Cherie and Hideko Take Turns Carrying a Pregnancy

Meet the Guests

Both Cherie and Hideko are originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, and met in 2005, when they were performers with a taiko, Japanese drumming, performance group. After dating long distance for a couple of years, they settled down in San Francisco and decided to start a family. Their first child, Yuki, was born in 2010 and their second, Kaya, in 2013.

Cherie is a birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator. She along with 2 colleagues created BORN Collective to provide support to Bay Area families during the perinatal period. Cherie is also a practitioner with the LGBTQ Perinatal Wellness Center in Oakland. Besides birth work, Cherie loves sewing, dabbling in art projects and hula dancing.

Hideko is the founder of her own diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, consulting business called Liberation Consulting. She is also a DEI consultant for two other consulting businesses, VISIONS Inc. and also Co-creating Inclusion. When she’s not working, she loves spending time with her family, and also takes time for herself, hanging out with friends and playing taiko.

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Episode Transcript

Emily : If you’ve listened to other outspoken voices episodes, you’ve heard stories about all sorts of different paths to Parenthood and family formation. One experience that we haven’t yet explored is when more than one parent chooses to carry a pregnancy in the same family. We know each person’s pregnancy, birth and postpartum journey is totally unique. So what’s the experience like when shared by partners? How can partner support one another as their choices and paths can also be so different? So with me to talk about their experiences are Cherie and Hideko. Would you tell us more about who is in your family and how it was it formed?

Hideko: Our family’s a family four lovely women like myself, my wife, Cheri, and Yuki who is nine and Kaya who is about to be six. We each carried one of our children.

Cherie: Hideko went first and was both the gestational and biological parent to Yuki and then I went second and I’m also gestational and biological parent to Kaya.

Emily : What are some things that you like to do as a family?

Cherie: A lot of times we like to just hang out around the house and watch TV or movies or play games. We like to travel and we don’t do a lot of far traveling, but just small trips, like local camping trips or going up to Lake Tahoe.

Emily : What are some of the major things that went into your decision to grow your family in the way that you did? What factors? Financial, medical, timing, the importance of biological or not or not connections, cultural, all of those things?

Hideko: I think I always knew I wanted to carry and have children. I am older than Cherie and so when it came to timing, age was a really big factor for my decision. And so it was probably around 36 maybe when I really started to think seriously about it. And Cherie and I met probably very shortly after I was even thinking about wanting to have a child. And so yeah, that was part of our interesting timeline and journey as we met each other. I had already been thinking that I wanted to get pregnant and wanted to have children. So, maybe because of our age difference, it was definitely on my mind quite a bit prior to us even meeting.

Cherie: Right. Whereas for me, I also knew that I wanted to have kids, but because I was younger I was not yet thinking about it. And so in that sense it made things very easy in our decision making process. But there was no question about who would go first. I think the more difficult part was about deciding when, because we were at the start of our relationship already talking about bringing children to the mix.

Emily : That that sounds like that was coming up really early in your relationship.

Cherie: We ended up having a lot of conversations about it. We discussed various things – like if Hideko decided that she wanted to have a kid, was I going to be all in and decide to co-parent? We explored different options. But in the end, ultimately I knew that I wouldn’t be able to be in a relationship, a committed relationship with her when she has a child and not also be 100% that child’s parent. So we made the decision to wait until I was ready.

Hideko: Yeah. Well we had been in a relationship for about two years long distance and when Cherie moved up to San Francisco, we moved in together. It was probably only a year living together before I started trying. We went in and started looking at donors and sperm banks and going to that whole process.

Emily : And what was that particular process like for you? How did you choose to go about choosing a donor?

Speaker 3: I think that we had to explore different options. But decided that we wanted to use a sperm donor from a sperm bank, someone that we didn’t know. And also try and find a donor that is willing to be known, which means that at the age of 18 the children can receive the contact information of the donor.

Hideko: We talked about a lot of options and what we came down to really was that we wanted to explore sperm banks and find an anonymous donor. I think the most challenging part for us was in looking at both of our identities. We were both Japanese American and we were trying to think, do we try and find some part of the donor that is Japanese, which it’s really pretty rare to find even a mix of that. And meanwhile, when we go into the office and we look at all the options, there are binders, stacks and stacks of binders, of donor profiles that are white. And at one point we were like, well, would we be okay with that? Cherie is biracial. So we definitely considered maybe finding a white donor. That was the largest school to choose from. And so as we were trying to sift through, we had pulled out several profiles, but then somewhere in that process we decided that we really wanted to prioritize using a Japanese American sperm donor, which basically took our pool from hundreds down to two Japanese American donors that were willing to be known. Actually it was very easy in the end because we had to choose one of two.

