Two Lesbians and a Eunuch

Two Lesbians and a Eunuch

By Adrienne DeAngelo

TWOLesbiansWe had our son circumcised when he was five weeks old. It wasn’t what we’d planned.

My partner, Colleen, and I waited to find out the sex of our baby until the day he was born. But I can’t say I was surprised when I got my first glimpse of that tiny, finger-like appendage. I’d been secretly convinced all along that we were having a boy. Lesbians just had boys. I thought it was an order-of-the-universe kind of thing.

Not that I didn’t wish for a girl. After all, I understood girls. We were a household of girls. Even our cats are girls.

Our friends with children assured us that there’s little difference between the sexes for the first year or so, so we took some solace in the fact that we’d have time to adjust to having a penis in the house. For the moment, all we needed to decide was whether or not to circumcise.

But circumcision is a controversial topic, and the stakes were high for us. As a lesbian couple, we felt like people would judge us no matter what we decided. There was no dad for our son to look like. No religious custom to fall back on. We didn’t want to make the wrong choice. I mean, what did we know about the penis?

So I did some research. I read baby books; I conducted an extensive web search; I polled friends and neighbors. I found out that, while still a common practice, there’s no medical reason for circumcision. In fact, circumcision rates have fallen dramatically from the 1970s, when circumcision was the norm. One straight woman friend went so far as to tell us, “Sex is much better with the penis intact because of the friction.” (This was more than two lesbians needed to know.)

Other friends—gay and straight, men and women—told us they preferred the look of the circumcised penis to the uncircumcised penis. Colleen’s sister-in- law, a nurse (and someone we trusted implicitly), told us that if she had a boy she would circumcise.

In the course of our deliberations, Colleen and I talked about penises more than we had in the entire ten years we’d been together—possibly our entire lives.

Despite the overwhelming number of opinions, for us it came down to this: If there were a female equivalent of circumcision in the United States, would we perform it on our daughter? No, we decided. So why would we do it to a boy when it’s not medically necessary?

And that’s the last we thought we’d have to think about the penis for a while.

Thirteen days after Emmett was born, he developed a fever and had to be hospitalized. Other than the 101-degree fever, there was nothing obviously wrong with him. But because of the risk of meningitis, the hospital conducted every test imaginable, including a spinal tap. They gave him an IV drip and checked his vitals every four hours.

On our third day in the hospital, the doctors found the culprit: a urinary tract infection. Who knew infants could get urinary tract infections? As we found out, UTIs occur in less than five percent of all uncircumcised boys. A small enough percentage for doctors to conclude than circumcision is not medically necessary. And yet almost no circumcised boys get UTIs. Just our luck.

I could almost hear the collective chorus from my family: I don’t know why you didn’t have him circumcised in the first place.

We left the hospital after five long days, armed with a month’s worth of antibiotics and instructions to schedule an appointment with the urologist. If the infection happened again, it could cause kidney damage. We would need to have some tests done to see whether our son was predisposed to UTIs.

Back to the research. More often than not, I wound up at anti-circumcision websites that railed against the evils of circumcision and the medical establishment at large.

When we met with the urologist two weeks later, he recommended—can you guess?—circumcision. I felt the blood rush to my head. This is just what the alarmist websites warn you about. Sensing my discomfort, the urologist defended himself. “Believe me, I don’t routinely recommend a circumcision,” he said, “but given your son’s history and his tight foreskin”—I hadn’t read about tight foreskins—”I think it’s the best option.” He explained that the test our son needed to rule out an anatomical abnormality could even cause a UTI if he were to remain uncircumcised.

“But you need to get done it now,” he said. “I need to know by Monday morning at the latest.”

Emmett was already nearly five weeks old—late for a newborn circumcision. If we were to delay by a week—or even a few days—he would have to undergo risky general anesthesia. Or we’d have to wait until he was older.

It was a Friday afternoon. If we decided to proceed, our HMO could do the circumcision, the doctor said, but he’d have to pull some strings and we’d have to hope they could schedule us as soon as possible.

So here we were: Two lesbians who had decided to leave their son’s penis well enough alone now having to turn their attention back to what was quickly becoming a lesson in Murphy’s Law.

