Who should be the birth mother?Lesbian couples sometimes struggle with decision to carry their child or turn over that experience
By: Jessica Yadegaran , Contra Costa Times
When Carmen Iniguez and Kimberly Aceves met five years ago, their connection was instant. As the Oakland, Calif., couple’s love grew and talk centered on starting a family, it was clear that both women wanted to bear their children.
It made sense for Aceves, who was then 36 and older than Iniguez, to try first. But Aceves, a youth center executive director, had difficulty conceiving in a previous relationship, and the experience had taken a great toll on her emotionally. Was she ready to go through that again? Could they even afford fertility treatments?
Ultimately, after a year of contemplation, the couple decided that Iniguez, who was younger and in a less rigorous career as a consultant, was the better candidate. For Aceves, a period of mourning and acceptance followed.
“It was painful, but I realized I wanted to be a mom more than I wanted to carry a child,” says Aceves, now 41. “It (making the decision) was a journey before the journey of even getting pregnant for us.”
For lesbian couples, choosing a birth mother can be an emotional decision. Often, it is based on simple facts, such as age, health, career demands and desire. However, when both women want to conceive and carry a child, it can take time, soul-searching and compromise for couples to come to a decision.
For Erin Bayer and Lori Shannon, of Oakland, the decision was relatively easy. Both women were interested in bearing children, but it was less realistic for Shannon, who is the founder and owner of See Jane Run, the popular retail chain for female runners.
“She had the busy career and I didn’t, so it was much easier for me to take time off,” says Bayer, 37, who was the birth mother to their 2-year-old twin boys. “Plus, my personality is such that I would be perfectly happy staying home, and she would lose her mind.”
Because they wanted two children, Judy Appel and Alison Bernstein simply took turns. The Berkeley couple were together for six years when Bernstein became pregnant with donor sperm. She went first not only because she was a year older, but to assert her feminine side and push against socially imposed stereotypes about gender presentation, Appel says about Bernstein, who prefers pants, wears her hair short and “was always getting mistaken for a 12-year-old boy.”
“We very intentionally wanted to hold up the feminine side of her that people from the outside wouldn’t expect based on the way she looked and carried herself,” says Appel, executive director of Our Family Coalition, a support network for gay and lesbian families. “She is the most caring, maternal mama bear that I know.”
When both women want to conceive, it is common to take turns and to use the same sperm donor so there is a biological link between the children, says author and family therapist Arlene Lev, of Albany, N.Y. That’s how Appel and Bernstein brought Kobi, 14, and Talia, 11, into the world.
Other times, it is clear throughout the relationship that one woman will be the birth mother.
“The assumption is that both females have wombs that are fertile and want to bear a child,” says Lev, who specializes in gay and lesbian issues and is the author of “The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Guide” (Berkley Trade, 2004). “But women in general are feeling freer than they ever have to say, ‘I don’t think I want to carry a child.’ I think it is sometimes more acceptable for lesbians to say that they are not interested in becoming pregnant than it is for heterosexual women.”
Jaime Jenett never yearned to be pregnant, so it worked out that she fell in love with and married Laura Fitch, who knew from a young age that she wanted to have “the full experience” of motherhood.
“There was never a time when I thought it wasn’t going to happen for me,” says Fitch, 39, a social worker who carried and gave birth to their 4-year-old son, Simon. Jenett, who is 36 and works in public health, says the decision was very easy.
“There was no question for us,” she says. “People really don’t understand the idea of a woman not wanting to get pregnant, but I just didn’t have a particular investment in it.”
Difficulty arises when a woman who wants to give birth is unable to conceive. Lev, the therapist, says fertility doctors need education on how to work with lesbian couples instead of making simplistic assumptions that the other partner is ready to conceive or even wants to.
“When a woman is dealing with infertility, having a partner who can conceive, and may easily conceive, can be very painful,” she says. “It is wonderful that they may have other ways of bringing a child into their family, but that may not ease the pain of infertility for a woman who really wanted to conceive.”
Aceves came to terms with her infertility the day her wife told her she was pregnant. She spent nine months nurturing Iniguez, 34; on Feb. 20, their son, Mateo, came into this world weighing an ounce shy of 9 pounds.
“It was the most amazing, life-transforming thing that’s ever happened to me,” says Aceves, who wants to start a support group for nonbirthing lesbian moms. “We were in it together the whole way, and when she had to go to that place during delivery, I helped her. I feel at peace with this.”
Distributed by McClatchy Tribune.