Emily : You both had at that point thought about potentially wanting to both be a natal parents, both carry at some point. I know sometimes sperm banks will encourage people to purchase sperm from a particular donor with the thought of planning ahead for siblings and for multiple insemination attempts. Was that something that also factored in the first time or did you take it one step at a time?

Cherie: We did a little bit of both. I think that we purchased enough sperm to help us get through a couple of rounds and then we waited because Hideko got pregnant and we wanted to see that pregnancy through and have our first child. And happily it worked out and we went ahead and purchased more sperm for kiddo number two.

Emily : The thought processes that then have to go into the planning. That is so much far down the road thinking that you have to be planning for and financially preparing for to store sperm. That’s not simple as there’s some big conversations to be having as you’re going through something that is exciting and scary with just trying to get pregnant for the first time. To be thinking that far ahead, was that both exciting and scary or maybe more one than the other for you both?

Hideko: Yeah, I’d say it’s definitely exciting and scary and you’re right, there’s a lot of work that goes into it. A lot of thoughts, a lot of time and energy and resources and we had to be strategic in our decision making around how much could we afford and how many attempts could we afford. And how much emotional energy and time could we prepare ourselves for. We are really fortunate in how quickly both of us were both able to get pregnant. Of course that helped us out financially because we actually ended up having bought more vials and reserved them after Cherie was pregnant. And we kept them for a long time as just a possibility, an option of whether or not we were going to have a third. And that’s expensive cause that went on for years. Just keeping it and paying for it being frozen and reserved for us. And only recently did we finally let go of it. And that was also emotional. I mean this has just been a long extended, drawn out conversation of will we or won’t we have a third child. If we decided that we did, then our first choice would be to use the same sperm donor that we used for our first two, which is why we were holding onto it for so long. I know that was really hard to decide, but ultimately it was also very financial. We were paying money multiple times a year to keep this sperm.

Emily : I do want to then ask, since you both carried one of your kiddos, you had two different birth experiences and journeys. Would you each talk more about your experiences and the choices and what felt right for you?

Hideko: I went first because of my age. And at the time I was working in a school that had insurance and we chose a hospital that was close to us and that was covered by insurance. And we did the whole tour and felt like, okay, this seems nice. We didn’t do many other tours, but maybe both of us were just in a mindset that we were going to do a hospital birth and that was just the norm. But ultimately we decided that this was what was financially viable for us at the time. So I’ll try and keep this brief. I had a very great, easy nine months pregnancy and then I went in to the doctors at one point to just do my regular heartbeat checks and such. And it was past my due date at that point. So Yuki did not want to come out, that’s the very main thing that overlays this whole story. And so they felt like my fluids were low. Heartbeat seemed weak at times. So they wanted to induce me and they took me in and admitted me right then and there. I was not packed for that day. I was packed to go swimming at my mom’s house. So it was a bit of a shock and we got ready and they took me in and did many, multiple interventions to get my labor started. It went on and on for literally three days. And it was really not working. And so at one point, there is even a scare that maybe the heartbeat had dropped and she was sitting on her chord or something and we are almost being rushed to a C-section. It was a scary process. It was emotional. And then we reversed the decision cause things were back to normal and so it was a long process. It took about four days for her to finally come out and the pushing and everything was pretty traumatic as well. I think that lasted for many, many hours. And I forgot to mention, during that process I ended up getting an epidural, because the pain and all of the Pitocin. It was really a painful labor for me. That would be the of short version of my horror story.

Cherie: I just want to mention that I’m a birth and postpartum doula now, but I wasn’t at the time. So neither of us really knew much about the process. I mean we took the classes, we read books, we watched videos and even then, I think going through that process we felt completely unprepared. Overwhelmed.

Emily : Hideko, you mentioned trauma a few times. So Cherie, when you were then experiencing your own pregnancy and preparing for your own labor, having been the support person for your partner, how did that inform some than your own decision making for yourself and what you wanted in a labor experience?

Cherie: Yeah. Well I think that it had a lot to do with the decisions that we made the second time around. After Hideko’s birth experience, we had a lot of those ‘what if’ questions come up for us. But it led me to do a lot more research, read a lot more books, and talk to more people who have made different choices in their pregnancies. Throughout that process we discussed various options, but ultimately decided to attempt a home birth with midwives. And so we went through a very different preparation process. We took a six-week long homebirth specific childbirth course. We hired a team of doulas. We worked very closely with our home birth midwife, who would come to our home and do prenatal visits with us. And we rented a tub for the apartment. And just really prepared for a birth without pain medication and really focused on what we would need to feel supported at home.

Hideko: I want to back up a little bit just to talk about the financial piece, because that was a very significant factor in us having the privilege and resources the second time to be able to afford a home birth, which is significantly more expensive than a hospital birth. So where we were financially at that time, we were able to support that decision, which is a really huge factor and a privilege that we recognize.

