Why Being a 'Different' Parent is Amazing

 

I’d never felt that burning desire to be a parent, so when my partner said she was having a baby despite my reservations, I was scared. Her final decision to go it alone, if she had to, followed several failed fertility treatments during which I supported her but became less and less confident that it was the right thing to pursue.

Finally, after a successful round of IVF, the seven week scan showed a tiny heartbeat. I was completely overwhelmed with feelings of love, hope, fear and responsibility for that tiny being. I felt an immediate and intense connection. I had never imagined I would feel this way, and it was probably the best single moment of my life.

Our parenting experience is sometimes different because my partner and I, who are both legal parents to our daughter, are in a same sex-relationship. I believe that most of these differences, the important ones anyway, are positive. That’s not to say that being a parent in a same-sex relationship is better than being any other kind of parent, but it does have unique elements that should be celebrated.

Here’s why:

There are no gender stereotypes which determine our parental roles

We choose our parental roles as individuals, not as defined by our gender. Not that everyone lives by old fashioned stereotypes, but gender role expectations for parents are obviously still alive and well, especially when it comes to careers.

For us though, everything we do as parents is based on our individual preferences or circumstances, and there is absolutely nothing that either one of us automatically expects the other one to do simply because of our gender. Career? We talked about all options, from both of us working full-time to one of us staying at home, and based our ultimate decision what we actually wanted to do. Smaller things? Well... we are both incompetent DIYers, so this does have its downsides. But for the most part it works really well, with neither of us feeling that we have more than our fair share of responsibilities, big or small. This is not to say that we are perfect, but at least we can manage our lives without the extra burden of gender role expectations.

It is proof that love makes a family

No one in either of our families can get enough of our two year old daughter, including my own Mum and Dad, her non-biological Grandparents. They do not see her as any different to any other Granddaughter. Friends that were very close before, are now officially Godparents, and this has brought us all closer together. We also have more friends, many of them parents. The connection between parents is stronger than I ever realised, and if you are a parent you know exactly what I am talking about. This connection has built strong ties between us and parents in straight relationships. It reinforces the common human experiences and similarities we all have regardless of sexuality.

It makes you realise how amazing people can be

We chose our sperm donor primarily on the basis of photos and an audio interview. We really liked the way he looked: he has my colouring and a kind face that looks somehow familiar. In his interview for the sperm bank, he spoke of why he’d decided to become a donor. He explained that he comes from a strong, loving family himself and wanted to make a contribution to people that were unable to start a family without help. He has also agreed to have his identity released to his donor children when they turn eighteen so that they can contact him. This is a legal requirement in the UK, but he is an American donor and so he didn’t have to do this. These are incredible and selfless acts of kindness.

We automatically have #nofilter

Being a same sex parent forces you as as far out of the closet as it is possible to go. Everyone knows we are a two mum family; it’s not something that is easy, or that you’d want to hide. This is a good thing; to quote the this year’s Pride in London campaign, think #nofilter. We are out and proud - not just when we feel like it - all the time! Whether it’s on holiday, in Starbucks or at the doctors.

It makes us mindful parents

Because we are not a traditional family there is a strong compulsion to ensure we are doing the right things in terms of our daughter’s psychological development. Well-founded academic research concludes that it is not the family structure that is important but the quality of relationships within the family that is the key to a happy and well adjusted child. Knowing this helps us to try and focus on our relationships with each other instead of being hung up on how our family is arranged.

It makes me want to help change the world

As a parent or parent-to-be in a same sex relationship it continues to be difficult to find good information on the aspects unique to our situation. Having said that, I don’t believe in using these differences to distance ourselves, if anything we need to become a more integral part of the wider parenting conversations. With these things in mind I have created a website for same sex parents which I hope will become useful for same sex parents and parents-to-be everywhere.

That’s why being a different parent is amazing. Or perhaps it should be: that’s why being a parent is amazing.

First published in the Huffington Post 18 July 2016

The LGBT community is better off with the UK in the EU

The deeply shocking tragedy of the Orlando shooting has brought up two big issues confronting the leading power of the liberal western world: gun control and prejudice against LGBT people. It’s a grave reminder that LGBT people face danger from prejudice even in the places where we feel safest.

We are incredibly lucky in the UK - we have progressive LGBT legal protections as well as strict gun control laws that mean US-style gun attacks are proportionally much less likely. We are world leaders when it comes to both of these issues and we are a safer, better place because of it. We should provide a leadership role on LGBT issues for other countries, and we will not do that by isolating ourselves from them and diminishing our own power in the process.

If nearly every economic expert and academic that has commented on the EU referendum is right, and we struggle economically post-Brexit, it is hard to imagine that we will be prioritising a leading charge for LGBT rights and protections worldwide.

To articulate the case for why we should stay in the EU to promote our world leadership role on LGBT equality I will use this statement taken from Out and Proud, the ‘LGBT campaign to leave the European Union’:

‘We have a duty to protect and promote those (LGBT) rights around the world. The European Union has failed in that task - whether in improving attitudes to LGBT people in Eastern Europe, or fighting for equality in the rest of the world. The European Union is too insular, too bureaucratic and too indifferent to injustice. A more internationalist, globally-engaged UK will be an even more effective champion of LGBT rights around the world. As we will be able to sign our own free trade deals, we will be better placed to put pressure on countries to improve LGBT rights, especially within the Commonwealth.’

