Monthly Archives: December 2014

Our Family Forest

by Anthony M. Brown, Board Chairman of Men Having Babies

anthonybrownandfamilyWhen my daughter documented her family tree for a class project, there were so many branches that it covered an entire poster board. My heart soared: It was a family forest! I’m called “Papa” by three amazing kids. My son is the biological child of my husband; we had him 4 years ago with the help of a gestational surrogate. I adopted him and he lives with us. My daughters, now 8 and 3, live with their mothers in the same neighborhood as our family. I call them my daughters because I am their biological father through sperm donation, but the truth is that I am not their parent.

This is a critical distinction that donor dads must make. I am not a coparent with my daughters’ mothers. But that doesn’t mean that I do not have a reciprocally fulfilling relationship with them, it just means that the major life decisions that relate to my girls are made by their mothers, the two amazing women who taught me how to be a dad. I am not sure whether we picked them, or they picked us, but from the moment we met at an equality fundraiser, we instantly hit it off. This wonderful family life didn’t always seem possible for me. In the ’70s and ’80s, as a closeted teenager and young man, I would have been in denial if you had told me that one day I, too, would have three children. Or perhaps it would have been a relief; an affirmation that I could change my orientation. I desperately didn’t want to be gay and, after running from my true self for what seemed to be ages, I did what many young people who grew up in my era did: I tried to end my life. My parents found the bottle of pills I had taken and, on the advice of our family doctor, walked me around the backyard of our house for hours attempting to allow the effects of the pills I had taken to wear off. I just wanted the pain to stop, but my parents wanted their son and fought for my life. I am thankful every day that they did.

familyforest-pullquote1After that moment, I knew my parents loved me and, eventually, with much soul searching and self-acceptance, I learned that I could be happy… and gay. Once that switch was flipped, life turned on. My family is the culmination of that awareness and of so much love. But that love had to start with me. I don’t think anyone who doesn’t truly love themselves could be a donor dad. It requires patience, responsibility and, most of all, faith. I had to have faith that my daughters’ moms would allow me to have a relationship with them. They also had to have faith that I would be a man of my word and surrender my parental rights to the non-biological mother. We all had to have faith that we would be able to conquer whatever parenting trials would come our way.

And that faith is constantly tested. When my first daughter was born, my husband and I would babysit her about once every other week and, once she was old enough, have sleepovers once a month. I remember getting a call from one of her mothers after we returned her from a sleepover right after the adoption hearing had taken place—a hearing where I formally surrendered my parental rights. She was asking about a small burn mark on my daughter’s leg. Neither my husband nor I could recall anything that could have caused it, but then I remembered that at one point over the weekend we were all in the kitchen. I was holding her when I turned to my husband and brushed up against an open toaster door. I didn’t think it had touched her, and she didn’t cry, so I thought nothing of it at the time. When I realized she had gotten burned, I was terrified that we would not be allowed to see her again. I went through a short-lived freak out until the moms calmed me down, reassuring me that it happens to everyone (she had even fallen off the changing table a couple of times under their watch).

It is moments like that when you truly understand perspective. But the one person that was most tested by my being a donor dad was my husband. He often felt like the odd man out. While I was busy going to clinics and running out of events because “mom was ovulating,” he was often left alone and feeling out of touch with the whole process. If I could have done anything differently, I would have made sure that he was more involved and included him more in the process. The reality, now that the kids are older, is that all three of them refer to my husband as “Daddy” and to me as “Papa.” When asked, they are the first to tell you that they have “two mommies and two daddies.” This, to me, is one of the coolest things ever.