Cherie: Yes. I also had a really pretty enjoyable pregnancy I would say. And both of our kids came late, well beyond their due dates. I was about 41 weeks when I was starting to get a little anxious and also knowing that you can’t actually have a home birth after 42 weeks. Midwives aren’t able to attend your birth at home after 42 weeks, so you would then transfer to the hospital. So with a deadline here and a medical induction in the near future, we started doing a lot of home induction techniques. There were several days of trying all sorts of methods to get things going. The thing that I do remember though is that I felt very not alone during this period. My doula and my midwife was always in contact with us if we needed some suggestions or advice or just encouragement.

Cherie: It was really nice to know that I could be home and feel safe. They were making sure that baby was okay and my vitals were good so that I could stay at home for as long as everyone felt comfortable. And then once things did start moving along, my water broke spontaneously, it’s all just kind of hazy. There are things that I don’t remember about it that other people have told me about. I remember being here. I remember Yuki coming by at some point and hearing her feet pattering down the halls. She was pretty unphased by the fact that I was moaning and the other room, which was also really fun. It’s kind of impressive. But I think that it was a really, really nice birth.

Emily : Those are some very different ways you talk about those different experiences. Cherie, you’re now a doula yourself. How did the birth of your kids factor into your doula work now?

Cherie: It definitely influenced my decision to become a doula. I say that my interest in birth work started back when Hideko was pregnant, though I had no idea at the time that I would go into it professionally. Like I said, I loved watching birth videos, reading and learning. It just all that seems so fascinating. The human body can grow a human and change shape. And just going through this process of ourselves, it was very clear to me that one, a lot of people don’t know that much about pregnancy and birth until they’re finding themselves in that situation where they’re pregnant, expecting and realizing that they’re going to have to give birth. And that was just a strange phenomenon. I think that knowing that how common child birth is, it’s happening all over the world for thousands of years, yet it’s still a mystery. We don’t talk about it in our culture. We don’t see it. We don’t help our relatives give birth in our home. We don’t have that hands on experience. We don’t have the grandmothers and those family members who have that ancestral knowledge that is passed on. And so because we’ve become so disconnected from it, we’re walking through this path alone when we don’t need to be. We shouldn’t have to be. It is something that we could be sharing. So I think that that was a big part of it was just that I want people to not feel alone while they’re going through infertility journey or pregnancy, the birth, and then the postpartum period. Postpartum should be a time when people are feeling held and heard and supported. And so that’s why I wanted to do this work. I think there’s a lot of need, especially in a place like San Francisco. There’s a lot of people here who don’t have family nearby, who don’t have the support that they should have.

Emily : And for anyone who’s unfamiliar, could you just explain what is a doula? And what is a doula’s role in the birth experience?

Cherie: Most generally a doula is a support person. And there’s lots of different kinds of doulas. So in this case I’m a birth and postpartum doula, which is somebody that supports an individual or a family as they’re going through this process of pregnancy and birth and postpartum. We support families with evidence-based information and connect with local resources. We do a lot of emotional support and normalizing of the process. And then hands-on coaching and care. There’s a lot of education that happens. Then in the actual labor we’re doing things like making sure that people are staying hydrated, helping when they’re ready to go in the bathroom. Changing positions and getting rest when they can. A lot of encouragement and then also massage, counter pressure and things like that. And then in the postpartum, we are there for making that transition to welcoming this baby into your home as soon as possible. So it could be coaching around newborn care, like how to soothe a baby or diaper and swaddle. Also making sure that whoever just gave birth is recovering well and taking care of themselves, making sure the family has food, and making sure that little things around the house are taken care of for them so that they don’t have to worry about those things and they can really focus on recovery and bonding with baby. Those are some of the things that we help with. We’re not medical care providers, which is really important to distinguish. We’re not there to diagnose or prescribed treatments or anything like that.

Emily : I want to switch a little bit. Something that I read and hear from people in LGBTQ+ spaces frequently is the difference in the experience between a gestational and the non-gestational parent in a family. And frequently I’m reading people who are sharing concerns about if they’re the non-gestational parent in particular, they have concerns about how they will feel, how they’ll bond with their child, how they’ll be perceived by others as a parent if they do not give birth. Did you have those conversations or concerns or worries about one of you being a gestational and non-gestational parent to your kids? And did any of those feelings change over time?

Cherie: Yeah, definitely. Hideko went first and I was a non-gestational and non-biological parent. I definitely had concerns about how I would bond with the baby and would our relationship with this baby be the same knowing that we both identify as mothers, but having different connections to each child. I think I was very protective in the immediate postpartum with our first because since I’m not biologically related to this child at all, my concern was what sets me apart to this child from anybody else that’s in the room. Like one of our friends wants to hold the baby and it’s like, Oh but you hold the baby then will you bond the same way? It sounds ridiculous now, but it was some really big stuff for me at the time. And I think those things definitely fade over time. I don’t think there was ever an answer about what to do. I think what we’ve come to realize is that our relationships with our kids are not the same and that’s okay. That’s the way it’s meant to be. I still think about it sometimes. It’s never completely gone away. But overall I think that it really helps to learn to love them in our own ways and know that they’re gonna love us in their own ways.

