So following on from the birth of our Son, Wil, who was the first baby ever to be born to a gay couple (us) by a UK surrogate (my wonderful sister), following a change in the law, we try to settle into family life (see previous blogs for full story). Instead a move is forthcoming and a challenge on our own prejudices…
We settled into parenthood with suprising ease, reiterating to me that we could not only do this, but could actually be good at it. Wil really was a contented baby, and still is a contented child. He ate, played and slept well, and stuck to a rough 3 hour routine. This didn’t seem to change whether he was at home or out and about. Oh, and to the frustration of a few Mums we know, he slept through the night from about 6 weeks. We can’t really take credit for this however, with Wil, we were just along for the ride! He was really making it easy though, and we loved being fathers. We still do, more than ever. Wil slotted straight into our life, like he was truly meant to be there.
Our family and friends were, and still are, truly amazing. Even though for them it must have been a shock when we announced our intention to be Daddy’s. Not one of them (obvious exception in media mole here), were anything but supportive, happy, and excited for us. The way that our friends and family weathered the media storm too still humbles me now. After all, the decision that we had made to be fathers had caused the newspaper intrusion, as out of our control of it as we were, the fact that it affected those we care about most was devestating to us. The reaction and support that we had from those closest to us definitely demonstrated their utter quality to us. Thank you.
The one thing that seemed to be putting a dampener on things however, was where we lived. I can’t deny that I have always wanted to move back to the country. I was raised in rural Cambridgeshire (big up the Fens) and I loved it. I loved the freedom I had. The sense of space and adventure everyday. Where we lived in Southampton however suited us at that time. The house was beautiful and big enough for another 6 children or so! The location was great too – there was space near by where we could run the dogs and we had the convenience of the City close by. It had been spoilt for us though.
From the day the reporters forced their way into the garden, into our life, we just couldn’t shake the feeling that our home had been violated. The reporters had infiltrated our sanctuary and poisoned it for us.
It wasn’t just the home however. I think that paranoia had started to set in and when we walked to the shops, or the local park, we couldn’t shake the feeling that we were being watched, stared at, judged. I’m sure that as much of this was our imagination as it was reality. It didn’t help though that local paper had printed the story, along with where we lived. OK, so they didn’t print the street name and house number, but were specific enough to be a cause for concern. The worst bit was, the comments that they received on our story were so nasty and twisted that they had to withdraw the comments page. The negative aura that this created at the time did nothing to help us feel comfortable in our home. It was the last thing we wanted, It didn’t change the fact that we were ecstatically happy at being parents, we just didn’t need that negativity.
We were far from ashamed or even afraid. In fact, quite the opposite. We are damn proud of being parents, not shy about who we are or where we’re from. This is our Son. We are his Dad’s. Love us or hate us, but you will never part us.
One moment sticks in my mind. Wil was a few weeks old and we had ventured to the local supermarket. As old people do, they would often approach us, so that they could coo over or newborn. This one lady in particular. Really sweet she was. Very complimentary about Wil and how adorable he was. And then she said “Who’s the Daddy?”. I must admit at this point I giggled like a school kid and almost asked her, wasn’t it obvious? But when she followed it up with “Are you giving Mummy a break?” I realised that she wasnt asking about the dynamics of our relationship, but questioning Wils parentage. Dragging my mind back from the gutter I told her that we were both his Daddy. I can still see her look at me and blink in confusion a few times saying “I’m sorry?” Assuming she wasn’t apologising for us, I told her that he had two Dads, and that he didn’t have a Mum (not in a practical sense anyhow. Wil will always know where he came from and be free to make his own choices as difficult as that may be for us). But anyway, the sweet old lady was now backing away with a look of shock on her face. With a final “Oh” she turned and hurried off. Now I don’t think for one minute she was judging us. In fact my over-riding sense was that she was embarrassed, flustered, and just didn’t know how to react. It took me straight back to the hundreds of times that I have had to tell someone I am gay, after they made the assumption that I was straight (yes, it does happen you know.) Someone once told me, probably quoting someone famous, that as a gay person you have to come out every day. Its true. We all make assumptions about people and live by ingrained stereotypes. Rightly or wrongly, it always happens. And I always feel awkward when it does.; “So what’s your wifes name?” When they see my wedding band. “I don’t have a wife. I have a husband.” “Oh, right.” I hate that look that comes over their face and the awkward silence that ensues. I’m never cross, not at all. We all do it. I’ve considered avoiding the truth, but dismissed that notion quickly. Without openess and honesty, the world is never going to change or know that there is another way. It was the same with the old lady. I felt bad for her. But we’re not ashamed, we’re not embarrassed and, though we’re far from intentional spokespersons, we realised that we were in a position where we are influencing people, challenging their ideas about family, parenthood, and love. We might not want to be there, but we had, have, a responsibilty to start to ease the way for others who are in a similar position, or contemplating starting a family such as ours.
The real purpose of this example though was to demonstrate why we wanted to get away from Southampton. Amazingly the gods aligned and we had the opportunity to move to a village close to where Ivan was raised, in the New Forest. It was perfect and we snatched the opportunity with both hands. When Wil was 3 months old we moved to our current home. A 3 bedroom, detached cottage in the middle of the woods, in a beautiful, small, New Forest village. It was the perfect place to raise Wil, and any subsequent children that came along. Our dogs would be able to run free. We could get chickens and grow vegetables. It was idlyic. We had an immediate sense of coming home when we stepped through the door. I had made it back to the country.
Despite our eagerness to grasp this opportunity, we couldn’t help but be a bit worried about going to such a small vilage. A community that was sure to be close-knit, judgemental, narrow-minded? After all, a multi-cultural area such as Southampton struggled. Maybe it would be worse? We decided the risk was worth it and we would keep ourselves to ourselves.
I’m cross at myself now. Cross and ashamed. There I’d been harping on about changing peoples views and pre-conceived notions and I was as bad as any of them. Judging people, putting them into boxes, not even giving them a chance. Mostly I’m a bit embarrassed. The village couldn’t have been anymore welcoming. Not one person battered an eyelid or questioned our family with anything other than genuine curiosity and acceptance. I tell you what. They’ve certainly taught me a lesson. We have been embraced into the heart of the community. We’re not special, or different, or a novelty. We’re normal. Normal people demonstrating that anyone can have a normal family. They had given us what we had always wanted.
I love it when that happens. When people don’t live up to my pre-conceived expectation and stereotype, but instead challenge it. Challenge my opinion, and start to chip away at the bigot that lurks deep inside of me. Deep inside most of us. We all have some small part to play in challenging what others think is normal. My village did it for me. I hope that we as a family are doing it for others.
So, sorry to my fellow villagers, sorry and thanks for teaching me a lesson in love and acceptance. Thank you for breaking my prejudice.
Lots of love, S xx