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3 min

Other people’s kids

Parenting can be a spectator sport

Credit: Illustration by Mia Hansen.

I know Elliot’s stats. I know his height, his weight and his sign. I’ve been sent his photograph by e-mail. But we’ve not met yet. My first attempt at meeting Elliot was a total failure; he didn’t show up. He was born two days after I left.

Elliot was born on Jan 31 at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. When he was born, the names of both his parents were entered on his birth certificate, his mum and dad, Marcie and Erin, the two women who have planned for him, love him already and have been awaiting his arrival for a long time. Ah, these days when a lesbian couple can inseminate at home and be recognized from birth as the only legal parents of a child.

Elliot’s birth mother, Marcie, and I have been friends since she was in high school. Our friendship has proved long and durable. Over more than a decade it has consistently included great warmth, comfort and intimacy. We have been fellow travellers on the road to parenthood. She has now entered into an entirely new adventure and I send a hearty congratulations to her, her partner Erin and their new little one.

Marcie and Erin have been very organized about parenting for a long time. They made a commitment to three other children three and a half ago. They are foster parents and provide regular respite care for the girls, who are part of their family. Their kitchen fridge is covered with the girls’ artwork, there are children’s books in their car and the girls have a room at Marcie and Erin’s house. The art on the fridge makes it clear that the girls love their foster “aunts,” although they think that their “aunts” would look good in dresses. Their relationships make me aware how many children need temporary homes and how few of us really consider fostering. Elliot is certainly not the only child in Marcie and Erin’s family: his foster “cousins” have been eagerly waiting.

Marcie and Erin have been remarkably open in sharing their process of making a baby. Their experiences and wisdom have influenced my own search for a co-parent. They’ve shared their search process, their insemination practices, good resources and fertility challenges with me. It’s been a struggle. It’s taken three sperm donors, 14 months of trying and countless ultrasounds and check-ups to make this baby. There have been long cycles of hope and disappointment, of learning to be at home in a place of waiting.

Through it all, I have been struck by how brave they have been. Brave in naming their desires and fighting for them, brave in their creation of queer family. Brave means having a respectful answer to the relative who asked Marcie if she got pregnant by a one-night-stand at a bar. In standing up and defending their choices. Brave means having a baby shower that included queer community and family of origin. Bravely naming this baby queer by birth.

In the month before he was born, Marcie called and asked me to consider if I would be willing to be a guardian for Elliot if she and Erin were to die. It felt like an awesome request. Awesome because it is a huge thing to ask, and awesome because it is a huge honour.

I also felt responsible. I was concerned about the distance between us. I live in Toronto, and they in Montreal. I’m not sure about how much of a relationship I will have with this little person. It’s not like we can talk on the phone and the trip to Montreal takes planning. I imagine that any young person who has just lost their parents would be in a state of trauma, and that moving to another city to live with someone they barely know could only increase that trauma. We talked about it, and both of us are clear that this is a “for now” request. As Elliot grows he will make new connections with new people and as someone else becomes a more appropriate choice for guardian, they will take over that responsibility-in-waiting. Hopefully it’s a responsibility no one will have to fulfil.

At a checkup, three days before he was born, I was able to listen to Elliot’s heartbeat. It was fast, like a bird’s, but clear and strong. I put my hand to Marcie’s belly and could feel him inside waiting. While we did a great number of things to induce labour, I don’t fault him for waiting. He knew the right time, even if we didn’t, and there will be other visits.

I arrived in Montreal on what was Elliot’s due date and the description of a pregnant person as expectant has never seemed so apt. It was magical to spend time with Marcie expectant, in her place of waiting, and miraculous to see pictures of this new person she has brought into being. I look forward to getting to know him.