Gay Dads and Lesbian Moms and the Transition to Parenthood

The following post, from the
American Fertility Association
, was penned by our board member,
Kim Bergman.

by Kim Bergman, PhD

After 14 attempts over 18 months of donor insemination I was
finally pregnant–something I had wished for and wanted for years.
That’s why I was so surprised at my reaction when at 8 months
pregnant I visited my friend Holly (who was a month ahead of me)
right after the birth of her second son. I walked into her hospital
room and saw him in her arms, tiny and pink and looking entirely
too fragile and delicate. Holly immediately handed him to me (she
was an expert at this, having an older daughter already). I held
this tiny creature, watched his eyelids flutter, marveled as his
mouth sucked reflexively and thought to myself, “No way am I
prepared to do this in just one month!” It was like slow motion and
one of those voice-overs saying, “Do not attempt this at home”.

My wife and I went home and proceeded to have about three days of
the worst anxiety ever. Here is a peak inside my brain during those
few days:

–what were we thinking

–we have no idea what we are doing

–babies are so tiny and fragile

–what were we thinking

–what if I mess this up completely


–how will we do it

–what were we thinking

–how will I ever leave the baby

–what if something happens

–what were we thinking

over and over….for several days!

My reaction was utterly terrifying and took me completely by
surprise. Over the next month my anxiety gradually subsided and on
the wonderful day that my daughter was born (almost exactly 15
years ago as I write this) it was joy, and not anxiety that I

While there is really NOTHING but parenthood to prepare you for
parenthood. I have found that sharing our common experiences can
help ease the transition into this new phase of life, and knowing
in advance some of the ways that parenthood changes us can lesson
the anxiety.

There are lots of baby books that seek to prepare people for
parenthood so I am not going to talk about the emotional ups and
downs, sleepless nights and endless diapers of being a new parent.
Instead I am going to focus on some of the emotional issues that my
wife and I, and other LGBT parents face as we make the transition
to parenthood.

For me one of the biggest deals about becoming a parent was that it
was a total identity shift. As a lesbian, I thought that maybe I
wouldn’t be able to be a mom at all. I hear this time and time
again from the gay men and lesbians that I help on the path to
parenthood. For many of us being gay or lesbian seemed incongruent
with being a parent, yet we had the compelling urge to be mommies
and daddies. So we find ourselves living our dream of becoming
parents, and our identities have quite a transition to go through
to catch up.

For starters, gay men and lesbians who are new parents have to
adjust to being the center of a lot of attention. If you live in a
big city where there are a lot of other gay families you will
probably be admired and ogled over. If you live in a smaller town
or one where there are few or no gay families you may be the object
of some hostile attention. Either way, people will likely stare a
lot, and this can take some getting used to.

The thing that goes hand in hand with this attention is a whole new
level of coming out. Babies with two mommies or two daddies out
their parents everywhere they go. And as the kids get older this
becomes more and more of an issue when “passing” by not correcting
someone’s hetero-assumptive comment has some very real
consequences for a child overhearing. If we are not yet out to
co-workers and employers, having a baby will make that omission
hard to live with. This continual coming out can be a bit jarring
at first.

For many gay men and lesbians, our parents and family of origin
have been less than supportive and we fear that our becoming
parents will be a source of stress and judgment. We worry about how
homophobic family members will treat our children. My mother-in-law
had to have a real “talking to” when she treated my two
children differently (I gave birth to one and my wife the other). We
let her know that she had two grandchildren or none; happily she
chose two, but we would have made the difficult choice to let her
go if we had to. Many folks that I work with report fearing that
their parents will not accept their children, but an almost equal
number come back and tell me that once the baby was born their
parents’ or in-laws’ reactions ranged from slowly accepting
their grandchildren to immediate complete turnarounds as they fell
in love with the baby at first sight, their homophobia dropping by
the wayside. Babies can be that magical!

To learn even more about how other gay and lesbian parents make the
transition to parenthood, I did a research project to better
understand the experiences of the gay men that I work with. What I
discovered made me proud, and I hope that you will find it

•     In most respects, life changes resulting from
parenthood were very much like those experienced by heterosexual
couples: closer relations with co-workers, a transition away from
single friends toward other couples (straight and gay) with
children, and less time for sleep, exercise, and hobbies.

•     Gay dads were more likely to scale back their careers
in order to care for their children than heterosexual dads.

•     These fathers reported that their self-esteem and their
closeness with their extended families increased after becoming

•     The fathers in my study reported that their
relationships with peers at work improved because of the shared
parenting experience.

•     The couples had been together an average of 12 years,
and none had dissolved their relationship after becoming

•     Most fathers reported that relationships with their
families of origin had become closer, and that having a baby
increased recognition of the couple as a family.

•     Gay dads in my study derived pleasure and pride in
taking care of their children.

•     They also received increasing validation from their
families and their communities.

•     Being a parent contributed to greater meaning in their

While none of these findings surprised me it’s always good to
have research to back up your ideas and personal experience.

No matter how you create your family, the transition to parenthood
is one of the most glorious experiences one can have.  And, while
there are some unique issues that lesbian and gay parents may face,
in the end the baby is the common denominator, and that tiny
adorable bundle of magic will get you through it all. But buckle

(My kids are now 15 and 12, so I am working on the next chapter in
parenting, “The Transition to Parenting Teens,” which I am
expecting to be as exhilarating a roller-coaster as those first 6
weeks of parenting a newborn!)

Kim Bergman. the founder of Fertility Counseling
Services, Inc., providing all aspects of psychological services to
individuals and agencies in the field of fertility and assisted
reproduction. Dr. Bergman also is a co-owner of Growing Generations