Reflections – “Making” Babies, The Work of Gestation

For days now, I’ve had this one quote from Free Willy running through my head (just stick with me here a minute):

Randolph: 300 years ago, my people only had to spend one day a week gathering food, and everybody ate like kings.
Jesse: So what’d they do the rest of the time?
Randolph: Told stories, made music, made carvings. Made babies.
Jesse: Sounds good to me.

When I saw this movie I was probably 8 years old, and I remember this part distinctly. Partly because I was sort of fascinated with native cultures in an unnuanced and problematic way, and partly because this quote was totally thrilling because, you guys, they were talking about SEX!

I’ve been thinking about this cultural assumption, the way that we use language when discussing procreation. We mostly think like I did when I was 8 years old – people make babies by having sex. If we allow space for queer baby-making, we maybe expand the definition of “making babies” to include conception outside of heterosexual sex. We include things like artificial insemination, then. Oh hey, there’s a Tig Notaro joke about that!

So actually, I wrote about the first assumption, that we all know how babies are made and that it’s by heterosexual intercourse, way back in my first (not very good) post for this blog!
But I still kind of accepted that when we say “make a baby” we are talking about the moment of conception. And besides that having some pesky implications in the matter of choice and abortion rights (and oh boy, we are going to talk about that stuff, just not today, ok?) I’ve been slowly coming to the realization that this idea is unfair to those of us doing the work of gestation.

The work of gestation, how come nobody talks about that?

The thing is, we describe gestation in fairly passive terms. You are pregnant. It is not something you do.

But that’s absolute bullshit.

To get a baby at the end of nine long months requires much, much more, than sperm meeting egg to form a zygote. It requires a real physical body to do real physical work. And that body is a person. And that person is working. Whether that person is an excited new mother, a transman working towards becoming a father, a gestational surrogate, a scared teenager who’s decided to give the child up for adoption, or any other identity, that person is working.

We, as a society, have a history of trying to find ways to define work seen as “feminine” as anything other than work. I know this. As a feminist I think about it a lot. And yet this one, this one is really under my skin right now.

Because I am working my ass off over here.

I am making a baby every day.

We do not consider a plant grown simply because we have a seed in our hand. We do not consider a house built because the contractor has the plans and some of the materials. We consider those things the start of the work.

First I made a tiny cluster of cells, and then I grew that bigger and bigger. Eventually I began to make proto-organs, and arm and leg buds, and I made an entire placenta to help nurture and support this new thing I was making. Now I’ve made fingers and toes, and bladder and heart, and even tiny eyebrows. And still I am working, working, working. My child needs me to do this work so that they can grow strong enough to one day make themself with less of my direct assistance (though, you can bet your ass I’ll still be working then).

And this is work. And this work shows. For three months I was so sick that I could hardly function. I found myself utterly exhausted even though all I had done on the outside was lay in bed and read a book. I was exhausted because I was working. And even as the sickness has eased (somewhat, it isn’t gone), still, I continue to work. I struggle through the insomnia, I find ways to cope with my ever expanding uterus, with my total loss of my normal center of gravity. I deal with the insomnia and the heartburn and the nosebleeds and the itchy boobs and the tiredness and comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. All of this is work.

Maybe instead of considering “making a baby” a magical moment that happens on a cellular level, and the subsequent nine months of pregnancy mere passive incubation, we should start honoring gestating people for the hard work they are doing. Maybe we should start acknowledging that we don’t live in Brave New World and absolutely none of our babies grow in bottles (although I’d point out that even in Huxley’s imagined future, there were people caring for those fetuses, and everyone accepted that those people were, ahem, working). And yes there are political implications for how we treat pregnant people (poorly) in this country, but maybe we should just start by acknowledging that they exist and that they are, you know, actually doing something.

From now on, I am not pregnant (adjective), I am gestating (verb).


How Do You Make A Baby?

In the heterosexual, heteronormative, monogamous world where everyone is presumed fertile, that is supposed to be the simplest question in the world. It’s a question so simple and obvious as to be laughable. Unless the asker is a young child, it is assumed that everyone knows the answer, and that the answer is the same for everyone.

How do you make a baby?

Fortunately for me, I don’t live in that world.

When my wife and I decided that we wanted to become parents together, we, like most queer families, had more questions than answers. One of my favorite things about being queer is that it rarely allows you to rest on your assumptions, instead it forces you to put in the work, figure out what you really want, and go from there. So romantic relationships aren’t assumed to look and work a certain way, instead we talk it out. Family isn’t assumed to look and work a certain way, instead we talk it out. And yes, having a baby isn’t assumed to look and work a certain way, instead we roll up our sleeves, weigh our options, and talk it out.

So how do you make a baby?

Sometimes people – usually but not always straight people – will ask me about how queer women make babies. These are typically well meaning folk, people who try hard to be allies, who say things like “so, this is embarrassing, but I don’t actually know much about… how that works… can you explain it to me?” It’s a question I appreciate, but don’t really feel qualified to answer. I am not, nor have I ever wanted to be, a representative for queer women or queer babymaking.

“Oh,” I’ll find myself saying, “There are so many different ways, so many different options, I can’t really give you a good answer. But I can tell you how it works for us?”

How do you make a baby?

Well, we talked endlessly about what we wanted, why we wanted it, what our values were. We poured out all of our hopes and dreams. We walked under the moon. We prayed. We tried to imagine our lives as parents together and then realized we couldn’t imagine it and then tried to imagine it anyways. We tried to focus on having a strong family first, for us having a baby was not “starting a family” but “adding to a family.”
We started planting yearly traditions that we wanted for ourselves and hoped to one day share with a little one. We made a point to take romantic time to be with each other. We read a lot, and we wrote a lot down.

Oh, and we spent six plus months meticulously tracking my menstrual cycles. And we asked a friend who possessed the biological ability to make sperm if we could please have some of theirs*, seeing as how my wife and I didn’t possess any of our own. We then spent months discussing what that exchange would mean and what it would look like (our donor is not a dad, I would not have sex with them, our child would be conceived in the privacy of our own home if possible, etc).

When the time came, our donor came over to the little apartment that my wife and I were living in at the time. My wife and I went for a (nervous) walk while our donor deposited a sperm sample in a clean and dry salsa jar (it was Newman’s Own, pineapple salsa, which I feel like is relevant even if it isn’t). They texted us when they were finished, then they left, and my wife used a needless syringe (no one uses a turkey baster folks!) to insert the semen into my vagina. We then talked about how weird it all was. I believe someone said “this is the queerest thing I have ever done!”

The first month, I conceived and miscarried extremely early, so early that most people wouldn’t have noticed, and I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been keeping such careful tabs on my body.

The second month I kept less careful tabs, and I didn’t notice much at first. But it stuck. Since then, my body has been in a state of utter and complete upheaval as it attempts to adjust to housing this new little being. I have been the sickest I’ve ever been in my life, and vacillate between overwhelming joy and crushing sorrow basically every day. Today I’m officially 14 weeks pregnant, and finally starting to feel a teensy bit like a human being again.

So that, in my experience, is how you make a baby.

I created this blog so I would have a place to talk about pregnancy, and family, and eventually parenting. I’m bad at first posts. Welcome.

*our sperm donor is trans/genderqueer and prefers gender neutral pronouns such as they/them/their. In this blog space, I aim to respect people’s preferred pronouns whenever possible and will not be letting the issue of pronouns slide for the convenience of cis-folk.