In the queer gayby making process, many decisions and time-frames are out of your control. The “no semen between us” fact of our lives is settling in, and everyday we push against what feels like a million barriers to become pregnant.
Growing up, my father was particularly concerned with ‘any of his girls’ becoming pregnant before 18. He would constantly remind us that he would not support us if we became pregnant in high school, and that we would ruin our lives if we ever became pregnant. Much like Frances McDormand’s character in Almost Famous who is concerned with her son’s use of drugs, “Don’t get pregnant” was the mantra in our house.
For context, I grew up in a Roman Catholic household where we were all put on birth control for “cramps,” and we never discussed safe sex or consent. Slut-shaming (and homophobia) were rampant in my Catholic high school, and the girls who “got pregnant” were sent to a low-income public school across town, or were disappeared by their parents or our school’s administrators. Abortion was not an option, and while I distinctly remember a few times that Plan B was spoken about among my friends, it was always laced with judgement and prayers for the ‘fallen.’
I was always terrified to become pregnant, and subsequently, homeless and hell-bound. I’m not alone.
In the book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and A World Without Rape edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti, authors recount the myriad of ways they were taught sexual and reproductive health in schools and elsewhere as youth. As this edited collection demonstrates, Queer and trans* folks, people with disabilities, and anyone with a vulva are ignored, chastised, hyper- or asexualized, and rarely do pleasure, desire, consent, or exploration ever enter into the conversation. Instead, folks (like me) are told of the diseases and dangers associated with sex, and can label the vas deferens and fallopian tubes, but walk away from sex ed without 1) knowing how to actually have sex if you ever wanted to; 2) understand that sex is not always between men and women; and 3) that people with uteri are not necessarily fertile.
Norse and I are gender and sexuality educators. Everyday, we see the impact that the lack of education about gender and sexuality have for youth in high schools, young adults in university, and the people that grew up without proper sexual education and are now educators in the school system. We are following the new sex ed curriculum in Ontario closely, wrote a consent-based sexual education motion for the Manitoba NDP convention in 2015, and already bought Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth’s Sex is a Funny Word to share with our maybe gayby someday. We’re committed. We’re educated. We know our bodies really well.
Or so we thought.
We didn’t realize that getting pregnant would be so hard. I spent most of my life trying not to get pregnant, and then not caring about pregnancy at all, that I spent literally no time thinking about how to get pregnant. Now, with a stack of lesbian conception, fertility tracking, pregnancy, and birthing books, and basal body temperature thermometer, added to my usual stack of bedtime reads, I’m completely obsessed with my fertility, and utterly shocked at everything I don’t know about my body.
During our queer gayby home-visits last month, a friend (who is a doula) and her incredible partner (who happily bounced their 7 month-old wonder) told us that cervical checks were something they did together, and that since most of the emphasis is placed on the parent who is carrying, it made them feel in control and both part of the process.
We felt super empowered to follow this advice, and (obviously) educated, bought a speculum online, and totally failed. Like Pinterest-style failed.
Set up with a stack of books earmarked to cervix images, a speculum, lube, two iPhone flashlights, a mirror, kleenex, a towel, and a always-trying-to-cuddle-even-when-it-is-awkward puppy, we tried opening my vaginal walls and snapping a few images on the first day of my ‘fertile’ days (according to my app). We were hoping to get images like these:
Full of anxiety and anticipation, Norse fumbled around with the speculum (ultimately, putting it in upside down). There was too much lube, not enough hands to hold (now slippery) iPhones, and a very concerned dog.
We couldn’t see anything but the speculum. Nailed it.
Our pictures were terrible, and I was convinced that we were going to puncture my vaginal wall, which would render me infertile indefinitely. I couldn’t imagine having to go to the ER with a DYI pregnancy fail. I was terrified that the ‘real’ experts in pregnancy actually were experts, and that I might need medical intervention more than I wanted to accept. I cried.
I made chamomile tea, we watched an episode of The Fosters, skipped our usual karaoke night, and went to bed.
I returned to my copy of The Essential Guide to Lesbian Conception, Pregnancy and Birth the next evening and we tried again. The second time I took many deep breaths (and channeled the “loose and light” mantra of my yoga instructor), lied on the edge of the bed, used the macro setting of an old(er) camera, put the speculum in with handles facing up, pushed my pelvic floor down, and we saw my cervix. It looked open, soft, and fertile.
Two days later, and right on time according to my chart, my left side ovary ‘popped.’
Bodies can tell us incredible things when we are listening. I’m finding it very hard to listen to a body that I was taught was shameful and dangerous. It requires unlearning and relearning about ones body, and radically reconceptualizing sex, sexuality, fertility, ovulation, menstruation, and controlling pregnancy. Fertility tracking is powerful (no, it is NOT the rhythm method), and given our patriarchal and misogynist culture, I understand why is it not taught to folks with uteri. It’ll be one of the first things I teach in my next class on sex positivity.