“Lets pretend that I’m in labor and you have to get me to the hospital,” my wife said a few nights ago. Even the idea of this made my heart pound, my mouth go dry and the compulsion to speed came over me. I’m sure this type of imagined scenario would create a similar reaction for anyone, but my wife is pregnant and in 3 months this will be a very real conversation. We’ve been together for almost 9 years, married for 10 months and in 3 months she will give birth to our first children. That’s right, children; we’re having twins! We have both wanted a family for a long time so we are beyond excited that our dream is finally coming true. There is so much to learn; what car seat to get, how to sleep train our children, feeding schedules, vaccines… dear God it’s overwhelming!
Both my wife and I have spent a significant amount of time with babies as we were nannies during graduate school, but even with this hands-on experience, there’s still unknown territory. For most of us, to learn so many new things, perhaps especially in a “familiar” environment creates feelings of vulnerability. I am no exception to this. The vulnerability of this space as new parents was very much present for us at our first maternity event at the hospital we are going to have our children at, the maternity tour and training.
We had the normal excitement and nerves, as we navigated our way to the hospital, found parking and the meeting room. You know, the kinds of conversations this sort of anticipation creates, “turn here, no here…park over there”. Like most couples in this situation, we quickly began the debate on what the best most direct way to the location was. Mostly, we were able to stay calm and know we were so looking forward to soaking up every minute of this experience as this will be our last first time with this. It’s odd though, because it never occurred to me to prepare in any way for this experience. What I mean is what it would be like for me, a lesbian mom in a same sex marriage. Right when we walked in and looked around the room full of excited soon-to-be parents, I quickly realized we were the only same-sex couple.
My mind began to race. Oh God, I am going to stick out like a sore thumb. I reminded myself that we live in a progressive city, and that the other parents didn’t look scary or mean. This slightly calmed me down, but it didn’t take two minutes into the hospital presentation for my heart to begin pounding again. Right off the bat, I was face-to-face with the fact that I was “other” and not included in this conversation of moms and dads. “When the dad drives you to the hospital,” the nurse said, “We want to remind him to drive safely.” It was the nurse’s attempt at a joke, which on some level was funny since my wife and I had just experienced a mock run, but I couldn’t laugh. I was keenly aware of my invisibility in this process. “Dads” echoed loudly in my head. I am not a dad, but a mom, the mother of babies I am not carrying, somehow forgotten by the hospital. Though jolting, I tried to shake it off, even as it just continued. Statement after statement, the only included language was that of “dad and mom”. Sure, in the PowerPoint presentation, they used the word “partner,” but it was clear that what was really meant was dad because a dad is the only person who should be accompanying a woman as she gives birth, because a dad is the only one who gets his wife pregnant, because a dad is the name for the other parent.
Before continuing on, I must address what this must sound like to those reading it; a crazy, over-sensitive, victimized rant. I worry my vulnerability has left me exposed for comments like, What did you expect Candice? It’s 2014, and you have the right to marry in your state, but lets get real, you can’t expect those around treat you as if you deserve equal rights. But I want to pause and take a minute to say, I know this is an emotional unloading on my part. Rather than edit my experience or try and protect you from my raw emotions, it feels important to let you know this is a very true experience for many – especially those same-sex couples who are going through the process of birth and raising children. We need to start and sit with the crazy-making elements of it all and to ground these elements in real experiences like the one I recently went through. It is incredibly vulnerable for me to show you how deeply I’m feeling this and just how invisible I was, or at least how I felt, at that moment. I fear you will judge me, I fear you will dismiss me, I fear you will only experience my emotional display as the cries of a weak victim. But what if I just let you see me as I am? What if I let my experience stand as it is? For me, it is worth the risk, hoping that I will give myself a voice but also give a voice to the thousands others who have felt invisible and had no place to speak about it. For my sake and the sake of those who have gone before me, I will continue to let you see and go into the messy emotions of this experience. Will continue with me? I sure hope so. Take a breath and jump back in with me.