My overriding fear was not about the circumcision itself, but what people would think. It felt like our first real parenting decision was on trial for all to see. We were sitting in the car after our appointment, not thinking of our son but of how we would feel if we decided to circumcise.

I didn’t trust my own instincts, so I called two, three, four urologists’ offices for a second opinion. All the doctors had left for the weekend.

Colleen was sure we should schedule a circumcision. But she was tired of the hospital; she wanted it done at home. I abandoned my quest for more information and started to look for mohels. Some of our Jewish friends had their sons circumcised at home. One mom even had an older baby circumcised at home. Colleen decided that mohels had more experience than our HMO would.

I found a woman—technically, a mohelette—who was also a pediatrician. Her website,, was reassuring. I called and explained my son’s health history and age, and she agreed to do an at-home circumcision the very next day.

This would be her first non-ceremonial lesbian at-home non-bris bris.

In the hour leading up to the circumcision, we debated whether we should mark the occasion. Should we say something? Do we take photos? We considered purchasing a bottle of Manischewitz. In the end, we did nothing but watch: Colleen, her brother, her sister-in-law, and her mom gathered around the dining room table as the doctor pulled out a restraint board, a circumcision clamp, a surgical knife, gauze, and some other supplies. We watched as she numbed our son’s tiny penis with anesthesia. Colleen held his arms. Emmett didn’t cry, and it was all far easier than I imagined it would be.

Yet I am horrified by what appears to me to be a mutilation. If we had circumcised him from the beginning—before we decided it was medically necessary—I’d have believed we’d made a mistake.

A few hours after the circumcision we were resting comfortably on the sofa watching a movie. Emmett had been sleeping blissfully for several hours when the mohel called to check on him.

“Has there been any bleeding?” she asked.

“He’s been asleep since you left. Should we wake him up to check?” I said.

“Just take a peek in his diaper,” she said.

I slowly unwrapped Emmett’s diaper. It was clean. Then I saw fresh blood emerging from his gauze-covered penis. Then more. Colleen put the movie on pause.

Blood started to leak through the diaper and onto my hands. I picked our little boy up and moved from the sofa to the table where the doctor had done the circumcision. Blood oozed onto the table. I cradled the phone between my neck and my ear as I gingerly tried to apply pressure to the bottom of the penis and upwards, as the doctor instructed.

Emmett was now crying hysterically. “Take off your shirt,” I told Colleen, who was looking a little faint. “The doctor said to try to breastfeed him to calm him down.”

“Do you think you can rebandage the area?” the doctor asked. “No,” I said as calmly as I could, with blood spilling out over my hands and soaking the bottom edge of Emmett’s snap T- shirt. “Don’t worry,” she assured me, “it looks like more blood than it is. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” And she hung up.

Colleen was standing over the table—topless—with her breasts dangling over our son’s head, trying in vain to feed a beet-faced, loudly protesting baby. It would have been comical had it not be so frightening.

Not getting anywhere with a breast, Colleen decided to give Emmett a bottle. I was still applying pressure to his injured, exposed penis but I could not stanch the bleeding.

A few minutes later, with a bottle in Emmett’s mouth, relative calm was restored. He was still bleeding as I lamely continued to apply pressure to what was clearly the wrong part of the penis.

As I gazed down at my beautiful, bloodied son, I thought, “Oh, my God. He’s going to have to have his penis amputated and he’s going to hate us.” I now felt we had compounded a bad decision with an even worse decision. Our son would be the poster child for the anti-circumcision movement. Even worse, religious fundamentalists would turn it into a cautionary tale: Lesbians Castrate Own Son.

“Oh, that is a lot of blood,” said the mohel when she arrived, congratulating me on having been so calm on the phone. “When you opened the diaper, it must have pulled off the scab,” she said as she deftly applied pressure to the penis and immediately stopped the bleeding.

She stayed with us for nearly an hour, reassuring us and checking to make sure the bandage looked clean. Emmett fell asleep before she left, but I was plagued all night by fears of a bloody recurrence.

The bandage fell off on its own accord the next morning, and the incision looked fine. At last, the trial was over.

Two days later, the foreskin swelled. I snapped a picture and emailed it to the doctor. “Great shot!” she said. (It was her first penis photo by e-mail.) She told us not to worry, the swelling would go down in a few days.

