OPINION: Stop ‘othering’ LGBTQ+ families – we are here to stay

by Beth Lewis | .
Thursday, 25 May 2023 15:01 GMT

Lesbian couple hold their child as they take part in an annual Gay Pride Parade in Toronto June 28, 2009. REUTERS/Mark Blinc

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The lack of resources for same-sex parents like me can make us feel invisible

Beth Lewis is the author of ‘Children of the Sun’, a novel set during the US AIDS pandemic, released on May 25

We are in the health visitor waiting room. Our daughter Thea, a few weeks old, is burbling to herself on my lap while we struggle to keep our eyes open.

We are exhausted. We have no family support nearby and we are hoping to get some much-needed advice on breastfeeding, managing the day-to-day and some reassurance that we will, indeed, ever sleep again.

Instead, when we are called into the room, the health visitor looks at us and says: “Who is the mother?”

“We both are,” we say. We are met by a look of disdain, confusion, and frustration. “But who is the real mother?” she asks. She means who gave birth, of course, and my world crumbles.

My wife says she did, and from then on, the health visitor directs every question to her – even though they have nothing to do with pregnancy, post-natal care or giving birth. I may as well not have been in the room.

I wasn’t a dad, but, by their definition, I wasn’t a mother either. So who was I?

In 2019, there were 212,000 same-sex couple families in the UK, with around 12,000 having children, up from 4,000 in 2010. We are the fastest-growing family type, but this is not reflected in information available.

There are no resources for women like me. We are not step-mums - our names are on the child’s birth certificate. Legally, we are parents, but to society, we are the ‘other mothers’ and we’re invisible.

Instead, all information for non-gestational parents is aimed at fathers, and often the bar is so low it amounts to doing the dishes and giving the mother a foot rub.

It scared me. How could I have that special mother-daughter bond with my child if I didn’t give birth to her?

Visibility matters – in all areas of life, not just on TV shows. My wife and I both work in publishing and have extremely supportive companies who are striving for more representation across the books we publish. But there is still a long way to go.

There are a handful of picture books about LGBTQ+ families, but most are about how that family isn’t wrong, or how having two dads or two mums is just the same. My daughter already knows that; she has no frame of reference to think she is any different to anyone else.

Instead, these books suggest to children like her that their loving same-sex parents are something ‘other’ that needs to be explained and accepted.

It is the same thing society was telling me when I wanted to just be a mum. But I got up at 3am to soothe our daughter, now nearly four years old, when she needed it. I am there when she falls and grazes her knee. I am her mother, no ifs or buts or qualifiers, no ‘other’.

Turns out, DNA isn’t a mystical force that makes a bond with a child deeper or more meaningful. Oxytocin, the bonding hormone, can be triggered in babies and adults by emotional support, reassurance, and physical contact.

If a non-biological parent gives the same level of affection to their children, their bond will grow in the same way as the bond with a biological parent. Once I discovered this, everything changed.

This information should have been readily available to parents in my position, perhaps mentioned in an antenatal class, or given by a health visitor. One small thing could have helped a worried first-time parent but instead, I was ignored.

Same-sex parents must be included in the journey of parenthood, not sidelined into that dreaded ‘other’ tick box.

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