During the maternity training, there was not a single picture of a same sex couple in the PowerPoint presentation driving this point home even further. Even with the occasional “partner” used, I still felt invisible. I am not a “partner,” I am a wife. I am legally married and the language of “partner” does not match who or what I am. The most painful part was when the woman discussed the birth certificate. “When the dads fill out the birth certificate…” I ripped opened the binder they had given us to see what a real birth certificate looked like. My heart pounded as I searched for the place my name would go – “Father’s name”
Father, Father, Father…tears welded up in my eyes. I am invisible, I thought. I’m not naive in thinking there’d be a place that said “mother and mother,” but something about seeing it in black and white together with the previous hour of listening to hospital staff in positions of power discredit me as a mother was more than I could take.
My heart broke.
How can I be my child’s mother, if I’m no where here, I wondered.
Somewhere around this point, I could sense my wife’s discomfort. She couldn’t take it any longer either, so when the hospital staff continued the training to say “dad/father” again, my wife literally and obviously pointed to me. The woman speaking quickly added the language of “mother”, but it was obvious this wasn’t a normal part of her presentation. I simultaneously felt grateful for my wife’s courage and protection of me, and mortified at being singled out. It felt like I was in a dark comedy, sort of an out of body experience seeing my wife’s hand point at me. “Here! Right here! She’s a mother too!”
Surely the worst was over, I supposed. But once again, during the last part of the evening, the walking tour portion, the leader tried her best at a joke by saying something about how “the dads in the group” needed to help their “wives” up the stairs, how “the men had no excuse to be tired” as we went up a flight of stairs.
I felt my shoulder sink. There were two categories of people on this tour – “dads” and “pregnant moms.” Even when it was pointed out to them – even literally – there was no place for me. I didn’t even exist to them.
As we walked from place to place on the tour my wife and I tried our best to make conversation between us, but I could barely concentrate. The tour was almost worse that the training because I was now face-to-face with the other parents in the group, not just facing forward towards the speaker. The other parents could now see my face and see how naked I felt in front of them. It droned on and on, “This is where the dads will sleep, this is where the dads will help the mom, this is where the dads…dads…dads…”
My wife protectively tried to hold my hand on her pregnant belly as a way of showing we were together, but as we entered the last birthing room, all the women were asked to enter first, “lady’s first,” my wife spoke up. “There is a mom here also!” The woman looked at us and responded with an exasperated tone, “Well by all means go into the room!” By this point I was covered in sweat from all the discomforting stress, holding back tears and feeling so invisible that I didn’t even know how to hold my body. Do I stand tall and proud, or do I try and cower and hide in the back?
Finally, the tour was over and we quickly left. I don’t mean to make the hospital all bad, or depict the staff as villainous. I am only saying that for a place that takes care for an inordinate amount of different kinds of people, a place where safety is of most importance, their complete lack of inclusiveness and thoughtfulness – especially in a room full of parents is shocking, disheartening and not okay. It’s been roughly a week since this tour occurred, and if I’m to speak honestly, I still feel shaky with grief and shock.
On the way home from the hospital, my wife and I talked about our experience of what had occurred. We both cried, feeling the grief of it all. I explained how invisible I felt and she brought the reality forward that this would be the first of many experiences like this. She offered me tenderness and a question that challenged and yet softened me in a way only she’s capable of, “You will never be invisible to me and I’ve never loved you more, but we have to figure out how to deal with this so that these kinds of people don’t define our experience for us, or our kids. We need to learn how to frame this kind of experience for our kids so that they don’t grow up feeling invisible everywhere they go.”
My heart ached thinking of our children ever feeling the pain of invisibility that I had just experienced. But my wife was right; we have to learn what to do with this. What should I do, or what should I have done, I wondered? I didn’t want to speak up and be “that girl” – you know, the one everyone is annoyed with because she interrupts speakers and tour leaders to announce she’s been missed and is very much present and would like to be acknowledged by the language used by the presenter. I’m also not sure I want to be the person who calls ahead of time, “Um, hi, I’m calling to let you know I’m coming on your tour and wanted to give you a heads up…?” There are no perfect options, but this is the life of the “other”. We are missed and invisible until we educate and somehow find a way to gently, but with strength, take a stand.
For more information about Candice Czubernat, please visit her professional website at TheChristianCloset.com