My wife, Cassie, and I are trying to have a baby. We’re also having sex—but in our case, the one will never result in the other, and everybody knows it. Does this mean we have more of a responsibility to inform people of our plan to become parents? Or does it just feel that way?
When we first raised the possibility of having a child, we thought it might make sense to do it around the time my wife finished her master’s degree and before she went on to a Ph.D. program. We were engaged, not yet married; her degree was not yet started; and our plans still seemed quite tentative and far away. (We’d long since agreed that if there were ever any babies to be had, she’d be the one having them—if it were left up to me, I’d rather foster or adopt than turn my body into a living incubator, while she insists the experience will be much like having the experience of housing a bot fly larva—something she is also interested in doing.)
We wanted children not too long after we married, but not too quickly, so we discussed different ways of timing it to minimize disruption to her career. We even talked about whom we’d have to tell and when. We figured her adviser and thesis committee could learn about a pregnancy after she started showing, if she started showing before she graduated, and that she’d avoid mentioning such personal matters to potential Ph.D. advisers so as not to take any risks with her ability to find a place in a Ph.D. program. We didn’t bring up talking to my parents, but I assumed we’d let them know about three months into the pregnancy, the way my sister did before my niece was born.
Two years later, the timing still seems right, but keeping our plans secret has proved untenable. We worried that if Cassie’s adviser disagreed with our timing she could be furious about not having been consulted ahead of time. We worried about what might happen if my parents thought we weren’t financially stable enough to do this yet—I still remember how annoyed my mom was when, as an adult living independently, I got myself a puppy without telling her ahead of time. This could be like that, only a thousand times worse.
Before, we’d been thinking of ourselves as an engaged couple planning our future lives together. But when it came time to make doctor’s appointments and select a sperm bank, we remembered that we were lesbians. Our inability to conceive naturally weighed more heavily on our minds than we’d expected it to. We felt more fearful of other people’s judgment and less confident in our ability to plan a family expansion independently than we’d anticipated. In the end, we felt we had to tell people our plans in advance, even though in many ways we would have preferred to have waited to announce a pregnancy when, and if, there was one.
For most of my life, being a lesbian has felt like winning the family planning lottery. I’ve never had to bother with condoms or the pill; my stomach has never tied itself in knots because my period was late; and whatever sort of sex I feel like having can be had without anxiety. However, as I made the shift from carefree singleness to hopeful parent-to-be, the picture felt a lot less rosy. Donor sperm and doctor’s appointments are expensive and not generally covered by insurance. If those sessions eventually result in pregnancy, everyone in my life will know that I intentionally and knowingly initiated a costly and difficult process—I can’t shroud the decision in mystery, shrug it off as an accident or moment of impulsivity, or pretend it came as a surprise to find my wife was pregnant. For heterosexuals, no one ever needs to know that they sought help in conceiving or how intentional or unintentional their pregnancy was. Although some choose to share that they are “trying” (usually an awkward way of saying they are having unprotected sex), politeness dictates that, in most cases, one simply doesn’t invade a straight couple’s privacy by asking them for details.
Despite our nervousness, the friends, family, colleagues, and bosses we’ve told that Cassie will be trying to become pregnant in the next few months have been universally supportive. Still, I don’t think our belief that we had to tell them was purely paranoia on our part. People seem to feel a little more entitled to this information than they would if we were straight. My wife told her adviser willingly, but not long after, she was directed to send an email to her committee, informing three near-strangers of her reproductive plans. And, though our families were ultimately supportive, as we talked with them, more than one person led us back over our decision-making process and asked about timing and finances—essentially demanding that we justify our choices to them. As far as I know, married heterosexual couples don’t generally expect this level of scrutiny over the manner and timing of their pregnancies.
To be sure, Cassie and I aren’t particularly private people. After we’d told the few people we’d been so nervous about informing, she went on to gossip and share stories publicly on social media, and I started outlining this very article. In other words, it’s been no real hardship to let folks know ahead of time that we may soon be adding to our family. Still, we’re in a cultural moment where harsh criticism of others’ parenting decisions has become the norm. I expect to be judged if my kid is too fat or too skinny, if I schedule them too much or if I don’t provide enough structure, or even if I assign them a gender based on their physical sexual characteristics. The prospect that such criticisms can be extended to decisions like when to have a kid, how many kids to have, and whether to undergo fertility treatments if one can’t have children naturally is a daunting one. Straight folks retain the option not to share their family planning process. Even though we might have decided to tell people we were trying to have a child anyway, I still find myself envying that choice.