It’s been a little over a year since I published my book and released it into the wider world.
Writing a book before the age of 30 was a pretty major life achievement for me. It was one of my bucket-list goals.
I just never thought my first book would be a childhood sex education resource! But it was such a worthwhile undertaking.
At the start of my teaching career, I felt held back from anything other than teaching. I felt pressured into giving 100% of my energy, 100% of the time and I burnt out. I didn’t feel any sense of encouragement for taking on anything outside of school – in fact, it was actively discouraged on many occasions.
In fact, I think releasing a book on the topic of conception in lesbian families could have cost me my job or at the least, gotten me into a lot of trouble. The environments I was in early in my career were very conservative with a lot of religious freedom to discriminate. The fear and anxiety were real.
Before I left that environment, I spoke to someone who had donor-conceived children, but she hadn’t told them. There was fear about it ‘getting out’ and what her children may experience if others knew about it.
I understood the concern, but I think this approach only protects the parents. The psychological outcomes for those children when they eventually find out (and they will), have the potential to be dire and distressing.
That was when I knew I had to write my book. I wanted my son’s story to be filled with pride and openness. Even if he never shares that part of his life with others, I wanted him to know.
After all – donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is infertility, IVF conception, or having two mums. Some people choose not to talk about their fertility journey to others because they feel it is highly personal – and that is okay. An individual’s choice to keep it private still doesn’t mean they are ashamed or that they should be.
I wanted to write a book about my future child’s life and conception, even if it made people uncomfortable. I knew my child would deserve to know his story, whether people liked it or not.
I changed jobs at the end of Term 2, 2017 – but I had the two week holiday period to fill, so I realised that was my time to create.
The first draft was terrible. God-awful. Too many words, not enough story. Too much awkwardness.
So I went back to the drawing board and thought about what it was I was trying to do, and why? What would I want from a book like this, if I were purchasing it myself?
- A narrative – to connect with a child at their level
- A scientifically accurate explanation – no pet names or silliness around body parts and sex
- Inclusivity – to see various reproductive situations represented, including insemination, and IVF
- Cute illustrations…. of course
The thing is, I am not an illustrator – I just like writing. So I contacted Anil Tortop at Tadaa Book who illustrates in a range of styles, and once I had a draft I was happy with, we got started on bringing it to life.
I will spare you the experience of looking at any of my drafts, but understand that by the time the book went to publication, it was on version 18. Thank goodness for patient publishers.
When I looked back and stared at my creation for the very first time, I realised that I had achieved what I needed to.
It represents my child’s experience. Children benefit when they see themselves or people like them in books and other forms of media. Knowing their life is important enough to be represented bridges that divide between child and world – through that, they know they are not alone. The research in this area is preliminary, but ask any teacher to give you an anecdotal experience and I almost guarantee you they will have more than one. Children can’t be what they can’t see.
It normalises the idea of IVF, donor conception, and living in a same-sex family. If you try to teach a child about sex education but their conception has to be explained as an add-end, it sends a message that their differences can’t be talked about, or that it makes people uncomfortable. If it is seen as ‘just another method’ or ‘just another way to bring children into loving families’, this creates a sense of normal. Which is great, because I feel our lives are pretty standard, even with all the differences.
It casts my wife as a main character in the story of our child’s life. I want my wife to experience equality in all ways as a parent and if she is not a main character in the story of our child’s conception, then she becomes less important – she is as capable of raising our son as I am and gets the same sense of joy and challenge from him as I do.
It works towards making us ‘just another Australian family.’ I know we’ve got a long way to go with this one, but casting our life stories on the periphery (which they have been for a long time), makes us seem vastly different to other families. The more we are seen on the bookshelf, the more conversations we can start and the more we will become ‘just another character in the story of Australian public life in 2019.’
I do feel that Australia is mostly inclusive, with some exceptions. I am fortunate enough to live in a very progressive postcode and for the last year and a half, have worked in secular, progressive environments that have included me for all I am.
However, when I introduce the fact that I am in a same-sex relationship in conversations with new people, that part of my identity can sometimes take over. So I am no longer the friend, the colleague, the parent, the new acquaintance. Once I’ve dropped ‘wife’ into the conversation, I then get to field silly questions like, ‘Who is the man? How did you make a child? When did you tell your parents you were gay? How’s that weather…. etc.’
My vision is that when I introduce this part of my life, it doesn’t become my persona.
Yeah, we have a long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I have great hope. In order to get there, we need to start more conversations, write more stories, and spray those into the world like cans of Fanta that have been shaken too hard.
Even if people don’t like it.