This collection of simplistic and naively hopeful statements assumes far too many things, including that a UK government post-Brexit would even want to prioritise LGBT rights and equalities around the world. David Cameron has said that he wants to be at the forefront of improving protections for LGBT people globally. But we aren’t sure if Cameron will stay if we leave the EU, and if Boris Johnson has anything to do with it, we’re in trouble. He’s courting our vote now of course, but we cannot ignore the fact that he once said: ‘If gay marriage was OK - and I was uncertain on the issue - then I saw no reason in principle why a union should not be consecrated between three men, as well as two men; or indeed three men and a dog.’

The assumption that the UK would be better placed, on its own, to improve LGBT protections everywhere is misplaced. The EU, within which the UK has a very powerful voice, offers a proven and legitimate base from which to demand conditions from its member states as well as those outside it. It is more powerful base than the UK alone on the back of bilateral trade agreements. As well as this there is a lack of general public support for LGBT rights in those countries which currently offer little or no protection. Again, best practices and conditions that have been established by stable, multi-state consensus probably have more power to persuade than the perceived wants of a single country. And yes, these conditions take time, but regional agreements that have been through the required checks and balances do not happen overnight.

It’s also unfair to say that the EU courts have failed. The EU, through the European Court of Justice, has provided important protections for citizens within all of its member states, such as the legalisation of same sex sexual activity, and a ban on employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. There is clearly a huge amount that still needs to be done, but more protections are on the way.

There are also less visible implications of a Brexit outcome for European LGBT families. Specialist family lawyer Natalie Gamble says: ‘We desperately need some law which recognises the parentage of same-sex parents across Europe (and the world) consistently so that families which move around Europe have secure family status. We currently see quite a few LGBT parents choosing to settle in the UK from other European countries in order to raise their families because the UK laws and our social attitudes are so progressive, and they see the UK as the best place for their children. Without free movement, it may significantly restrict the freedom of parents (and would-be parents) to make those kinds of choices.’

Ulrike Lunacek, Austrian MEP and Vice President of the European Parliament, says: ‘The UK at the moment and for a number of years has been a leading figure.. I mean to have a Conservative government who have introduced gay marriage, in Austria we just couldn’t imagine that...It might be the case that a government in the future repeal anti-discrimination laws, but as an EU member you have to have them.’

If we extricate ourselves from the EU, the EU as well as the UK risks becoming less of a beacon and effective leader for LGBT rights around the world. The UK risks becoming less equal, as does the EU without it. And that in turn takes away the power that we collectively have to change the world for the better.

This was first published on the Huffington Post on 14/06/2016

Come on Elsa and Buzz – Just Come Out

There is something wrong with being gay. There is also something wrong with having two parents of the same sex. Kids, whatever their family background, can't help but at least wonder if this is the case as long as gays and same sex parents are completely absent from almost all of their TV programmes, films and books.

Our two year old daughter, Edie (yes, she is named after Edie Windsor), is outgoing, energetic, funny and popular with everyone she meets. Like many other two year olds she has her favourite friends at crèche and goes at life with boundless, fearless enthusiasm. She finds joy in the smallest of things and loves to meet other people whatever their age.

Edie has two mums and for now she is completely unaware that this is a different arrangement to most of the other families she comes into contact with. For now, there is nothing worse in life than forgetting to take Elmer the elephant to bed or Captain Barnacles in the buggy.

As she grows and learns about the realities of life she will also become aware of the fact that having two mums is different. She will find herself having to constantly explain to other kids that she has two mums and that this is her 'normal'. It will be all the more difficult because her peers likely won't have come across same sex parents before, and even if they have, almost certainly not on a regular basis. It's is therefore not 'normal' to them. Edie will also wonder why there is no one like her parents in anything she watches or reads. It will be something other - something shadowy, shameful, and ill-defined.

Research has shown that it is this sort of low level but persistent stigmatisation that causes problems for children of same sex parents. It's not because there are inherent problems in having two mums or two dads but the disconnect that children of same sex parents and their peers have with each other. It's the constant explanations to the new class and the weight of having to explain about what same sex parents are, and having to answer the inevitable questions that will follow.

Given the rising numbers of same sex parents (the numbers are sketchy but there are estimated to be around 20,000 children with same sex parents in the UK and 6,000,000 in the US) it's about time we were represented in children's TV, films and books. I'm not just talking about a character that 'might be gay', I'm talking about openly gay or bisexual characters who just happen to be gay - they are not there as a token gay but are just like all the other characters around them when it comes to their similarities - and differences - that make them individuals. Just like in real life.

This is not about 'being PC', or 'pushing an agenda' or any of those other things that the willfully misinformed or uninformed say. The bottom line is that Edie needs to see more of us represented in the mainstream media to feel less stigmatised as she grows up.

(first published in The Huffington Post on 25 April 2016)

So here it is...

.. The Guide to Starting a Family for Female Same Sex Couples is now live!!

It has taken around 6 months to complete this project for Blooming Parents and I really hope it is a help to as many people as possible.

The guide is a result of my partner's and my difficult path to having a baby. We really struggled through the early attempts of our conception journey. Although we didn't realise it at the time many of these struggles centred around not actually knowing what our options were and what we should be thinking about in terms of the bigger, longer term picture. We were paying a private clinic a lot of money and so we didn't question their advice - which is really not the best way of going about it, as we now know!

Anyway - this guide is just the start of Blooming Parents. My vision for Blooming Parents is for it to be a great resource for same sex parents everywhere. I want it to feel fresh, relevant and to be useful to YOU. If you have any ideas or suggestions for the site please let me know at alex@bloomingparents.com

Alex