have blondish hair and so did our newborn), it really drove home an important point for me. The act of physically giving birth does not make a parent, and it's not the only way to make someone a mom. I feel like this is deeply true, and most people know it on some level, but they still keep lazily equating motherhood with pregnancy, with birth, and to some degree, with straight-ness.
And yet, when we meet new people, they almost always want to know. And I am not talking about people who are openly homophobic or queer antagonistic, either. Now, these are the nice people we meet who seem otherwise totally down with our family setup. I don’t suppose most people think about it very deeply, they just wonder, and so they ask. But the motives behind the questioning sometimes makes me uncomfortable. And, sorry to say it, but for most people who ask, it doesn’t actually seem like mere curiosity. They seem like they’re really uncomfortable not knowing, like they think this is some sort of extremely vital information. Sometimes they ask very politely, “sorry if this a rude question, but if you’re both moms, which one of you, you know, had him?” and other times they ask the question they are really thinking: “Which one is the real mom?”
It stings. And it stings that, oftentimes, even those who ask with tact and apologies afterwards direct all further inquiries about our kid to me. It’s as if they think that hey, if he didn’t come out of my wife's body, she probably doesn’t know anything about him! It’s ridiculous, it’s insulting, and it’s mean.
And honestly, I can’t conjure up any real reason anyone actually needs to know this bit of information. I’m no longer in the postpartum period, so it isn’t as if folks could be asking to figure out how to support me during that difficult physical upheaval anymore. Sometimes when I ask, “why would people need to know?” I’m given a vague, “well, what if there was a medical reason?” response. But that doesn’t make any sense, because adopted children exist, and their mothers aren’t required to constantly give their non-birthing status. If you think you need to know because of breastfeeding reasons, well, guess what? Some non-birth parents breastfeed, too. Plus, if I need to breastfeed my kid, you’ll find out pretty quickly, because he'll pull on my shirt until I take my boob out no matter where we are.
No, the only possible reason anyone might feel that they need to know, as far as I’m concerned, is so they can organize us on some kind of hierarchy of parenthood and pretend we are more like the straight families they’re used to. People want to know that my wife didn’t give birth so they can treat her like a dad, and that isn’t helping anyone.
The older our son gets, the more I think that there are certain question I might decline to answer in some situations. Obviously, most of the people in our lives will already know, and folks who’ve read a lot of my parenting writing definitely know, and that's because I like talking about my experiences. But if we run into someone at the grocery store or the bank… they really don’t need to know who gave birth to my kid anymore than they need to know if it was a vaginal birth or cesarean. It might not seem like the most personal or private information in the world, but some things really are just none of your business. This is one of them.