There’s a dirty word among gay dads. The M-word. I’ve written about it before, and I’ve done everything I can to avoid saying it around my kids. Back when Drew and I first decided to pursue surrogacy, the head of the surrogacy agency himself told us to write it out of our vocabularies. An egg donor is an egg donor, not a “biological mom.” And a surrogate is just a surrogate, not a surrogate m-word.
It makes sense, in a way. If we’re going to have a non-traditional family, we should embrace who we are, both with our kids and with the world. Nope, no Mommy here. Try the next family. It might be hard on our kids at times, but it’s better for them to appreciate what’s different about our family than try to force ourselves into some rigid ideal of what families are supposed to be, which will never really fit us.
So we’ve been very clear. We have two dads and two kids, and that’s our family. We also have two very special aunts, our surrogate and our egg donor. (Sure, we’ve broadened the definition of the term “aunt” so it doesn’t just mean daddy’s sister, but let’s not be nitpicky.)
It’s been very easy to explain to the kids, because, of course, they’ve had no idea what the hell we’re talking about. Sure, they picked up pretty quickly on the fact that most families have a mommy and we don’t. But “surrogate” and “egg donor” have always been pretty empty terms to them, since they’re way too young to understand what those things mean.
They’re starting to, though.
We’ve made a point of celebrating Special Aunts Day (a/k/a Surrogate and Egg Donor Day, or Other’s Day) the day before Mother’s Day. It’s a way to remind the kids of where they came from, to show them how proud we are of our family and to honor two incredible women whom we love dearly. Plus, this way, the kids don’t feel as left out when all the other kids at school are making Mother’s Day crafts.
We’d lost touch with our surrogate a bit since we moved away from California. Drew and I still felt incredibly close to her, but our 3 1/2 year olds hadn’t seen her for nearly half their lives. We don’t want them to forget her, so we decided to fly her and her son out this year to spend Special Aunts Day with us and the kids.
(Selfishly, I’ll admit I had an ulterior motive, which was to have her take publicity photos for my upcoming book — coming Spring 2014! It just so happens Aunt Tiffany is an amazing professional photographer.)
We also invited Aunt Susie and her daughter to make our Surrogate and Egg Donor Day complete. We decided to make a long weekend of it. It would be great to spend the extra time with them, but that left a troubling prospect looming over our heads.
Our surrogate and egg donor, who are arguably m-word adjacent, wouldn’t just be spending Surrogate and Egg Donor Day with us. They’d be here for Mother’s Day as well.
We started prepping the kids for the upcoming visitors months ago. “You know two daddies alone can’t make a baby, right?” we’d say. “So Aunt Susie donated her eggs and Aunt Tiffany carried you in her belly, and they helped us make you.”
We read them a photo book we’d made about their conception and birth. We wanted to make sure they knew the role their special aunts had in making our family — what it was, and what it wasn’t.
It had been almost three years since we were all together, but there’s only one way to describe how it felt to have them with us again. It felt like family.
The kids are currently at that awkward age, roughly between 2 and 27, when they get shy around people they don’t know very well. We feared that might happen with Aunt Tiffany, who has yet to figure out how to use Skype. Apparently, though, all the preparation made a big difference. Despite the fact that they hadn’t seen her in years, the kids welcomed her instantly with big hugs.
We spent Surrogate and Egg Donor Day at Legoland. (Good thing we’ve forgiven Legoland.) Bennett gave it his usual review of “Best day ever!”, and I concur.
Still, I was afraid of how the next day would go. We couldn’t ignore it. Aunt Susie and Aunt Tiffany were both moms themselves, and they’d brought their kids with them. They deserved to be honored for their role in their own families.
So we did it all over again. We spent Sunday in Times Square, where we rode the Toys R Us ferris wheel and I got testy with some of the costumed creeps, (“Hey, Spiderman, go away! You’re scaring my kids.”). We didn’t shy away from the M-word, because that’s what the day was all about. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever said the M-word more in one day.
“Isn’t Aunt Tiffany a great mommy to Gavin?” we’d say. “Isn’t Grace lucky to have her mommy?” “Let’s give a toast to two great mommies!”
Just that quickly, the M-word was back. It’s a beautiful word, and my kids deserve to hear it, see it and respect it. Despite what I always feared, I think it will only make them appreciate our family more.
I know my kids are still young, and I know there will be times in the future they’ll be sad that they don’t have a mom. Maybe when they hear it in certain contexts, it might sting a bit.
But for now, this year, things were just perfect. Sure, it helped that the weekend was a non-stop funfest. It’s hard for a three-year-old to be sad about anything when he or she is meeting Elmo live, in the fur.
But if I had any doubt about how my kids felt toward their special aunts, it was erased every time I saw Sutton hug one of them. She wrapped her arms around them, smiled a smile that was somehow twice as wide as her face and squealed a very special message just for them.
“Thank you for making us!” she said.