Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Transparent Motherhood

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"She has your eyes," says the woman at the toddler park. It's true. My daughter Mira has my blue eyes and the dimple from my chin. When it's just Mira and me, people assume I gave birth to her. When my partner, Holly, is breastfeeding Mira, they assume Holly was the birth mom, and I'm a friend. Once one woman is identified as "mom," there's painfully little room left in people's minds for another.

I'm transgendered. I began life with a male body but felt female from age four. I lived with confusion and discomfort for over 30 years. Holly encouraged me to live fully.

Before my transition, doctors told us that Holly's FSH level did not bode well for her to become pregnant with her 42-year-old eggs. After months of soul searching, we decided to try to conceive using a donor's egg. Around that time, I froze my sperm and began my transition. I wanted to have the transition behind me before Mira was born, so I could focus on being a mother and so Mira would know me as I know myself.

I'm comfortable telling people that Holly and I are lesbian moms. But I am reluctant to tell them about my body's history. I'm bursting with pride that Mira is genetically my daughter, but I'd like acquaintances to know me before I broach the real complexity. And we want Mira to have some choices about her life, so we don't want to "out" me to everyone around her. I struggle to balance her needs with my own.

We want Mira to know about her origins and plan to tell her in age-appropriate ways. But I fear that once she knows, she'll tell her school pals and they'll tell their parents. Then these parents would know only about that enormous yet small aspect of my life. When we meet in the park, I just want the kids to have fun and for me to have a sense of community with other parents. Being transgendered then feels like a small part of me.

Other lesbian moms ask, "Who was your sperm donor?" I share their desire for connection but fear the truth would separate us. I am Mira's sperm donor. I don't have a uterus, and I don't need to adopt Mira because the state already recognizes me as her parent. Sometimes I tell them that our sperm donor was a family member. Sometimes they see the hesitation in my eyes and apologize. Sometimes I want to playfully tell them that I am Mira's sperm mother.

A woman at the Y noticed Mira's eyes and asked, "Did you have your eggs put into Holly to make Mira?" My eyes teared up at her effort to include me in Mira's bloodline. "It's more complicated than that." I felt shamefully complicit with the forces that keep transgendered people invisible, other, unknown. But I was afraid of making her uncomfortable sharing the locker room with me.

As I've articulated my struggle, neighbors, coworkers, and family have supported me. I've received an award for my work in equal employment policy, spoken in churches and schools, and Holly and I have been the subject of a video. Having queer parents will not make Mira's life easy, but she will see that her parents stand up for who they are.

Back at the toddler park, I look around and wonder, "Did that dad give birth to his son? Why is that mom's voice so deep?" I realize I don't know. Are they ready to hear my truth? Am I ready for theirs?

Helen Reed (a pseudonym) lives in Oakland, CA, with her partner and daughter. She speaks publicly about gender and sexuality issues. This essay first appeared in the Neighborhood Parents Network Newsletter.

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