She was right. A few weeks later, Emmett passed the urologist’s test with flying colors. He’s been fine ever since.

At last, Colleen and I could stop worrying that we’d made a bad decision about circumcision. Now we’re busy wondering if we can be arrested for e-mailing photos of a baby’s genitalia.

Author’s Note: I’ve spent the last thirty-six years of my life trying to make the “right” decisions. Being a parent has taught me that no one can make your decisions for you. If there’s a lesson our son can take from our experience, it’s to be conscious, considerate, and confident in his choices. I only hope that I can do the same.

Adrienne DeAngelo is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother based in Oakland, California.

Brain, Child (Fall 2007)



By Anndee Hochman

PatchedOn La Avenida de los Cocos, with a hundred pesos in your pocket, you can buy a tortilla press, a liter of Lala milk, several strings of dried chiles, a fringed sundress made in India, or sweet rolls and café con leche for three. Maybe, once upon a time, the street lived its name: a dirt lane snaking between leafy fronds, with hard, green coconuts bunched overhead. But by the time we visited, in the spring of 2006, it was a pitted road hemmed by broken sidewalks, a market yanked inside out, with people and products spilling in all directions.

“Pásele, pásele. Buen precio! Good price for you. Over here!” Strawberries heaped in a wheelbarrow. Exhaust huffing from an idled taxi. Dead chickens dangling their necks over a tiled counter; a woman fanning them with what looked like last year’s cheerleading pompom. Nasal honk of the Petatlán bus. Crushed marigolds. Ripe avocados.

Sasha twinkled her way through the chaos, a five-year-old sparkplug of energy and bravada. On our first days in Zihuatanejo, my partner and I were nervous to let her dance ahead of us like that. Then we realized we weren’t likely to lose sight of her: ivory-skinned girl in size-three Land’s End sandals, chirping “hola” with a north-of-the-border accent. The taffeta-skirted dress she insisted on wearing, even on an excursion to buy bottled water. And the patch, a circle of pink felt, embroidered with a butterfly, that slipped over her glasses and occluded her right eye.

At home, we’d become adept at fielding questions about the patch, which Sasha had been wearing since age four. At her check-up that year, she held the plastic paddle over her right eye and began to “read” the chart: “A square? A star? A pig?” I squinted my own myopic eyes. There were no pigs. “Hmm…” said the pediatrician. “Let’s try the other eye.”

A week later, an opthamologist delivered the startling news: Sasha’s left-eye vision was 20/400, meaning letters a perfectly sighted person could read from 20 feet away would need to be magnified to, say, the size of a movie marquee before Sasha could decipher them. If the diagnosis was extreme, the prescription was mild: patch the “good eye” four hours a day, forcing the “bad one” to pony up and learn to see. Amblyopia, the doctor said. Lazy eye. Pretty common. Easy to fix. Good thing you caught it early.

What wasn’t so easy to fix was the myth of our motherly omnipotence: You mean, she hasn’t been seeing out of the left eye, all these years, and we didn’t even know? Then the patches arrived, three of them, from an online store that sold 40 different varieties—dragons and soccer balls and ballerinas, spoonfuls of design sugar to make the medicine go down. Sasha didn’t mind so much, once she got used to the tickle of felt against her nose. But to me, the patch looked enormous, a clumsy billboard on my child’s perfect landscape of a face.

I took it personally: Would people think we’d blackened her eye and were trying to hide the evidence? Would they imagine an unspeakable accident involving a garden tool and a moment’s parental distraction? Would they won- der if Sasha even had an eye under that little pink cloak?

Kids were the first to ask. “What’s wrong with your eye?” demanded a stocky boy at a Denver playground. Sasha shrugged, punting the question to me, and I launched into my earnest rap: “Well, one eye is stronger than the other, so she wears that patch on the strong eye to make the weaker one work harder.”

Adults were more tentative. Some- times they whispered, as if we might not have told Sasha that a felt disc was covering one-quarter of her face. “Is she … okay?” they’d say, sotto voce. And I’d do the rap again, a PG-13 version that included the word “amblyopia,” while the person nodded sympathetically.

