I am, by my own definition, a reader. And American parents love to read up on what experts of various stripes say about how we should raise our kids, or what we should expect while we’re, uh, expecting. Couple that with the fact that I was sick in bed for a lot of my pregnancy, and you’d think that I would’ve read everything there was to read on the topic of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting. And to be honest, a couple of years back, I may have expected that myself. In real life though, I had a hard time reading pregnancy and childcare books, and there was one very simple reason I put down parenting and pregnancy books, even the ones I kind of liked. The fact is that almost everything written about babies (and that includes most things on the internet) is aggressively cissexist and heteronormative, and that leaves my family and many others completely out of the picture.
The fact is that the vast majority of writing about pregnancy and parenting is written with one audience in mind: straight, married moms. And straight, married moms are often wonderful people. They may even be the people most likely to read up on pregnancy and parenting, but that doesn’t make them the only ones. When not parenting and pregnancy books are written only addressing one kind of parent in one very specific situation, the rest of us lose out.
None of this really mattered to me until I was pregnant. Years and years ago, I actually remember reading an ancient parenting book just for fun, just because I realized I didn’t know anything about babies and it seemed sort of interesting. Back then, even though I was a gay woman, the references to “mom and dad” didn’t really get under my skin. And why would they? How could I feel left out that parenting writing wasn’t written for me when I wasn’t a parent? But then I got married, and my wife and I decided it was time to have a child together.
When texts I otherwise love required me to constantly edit in my head to find myself on the page, I felt alienated from the entire world of making babies.
Like most people, I had certain questions about my pregnancy, and I wanted to be able to look things up quickly and easily. And what I found was that I was constantly coming up against the reminder that my family was an oddity. It started to feel like a thousand tiny jabs. Phrasing like, “Remember that mommy’s and daddy’s voices will be the first sounds your new baby hears!" and, “Dads are important too!” made me feel deeply left out of my own experience. Likewise, lines like, “Be sure to talk it over with your husband," made it clear that my marriage wasn't "normal." Like everyone else, I wanted my journey to be seen, heard, and written about. With every page I turned, I was reminded that it wasn't.
Pregnancy, childbirth, and early parenting can be really scary times for people, and that was certainly true for me. When you’re going through that experience, you aren’t looking for purely academic information — it's personal. When I was in the midst of a very difficult pregnancy and wanted to read about other pregnancy stories, I wanted something that could shine a little light on what I was going through. But even when texts I otherwise love required me to constantly edit in my head to find myself on the page, I felt alienated from the entire world of making babies. It was a damn shame. I was having a hard enough time with my pregnancy that I shouldn’t have had to search high and low for any pregnancy and parenting content that acknowledged that homosexuals do, in fact, exist.
My wife is a parent, a mother, and she experienced my pregnancy and the birth of our son as a parent. Sure, she’s also my partner, but using “mom’s partner” in the place of “dad” makes invisible her parenting relationship to our child and makes her sound like someone on the periphery.
Though more and more parenting and pregnancy books for LGBT parents have been published, I still often feel as though the language they use leaves people out. I'm pretty sure that referring to a “mom’s partner” rather than a “dad” or a “husband" comes from a good place, a place of wanting to be more inclusive, but for me, it still majorly misses the mark. Relegating non-birthing mothers to the role of simply “mom’s partner” is so utterly depressing it breaks my heart. My wife is a parent, a mother, and she experienced my pregnancy and the birth of our son as a parent. Sure, she’s also my partner, but using “mom’s partner” in the place of “dad” makes invisible her parenting relationship to our child and makes her sound like someone on the periphery. And she's not. If we want to be inclusive, we need to remember that not everyone who gives birth is a mother. Sometimes dads give birth too.
It may be easier to default to old norms and ignore parents who don’t fit into the cookie-cutter mold, but it only takes a little bit of consideration, a little bit of remembering how varied and wonderful the world is. When I was pregnant, it would've made a world of difference to me. And even though it isn't that difficult to be more inclusive with language, it can be very difficult to feel constantly excluded by language. During my journey to parenthood, the only book I read that ever acknowledged that families like mine existed was a guide specifically for lesbian mothers, and even that still made me feel slightly erased by constantly assuming our sperm donor must be a man (our sperm donor is transgender, and wonderful, and it broke my heart to see them continually erased from the narrative). All of this took a very real emotional toll on me. It made me feel like forever an outsider on the magic of pregnancy and parenthood, like I was sitting on the bench of my own experiences. And I still, as a femme-presenting woman, hold a place of privilege in all of this. I can't imagine what it's like for parents and soon-to-be parents who are still largely left out of our society's birthing narrative.
Now that I find myself on the other side of the fence and writing about parenting, I try to remind myself who my audience is. I think back on what I so desperately needed during such a confusing time, and I try to give them what I needed. I’m aware that perhaps the majority of the people who click on articles about, for example breastfeeding, are cisgender straight women. But just because a group is the majority doesn’t mean they’re the only people out there, and it certainly doesn’t mean they’re the only people who matter. I try my best to write for dyke moms, for trans dads, for single moms, for non-binary parents, for adoptive parents, and everyone in between. I might mess up sometimes, and though our experiences have undoubtedly been different, it's really important to me to really try. Not only because it’s the decent thing to do, but also because I really wish there would've been more people trying when I needed it.