It might sound strange, but here it is: this is my third Mother’s Day as a parent, but it feels like my first one as a mother.
I haven’t felt able to fully inhabit, or celebrate, my motherhood until now, for many reasons. Firstly, like many first-time parents, it took me a while to get a handle on the job requirements, and to recognise my capabilities.
Some of this was because it wasn’t me, but my wife, who was pregnant, nor was it me who birthed our child. I’d never wanted to carry a baby, nor to give birth to one, and my wife always had, so the decision about who would be his birth mother was made fairly easily.
What I hadn’t anticipated, however, is how displaced this might make me feel.
It wasn’t possessiveness on my wife’s part (she treated me as an equal mother from the moment our son was born), nor was it jealousy. It was confusion: what was my role, as the (other) mother, the second mum?
Should a non-biological mother be different to a biological mother, a father, or any other parent, in terms of what was required, given, experienced?
Everywhere we went, I stood out as ‘other’. Hospital appointments, waiting rooms, surgeries, parties… We were almost always the only same-sex couple, with my pregnant wife the assumed official mother and me the assumed… what?
In pre-natal classes I felt like a hybrid. When the ‘girls’ stayed behind for an extra lesson on breastfeeding, the ‘boys’ – and me – left early for the pub. I also had to ‘come out’ (again) every time I took my baby to playgroup and was asked, incessantly, about my labour.
It wasn’t that I felt unwelcome; London is a cosmopolitan city and I rarely felt any disparagement or rejection from its residents. It was more that people assumed things, and were nosey, asking probing questions that occasionally gave rise to stupid, hurtful comments like: do you ever worry you won’t bond with him, since he’s not biologically yours? And: but will he actually be your son, or will you be more like a step-parent?
No, is the answer – we’re very bonded. And yes, he is my son. Sometimes the levels of ignorance around this topic are astonishing. Every year, the number of same-sex couple families has grown by more than 50 per cent since 2015, with more than four times as many same-sex married couple families in 2018 compared with 2015. This is a steady increase from the past; a 2013 study by the Office for National Statistics revealed that there were 12,000 same-sex couples raising children in the UK.
Still, despite the law stating, over a decade ago in 2009, that same-sex couples in a Civil Partnership are automatically both on the birth certificate of a child conceived with donor sperm, my responsibilities are regularly questioned. People assume I’ve had to file to adopt my child, and that, if my wife and I split, I’ll have no rights, which is thankfully not the case.
Happily I have found support amongst those others who understand my situation best, other same-sex parents and non-biological mothers, particularly in Brighton where the rainbow family community is very strong. I’ve realised too that the less I try to explain my status as the ‘other mother’, the less anybody notices, particularly now my son is older and questions about pregnancy are less frequent than questions about potty training, or nurseries.
It helps that, by some strange coincidence, my son and I look similar, but what is more important is the obvious and beautiful bond we share. Currently, he’s busy figuring out the world and chatting to everyone, everywhere and one of the first things he does when we arrive in a new place is introduce me as his mummy. He does the same for his (other) mother.
There is no hierarchy for him; we are characterised only by the things we do, the way we move and talk and laugh. I’m the one who makes his smoothie in the morning and the one who takes him swimming, whilst his other mum does the gardening, and shares his penchant for cucumber.
In keeping with this, on Mother’s Day we will celebrate each other – and ourselves – as mums to our beloved boy, just as we’ll thank our own mothers, too!
In many ways it’ll be the same as last year and yet for me there will be something extra special here, between the cards, laughter and hugs, and that’s my self belief as a parent. It only took three years, but I got there…