We never used the words “good” or “bad” to describe Sasha’s ocular problem. We tried not to parse the world that way. Girls who came home from birthday parties without ice cream on their clothes weren’t necessarily “good,” and the boy at daycare who sank his little dragon-teeth into the teacher’s fore- arm was no monster; he was “still learning not to bite.” I didn’t want Sasha thinking that a part of her body was “bad” or deficient. I didn’t even like the word “lazy,” which, to me, conjured a bloke in a Barcalounger eating Pringles straight out of the can.

Nope. No lazy eyes in our family. Just stronger ones and ones that, well, needed to do their exercises! Like when Mama and Ama go to the gym! Just four hours a day! Make it work! We sounded like Jane Fonda, amped up and a little insane, touting an exercise video for wayward toddler eyes.

In Mexico, it was a different story. We’d come as the fulfillment of a fantasy older than Sasha, a fantasy conceived in our late twenties, when new love made any crazy scheme seem possible. “Let’s live in Mexico someday,” one of us said, over microbrews in a Portland pub. “Yeah… for a whole year. In a casita painted just like Frida Kahlo’s place.” Then we blinked and turned forty; we had a kid, a mortgage, and jobs that—sorry!—didn’t provide paid sabbaticals. We downsized our dream to three weeks in Zihuatanejo, the spring before Sasha started kindergarten.

When people asked, “Why Mexico?” we said we wanted to immerse ourselves in another culture. But what did we really mean by that? Was it a yen to eat corn tortillas instead of poppy-seed bagels for breakfast, or to brush our teeth with bottled water, or to swat at southern-hemisphere mosquitos? For me, Mexico was partly a linguistic challenge: had six years of weekly Spanish lessons equipped me to communicate beyond “Dónde está el baño, por favor?”

I hadn’t done much traveling outside the United States, but I knew this: Mexico would be a kick in the khaki shorts, reminding us that the things we took for granted—dental care, clean tap water, windows made of glass—were actually privileges. Three weeks in a town of 120,000 sounded about right: long enough to learn where to mail a letter and how to find the best café con leche. Long enough, I hoped, to smudge the line between “foreign” and “familiar.”

That first morning on La Avenida de los Cocos, who were the real strangers? That broad-bosomed woman in the impossibly white dress, stripping muddy leaves from bunch after bunch of radishes? The one-legged man, guitar slung across his back, limping across the street with a rough-edged 4×4 as a crutch? Or us, las Americanas, winter-pale in our summer clothes, two women scurrying to keep up with a waltzing girl in a party dress and a mariposa eye patch.

“Que pasó con su ojo?” Luz Maria asked just minutes after handing over our key. She owned the bungalow that would be our home for the next three weeks. I tried to explain, but my Spanish was limited in opthamologic vocabulary: “Ella tiene un ojo que es mas fuerte que el otro, entonces … um, el otro ojo tiene que trabajar mas. Me entiendes?”

Sasha’s patch, of course, wasn’t the only—or even the most obvious—sign of our foreignness. We were Americans, with the means to spend nearly a month abroad. We were a lesbian couple in a Catholic country—a modest culture, judging by the local women’s bathing suits—and I wasn’t eager to alienate our host on the first afternoon. So when she asked, “Quien es la madre?”—”Who is the mother?”—I swallowed before answering.

“Nos dos. Somos una pareja, y noso- tras cuidamos a Sasha juntos.” We’re a couple, and we take care of her together. Luz Maria nodded—did she really get it? She glanced at Sasha, who was rocking her doll in a green hammock. “Pobrecita.” Did she mean Sasha was a poor little thing because of her eye, or because she didn’t have a father, or something else entirely beyond my cross-cultural understanding? Luz Maria went inside and shut her door.

During our stay in Zihua, we cooked glistening fish we’d bought in the mercado and ate mangos every day. I slaughtered a flying cockroach with a rolled-up copy of Philadelphia magazine. Sasha, with her weaker eye, spotted a giant iguana that, to me, looked like dirty stonework on the roof of our bungalow. We all turned the color of toast.

