How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the M-Word

specialauntsdayThere’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.”

babybookWe 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.

specialauntsday-1We 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.

timessqelmoI 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.

20 comments on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the M-Word

  1. I have to say that your approach to your family dynamic is fantastic. Thank you for sharing it and I look forward to seeing how each of you develop over time. Your children sound wonderful and balanced. You’re doing a fantastic job!
    Tho considerably different and much more common, my family dynamic is complex as well. I had twins with my ex-husband. We divorced shortly after they were born and both have remarried. After much tension, he and I developed into friends and I even started to “like” his new wife. He now has 2 children, ages 3 and 4, with her. His 4 yo has down syndrome and doesn’t speak yet, but the 3 yo started to get confused when my 13 yo sons called me “Mom” and started to call me Mom, which didn’t settle well with his new wife. We decided that I would be “Auntie Chris” and I have referred to them as my niece and nephew since. I love them like family.
    Keep up the great work. You’re an inspiration.

  2. My son don’t have a daddy the have granddad and god-farther/earth farther who’s also there uncle. So on daddy’s day we make it uncles grand ads and mummy day as my oldest is seven iv spoken to his school and to him and explained its not about that one person it’s celebrate the males in your life who impact you and who you are. And mummy because she dos a daddy’s share. Same can be done for your children make Mother’s Day about people that impact there life. My son only moans about not having dad when it comes to talking about male stuff. And when it comes to him saying if I had a dad I would have an extra birthday present and Christmas present. Kids hay

  3. My brother is gay and in a relationship for twelve years. He struggled with his sexuality for years before his fab relationship. However he always felt that he should not bring children into this relationship. He would have been the greatest dad! It makes me sad. I think he judged himself harsher than the heterosexual community would have.

  4. Love this. Even as a mom, it is still important to me and my kids to recognize the the special roles other women play in their lives, like their grandmothers, aunts and godmothers. It takes more than parents to raise a child. I also enjoyed this post because just days ago I can a very in depth discussion with my 8-year-old about about different family dynamics. She couldn’t fall asleep the other night, so I let her sit with me on the couch for bit while I watch the tail end of “Real Housewives of Orange County” (don’t judge…I was tired…and selfish…and just wanted to finish watching the show. We did have discussion about who we thought was the meanest and how the ladies were a good reminder about how NOT to act). The DVR recorded just a bit of the next show that follows newlywed couples through their first year, one of which was a gay couple. We have talked in the past about how some boys love boys and some girls love girls, but my daughter didn’t realize they could get married. I told her sure, just like anyone else (well…okay…but that was a whole other political discussion I was too tired to have). So then she naturally asked, “Then which one has the baby?” We talked mostly about adoption, but then it all somehow led to her asking very detailed questions about how babies are actually made. I tried to leave it at the whole sperm-meets-egg-it’s-all-very-scientific, but then of course, she wanted to know how the sperm gets to the egg. Damn. And the conclusion I came to is that talking to my kids about gay couples and families with gay parents is not uncomfortable for me at all…the only uncomfortable part is that somehow that seems to lead to me having to explain heterosexual sex to my daughter at 10pm when all I really want to do is watch my DVRed episode of “New Girl.” I think I’d rather explain “egg donor” and “surrogate.” 🙂

  5. Wonderful post! I can relate -a lot. I am a bi woman and am married to a woman. We have two daughters together. We had planned for our known donor to be “Uncle Darren” to our kids. Many people advised us to keep a distance, for legal reasons. However… The way it’s played out is we are all a big family. Our daughters call him Dad and his husband is Uncle Jack. They have two daughters and they are our kids’ half sisters (even though only one of them is biologically their 1/2 sister -it doesn’t matter; the bilogical details can be told in more and more detail as our little girls grow up). Fortunately the sisters are close in age with our two girls, and they only live an hour away. Our four year old has now started wanting to do sleepovers there -on her own!

