By Betsy Fife Archer
When my son was born, the midwives remarked in awe how much he looks like me. Same hair and skin color. Same cheeks. Same nose. It was a bit of a shock as my partner, who is Middle Eastern (olive skinned, black hair), gave birth to him. We share no biology, yet he truly favors me. He has started to tan, which is not like me at all, and I fear he will stop looking like me as he grows. There is comfort in our similarities. It’s not like I look for my father’s eyes in my son’s face, but other people do. I am not closeted. I openly talk about my life with most people (unless I feel unsafe). So, when someone says that my son looks just like me, my most common response is, “Isn’t it funny? I didn’t give birth to him.” But I did. He was not born of my body but was born of my soul, that which is uniquely me. As I write this, we are driving home from a beach vacation and he is asleep next to me with his tiny hand on my forearm like it belongs there, because it does.
I realized that while I do not hide who I am, there are certain situations where I don’t trust other people not to say hurtful things, so I might play along with their assumptions of my son’s heredity to avoid having to explain. The fact that he looks like me makes this possible. If he looked like his other mother, his eyes would be dark like the night, his hair the color of crows and his fair skin, brown. Then, I would have to answer, “Does he look like his dad?” “Where did he get those eyes?” I don’t mind answering and, in fact, think that I have to for my son, to show him that there is nothing to hide about how he came to us. But sometimes, I don’t want to answer. I want the store clerk to assume he came from my body. I want the waitress to ask only me if my boy wants water. Somehow, the assumptions of strangers make me a visible parent.
I remember the first pediatrician appointment when my son was two weeks old. The doctor hardly looked me in the face. She addressed all questions about how well he was nursing or how long has it been since he pooped to his other mother. She asked her about his sleep patterns and whether or not we were ready to vaccinate. As I sat there in that stark room, a heat began to fill me up, from my toes to my belly where my son did not grow, all the way to the top of my head. Inside, I was screaming, “WE MADE HIM TOGETHER! I AM HIS MOTHER, TOO!”
And maybe not so loudly, “See me.”
I was worried about whether or not I would bond with my son the same way his other mother would. I worried that he would come out and only want her. I planned about how I would react to this situation if it happened. I talked to fathers and other non-gestational mothers about their experiences. I journaled to my son for months before he was born about what I want for our relationship and what I want for him. All that planning, and then he was born. A gentle spirit who loves me as deeply as I love him. In the first spring of his life, we spent many hours bound in a Moby wrap, wandering the streets of our town. I would kiss his head as we avoided the as-yet-melted mounds of snow piled on the sidewalks. We explored the dormant gardens and watched as the geese returned to the pond. He grew and smiled for the first time and we kept walking. His other mother went back to work and my son and I kept walking.
Then he got hurt for the first time. He fell and bumped his face and the tiny tooth on the bottom cut his gums and there was blood. I scooped him up and held him tight as he worked through the newness of pain. After a couple of minutes, he stopped crying and just immersed himself in my gaze. In that moment, I really knew he was mine.
When my son was six months old, we moved from Massachusetts to North Carolina. Like I prepared for my son’s birth, I prepared for this move, working through the various scenarios as our departure drew near: “Two mothers? That is an abomination!” “You are going to hell!” “That poor boy. What is he going to do without a father?” But none of that has happened. Sure, there are people who believe those things, but we have been met only with kindness since we arrived. When a woman at the farmer’s market asked, “Who’s baby is that?” when my son was on my back and his other mother at my side, I (without a moment’s thought) replied, “Both of ours.” As I braced myself for her response, she launched into a diatribe about the lesbians who used to live next door (“Do you know them?” she asked) who “got their son from some California stuff” and weren’t they just the best parents you have ever seen. While the my-best-friend-is-gay routine gets old, I appreciated her ability to surprise me with her type of kindness. I don’t know what is said behind closed doors. I only know that since we have moved back to the South, people have been nothing but warm and welcoming of our family. In Massachusetts, it was expected that we, as a family, would be visible. But here, I have been constantly surprised by how many people actually see us, the unit. I like to be surprised by people in this way.
I expect that my son won’t always favor me and that people won’t always be nice to our family. I am trying to plan for the day when someone, in front of my boy, says something mean or ignorant. But these days, I am not spending too much time on that pursuit. Instead, I play ‘boo’ with my boy and have whole family dance parties daily. If my son gets a dark tan, we will still be a unit. He will still be my boy if he looks nothing like me and people ask if he has his father’s eyes. My son, who has no father, has two mothers who love him more than chocolate, which is saying something coming from me.
About the Author: Betsy Fife Archer is an artist, writer and mama living in Asheville, NC. When not chasing around her amazing 2-year old son, she blogs about being a queer, non-gestational mother (turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com), makes hand-hooked rugs, fixes things, takes photographs and loves to explore the mountains near her home.
Want to read more thought-provoking essays? Subscribe to Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers and see why we’ve been receiving awards for literary excellence since 2000.