By Maureen Bogues, Gay Therapy Center Staff Writer
Ah, the pitter-patter of little feet.
Whether or not to have children is arguably one of the biggest decisions any adult ever makes, but with lesbian couples, the questions multiply: Who will give birth? Who will provide the sperm – a friend, relative or a sperm bank?
Sarah Brook, a psychotherapist with the Gay Therapy Center in New York, said that young couples today have a lot more options than women did just 10 or 20 years ago.
“It wasn't so long ago that single women and lesbians were denied access to sperm banks, so lesbians built their families in other ways, like with sperm from a friend,” Sarah said.
Nature vs. Nurture
In years past, it was more common for women to come out after they already had children from heterosexual marriages. Nowadays, with women coming out younger and younger, if they want to become parents, they immediately have to cope with the concerns of biological connection with the child and who will give birth.
“Many parents-to-be share concerns around how biology will impact their relationship to the child,” Sarah said.
Even though they have not yet decided whether to have kids, Liz and Meg, a San Francisco lesbian couple in their late 30s, have been discussing the issue for years.
“We did get to the point where we said Liz would go first. And then I said, ‘If you have a child, I’m going to want to have a child, too.’ And we’d go from zero to two kids,” Meg said with a laugh, noting that they both might want to be birth moms and life would quickly get complicated.
Their group of friends has experienced the wide array of issues that come up with lesbian parenting: the pain of trying many times and not getting pregnant; whether or not to use a male relative’s sperm; and issues of attachment—which parent the child might attach to.
“One couple we know, the baby girl has a favorite mommy,” Liz said. “The non-biological mother is trying to have a relationship with her, but she always wants the boob (of the nursing bio mom).”
Attachment challenges like this are common, Sarah said, noting that lesbian couples will have to process the reality that “one partner may have a biological connection while the other does not.”
Gender-role expectations can be difficult to manage even in a same-sex relationship, and pregnancy will definitely bring up a lot of feelings, as couples navigate who works and who provides childcare.
“There's so much judgment of women and mothers in our culture and so many expectations for what constitutes a good mother,” Sarah said. “This can be difficult for lesbian couples working to define themselves, their relationship or their parenthood in their own way. It takes a lot of work and communication to make sure everyone's needs get met.”
Cost is a Factor
The cost of bringing a child into the world is always a consideration for prospective parents, but lesbians are dealing with the fact that, statistically, women make less money than men, and the process of getting pregnant is not cheap.
"It doesn’t happen by accident (with women),” Liz joked.
Meg said that she would want to be financially comfortable before she and Liz have kids, and is grateful that modern medicine has been more flexible with older moms. “I know a lot of people who didn’t start having kids until they were 40 and had healthy children. That is helpful. We have a few more years.”
Because lesbian couples don't have the luxury of “just trying” or “seeing what happens,” the logistics around starting a family are much more deliberate, Sarah said. “There tends to be a lot of intentionality and processing in the discussion around the decision, as well.”
Therapy is definitely a good place to start for couples wanting children and needing a safe place to explore that decision, she said.
“Of course the underlying tensions and struggles in a couple's relationship come up in the context of this conversation, and that can be unpacked as part of the work,” she said. “However, the decision to have a child or not is so important it tends to be the impetus for starting therapy.”
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