Because we are honest with all three kids about where they come from, they feel special. They understand that their mommies and daddies loved them so much that they worked together to make our family a reality. If I can offer any new perspective on being a donor dad, it is that anything is possible with honesty, careful preparation, and love. You can have the family of your dreams, no matter what it looks like.blognote-surrogacyconference

Top-10 Quintessentially Queer Self-Care Tips: Enjoying Parenthood & Partnership in the East Bay

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Congratulations! You have mastered the art of early parenting. You’ve figured out how to make it through the day on very, very little shut eye; you’re managing to shovel in cold bites of leftovers from the ever-so-appealingly-prepared Meal Train drop offs; biodegradable bamboo diaper changes on the fly are already a breeze; you’ve got the supplemental chestfeeding system down like it’s nobody’s business; and, you skillfully snatch scarce seconds uploading the cutest sleeping baby pics ever, so your eagerly awaiting Ello family of friends can virtually coo with you.

Now that you’ve indeed tackled the newest of newborn care techniques and are overly supplied with what seemed the most baffling in baby gear, it’s beginning to feel like you’ve got this. So let’s take a moment to look at what else you’ve got, for your other babe—your partner over the past many years. You know you have a sound thing going on; you’re both in it for the long-haul. How to focus attention so the chemistry stays fierce and fiery amidst the new family frenzy? What steps can you take to insure no fizzling out on your end?

Whether you identify as any of the myriad of parental self-signifiers such as Mama, Baba, Mapa, Pama, Papa, or DykeDaddy, down time essentials are as unique and intentional as you are. Finding the balance between raising your baby and meaningfully engaging with your wife, quife, hersband, spouse or partner requires a steadfast forging of a sustainable self-care regimen. To help keep you feeling fortified for you and your family, with your heart and health in mind, here’s a Top-10 sampling of the East Bay’s quintessentially queer offerings:

1. Get your Butch Yoga on with Skeeter or Richelle at Namaste Yoga.

2. Pound it out solo or lift with a skilled trainer at the nation’s first LGBTQ gym, The Perfect       Sidekick.

3. Hop on the Redwood Regional trail system with the San Francisco Bay Chapter of Gay and Lesbian Sierrans.

4. Make a friend date with a pal and enjoy a locally made meal or a double shot of espresso at dyke-owned Hive Café: the Place to Bee.

5. Start a queer parent MeetUp Group around a special interest (such as one for non-gestational co-parents) or join the already existing lesbian moms MeetUp group.

6. To further build your community of queer families, check out the TransDads or the Mamas and the Papas groups and events at Our Family Coalition.

7. Connect with other new LGBTQ parents and parents-to-be at Then Comes Baby.

8. Join the LGBTQI/SGL community at the East Bay Meditation Center (EBMC) Alphabet Sangha for your mindfulness meditation practice.

9. Book yourself a body-mind tune-up of acupuncture, chiropractic care, deep tissue massage or integrative counseling with your choice of the many LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates.

10; Settle in by the lake, at a gastropub, or in your backyard hammock with a good queer parenting read:

  • Who’s Your Daddy and Other Writings on Queer Parenting – By Rachel Epstein
  • Confessions of the Other Mother: Non biological Lesbian Moms Tell All – Edited by Harlyn Aisley
  • Waiting in the Wings: Portrait of a Queer Motherhood – By Cherri’e Moraga
  • Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag – By A.K. Summers
  • And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families – By Susan Goldberg
  • The Queer Parent’s Primer: A Lesbian and Gay Families’ Guide to Navigating the Straight World – By Stephanie Brill
  • Family Pride: What LGBT Parents Should Know about Navigating Home, School, and Safety in Their Neighborhoods – By Michael Shelton

Or peruse useful web resources:

If not daily, at least a weekly partaking of some enriching activity or contemplative practice will aid tremendously in renewing your internal resources, in invigorating your parenting stamina, and in maintaining your relationship passion. In gifting yourself the opportunity to recharge, you will cultivate a self-care ritual or routine that will support, nourish, and inform you throughout the many enjoyable years of parenthood and partnership.

Dr. Meghan Lewis is the founder of Integrative Perinatal Psychotherapy as well as LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Associates of the Bay Area with offices in Oakland and San Francisco. With over 18 years of experience in reproductive wellness Meghan brings unconditional support to her clients exploring a range of preconception, pregnancy, birth, postpartum and early parenting concerns. Please visit www.meghanlewisphd.com for more information or go to www.lgbtqperinatalassociates.com