Why and How I Am Choosing to Be a Mother
Despite the all-too-real threat of maternal mortality, medical racism, and homophobia, I’m ready to be a Black, queer mom
When I’m making a choice about my own body, I often feel as if there are five other people in the room. My decision to pursue motherhood as a thirtysomething Black queer woman has been no different. Trying to conceive means I have to negotiate reproductive, gender, racial, and economic politics. It also means I have to negotiate the realities of an ongoing Black maternal mortality crisis alongside my desire to be joyful in this process. Choosing to conceive and raise a Black child feels like an act of resilience in a country that seems committed to taking life and love away from my people.
As much as I want my very personal decision to remain my own, the reality is that our government, health care system, and society influence what I have to fight for and against in order to parent. Be it the involuntary experiments Dr. J. Marion Sims, often called the father of modern gynecology, performed on enslaved Black women or the forced sterilization of Black women, including freedom fighters such as Fannie Lou Hamer, this country has a history of violating bodies like mine. The thought of this reality is, at times, disempowering.
Though I wish we could, my partner and I can’t conceive on our own. I chose to find a sperm donor who aligns with my values and needs. I had at least three initial yeses that did not result in an actual attempt to conceive. I learned along the way that this wouldn’t be an overnight process because it matters to me that my child knows who helped bring them into the world and that my choice was made consciously. Not all men are interested in being a known donor while waiving all legal parental rights and responsibilities; most prefer to remain anonymous. I’m fortunate to have found several who are open to it, and I’m now working with someone who I feel good about moving forward with as my donor.
There was so much that I knew very little or absolutely nothing about when I began this process. I did what I always do: talked to friends and searched the internet for answers about how to maintain my parental rights with a known donor. I learned that the state of Illinois requires me to secure attorneys to represent myself and my donor because of our arrangement. In some ways, the process has become less cumbersome due to recent changes in state law. Still, it hasn’t been as simple as the basic act of having sex and getting pregnant can be for many people.
Having a known donor is a choice I’ve made as an unmarried woman who cares about community and values many different styles of parenting. Still, parenting goes beyond who provides the sperm, the egg, and the womb. The people who will care for my child include my parents, siblings, partner, and chosen family. We are collectively responsible for all the children in our lives. While I will make core decisions about health care and schooling, the people in my community will deeply influence what values this child possesses, how the child is disciplined, and how the child learns to be Black and human in this world. They will help keep this child as safe as possible in a world that is inherently hostile to Black children. It truly will take a village to raise my child. This set of choices makes me feel that I’ve taken back some of the power the government and society is hell-bent on taking away from me.
Even after spending years in sexual relationships with men where I could have conceived, I have not ever become pregnant. This, combined with a history of fibroid tumors in my family, motivated me to have my fertility tested, to have my reproductive organs examined, and to pursue consistent acupuncture treatments to become more knowledgeable about my own body. I took the route of seeking information and taking preventative steps early. My results indicated that my high stress levels combined with a chronic lack of sleep may negatively affect my ability to get pregnant.
Despite my ongoing self-work, my excitement is tempered with fear and anxiety about the prospect of being someone’s mother.
When I received that information, I immediately went into a de-stress mode. I decided to travel less. As a person who can easily travel 20 days out of a month, traveling 10 days or fewer is a big change. I let go of being concerned about flailing relationships. I cook more regularly. I decided that pleasure and joy are mine to have. I spend time doing what I want and need to do without guilt.
Despite my ongoing self-work, my excitement is tempered with fear and anxiety about the prospect of being someone’s mother. It seems as if not a day goes by without people being bombarded with stories and statistics about childbirth complications, Black women dying during or after childbirth, medical racism, and discrimination against LGBTQ parents.
I see myself in the alarms being sounded by birth workers, reproductive justice activists, and policymakers. I also see so much of myself in the women’s lives who were lost during childbirth. Their stories are heartbreaking. Like me, I imagine these women came up with potential names. They may have even set up nurseries or sat in reverie about who their child would grow up to be.
Their stories sit in the back of my mind as I read and watch news about constant attacks against Black people in this country. It’s clear to me that my anxieties are the result of systemic realities — that I am not alone and that the few stories I’ve learned about exist among many more. I’m no different than many Black women, transgender men, and gender nonconforming people trying to conceive.
For me, choosing to become a mom through pregnancy — even though there are many ways to become a mother without giving birth — in a country where it has always been legal to control, commodify, and violate Black women’s bodies is an act of resistance and resilience. This doesn’t make me a brave person; it makes me a person who is vigilant and clear about what must be done in order for all of us to be able to live in our full dignity as human beings. It makes me a person who is committed to the struggle for reproductive justice. I was taught by Toni Bond Leonard, an architect of the reproductive justice movement, that this struggle is about being able to choose to parent or not to parent and to do so safely without coercion, criminalization, or systemic violence. I want this for all of us seeking Black motherhood, fatherhood, and parenthood.