“Who is her real mom?”
“They both are.”
“But who is her REAL mom who grew her in her tummy?”
Kids ask questions. A little girl knowing that she and her sister grew in their mommy’s tummy wants to know whose tummy my kid came from. As a kid, real is not the opposite of fake. To grown-ups, it is. And though I understand a child’s curiosity, I’m stung with the fear of needing to defend our little family.
I never expected to not be a mom. I treasured my dolls as a kid. I was their mom. I homeschooled them in the basement. I was their doctor. Annie had a red dress. I got her from the Home Shopping Network for my birthday. I waited every day for her to arrive by UPS. By the time she arrived, my whole neighborhood was waiting with me. Before the days of Amazon Prime, UPS trucks were a rare occurrence in our suburban cul-de-sac. She was wrapped carefully in plastic, surrounded by multicolored packing peanuts. Her cloth body was stamped in blue ink “HAND MADE IN GERMANY.” Her eyes closed when I put her to bed. Her hair was blonde. Long. With great patience, Annie and I learned how to French braid.
It was early in the morning. I was convinced I wasn’t pregnant. Again. But tested anyway. It was twelve days past the insemination. Our tenth try. My body was failing us. We didn’t know why. We were running out of money to find out.
The test was positive.
My eyes bleary with sleep squinted to see better. I ran to our bedroom to get my wife, Michelle, who was awake, but still in bed that late July morning. I didn’t tell her I was testing again. I didn’t want to let her down. Again.
She squealed with delight. I asked her to look carefully. Surely I was wrong. It couldn’t possibly be true, this dream we so longed for. She looked again. The test was positive. It was happening. It was finally happening. We were going to be parents. Moms.
Before she met me, she hadn’t considered being a parent. She thought motherhood was one of the things the gays give up when we come out. Along with the hope for being married. And federal benefits. And the freedom to travel wherever we want. The freedom to be out at work. The freedom to be who we are. The freedom to love who we want. On top of all of that, we couldn’t be parents.
Thankfully, this time, she was wrong. We got married in 2004. Just a few months after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same sex marriage. Just over a year after we met. When you know, you know. Gay or straight. Five years later, we spent our anniversary on the beach in Cape Cod, holding our daughter and carefully shielding her from the hot July sun.
Who is the real mom?
In the early days, I breastfed. Michelle changed the cloth diapers. I washed them. She rocked her to sleep. We split our time working from home and working at the office to put off daycare as long as we could.
As she grew, she spoke her first word, “book,” then “Mama,” her word for Michelle. Her mama.
Six months later, she decided to call me Mommy.
Mommy, Mama, and Riley. Our little family of three.
“Riley, who is your real mom?”
“Both of you,” she says and rolls her eyes hard. She’s five now. She has already mastered the eye roll. She won’t let me give her baths. She says Mama does it better. Apparently I get water in her eyes. She would rather ride in my car, as I have better snacks and always carry a notebook that I share with her. The preferences go both ways.
Gone are the days of ultrasounds and breastfeeding and so much that specifically linked me to her as the gestational parent. Now, it’s much more about kindergarten drop off, brushing her hair, and making dinner. Wiping tears, telling stories, and tucking in.
She knows about her donor. She knows about growing in my belly. She knows how desperately we wanted her. She knows how much her Mommy and Mama adore her.
Who is the real mom? Both of us. Every day. Every night. More and more all the time.
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