    This is especially wonderful for me because I grew up with a single mom, no sibs, and no dad. My mom’s parents were violent alcoholics, so I didn’t have much contact with them. My dad moved to the East Coast and had little to do with me, but his parents were in my life, which was a real blessing. But they lived in SoCal, while I was up in the Bay Area. So mostly I grew up without much of a “village.” It was quite lonely. And I think pretty scary for my mom, who was always living on the margins. So having these guys in our lives (and their extended families), along with my wife (and her huge family) has been incredibly healing for me. And such a HUGE blessing for our girls! What a different upbringing they are getting. I am so happy for them -for all of our children. What interesting times we are living in… So much LOVE.

    • I grew up in the ’60’s with a single mom, her awful “boyfriend” and no dad or siblings. My mom’s parents died when I was young. All of the other children treated me terribly; I was the class ‘weirdo’. I am so happy to see how much things have evolved since then.
      Just be happy that you have a loving and inclusive family. It’s not the ‘blood’, it’s the Love.

  6. I think the way you’ve handled these questions is amazing and it’s so great to read about your family. My best friends are “Aunt” and “Uncle” to my children, so I think that term has long since evolved from Daddy’s sister or Mommy’s sister. I think it’s so wonderful that you have found a way to celebrate these women for their contribution to your families in a classy and gentle way. I love it.

  7. This post brought me to tears — and for a very funny reason. I just realized that Sutton, who is 25 years my junior, has more fashion sense than I do! 🙂

  8. This is a great blog post–I teach, and there are so many different types of families. I always want my kids (students) to appreciate their own–whether it’s one mom, one dad, two of each, a grandparent, a few steps, a cousin. It’s important that they realize that it’s love at the center. And you are so right about the between 2-27 age. I can’t get my five-year old to go to sleep. Ever. Maybe when he’s 26.5??

  9. Well-played, Mommy Man! I agree, just because your particular family happens to not have a mommy does not mean that other mommies are not very special people who deserve recognition by others, including your twins. So I am very glad that your dictionary is back to its old size. Lovely story!

  10. Love this post – beautiful actually – I don’t think you have to worry – you and Drew are such amazing parents and I’m certain your children feel very loved – I doubt they will feel like they missed out on something when they are older. My parents divorced when I was eight and it was a very bitter divorce – mom didn’t talk to dad – dad didn’t talk to mom and my mother always resented that I remained in a relationship with my father and god forbid – loved him even though he had faults – one big mess and all of the children have grown up with the feeling that they missed out on something – so there you go – mom, dad, dad, dad, mom, mom – really doesn’t matter as long as you are a loving family and everyone is treated equal and respectfully!

  11. This post made me teary. I love the ways in which you communicate the unique nuances of your family with your littles and celebrate those in your life who helped to make it possible. I hope to be able to do the same with my guy one day!

  12. Beautiful post! However, those damn characters near the Toys R Us are horribke. An Elmo picked up my two year old nephew and I shoutes at Elmo to out my kid down or I will punch him in the eye. My nephew,although he loves Elmo,cracked up laughing when he heard me but told Elmo he still loved him!

  13. I’ve been avoiding writing about the “M-word” but fear I must very soon. Visit with birthmother coming up soon… Great post, thanks for sharing your story! 🙂

  14. For a dumb straight guy, your blog is really great to understand what it is like to be gay and have a family – probably whatever I write is going to smack of ignorance and bigotry and insensitivity. My dumb apologies in advance.

    I have been a straight “mom” pretty much since my first kid was born. Taking my kids to their first day of schools/camps/etc, carpooling, making play dates with the other moms, talking to the other “moms” at the playground and trying to learn how to parent/give my kids a mom,, going to parent-teacher meetings with the other “moms”, etc etc.

    It felt funny being the only man among all the women often times. I had to explain where my wife/ex-wife was and so on.

    After 20 years, I certainly do not regret the involvement that I have had with my kids. I hope you enjoy your kids and involvement in their lives as much as I have.

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