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Queer Motherhood Is A Constant Lesson In What Others Take For Granted

Queer Motherhood Is A Constant Lesson In What Others Take For Granted
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Sara Graefe is the author of . She’s married to her partner of 14 years, Amanda Oliver, and they live in Vancouver, with their 12-year-old son, who goes by his middle name, Michael.

When I came out in my early twenties, I thought, ‘I will never get married in my lifetime.’ I wanted kids and felt that by coming out, I was kissing that option goodbye. So sometimes, I pinch myself when I look at my life today and think ‘Wow, so much has changed.’

My wife, Amanda, and I first met at a really cheesy, 30+ speed- dating event. We’d both been through a breakup and we had friends who’d pressured us to go and were supposed to meet us there, but then at the last minute they stood us up. Amanda and I had a conversation that was genuine; when it was time to switch and talk with other people, we wanted to just keep talking.

The very next day after speed-dating, we met for brunch. Amanda is genderqueer and butch-presenting. I spotted this sparkly fairy wand in the backseat of her car, and I was surprised, because it wasn’t in keeping with the boyish style. Turns out, she was going to play a fairy godmother at the birthday party of her friend’s kid. It opened up the conversation on our very first date, in a very endearing way, that we both wanted kids.

This was in 2004 and same-sex marriage had just been legalized in B.C. the year before. It was the first time I’d met someone with whom marriage was even a possibility. Queer couples were getting married, and there was a lot of optimism and excitement that hadn’t been there before. So it was an interesting era to fall in love with someone.

When we were ready to become moms, it was clear adoption wasn’t the route for us. Both of us were aware of some issues with closed adoption : You have a kid who doesn’t know their biological parents and can’t ever know more, if they choose to.

We decided to go with assisted reproduction. We talked about having one of our close friends be our sperm donor, but because of logistics we ended up going with a sperm bank where donors were open to being contacted once a child turns 18.

Each donor had an essay as part of their profiles. Some of them were religious, preaching the word of God to our offspring. It turns out, especially in the southern U.S. states, a lot of them donate sperm as an act of service. We’re thinking, “Well, will this person be comfortable if our kids get older and want to contact them? Who can tell.”

The donor we ended up choosing, he did something different: He wrote a letter to the child acknowledging they shared a weird relationship, then lovingly describing who he was and what his own father was like. He had a final line that I’ve quoted in Swelling With Pride: “The fact that your parents cared enough and wanted to have you badly enough to go to the extent they did is very special indeed. This is leaps and bounds further toward being your parents than anything I have done. I hope for the very best for you in life and you will certainly make your parents proud.”

Pregnancy requires you to interact regularly with the health-care system. It felt like we were suddenly in a very hetero world and we were gatecrashers. I had gestational diabetes and many solo appointments, so the clinic made all sorts of assumptions about my “husband.” Sometimes I would correct people, sometimes I wouldn’t have the energy.

There was a midwife clinic closer to us, but we went with one with several queer midwives on their team. There was never any confusion about who we were as a couple and even the way they talked about our pregnancy, how they talked to Amanda in a way that acknowledged we were both expecting this baby. She felt more included. Because of them, she heard the first heartbeat. Whenever they were in the hospital, we felt more seen.

The most devastating part of the birth experience came after our son, Michael, was born. We had complications, so we were in the hospital for a week. The nurses didn’t get that Amanda was my partner, not just a friend. They kept saying, “She’s such a good friend to be there 24/7 on a crappy mattress.” We corrected them, but it was tricky because of how exhausted we were. I couldn’t breastfeed and they were badmouthing us at the nursing station, saying I must be doing something wrong. That was really hard. But fortunately our midwives lodged a formal complaint. So education happened, but it’s frustrating that we were the test case.

Most of the time, Amanda and I can go about our lives and not give our queerness a second thought. But then there are things that happen in your daily life as a parent that shake you to your foundation.

My kid’s going to high school next year, and he’s applying for some programs. On some forms, they ask for a father’s name. Michael said to me, “Mom, I guess that school’s not very woke.” He ultimately chose not to go to that school.

Sara Graefe

For Sara Graefe and her family, small reminders like outdated forms are reminders of heteronormativity.

When Amanda’s not with me, in some spaces there is this assumption that I must be straight. When I do out myself, people are so curious, and they’ll ask a lot of questions, like:
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