THE CONSCIOUS CREATION OF A MODERN FAMILY
While we live in a world far more progressive than any other time known in history, we still have huge strides to take when it comes to equality in regard to women’s rights, gender identity and the definition of family.
Morgane Richardson, Director of NYC Doula Collective, and her wife Alexandra Garcia, Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, share their inspired journey towards the creation of a modern, conscious family and their choice to bring another life to Earth.
A conversation curated by Arianna Solare for Inside/Out.
Inside/Out: How did you make the decision to have a baby together and become parents?
MR & AG: It took time for us to decide to become parents. We were in our early twenties when we started dating and we had some growing up to do before we were ready. We tried out different cities, completed our respective Masters degrees, and built our careers. Through all of this we learned our strengths and challenges as a couple, and ultimately decided that we were ready to grow our family by bringing a baby into the picture. In this way, I think our story is fairly common to many families.
I/O: What kinds of obstacles did you encounter on the road to pregnancy?
MR & AG: As a queer family, we’re lucky to be living in NYC in 2018. We have a very supportive local community and have built a network of similar families that we can reach out to for advice. That said, there are still so many challenges - big and small.
First of all, money was constantly a challenge. The process is expensive. Buying the sperm, storing it, medical care for insemination, taking time off of work. For a year we would watch our friends going on holidays, and think “well we can either go on vacation too or try to conceive that month.” Every try cost us about $1500.00. And that’s fairly low on the spectrum of what LGBTQ families spend.
People would sometimes joke that we could just ask a friend to help us out - like: “Look, at all the guys. Sperm should be cheap!” But the truth is that in NY, you need a medical care provider to attest to having performed the insemination in order for the second parent to be able to access full equal legal rights. If you don’t have a medical provider present, the male donor needs to go through a legal process of forfeiting parental rights before the second parent can go through adoption. So every step of the way there are expenses building up that may not be apparent from the outside.
The next big struggle is the medical system. Fortunately, we were lucky that we are both involved in reproductive health and have access to a lot of information in this area. We were able to make conscious decisions about our options. We see so many LGBTQ couples who automatically get funnelled into a medical system built for heterosexual couples dealing with infertility. We were fortunate to be able to say: "Look we’re healthy, we don’t need to be medicated and we want a medical provider who recognizes and honors that.”
Then there are the cultural challenges. We’re overall very lucky with the openness we are surrounded by, but we have family members who have told us our child won’t be considered part of the family. That’s rough, but hasn’t happened much. More common are the smaller social challenges. Things where well-intentioned people don’t even realize they’re being offensive. People we’ve just met will ask us how we got pregnant. Now that’s a ridiculous question. Of course we all know the answer of how anyone gets pregnant: a sperm and an egg came together. To ask for more details wouldn’t be appropriate to ask a straight couple, and it’s not appropriate to ask us either.
Inside/Out: How do you feel about the process you will have to go through together in order for Alexandra to become a legal parent?
MR & AG: Having a newborn is a challenge on it’s own: Dirty diapers, sleepless nights, finding a work/life balance. To then throw in an extensive background check, a home visit by a social worker, and a legal hearing, sounds really rough. Alexandra is grateful to even have the opportunity to have legal rights as a parent, but I think that many people don’t realize that legalizing gay marriage doesn’t mean the LGBTQ community now have equal rights across the board. There’s still a long way to go.
I/O: When you think of the fact that men very often have legal rights to children they are not supporting or raising, how does this make you feel about the legal steps you are facing?
MR & AG: The majority of Americans, whether they identify as male, female, gender nonconforming, LGBTQI, black, white, etc., are inadequately supported in the process of pregnancy, becoming parents and raising children. Despite being 10th on the UNDP Human Development Index, Americans face abysmal health care, practically non-existent parental leave laws and there is very little access to paid childcare and solid, public school pre-K education.
