Last year on a lazy Saturday, as I lounged on the couch watching Steel Magnolias for the 20th time with my sleeping daughter cuddled besides me, I received the following terse text from my husband:
Along with this message from my spouse came a screen shot of our DNA test results, listing a side-by-side breakdown of our genetic make-up. Our daughter and I had an accuracy match of 99.99996 percent.
My first thought was to respond with a droll “Well, there’s a .00004 percent chance she isn’t mine.”
Thankfully, I refrained.
I knew that for my sweet, devoted man this revelation was a painful reminder that his treasured little girl wasn’t his. At least she wasn’t his by blood. While she was his daughter within the framework of our family unit, she wasn’t his direct offspring. She wasn’t the fruit of his loins.
For him, this result was akin to being reduced to being somehow less than I was. He feared the day would come when she would suddenly love him differently because they were not tied together forever via their genes. While he understood in his head that this was foolish — she is and always would be his daughter — he was unprepared for how the disappointment would hit his heart.
I doubt this response would have been an issue had we adopted, as we sought to do before we went the surrogacy route. With adoption we would have gone into the world of parenthood equally, knowing we’d be on a level parental playing field, since neither of us would be concerned with genetic parentage. In adoption we’d both be the child’s father without ever having to consider that one of us would be “more related” to the child than the other.
Three years ago, when we learned that only one of the two inseminated embryos — one fertilized with each of our DNA — we placed within the womb of our wonderful surrogate would eventually become our daughter, I knew we had an emotional ticking time bomb on our hands. This one amazing embryo would grow to become half of me or half of him, leaving the other outside the DNA loop.
Originally, I didn’t even want to contribute my, ahem, genetic sample, as passing on my genes to a child wasn’t a driving force in my life. I mean, my DNA wasn’t something I was particularly proud of. My husband, however, longed for a child of his own, one who would be part and partial of his long, proud lineage. He felt the need to reproduce, the need to continue his family heritage.
Perhaps one of the driving forces behind his desire for a child of his own stemmed from the social aspect of gay parenthood. His family had a difficult time with his homosexuality (they are all devout Mormons), his relationship with me, our marriage, and our hope of becoming parents. For him, I think, having a kid linked to his family would somehow legitimize our union. It would be the key to full acceptance.
Apart from this, in the past three years since my wonderful daughter’s birth we’ve learned that there’s also an unexpected, deeply stinging side effect to a same-sex couple being parents. Once we reveal that we had our daughter via surrogacy the constant, “Well, which of you is the real father?” question packs a painful, emotional wallop.
The identification of our child’s biological makeup is a surprisingly important and vital conversation piece to the people we encounter on a daily basis.
While we both understand that this seemly innocuous question from curious extended family members, distant friends, and random chitchatters isn’t meant to hurt or incite a personal crisis, it still wounds us. It hangs heavy in the air between us. A loaded question rife with cheerful dismissal.
“Who is the father?” carries with it a powerfully implied notion that only one of has the right to claim her as our child, based on our genetic relation. As though the DNA of our child is the only thing that validates a person’s place as that child’s father.
I may be mistaken, but straight couples don’t, or rarely, face this underlined, unspoken judgment. If a straight couple is seen with a child it’s inherently assumed that both adults are the child’s rightful parent.
If a child looks different from the male and the female adults — say, the child is of a different race than the mother and father — there is still an automatic legitimacy awarded that couple. It’s quickly understood that the child is likely adopted and this woman and man are the child’s rightful parents.
Yet with same-sex parents there is always a social and cultural battle to justify a parent’s right to be called that child’s father (or mother). When random people say, “Oh, you guys got a baby!” or “How long have you had her?” we are put in a situation where we have to explain our history, our position, and our role as parents.
It’s as though we must constantly defend and define our fatherhood simply because one of us is not a mother. As though we’ve entered into a cultural parental thunderdome: Two gay parents enter, but only one can seize the title of father!
This, of course, is utterly and completely ridiculous.
Back to that Saturday. I remember staring blankly at the cold, emotionless text that conveyed so much in its simple message. Then, in a flick of inspiration my two index fingers whirled across my phone sending the following response — which I proudly paraphrase from something my dear, colorful sister once said to me: “Blood relation doesn’t mean shit. It’s being there daily, taking care of the kid, loving the kid, that qualifies someone as a parent. Not a person’s stupid sperm.”
Moments later he walked into the room, having returned from his morning errands. I greeted him at the door and we laughed a bit over the term “stupid sperm.” We embraced. We cried. I kissed his eyelids (not sure why, but it seemed like the thing to do at the time) and reminded him that he is our — yes, our — daughter’s father. Period. End of discussion.
Besides, I reminded him, on her birth certificate it clearly lists him under “father.” You’ll find my name under “mother.” So, you know, ’nuff said.
My spouse’s broken heart has healed quite a bit since that revelation. His lovely family has also embraced us as a couple, as parents, and as a family. Our child not sharing their genes has never blocked or poisoned their devotion to her. She is their family. It is truly a wonderful, wonderful thing.
I hope my husband feels just how much our little girl emulates and adores him. They have a special, unique relationship that I admire and am so grateful for.
I’m thankful that I have such a loving, kind husband who stays home with our daughter not because he has to but because he utterly and completely loves it. He adores her. I thrill at how our sweet daughter belly laughs with him, how they run and play, how they sing and dance together. I delight in his fatherhood.
Because a true, wonderful, generous father like my husband is rare, and for that I am eternally grateful.