Saturday, September 09, 2006

Still no baby

Well, we've failed again. Nothing for it but to keep trudging on.

I had an annoying conversation yesterday with a friend who has an eight year old and is trying for her second. I told her about the antisperm antibodies and how I couldn't get pregnant. 'Oh!' she said cheerfully, 'You could foster. That's what I'm going to do when Pony gets older.' I said in a somewhat surly tone, 'What? Keep a child for a month then hand them back to their drug addicted sexually abusing parents? What a betrayal.' No, she told me, it's about giving the child a glimpse of a better world, something to hold onto, just a moment of magic in their shitty lives ('shitty lives' is my bit). As a mandated reporter I know how crappy those kids' lives have to be before they can be removed from their homes - merely lying in bed in your own faeces or not being fed for a couple of days at a time is not reason enough. Besides, fostering is completely missing the point. Foster mothers do a fabulous job & someone has to do it etc etc, but it's not a substitute for parenting. You'd go mad if you thought it was. Imagine handing your own child over to a thuggish young man who beats his wife but has promised not to break the child's arm again, or a parent who has been addicted for fifteen years but has now been clean for one month, although is somewhat cognitively impaired due to the years of living on planet intoxicant. And the twenty-one year old social workers will drop in once a fortnight to check it's all going okay. Strangely enough I have talked about fostering with Lovergirl (we can't do it because the house is only one room - the child has to have their own bedroom), but proposed as an alternative to parenting it made my hackles rise.

I suppose it's that kind of uncomfortable response to grief people have - the reflex 'make it better' response. Like when your dog dies and someone says, 'Oh well, you can get another dog.'

Diane was saying, 'You know, I'd just look after the child for a while, just until the parent got their act together, and then they could go back. Because every child deserves to be with their family.'

I don't think that actually. It's like saying, simply by being biologically related, you are automatically the best carer. But, mouse that I am, I couldn't speak out to the sagely nodding group. 'Every child belongs with their family' is like a truism in our society. Maybe we hold onto it particularly strongly because of our guilt over our history of forcibly removing children from families - Aboriginal children obviously, but also generations of children of single mothers, and the generally abysmal treatment of the English children that came here during WW2. At the risk of sounding like Germaine Greer (i.e. opportunistic and catty), 1. I don't think every person is well equipped to bring up a child (regardless of them being valuable and important human beings in their own right etc etc) and 2. as the person who is not going to be biologically related to the child Lovergirl, Danny and I create, obviously I don't think biology is the determinant of family. My only proof that I am a mother is my assertion that it is so; I'm not legally a mother, and I'm not even culturally or informally a mother, in many people's eyes. I'd like to hear people say, 'Every child deserves the right to be with their non-birth mother' in a court during a breakup!

It wasr an uncomfortable evening in some ways, one of those times when you realise your beliefs are out of kilter with everyone else's. I was talking about a case before the court in Melbourne that is scaring me at the moment. It's between a lesbian couple and a donor. Before the birth they drew up an agreement, he's donating, they are the parents - standard - now, the child is about eight months old I think and he has decided he wants equal parenting rights. Which, because of the recent changes to the family law, is an assumption of fifty percent custody and joint decision making unless the women can establish a good reason otherwise. (I think - don't trust my intricate knowledge of the legal system here)

Last night's group (of lesbians) said, oh well, I think that's fair, the child deserves to be brought up fifty percent by the father. I was flabbergasted. Where does that leave the non-birth mother? Absolutely nowhere. And what is the point of creating these families if the donor can change their mind on a whim and tear it all apart?

I definitely think it's great for a child to have as many people involved as possible - the more people that love them the better. And when you're parenting, who would restrict access? All the parents I know are desperate for more babysitters, not less. But saying, 'This is a very special person who helped create you' and encouraging a relationship is different to co-parenting together.

but how can you predict how you will feel after the birth?

I like Diane and she's a great mother, very radical in her approach to extended families - Pony has a limitless number of godparents and aunties and uncles. And her donor has been fabulous - he comes up for Christmas and whenever he or Pony want to see each other she puts Pony on the plane and flies her to Adelaide for the weekend. But she is the biological mother and nothing can threaten that. She decides where Pony goes to school, what state they live in, whether Pony should have particular medical treatments, whether they can go overseas for a year, and so on. And while Diane is partnered now, she had Pony as a sole mother until Pony was six, so she is clearly the mother, with new partner J as a kind of fun step-parent. So her perception of the situation of lesbian families is different to mine.

I suppose it made me reflect on how precarious my position will be. Not only could Danny change his mind at any time and decide to radically restructure the family (with Lovergirl and Danny recognised as the legal parents and me shivering sadly in the cold wind of childlessness), I am depending on Lovergirl for my ongoing relationship to the (still hypothetical) child should we break up.

The construction of family, I think, goes to the heart of how we want to create society. John Howard wants a nice self-contained 1950s family with Mum & Dad and two attractive children - probably one each of a girl and a boy. Diane creates a fluid, extended family where anyone who wants to can have a role with Pony. I'd like to do that but I can see it takes a lot of internal security. Being the non-birth mother does not strike me as a secure position.

Freaks me out. Just a bit.


Katya said...

I am so sorry that this months' go dodn't work out. I can only imagine how you and Lovergirl must be feeling. But thankyou so much for sharing your thoughts and ideas about what being a 'family' actually is. Being heterosexual, fertile and not a resident of Planet Chemicals I've got it pretty easy in terms of parenting options. It's something I do at times take for granted, til you remind me of all the vast, confusing issues relating to families, children, partners etc. Thanks for keeping me real, as they say on Dr Phil.

Mikhela said...

you watch Dr Phil?!
(Who is Dr Phil?)

Susoz said...

Interesting thoughts, I wish I had much more time to respond (and perhaps I should blog about same). I'm shocked to hear about that Melbourne case (they had that other awful case down there - is it something about Melbourne?)Well, they say the risk of break-up is very high in the first year after a birth and I can verify that from observation (and experience, though we didn't break up.) But I think once any child is over five, there relationship to parents enters into the equation in a big way - if the non-bio mother has a strong relationship, it would be a very foolish bio mother who'd try and interfere with that. (Of course, there are some follish mothers around...)