My Spanish lessons served well enough to inquire about whether the ice was purified and explain to Luz Maria that we needed liquid soap to wash our dishes. My challenge, it turned out, was not linguistic but existential. I had to learn to relax, to surrender to the rhythms and whims of Mexico: a place where a concert advertised for 6:30 p.m. might get underway by 8, where computers in the Internet “café” (really, a cement-walled garage with a couple of ancient Dell desktops) crashed for no apparent reason, where people seemed resolute rather than restless with their lack of control.

Gradually, I stopped making lists in my head. Stopped worrying about whether we had enough pesos or whether raw tomatoes would give us turista or whether it was safe to snorkel out beyond the rocks. It helped to nap every day, until the great aching well of sleep deprivation was finally filled. It helped to find our own Mexico routines: fish tacos at La Sirena Gorda; papaya juice bought from a man named Jesus; talks with other guests, in a mezcla of English and Spanish, about crime in Mexico City and the presidential campaign posters flapping in the plaza. I even learned to slow my walking pace in the sticky afternoons, when the air was thick as molé.

Though Elissa and I didn’t kiss in public, or walk hand-in-hand the way we would have in San Francisco or Greenwich Village, we didn’t hide the fact that we were a family. We took turns with Sasha in the ocean and traded nights of putting her to bed while the other one sat, reading or writing in her journal, in Luz Maria’s courtyard.

Sasha’s eye patch never stopped drawing stares and questions, particularly from older women. I learned to ex- plain it better, with the help of a pocket dictionary: “Ella tiene ojo flojo”—liter- ally, lazy eye—and the abuelas would laugh. Maybe they were imagining their own version of the muchacho in the Barcalounger. Or maybe “flojo” had a different connotation here—more like “playful” or “easygoing” than “indo- lent.” The abuelas on Avenida de los Cocos remembered us after that, giggling as we came up the street and repeating, as if it were a little song, “Ojo flojo. Ella tiene ojo flojo.” We grinned. They grinned. The gringa girl with the lazy eye. The woman with the kerchief and the missing teeth. Every one of us, blighted. Every one of us, so much more than the thing we lack.

On Mother’s Day, when Mexicans pay extravagant tribute to both La Virgen and their own matrilineage, we returned from our breakfast of huevos and waffles to find Luz Maria waiting in the courtyard. She smiled at the three of us, as if she’d finally glimpsed some- thing with an eye that was a little bit “flojo,” that needed to work hard to see what was right in front of it.

“Buen dia de las madres,” she said, and hugged us both—first Elissa, then me. She bent down and kissed Sasha on the temple, the tender spot where the butterfly patch met her browning, peachy skin.

Author’s Note: I’d been attempting to write this piece for several years, but it took a return trip to Mexico (solo, this time) to finish it. Ten days’ immersion in context—the smells, sights, flavors and painful contradictions of life in Zihuatanejo—helped me find the larger story here: a story not just about my daughter’s amblyopia, but about the partial blindness that prevents all of us from seeing one another in our stunning, imperfect wholeness. Meanwhile, the patches did their job, spectacularly; Sasha’s vision is steady (with glasses) at 20/25. At 12, she’s now petitioning for contact lenses.

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Failing at Feeding

Failing at Feeding

By Paige Schilt

0-23Over the past forty years, I have achieved a number of failures. I’m not married to my first husband. I never became a tenured professor. I can’t play the guitar. However, none of these disappointments has the same sting as the failure to breastfeed my son for the recommended minimum of six months.

It comes back to me, as undigested humiliations tend to do, whenever I hear a conversation or read an article by a mother who’s reluctant to wean at one year … or two … or three … I couldn’t do that, I think, and my cheeks get hot and my stomach feels like I’m at the top of a rollercoaster.

My baby is now a hale and healthy tween, so why should breastfeeding still have such power over me?

In “The Case Against Breastfeeding,” Hanna Rosin argues that, in certain “overachieving circles,” a woman who doesn’t breastfeed for at least six months falls into “the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets.”

I recognize Rosin’s overachieving mom and her nugget-happy counterpart from the rogue’s gallery of maternal stereotypes. Like the welfare queen and the soccer mom, these familiar characters speak of race and class without naming social inequality. Like the stroller-pushing celebrity mom and the trailer park teen mom, these heroes and villains mark the boundaries of acceptable maternal behavior.

