From the 20s: Gender Identity and Motherhood

From the editors: our readers in their 20s have let us know that even if they’re not yet “aging primates”, many of them are on the fence about motherhood. We’re thrilled to bring in writer and graduate student Alaina Leary for a new column exploring the perspective of 20-something fence sitters. 

I’ve been in a committed relationship for the past seven years. As if by miracle, my high school sweetheart and I stayed together throughout high school, throughout college and made it to the point where we’re new adults, living in our own apartment with two cats and a hamster.

I know that soon, we’ll be thinking about taking care of more than just pets. My sweetheart and I are both women, and we have to make complicated choices that go along with that. Will we adopt, and if so, from in this country or out of it? Will one of us conceive?

Is it insane for me to consider this question, when I’ve only just graduated with my Bachelor’s in May and am now pursuing a graduate degree in my field while working and interning?

I was about eight or nine years old when I first decided that I wanted to adopt kids. At the time, I hadn’t even thought about concepts like romance, sexuality or gender identity—all I knew was that I’d read the stories of many foster children, both true and fictional, and I wanted to be the person who could stop kids from being in that situation. I yearned to be an adoptive parent.

There’s one area on which we disagree: conception. I’m all for adoption, as I always have been, and she is too. But she wants one child of her own, and she hopes I might carry one too.

Even just a year ago, we still lived in the fantasy of college and actual adulthood seemed like a dream instead of a reality filled with difficult career decisions and piling bills. Now, the discussion of conception seems very real and that terrifies me. I’m on a continuous birth control for endometriosis, so there’s a heavy chance that I don’t have the option to consider giving birth even if I were to change my mind.

I’ve also always struggled with my gender, and the lucky side effect of my birth control is that I haven’t had a period in five straight years. Until I’m facing the kids question, I feel like I still have time to be confused and to ignore my gender identity. I’ve been an out bisexual to everyone I know practically since childhood, but only about two people in my social circle know how much I struggle with my gender identity: my girlfriend and my best friend. I don’t feel comfortable in a female body, but I also don’t want to socially and medically transition as a male, so I’m stuck in an awkward, painful in-between: skipping my periods and getting changed in the locker rooms quickly so I don’t have to dwell on the idea of body parts and what they mean.

Facing the kids question would change all that. Even if I stick with my gut and decide never to conceive, watching my future wife conceive will cement my gender identity in the minds of everyone around us. I’ll be her wife, and people will ask me—like they surprisingly already do—why I don’t want to carry any of our children too. People won’t see me as a biological mother, but they also won’t see me as our kids’ father, either. Gender and sex, which are abstract terms that I’m currently able to avoid, will be a daily discussion, just like they were when I first came out. Just today, one of my childhood best friends and I were talking about my future with my girlfriend: where we want to move, how our jobs are going, how school is. She asked me if we planned to have kids, and if we both wanted to carry one. I felt the panic rise in my chest as I answered her, “No, she’s the one who wants to have the kids.” When we people talk about male and female bodies, and what they do, and they gender those bodies, I get uncomfortable. I transform into the Drunk Aunt at a holiday party who ducks out of the room when everyone starts talking about my alcoholism in front of me.

Meanwhile, the cost of IVF, sperm donation and fertility treatments are always in the back of my mind as I consider my career decisions. Instead of thinking of just myself and what I want to do, I’m already thinking of my future family and the economic burden of being in a same-sex relationship. It’s like forward-thinking family planning, but with loads more pressure.

At age twenty-two, it seems silly to worry about something that’s at least five, more like ten, years down the road. As new adults, we’re figuring out our careers and finances. I’ve only just gotten approved for my first auto loan and my first apartment. I’m not even close to ready to settle on a mortgage. Kids are nowhere near in our future.

Still, we want them. Time goes by faster than we think it will. Seven years ago, when we started dating, I could never have foreseen our future as college graduates living on our own with two cats. It felt like a faraway fantasy—a time period that I dreamed about, but that would always remain looming and out of reach.

I know the decision about conception is coming faster than I think. As soon as I blink, I’ll be getting my first promotion, and so will she. When we’re nearing a more stable financial climate, we’ll be looking into permanent homes instead of apartments.

People around me are always warning me that my biological clock is ticking, and more and more of my age peers my age are having children.

I watch those people with envy from every social media platform. In the majority of cases, these are straight couples, one man and one woman, both who identify with their biological sex and assigned gender, smiling with a baby of either sex in their arms. They look so happy, and nothing is complicated. They conceived naturally, and the woman gave birth, and neither of them were torn apart on the inside because of their biology, all in the name of bringing life into this world.

Alaina FaceAlaina Leary is a Boston-area native who is currently a student in the master’s program in Publishing and Writing at her dream school, Emerson College. She’s currently working as an editor and social media coordinator for several brands and publications. Her work has been published in Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Her Campus, BUST, AfterEllen, CollegeFashionista, The Odyssey, Luna Luna Magazine and more. She can often be found re-reading her favorite books, watching Gilmore Girls, and covering everything in glitter. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @alainaskeys

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