It is incredibly difficult to be a parent in the United States if you don’t have access to financial and/or family support. So, while we both think it is unjust that we have to take legal steps for Alexandra to become a parent, we also recognize that we are incredibly luckily to have the emotional and financial support from friends and family to help us go through this process.
We want to see everyone raised up and supported in their path to parenthood rather than worry about who has it worse.
I/O: What excites you about becoming parents?
MR & AG: The opportunity to see someone discover the world - find what excites them, explore their place in it, discover what drives them - that sounds incredible. Being able to hold space for that process is such an honor and a privilege. Plus, the chance to gain a new perspective has always been one of our big motivations in life. Now we will try out the perspective of parent, and will be challenged to see from the perspective of our child. What an adventure we have ahead of us!
I/O: As a couple have you worked with any techniques such as prenatal haptonomie in order to increase your mutual interaction with the baby? Or other prenatal methods for couples?
MR & AG: As an acupuncturists and a birth doula, we have come into this process with a pretty strong understanding about the anatomy and physiology of pregnancy, labor, birth and the postpartum period. That said, we did take a childbirth education class geared towards home birth to create a space for us to focus on ourselves as parents, not as educators or activists. It’s been really important that we take moments to honor our path into parenthood by taking the same classes we recommend to our clients!
Triptyque above by photographer Kelly Marshall for BIRTH.
I/O: What part do you feel you will be playing in helping society evolve in terms of the modern family and what it looks like or doesn’t look like?
MR & AG: On the surface, we’re playing the role of pushing boundaries for other people. We’re a visual example of what interracial lesbian parents looks like. But I think the more interesting change is how we’ve adjusted our own mental framework and language around pregnancy and families. We no longer use “woman” or “mother” as the default in our conversations about pregnant people; We are working on reshaping our assumptions about the family unit; there may be one parent, two parents, or many parents. By challenging ourselves to broaden our own views on family, we hope to positively contribute to the conversations around the concept of “family.” We don’t want to fall into the trap of assuming that our family represents the only vision of a loving, nurturing home and it takes constant, conscious work to stay out of that mental box.
I/O: What resources do you recommend?
MR & AG: We highly recommend researching conception, birth and postpartum options before you become pregnant. So often, people choose care providers - including fertility clinics, midwives, birthing spaces and second-parent adoption lawyers - that their friends used without listening to what they need and want for themselves. Find someone that you trust early on and make sure they take the time to listen to you. And for families who are looking for books to read, some of our favorites are Nurture by Erica Chidi Cohen, The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Johnson and The First Forty Days by Heng Ou and anything written by Ina May Gaskin.
I/O: As two healers, how do you take care of each other? And of yourselves?
MR & AG: Once we started trying to conceive, self-care became a big phrase in the house; In fact, “Self-care,” and “Love you” are probably the words we speak the most. We both make sure that we are taking time to reconnect with ourselves, be it through spending time with friends, getting a massage, or acupuncture treatments. That doesn’t mean it happens easily; we do have to make it a priority or else we got swept up in the chaos of work and daily life. We also place a big emphasis on nurturing our relationship; sometimes that means just re-instating date nights when we notice we haven’t had one-on-one time and other times that means going to couples therapy to ensure we are communicating what we need in a way that is loving, honest and respectful.
I/O: Any big lessons, surprises or revelations?
MR & AG: The biggest lesson we’ve learned throughout this pregnancy - from conception to preparing for the birth - is that we have to surrender to the process. As a couple, we’re both pretty Type A. We really think about what we’re about to do, we plan it out, we discuss and then we commit 150%. While we have done that in this pregnancy we’ve also had to learn to let go and be vulnerable.
About contributor Arianna Solare:
Arianna Solare is a Los Angeles born multimedia artist, musician, producer, writer and dancer. She grew up between Malibu and Sedona, amongst an eclectic mix of celebrities and gurus. After teaching yoga and studying healing arts in South East Asia, she built a house by hand on her land in Taos, NM. She is currently based in Yucatan, Mexico.