As an educated, middle-class white woman, I came to parenthood well-versed in breastfeeding literature and poised to join the golden circle of good motherhood. However, as a lesbian mom-to-be, I understood the instability of my status. Plenty of people would judge me for bringing a baby into a family structure that was (to quote Justice Scalia) newer than “cell phones or the Internet.” In their eyes, my desire to create a queer family was just as irresponsible as a woman who fed her baby McNuggets. Thus, before the first drop of milk dripped (or failed to drip) from my breast, the pump was primed for maternal shame.

 *   *   *

When Katy and I brought baby Waylon home from the hospital, my breasts had swollen to the size of grapefruits.  Our friend Ann, mother of three, ordered me into the shower to relieve engorgement. Then she tucked me into clean sheets and placed Waylon against my side like a fragile football.  As I struggled to connect his eager mouth to my nipple, Ann regaled me with stories of her own nursing days:

“I could shoot my husband with a stream of milk from ten feet away!” she crowed.

I doubted that I would be able to perform feats of milky athleticism. I am an angular person. I have a pointy nose, bony clavicles, and small, sharp breasts.  Prior to pregnancy, I could just barely fill a size 34A bra. I have never had the sense of abundance that I imagine to be the birthright of women with ample bosoms.

As the days passed, I nursed Waylon in every conceivable position at every conceivable time of day. A stack of books about breastfeeding towered at the side of the bed. When I wasn’t gazing at his sweet, round moonface, I was balancing a book on my knee and studying the sensation of “let-down,” when the baby’s sucking stimulates the milk glands to release milk in a steady flow.  Is this it? I asked, second-guessing every twinge and prickle.

At night, while Waylon slept beside us, I whispered secret fears. It’s not working.  He’s not getting enough. Katy tried to provide comfort. “You’re getting the hang of it” she said. “These are normal fears.” she said. “If he were hungry, he’d let us know.

Indeed, Waylon’s cries were insistent but moderate. He slept long hours for a newborn: five or six at a stretch. When he was awake, he had a habit of furrowing his brow and making his mouth into a little “o,” like a tiny Zen master.

But when I looked at him, he seemed to be shrinking in tiny increments that were discernable only to me.

At his check-up, Waylon had lost three ounces. I confessed my concerns to the pediatrician and was personally escorted across the medical center to the breastfeeding specialist, as if I posed a flight risk.

The nurse escort kindly offered to carry my diaper bag.  I trailed a few feet behind her, clutching Waylon to my chest and schlepping his empty infant carrier with my free arm.  With every step, the carrier bumped against my leg, making my progress slow and lurching. When the nurse stopped to wait for me, I was humiliated and yet strangely relieved. Now that my incompetence was known to the world, help would surely follow.

 *   *   *

The lactation specialist was a white-haired hippie named Robbie. Her office was festooned with calico quilts and needlepoint aphorisms about the joys of motherhood. She assured me that lots of babies have trouble latching on and invited me to nurse Waylon on her homey couch.  I obediently demonstrated a variety of holds.  In each position, Waylon sucked enthusiastically at first and then lost interest.

Robbie connected my breasts to the hard plastic cups of a breast pump.  She set the machine on low, then switched it to medium, frowning as she watched my milk dribble out. Finally, she asked permission to turn the wheezing machine all the way up. After 30 minutes of vigorous pumping, during which I mourned the perkiness of my modest bosom, she switched the machine off. I had produced a paltry four ounces of milk.

While Robbie outlined a detailed plan of frequent pumping between feedings, her helper fed Waylon a bottle of milk mixed with formula. I felt panicky, out-of-control. But this was no time to raise political objections about the medicalization of motherhood. Waylon sucked down the formula like a starving man and cried for more. After days of private calm, he was publicly ravenous.

 *   *   *

My doctor prescribed pills to increase my milk supply. For some reason, they had to be ordered from an Internet pharmacy in New Zealand.  I did not quibble, nor did I torture myself with Google searches of possible side effects.  I ordered that shit, whatever it was, and I took it religiously.

As per Robbie’s instructions, I pumped four times a day and nursed Waylon in between times. With the help of the mystery pills, I might, on a good day, produce eight ounces of milk in one sitting. Other moms had freezers full of eight ounce bottles.  They swapped stories about leaking milk in meetings, rushing home from errands to relieve their aching breasts with blissful nursing.  I nodded my head like I knew what they were talking about.

