A must-read new anthology about queer women and nonbinary people who are nonbiological and nongestational parents looks at their paths to parenthood, their experiences as parents, and the evolving meanings of what it is to be a mother.
What’s in a Name: Perspectives from Nonbiological and Nongestational Queer Mothers, edited by Sherri Martin-Baron, Raechel Johns, and Emily Regan Wills (Demeter Press), is the first book in nearly a decade and a half to dedicate itself to the experiences of this segment of queer parents. Way back in 2006, when this blog was barely a year old, Harlyn Aizley brought together numerous voices in her edited volume Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological Lesbian Moms Tell All. It remains a valuable work, but much has changed legally and socially since its publication—and there is no reason not to add even more perspectives to our understanding.
The editors of What’s in a Name are all queer parents themselves. In their introduction to the volume, Martin-Baron says that in creating the book, she wanted “to build a community resource and give voice to positive, real stories. ” Johns “knew that our stories could help people plan their families or navigate becoming a nonbiological or nongestational parent.” Wills adds, with repercussions outside the queer community, “I see us beginning to write a theory of mothering/parenting beyond biology.” On all three counts they are likely to succeed.
They showcase essays by themselves and 12 other writers from Australia, Austria, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Some contributors had always known they did not want to or were not able to carry a child; others keenly wanted to but experienced fertility roadblocks; some are nonbiological/nongestational parents to one of their children but gave birth to another. Some of them view their motherhood through intersectional lenses of race, disability, or a nonbinary or more masculine gender identity. There are vignettes about forming families and securing them; about struggling against a society that either didn’t recognize their role as mothers or sought to frame them as it often frames straight fathers—distanced and vaguely incompetent as parents. Several contributors reflect on their children’s preferences for one parent over another, a preference that can change and that isn’t always tied to biology; others muse on the parental names they’ve chosen, and one looks closely at the microaggression of those who assume that she’ll want to give birth to her family’s next child, as if being a nonbiological mother was something to be bettered. Contributor Sonja MacKenzie reminds us, too, that even within the queer community, “normative biological tropes” are “often internalized and reproduced.”
No other qualification makes a parent but a choice to love.
We learn how these mothers around the world have navigated their relationships with their children, their partners, donor siblings (who by their very existence center a biological connection), the society around them, and their own selves, as they seek to understand and shape their identity as mothers. These stories will make readers, no matter what their parental status or path to parenthood, think deeply about what it means to be a mother and a parent. Contributor Clare Candland, for example, writes of the love that makes a parent, asserting:
This kind of love isn’t earned like a badge. This kind of love doesn’t necessarily come from a pregnancy or birth. This kind of love come from a choice to open oneself up to it. It comes from a choice to embrace the responsibility and vulnerability that make up a parent and a commitment to follow through on that choice, even when the effects push you into a life that you never expected or wanted…. No other qualification makes a parent but a choice to love.
And contributor Patricia Curmi even suggests that there are advantages to being a nonbiological and nongestational parent, saying, “I’ve discovered that I enjoy my relationship with our daughter not being rooted in shared genetic traits. It has challenged me to keep seeing and reseeing her as a person wholly unto herself, free from my projections and expectations of what a child with my genes should be like.”
My only criticism of this superb volume is that I would have liked to have seen some essays by people of color, although a few of the contributors do talk about having multiracial children or a partner or donor of another racial or ethnic identity.
Nonbiological/nongestational parents or parents-to-be will be uplifted and strengthened by the stories here; biological ones may have a better understanding of what their partners/spouses may feel or encounter. Parents and prospective parents of any type—queer or not—will find much to ponder about the meaning of parenting, family, and love.
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