What makes a person a mother? How do women who do not identify with traditional femininity fit into the role of mother? What is it like watching your partner have a physical closeness with your child that you will neve have? These are all questions posed (and sometimes answered) by the collection of essays Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-Biological Lesbian Moms Tell All.
I was drawn to this book (despite my previously stated aversion to most non-fiction) because my partner, Amanda, could have contributed to the book. While our 16 year old daughter came about the old-fashioned way from my first marriage, Amanda and I have been raising her together since she was about eight. I wanted to get some insight into the kinds of experiences that other women had had with blended families.
Had I been paying more attention to the actual table of contents during my book buying frenzy at the conference where I bought this book, I would have noticed that there is only one essay in the book about step-mothering. But I'm glad that I didn't pay more attention, because I would have missed out on some fascinating stories. From poignant to frustrating, political to deeply personal, the authors of these essays have shared an experience that not only helps me understand lesbian mothering, but actually gave me insight into straight fathering. It never occurred to me that women who identify strongly as butch would have trouble not just being called mother, but with identifying with our society's definition of maternal. Or that there would be jealousy from the non-birth spouse over the closeness of breastfeeding (this was the one that got me thinking about straight fathers). Or that people were really so insensitive as to ask which mother is the "real" mother.
The one that spoke the most strongly to me was written by one of the women who brought about the lawsuit that led to the Massachusetts gay marriage decision, Hilary Goodrich. Her partner had to have a C-section while delivering their daughter. The baby was born in some distress, so she was rushed to the NICU, and Goodrich went with her. After sitting next to her daughter's bed until the crisis passed, she went back to check on her partner-and was told that she could not "visit" because she was not "family". She then tried to go back to the NICU, where she was stopped at the door because she was not the "mother". Imagine not being able to go to the person you love or your child when they are sick or in pain, and the frustration and anger you'd feel.
There has been a lot of debate in our country over the years about what makes a family. I think that most of us have gotten our heads around the idea of single parents, blended families, and families with grandparents as the main child-rearers. Based on the stories in Confessions, we still have some work to do on honoring and valuing the love and care that exists in families led by same-sex parents.