The new mother support group met at a member’s house, a quaint little cottage that had grown a two-story addition on its rear end.  The cheerful hostess greeted each woman in the foyer and ushered us down a long passageway into her earth-toned living room.

I claimed a spot on the gleaming wood floor and arranged Waylon’s toys on his play mat, hoping he wouldn’t be crabby or restless.  I knew that breast would be the pacifier du jour, but Waylon was increasingly accustomed to the bottle, which delivered milk quickly and reliably.  At three months, he had become a picky, impatient nurser.

I hadn’t yet decided whether to divulge my breastfeeding struggles, but I was encouraged by the mood of barely concealed desperation. Above the hummus and olive tray, the air was heavy with expectation—as  if, at any moment, the conversation would change from car seats and diapers to something very raw and poignant.

My sisters! I thought.

Then somebody opened the floodgates.

He hands her back to me whenever she’s fussy!”

“I left him alone with Bobby for three hours, and he watched television the whole time!”

“I just don’t know how long I can go on like this—he acts like he doesn’t know how to do anything.”

He sleeps through the night! While I’m awake with the baby!”

Husbands. The angst that I had sensed below the surface was about husbands!

My internal sensor hovered between alienated and smug.

I was disappointed to be outside of the conversation and yet glad not to share this particular problem. My wife called herself the “lesbian baby whisperer.” She prided herself on the ability to soothe Waylon to sleep. She had changed her schedule to stay home with him in the mornings, so that I could go back to work. The fact that I was pumping and supplementing with formula meant that we could split the feedings. When Katy gave Waylon a bottle, he snuggled against her chest and gazed into her face.  His fist clutched a lock of her long hair.

*   *   *

At four months, I drank Mother’s Milk tea until I felt like fenugreek was oozing from my pores. I tried relaxation, meditation, and visualization.  I ate more.  I ate oats and barley. I tried in vain to sleep more.

At the pediatrician’s office, a nurse quizzed me about Waylon’s eating habits.  “Still breastfeeding, right?”

I nodded vigorously, even as a lump formed in my throat.

“How many ounces a day, on average?”

I did the math out loud and quickly added, “I have to supplement with formula. I don’t have enough milk.” My voice sounded like a squeak.

The nurse made a note in Waylon’s file.  I wondered if she believed me, or if she was writing me off as a shirker. “Well,” she said, “breast is best, especially for the first six months. It builds his immune system.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know.”

Originally I had planned to nurse for at least a year. Now the nurse’s six month minimum loomed in my mind, an imaginary milestone that would save me from being a total fuck-up.

Then, at five and a half months, I got a cold.  It wasn’t a particularly terrible cold, but I felt so tired that I decided to skip the half hour of pumping that I usually did just before bed.  The next morning, when I woke up, my breasts weren’t engorged.  I nursed Waylon as usual, but—as I still wasn’t feeling good, I decided to skip the mid-morning pumping session in my office. Freedom felt so great that I skipped lunchtime and mid-afternoon too. When I nursed Waylon that night, he was restless.  I could tell that only a little milk was coming out, so I switched to a bottle. After months of feverish effort, I didn’t have the energy to keep going.

Thus it was that breastfeeding went out, not with a bang or a whimper. The failure I feared had come to pass, and I was surprised to feel relieved. Occasional bouts of shame were balanced by the knowledge that my connection to Waylon was sweeter, less stressed. We developed a ritual called “skin-on-skin,” where Waylon would lie on my belly or Katy’s belly to cuddle.  As I stroked his back in small circles, I could feel the good maternal hormones, the happiness of breathing as one, the touch that was helping my baby thrive and grow.

A month later, I was talking to my young friend Lynzee. She and her six-week-old baby were living with Lynzee’s mom. In order to provide for the baby, Lynzee had recently returned to work as a cashier at Home Depot. “How’s breastfeeding going?” I asked.

As soon as the question was out of my mouth, I regretted it.

“Well…” she said, looking away, “breastfeeding’s hard.”