Hideko: That’s a great way to put it. Yeah, we were definitely intentional about and had many conversations regarding it because we really wanted to not just let nature take its course and have the child who was born through one parent have that immediate physical bond, which I think is in some ways undeniable, it’s going to be there for most. I’m not saying it happens to all that. But it was definitely there. One of the things that I should mention is that I had a little trouble with the breastfeeding and so three months into trying and doing that, I ended up switching to pumping in order to provide breast milk to Yuki. And I did that for nine months and it was brutal and I was willing to make that sacrifice. But the great thing that came out of that was that Cherie was unable to bottle feed as much as I was bottle feeding Yuki. Sometimes maybe even more. Cherie would allow me to sleep at night and that would allow her to get a bottle and then feed at night. And I didn’t have to be the one to wake up to do that. I think one of the silver linings there is that she really did get to hold and feed Yuki as much as I did in those formative years. With you and Kaya, you ended up breastfeeding longer than I did and I think there’s always going to be that bond that they’re going to have as well. We talked a little bit about our roles and who we are as their parents. I think we do take on different roles and they come to us for different things and we have different strengths that we have as parents. And so we play on those strengths and we really try and keep it equal. We don’t want to create a dynamic that makes it really easy for our kids to favor one of us over the other. They’re going to favor one of us over the other when it comes to like, who do I go to when I want to put a Lego set together, who do I want to go to if I need help with my homework or I’m having a problem with my friends or if I want to kick a soccer ball around and go for a bike ride?

Emily : Cherie, you mentioned that Yuki was in the house for a period while you were laboring and so was somewhat aware of something going on. How do you talk about your family with your kids and their own personal stories? Do you have any tips for anybody who’s starting this journey or struggling on how to broach some of those topics of who carried and donors?

Cherie: I think that we have adopted the philosophy of trying to share as much age appropriate information as possible from as early as possible. For me, anything I can do to avoid having a big talk where we have to disclose some information that is new to them is really key for us. And I love using books to talk about things with kids, like all sorts of things. So that’s definitely something that we’ve done. And also just using photos and stories, family stories. We have definitely talked with them from a very early age about who gave birth to them and they’ve seen pictures of us both pregnant. Kids are very curious and they ask questions but they also move on from things very quickly. So, a lot of this has been really easy to talk about and it’s been kind of a non-issue. There’s a couple of books that I really like and that we’ve used talk kind of about how our family was formed. And one of them is called Zak’s Safari and it’s a story of that a young boy tells about his conception story. Basically he has two moms and they use the sperm donor and made a baby. And that’s very similar to our story. So it made it really easy for us to kind of introduce the concept in really nice like kid friendly terms. And then another book that I really love is What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg. And that’s a great one to talk about where babies come from and how they’re made.

Emily : I love that. It being in an age-appropriate, ongoing conversation rather than a moment of a big reveal, which makes it all feel more steady and natural and familiar for the kids. And then for you, you’re working up to some big moment that then puts stress or worry on to you. I think that’s so smart.

Cherie: Another thing that’s really important for us as a family is to, as much as possible, try and make connections with other families that look like ours and also just families that don’t look like ours outside of the norm. We have a pretty close group of friends that all identify as lesbians and they have kids and so we try to stay connected with them. The kids are about the same age and sometimes we’ll meet up at the park or go camping together. But it’s really nice for them to not be the only one that has two moms or doesn’t have a dad or things like that. That’s been definitely something that we’re always trying to do too.

Emily : Fantastic. Any final thoughts? Any final advice for thoughts for parents out there, for future parents out there?

Cherie: In thinking about the journeys that we took and the concerns that we had about bonding with our children and different relationships, I would just say that being conscious and being open about what’s coming up for you throughout the process is really key. And then being able to communicate with your partner openly about it. And sometimes it’s just saying it out loud. Just being able to say something to the other adult but not acting on it in front of your child. Sometimes all you need is to like be acknowledged and be sad about it, but also remembering that it’s not an intentional thing a child doing. And at the end, like I was saying earlier, just really defining the things that work for you and your kid and really working on that one-on-one relationship.

Hideko: You see why I love her? I think only last words I would say would just be talk with people. There are so many different stories and so many experiences and sometimes it can be daunting because you go into a comparative frame of mind around it and you just don’t know what your experience is going to be. Knowledge is power and I think having had more knowledge at our disposal, we might’ve made different decisions, if we had had some of the resources available. I’m glad we were able to shift after my birth experience and then Cherie was able to have a different one and our second child be allowed a different experience.