In March of this year, after a lot of discussion with my partner Charlie, I did something I’d been afraid to do for a long time: I wrote, and submitted for publication, an essay about our year-and-a-half (so far) of attempting to conceive a child. The essay, which was published on BuzzFeed LGBT, prompted not only a slew of comments on the piece itself, but an impressive and (for the most part) deeply appreciated flood of tweets, emails, texts, and Facebook messages from friends, family members, and strangers. Most of them were loving and supportive: “I’m sorry this has been so hard for you. If you feel like talking about it, let me know.” Some people said they’d keep us in their prayers, which even as an atheist I think is sweet. A lot of people reached out to say they were struggling with similar issues–infertility, navigating a heteronormative medical environment while queer, and so forth–and appreciated knowing they weren’t alone. I was grateful to receive all of these messages of sympathy, encouragement, and understanding.
But a sizable minority of the responses were of an entirely different genre–one that I enjoyed way, way less. These were the remarks from people who, for one reason or another, disapproved of the choices my partner and I were making in attempting to build our family, and wanted to let us know about it.
As I mentioned in the original article, my partner Charlie wants to experience pregnancy and childbirth, while I really don’t, so our goal here has not simply been to acquire a child; it’s been to get Charlie pregnant. To that end, we’ve attempted at-home insemination, intrauterine insemination, and finally IVF. It’s been a long and disappointing, not to mention expensive, journey, but we’re willing to sacrifice some time and cash if it means becoming parents in the way that works best for us.
And that’s what seems to rub people the wrong way. By choosing to pursue, and even spend significant money on, the course of action we find most desirable, some people feel that we’re being unreasonable or–this word came up a lot–selfish. According to several, I was being selfish by “making” Charlie undergo the medications, side effects, and invasive procedures that go along with IVF. (Never mind the fact that I have PCOS and a wildly irregular cycle, so trying to impregnate me would almost definitely take even longer and cost even more than our current approach.) To others, Charlie was the selfish one, for insisting on giving birth rather than adopting. All these people sounded not only affronted, but as though they actually expected me to say, “Wow, that never occurred to me! You’re right; we’ll do it your way.”
I think this is a subset of the larger phenomenon of treating pregnant people and their fetuses like public property. “Selfish” is the word that usually comes into play when someone disapproves of a pregnant (or planning to become pregnant) person’s choices. A pregnant woman who drinks half a glass of wine is “selfish.” A woman who puts off having children until her career is established is “selfish.” A woman who needs food stamps to feed her children is “selfish.” Queer people who becomes parents, no matter what the process, are “selfish” because they’re putting their own desire to be parents over their hypothetical child’s hypothetical right to a mother and a father. And so on. When the topic turns to adoption and assisted reproduction technology, the accusations of selfishness become all the more intense, because there’s money involved. People feel entitled to determine whether you’re spending your money in an appropriate way, and if they think you’re not, they want you to know about it.
You can’t help but notice that straight couples who conceive without medical assistance are seldom accused of selfishness for not choosing to adopt. Straight woman are rarely required to give an explanation for why they got pregnant–at least, not if they’re financially stable and in a long-term relationship; straight women who are poor or unmarried certainly face undeserved scrutiny for their reproductive choices. If you can get pregnant naturally, it’s considered normal and reasonable to want to carry your child yourself. Queer people, however, who are often considered inherently unnatural, are not assumed to have such desires–or if we have them, they don’t matter.
And adoption doesn’t free you from the specter of public scrutiny. Adoption carries its own stigma, and adoptive parents face intrusive questions about how it feels to not be “real” parents. Many people who adopt feel judged for not being able to have biological children (an assumption people may make even if the adoptive parents are perfectly fertile). One of my good friends is planning to adopt a child from the foster care system, and when she shared her intentions with someone close to her, their response was: “Foster parenting is just state-sponsored babysitting.” Adoption stigma, homophobia, and infertility stigma overlap in the idea that queer parents and couples with fertility struggles should “just adopt”–that is, that the less-deserving parents should adopt the children that “normal” straight couples don’t want.
The fact is, no matter what we do, if we have children outside the standard cisgender heterosexual paradigm, someone out there is going to call us selfish. There is stigma attached to every option for infertile or reproductively incompatible couples, whether that’s IUI, IVF, surrogacy, or adoption. And, of course—lest anyone think she’s off the hook if she decides to forego procreation altogether—women who don’t have children are seen as the most selfish of all.
There is almost always some selfishness involved in an adult life of your choosing, which includes, for many people, having children. People become parents because they want to have and raise children–because they think it will be enjoyable and emotionally fulfilling. (People who become parents for unselfish reasons–for instance, because their partners want children–are often the ones who end up regretting it and feel bitter toward their children. I’d rather have a selfish parent any day.) Whatever the method of getting there, the end goal of creating the family you want is always the same. And no one spends thousands of dollars on IVF, surrogacy, or adoption without putting a great deal of thought into whether it’s the correct decision for them.
These are not choices anyone makes lightly, and they’re extremely personal. No one has the right to judge others for how they build their families (unless their method of choice is, like, kidnapping). I don’t regret for a moment the decision to try to have a baby in the best way possible for us—especially since it worked, and we are now looking forward with much selfish excitement to welcoming our first child.
I would love it if we suddenly fell through a wormhole and landed in a universe where we all assumed that people are making the best decisions they could for their own families and reproductive lives, and supported each other to the extent of our abilities. But if this process taught us anything, it’s that that universe, while totally within our power to create for each other, still remains pretty far out of reach.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme tattooed fat chick who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, BuzzFeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a huge but still insufficient collection of books, and a very spoiled cat. Her first book, Ask A Queer Chick, will be published by Plume in early 2016.
Image via ABC Family