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.

Happy Other’s Day!

There are work-arounds to not having a mother in your family.  Our kids drank formula rather than breast milk.  We make adjustments to forms when necessary.  And when our twins are overly cranky, we tell them “Save the drama for President Obama!”  But I’ll admit, Mother’s Day is a tough one.

What are my kids going to do when their classes are making macaroni and glitter cards and milk carton bird feeders every mid-May?  Sit in the corner and do long division because they have no one to give theirs to?  I don’t want them to feel left out, and I would never want a school to cancel Mother’s Day for their benefit.  It’s a great holiday.  I even have a mother myself.

Actually, my problem with Mother’s Day started before the kids were even born.  Three years ago, around this time, our surrogate, Tiffany, was pregnant with the blobs who would eventually become Bennett and Sutton.  She did everything a pregnant woman is supposed to do – ate well, got regular check-ups, stayed off crack.  For her diligence, she was rewarded with non-stop morning sickness, a fetus who kicked the crap out of her uterus, Braxton Hicks contractions and eventually, 24-hour bed rest, all for the sake of someone else’s kids.

For that alone, I’d say she earned a bouquet of flowers once a year, but it doesn’t make her, you know, an m-word.

Then there was Drew’s sister, Susie, who’d gone through the hassle and discomfort of egg donation, who’d injected herself with needles on a daily basis, flown across country about five times – at the risk of losing her job – and forked over her DNA to make a couple of kids who would always call her “Aunt”.  What would Mother’s Day represent for her?  Just another Sunday?  An annual unacknowledged reminder of her sacrifice?

It didn’t seem right.  But using Mother’s Day to honor Tiffany and Susie didn’t seem appropriate either, because we were very clear about our family structure and who was in charge.  Fear not, Right Wing.  I have no desire to redefine motherhood.

After thinking it over for a while, we invented our own holiday, Surrogate and Egg Donor’s Day, which we celebrate on the Saturday before Mother’s Day every year.

The timing is significant, because it keeps our kids from feeling left out of Mother’s Day weekend, and it allows our surrogate and egg donor, both of whom now have kids of their own, to celebrate Mother’s Day with their own families, while still being honored for their contribution to ours.  Because they’re such amazing people, they get a whole weekend of love.

We’re not the only non-traditional family who can use this extra holiday.  Plenty of special women fall outside the definition of the word “mother” but still deserve recognition for their contributions to families.  It could be:

  • Your adopted kid’s birth mother
  • The woman who raised you in your mother’s absence
  • A stepmother
  • Your family’s long-time nanny
  • A trans parent who’s not sure where they fit in on Mother’s/Father’s Day
  • A co-parent
  • A mean green mother from outer space

Mommy?

Or whoever you think deserves a special day to honor her for her role in your family.

The same goes for special men, who you might want to celebrate the day before Father’s Day, rather than, you know, not at all.

In writing this piece, I realized I’m not the first one to use the term “Other’s Day”Some people are even offended by it, which is fair enough.  But the distinction is totally up to you and your family to make.  If someone’s special to you, you can celebrate them on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or Other’s Day.  If Other’s Day sounds off-putting to you, call it Special Women’s Day or Special Men’s Day or even something clumsier, like Surrogate & Egg Donor’s Day.  Every family’s different, so we can all celebrate in different ways, too.

My kids are still a little young to understand the meaning of our special holiday, but I look forward to getting them involved in it as they get older, doing art projects, Skyping, or sending flowers.  It’ll be a great excuse to retell the incredible story of how they were born and to acknowledge what makes our family special.  Maybe it’ll also be a reminder of how corny their dads are, but I’m fine with that, too.

Again, I’m not trying to redefine anything, but I think it’s only fair that non-traditional families have a way to honor the people who matter to them.  I know, the last thing we need is one more holiday on the calendar, but if Hallmark wants to put out a special card with some schmaltzy sentiment aimed at surrogates or egg donors, they’ve got their first customer right here.