Surely there is someone who knows how to give a breastfeeding pep talk without shaming the recipient. I just haven’t met her yet. In my experience, the laundry list of things-you-could-try can easily become a litany of reproach. For a moment, I felt tempted to launch into a speech about infantile brain development and good antibodies. But I stopped myself.

“Yeah,” I said, “I know.”

Paige Schilt is a writer and activist from Austin, Texas. Her blog,, chronicles the adventures of a gay, transgender, rock-n-roll family raising a son in the South.

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Being Raised By Lesbians

Being Raised By Lesbians

By Lara Lillibridge

0-26The story everyone wants to hear isn’t the story I want to tell.  Everyone wants to know what it was like to be raised by lesbians, how we functioned, what made it different.  I want to talk about other things, the things that formed me and shaped me and scarred me. Not my mother’s sexuality.  I want to say that isn’t what scarred me or made me different or made me who I am today.  I want to say that it didn’t matter.  But all of that is a lie. Of course it mattered more than almost any other aspect of my childhood.

Perhaps I don’t want to write about it because I feel an obligation to represent lesbian parents well, and to show that children of lesbians are normal. I don’t want to be a poster child for lesbian families. I don’t want to say it is or is not okay.

It is not something you can place a value judgment on, because it is not something my moms had any control over. They are who they are, and it isn’t fair to say that something that is intrinsically part of them is open to a value debate.  I prefer to use my writing to scold them for things they could control.

Maybe I don’t like the voyeuristic component. After all, every teenage boy I ever told asked if he could come look in my windows, even though I explained that my parents weren’t people any teenage boy would want to see naked. I resented every straight adult asking me if I ever thought I was a lesbian. I don’t like the reduction of my entire life to a discussion on sexuality. I wish there was a way to define who makes up your family without the connection to what happens in the bedroom.

But the case may be that I don’t want to talk about having two moms because I am overshadowed by it. The most interesting thing about my life is not about me at all; it is about my parents. Perhaps I deny its importance because I want to be the most interesting character in my own story.

I can tell you what you want to hear. I can tell you about the kids that weren’t allowed to play with me because of my moms. I can tell you that I was called Lara the Lezzie for most of Junior High. I can tell you about the fight I had with one of my best friends in the locker room after gym class where she accused me of being a lesbian just like my mom and how I never forgave her.

I can tell you that I needed a boyfriend for years to prove I was straight to anyone who wondered during my teen years.  I can tell you that I had nightmares that I would wake up one day and find I had turned into a lesbian overnight, and no longer was the person I was when I went to sleep.

I can tell you about the blue-collar, republican parents of my friends who never batted an eye about my two moms and allowed their daughters to have sleepovers at my house.  I can tell you about the time my best friend’s mother caught her daughter playing doctor with me and how she didn’t freak out any more than was appropriate, and how she never tried to keep us from being friends.

I can tell you about the family my parents created, made up of other lesbian women, because my cousins stopped talking to us after my mom was outed.  I can tell you about the Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve parties and everyone laughing and talking just like a normal family, and about how their conversations were as boring to me as a child as grown up conversations are to children everywhere. I can tell you how both of my moms went to every school concert and even a few track meets, that the school administration accepted that I had two moms even though it was the late 1970s and wasn’t very common. No teacher ever made me feel weird when I made my moms name tags for open houses or introduced them at parent teacher conferences. The Boy Scouts allowed my mom to volunteer with the troop when they asked for father-helpers. The Girl Scouts gave my two moms a troop to lead.

Or maybe you’d rather hear about me living in fear that I would confide in the wrong friend, and that they would tell my deep dark family secret. A lot of people like the story of how my mom lost jobs for being gay, and how I was afraid we’d get chased out of our neighborhood. Another popular story of neighborhood hate can be told two ways; maybe once someone threw a rock through a window, or maybe it just was kicked up by a truck and meant nothing at all.  Most people prefer to think it was a hate crime, although there was no note to clarify.

I can tell you all of it or none of it, but I can’t tell you what it was like to have lesbian parents.  I can’t speak to some universal experience. I can’t tell you what it would have been like if my parents were straight, and what parts would have been different and what parts would have been the same.  I have no other point of view.

Lara Lillibridge is a mother, writer, off-key singer and an occasionally inappropriate dancer. 

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