Today's post is from Amie Klempnauer Miller, a frequent speaker about gay and lesbian families and author of the book She Looks Just Like You: A Memoir of (Nonbiological Lesbian) Motherhood. Miller works as a development consultant to the public media industry and lives with her partner and daughter in St. Paul, Minnesota.
"Mother's Day is my favorite holiday," my daughter Hannah says to me one morning. I don't believe her for a minute. I know that Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday because we drive from our home in Minnesota to southern Indiana where all of her cousins live, so that she can spend 48 glorious hours gorging on whipped cream with pumpkin pie and playing hide-and-seek with the other girls. But I'm packing her lunch and she wants me to put in a piece of candy. I grant two points and a bite-size Snickers for a savvy pitch.
Whether she's just angling for a treat or not, it's a good thing that she claims to feel this way. Mother's Day is a twofer in our home. Father's Day, on the other hand, doesn't much register, since there is no father here. We are a nuclear family with a twist: two moms, one kid. We do pretty much what other families do on Mother's Day, I suppose, but twice over.
The truth, however, is that every May, I feel like a bit of a hanger-on. Mother's Day is both mine and not mine. I am a mother, but I did not become one in the usual way. My partner Jane is Hannah's birth mother. I am Hannah's other mother, bearing no biological relation to her, but having been wholly present in calling her into being. I celebrate Mother's Day because it is the day designated for mothers and that is what I am, mostly. But not exactly.
Most women become mothers when they give birth. Sure, we can argue, in a pleasantly inclusive way, about what makes a mother a mother. But the reality is that pregnancy and birth are the yardstick most people use. Some women become mothers when they adopt a child. Some women become mothers through marriage. Some take less traveled roads.
When did I become a mother? The day Jane and I first began to imagine having a child, some ten years before we actually did? The evenings I curled up next to Jane on the couch and felt Hannah's kicks in her belly? Or the day I sat in the chair next to the exam table as the sonographer moved the ultrasound transducer across Jane's belly and announced, "It's a girl"? Was it when I spent hours assembling Hannah's crib and bouncy seat, wondering all the while what it would be like to hold her? Or was it at 3:00 a.m. on the morning of March 19 when I saw and touched Hannah for the first time and felt the earth shift on its axis?
Technically, of course, it was none of those times. Technically, I became a mother when I adopted Hannah, about a week after the official Mother's Day, when Hannah was two months old. Until that point, according to the law, she was Jane's alone. Legally, I was as closely related to Hannah as the bagger at the grocery store. And since we used anonymous sperm – who knows? – maybe less. A few states are now starting to acknowledge that gay and lesbian couples who plan together to have a child, prepare together for the child, and work together to take care of the child are both – imagine! – parents. But it is still only a few states and the rest of us, if we are lucky, make do with second parent adoptions and a stack of papers spelling out our connections to our children. Others go on faith, usually because they live in a state where there is no other choice, asserting their motherhood in action, but with no legal proof to back them up.
On that May day, nearly seven years ago, I stood before a judge in Minneapolis, holding Hannah to my chest in a way that I hoped looked indisputably maternal, and affirmed that I understood and accepted the full responsibilities of legal adoption. Yes, I understood that it meant I would have physical and financial responsibility for her. Yes, I understood that, if Jane and I broke up, Hannah could still lay claim to support from me. Yes, I understood that it meant we were each other's for life. In some ways, Adoption Day, as I call it, is more my Mother's Day. It is the day when I officially became Hannah's and she became mine.
"I don't understand how you can have two moms," Hannah's friend Jacob says to her one day as I am driving him home. They have spent the past ten minutes sitting in the back seat of the car giggling about the "M word" – marriage, to those not seven years old – a word they both find so noxious and hilarious that even to utter it brings on fits of giggles.
"I just do," Hannah says in her that's-the-way-it-is voice.
"Do you have a father?" Jacob asks.
"Nope," says Hannah. "Never have and never will."
"Oh," says Jacob and they go back to giggling.
I am both Hannah's mom and her other mom, same and different. Much of what I do on a daily basis looks very similar – ok, identical – to what other moms do and some of it looks like what fathers do. I get her up in the morning and take her to school. I meet her when she gets off the bus. I sit with her while she does her homework. I run next to her while she finds her balance on roller blades. I bring her a bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats for a bedtime snack.
But I remain convinced that being a nonbiological lesbian mom is something distinct unto itself. This may just be my reluctance to become either a dad-substitute or to be subsumed with Jane into one big maternal figure. But I think it's also a desire to name this experience, to assert that it is its own way of being in the world.
Every year, I think about how to celebrate Adoption Day. Should Hannah and Jane and I go for a hike? Go to the corner grill and drink milkshakes? Play Monopoly? Bond? And every year, it slips by us, trumped by the giddiness of spring in Minnesota. Perhaps this is appropriate; like the experience of being a nonbiological lesbian mom, it is both its own unique thing and it is just another day.