In our GoStudent Personal Stories, we talk to real people about real experiences. Gain an insight into different kinds of parenting as well as authentic advice from experts.
February is LGBTQ history month in the UK. In honour of this, I’ll be chatting with Lucy and finding out about her story.
Lucy is a writer for our UK blog and also a gay single parent with three children.
Can you tell me about when you decided to have children? Was having children something you always knew you wanted or did you decide later on in life?
I always wanted to be a mum. I knew that before I knew I was gay. I always wanted to have kids and when I met my ex wife it was a few years into that and I started looking into it when I was around 27. Then we went to Japan for a bit and that helped us save the money. Obviously you have to pay for this treatment. We came back and we had our first when I was 34. Yeah, that’s how it happened.
How did you feel when you started exploring your options? Did you feel like there was enough information and support available?
Whenever you do anything out of the ordinary you have to do a lot on your own. I’m sure there’s a lot more information around now because my eldest is 15 now. I think there’s a lot more available to you now. I found people to be very helpful.
What I would say about the whole process is that I personally wanted to have my own biological child. I think you have to remember, in that process, you’re a customer. You’re not a patient. You’re a customer. You’re paying for a service. That was the key bit of information that I took on board actually. I started to be treated like a patient. But I thought, no, you’re providing me a service here that I’m paying for.
It gets a bit more complicated if you’re having IVF. But basically, I was just paying for sperm. I didn’t need any extra costs or exploration really.
Was it a little bit dehumanising in a way to think that you were just paying for a service or did you feel like you had the emotional support that you needed?
Only from the sense of, you have to know your rights. When it comes down to it, you are buying something. You have to be strong and know that you’re not a patient.
The emotional side of things was quite tricky actually. Basically, I bought in some sperm and it didn’t have any swimmers but they wanted me to pay for it. That’s when you have to put your foot down. I don’t think there was much emotional support there actually. We ended up leaving there and going to a much more professional place linked to a hospital, rather than a clinic that had just been set up. We had great treatment there. We were given all the facts and that was much more professional.
How long ago was it when you went through this process?
Fifteen years ago.
Looking back and thinking about how things are in the UK now, are you under the impression that maybe the process would be a bit smoother if you went through it now?
Yea I’ve got a friend who has just been through the process. I don’t think she has any complaints about it. I think it’s moved on a long way.
Back then, even though gay people had rights, it’s very slow to filter through to things as simple as paperwork. It’s always like ‘name of mother, name of father’. It’s ridiculous because the law has changed but what you imagine would be the very simple things to resolve, like the paperwork, hadn’t been done because people just think ‘oh we’ll get round to that,’ but that’s quite important for gay parents actually. Unless it’s ready to go then don’t do it.
Also, at that time, we had to go through a questionnaire to say that we would be good parents. Which was crazy because let’s face it, I could have gone out and gotten pregnant by anyone. It’s still a little bit the case that anyone whose gay, considers adoption, or oes parenting a different way will always kind of have to prove themselves and we shouldn’t have to. We’ve probably thought about it a hell of a lot more than other parents and that’s a little bit insulting.
As you said, although gay rights have progressed quite a lot in recent years, there’s still this heteronormative culture that assumes a kid always has a mother and a father. I can imagine as a gay parent that’s quite frustrating to deal with over and over again.
Yeah. I do think adults have a tendency to overcomplicate things. Before our first was going to school and we were thinking ‘how is she going to deal with this’, of course, our children know no different. For them, it would be weird to have a dad. We’re just their parents and that’s it really.
With our first, we said things like ‘if they ask you why you’ve got two mums say this’. But as it happens with the second and third child (we’ve got twins) you forget about all of those details. I heard the cousin of our kids saying to my son, when he was about 3, ‘why don’t you have a dad?’ And I thought ‘oh my god I haven’t briefed him on this yet!’ But he just said, without even thinking, ‘because I’ve got two mums’, and his cousin just accepted it.
We have to remember that this is their normal.
Being a gay parent, could you tell me about some of the obstacles you’ve had to face throughout the process of having children?
One very common one is people thinking ‘oh you had IVF’ because they don’t understand donor insemination.
A really nice one actually, is when they say something to my kids, like ‘oh you got that from your mum’ and then I look at them and wait for the penny to drop, because my twins are non biological. They suddenly realise ‘oh no, you couldn’t have gotten that trait from your mum because that’s hereditary.’ Of course, some traits you can inherit, but with the biological stuff it’s nice because people actually think you’re just like a ‘normal’ family linked through blood.
I don’t think I’ve had many problems at all to be honest with you. The way I see it, you can either get angry about people's prejudice or misunderstandings or you can educate them. You’ve got a very clear choice. If you get angry about it, they’re going to learn nothing. But if you say, ‘actually, we haven’t done IVF, we did IUI’ which is basically donor insemination, they say ‘oh right’ and you know that that has got a ripple effect.
Unfortunately, you have to educate other people, but it is happening less and less. That means that people are aware of this type of parenting a bit more now.
How about with your kids at school? Were there any issues you had with the school at all?
My daughter has just started secondary school and she calls people out for saying ‘gay’ and for any kind of prejudice. She’s really on it. She’s quite a sensitive child as well. She comes to us if there’s a problem and we’ll tell the school and they deal with it.
There’s still prejudice out there for sure. I would hope that the child has the courage to tell the parents and the parents get on it. You can’t let these things go and write it off as fun, it’s not fun,it’s an insult. If someone calls you ‘gay’ and they laugh at you, you have to question that and ask ‘is that an insult?’ If they say yes then you tell them that’s homophobic. If they say no, just tell them it’s not funny.
Sometimes kids aren’t even aware of the implications of what they’re saying. Even when I was at school people would use ‘gay’ as a negative adjective.
Exactly. I think adults are more the problem actually. There’s a learning opportunity there. Kids are still developing and they’re still adaptable to change. Adults should see this as an opportunity to educate.
Did you ever have a conversation with your children about you being a gay parent? Did they ever ask you questions themselves?
I’ve been very open with my kids about where they came from. We made a book about how they were made. Because there’s not many books out there like that. We had to make our own. Just being open and honest is the best way to deal with it.
My daughter said once; ‘I’m the only kid with divorced parents and gay parents’ and I said to her; ‘you’re not. You’re just the only person at your school whose parents are confident enough to be who they are.’ Statistically, there’s no way we could only be the only gay parents in a school full of 300 kids.
I try to give them an understanding without making other people seem like the bad guys. Recently someone said a homophobic slur to my child’s friend and she stood up for them. I said to my child ‘isn’t that sad because it seems like for some people, it’s not okay to be gay.’ It’s always good to turn it around and see things from other people’s point of view, rather than being the one that’s the victim.
What would you like other LGBTQ parents who are considering having children to know?
Just go for it. You don’t know if you’re going to be a good parent or a bad parent but it’s going to be nothing to do with the fact that you’re gay or not. Live your life and go for it. It’s expensive, you’re going to have to save money but it will be worth it.
You learn from your mistakes as a parent. Just go for it. Don’t be afraid. This is your life. Don’t worry about what other people think because actually, a lot of that fear is not necessary. Personally I’ve received so much support from other parents.
People often try and work it out but it’s not that difficult. We’re just gay parents, that’s it.
You can help to normalise it actually by just being cool with it. You’ve got to be comfortable with it yourself. When you’re comfortable with it yourself just get on with it, have fun, enjoy yourself and enjoy your kids.