Are two mums better than one?

A Family Affair
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The Independent Culture
Flis, 41, lectures in social sciences and Hazel, 40, is a nurse. They have lived together for the past 13 years and have two children. Both were fathered by a long-standing gay friend, Chris, who sees the children every day. While Lizzie, aged two, is too young to understand family arrangements, five-year-old Jamie is starting to question why he has two mummies and a daddy

Flis's story

We thought a lot about having children as a lesbian couple but we would not have gone ahead unless we had known other couples in the same situation. We felt it was important for the children to know there were other families like ours. It also felt important for the children to have someone they could call dad, so they wouldn't spend their lives searching endlessly for some idealised father figure.

At the moment Jamie is a fairly typical boy. He loves playing with guns and swords and Lizzie is beginning to play with dolls.

Whatever else we bring to parenting, we haven't got round to gendered behaviour.

We don't censor ourselves at home so Jamie knows the words gay and lesbian but he has never used them. I don't think he would make much sense of them. Sexual orientation doesn't mean anything to a child of his age.

I think young children tend to see adults only in relation to themselves but he is starting to notice different family arrangements. He doesn't say "two mummies are best", but then he doesn't say: "I want to live with a mummy and a daddy."

Jamie has asked about babies and how they are made. We have told him men have seed and women have eggs and you have to mix the two together to make a baby. And that is what his daddy did for us.

When he started school last year, we told the headteacher and his reception teacher about our family set-up and they were fine. We talked to his new teacher again in September because I wanted to impress on him the importance of reflecting the whole range of family forms during lessons - whether it is single parents, extended families or gay parents. I don't want Jamie to feel excluded because his family does not fit the "norm". Jamie has made new friends at school and so we have had to "come out" to their parents. On the whole, we haven't had any negative reactions.

We have never had a case of a child not being allowed to come and play. You could be paranoid and worry if someone says their child is busy when you ask them round, but I really don't get that feeling.

Some heterosexuals think it is wrong for gays or lesbians to have children and say it is not "fair" on the children. My answer to them is - you are the people who can make it fair. The responsibility lies with society not to discriminate. The question they need to ask is whether someone is a good parent. Otherwise what they are saying is that they cannot see beyond our sexuality.

At this point, I can honestly say that I won't mind how the children turn out as long as they are confident and happy in their sexuality. If they feel they are gay or lesbian, having us as parents might help. But it also might make them confused about who they are doing it for, so it is very important to let them work it out for themselves.

Hazel's story

I wanted to have children from the age of two. I was about that age when my mother fostered a little girl who was younger than me. I thought we had her for keeps and I was so upset when she had to leave.

I always imagined I would get married and have children once I found Mr Right. When I was 25, I fell in love with a woman and thought, "oh no, this means I can't have children". For some of my family, it certainly meant I couldn't and shouldn't have children. But a friend told me lots of lesbian couples had children and I thought, thank goodness, my life is not over. When Flis and I talked about having children, plan A was we would have one baby each. I tried first and became pregnant after about a year. But I had a miscarriage at 10 weeks and then an ectopic pregnancy. I was told I only had a very slim chance of getting pregnant unless it was with fertility treatment.

That seemed unnecessary when Flis was willing to try for us. I would have liked to have experienced having a baby but this is a very close second best.

We do worry about what it will be like for the children. When Jamie started school, we had to fill in a form about who had parental responsibility. I have a residence order through the courts so we put all our names down and made it clear to the school what the set-up was.

The funny thing is Jamie notices if children haven't got a father - he finds that more remarkable than having two mothers. A lot of the children's friends, as soon as they cotton on to our family, said they want ed two mummies too - to them, it is just two of something you like. Jamie and Lizzie also know other children with two mothers so it is not that remarkable to them.

I don't think it is any easier for a heterosexual couple to explain to their children how they were conceived than it is to explain about artificial insemination. It may be easier for us because we can show ours the pot the sperm was in!

Some of our lesbian friends' children call them both mummy with their name after it. We were very unclear about what the children should call us but it just evolved by default. Jamie had a made-up name for me and then started calling me Hazel when he was about four.

I don't know what it will be like for our children when they are teenagers or in their early 20s. I just hope when they discover aspects of themselves, whether straight or gay, they will be able to fulfil themselves in a way that does not hurt them or anyone around them.

It can be a dreadful world for young people coming out. I've been researching the mental health care problems of young gays and lesbians and they are so vulnerable, with higher rates of attempted suicide and all sorts of other problems.

One of the worst things for them is the feeling that their life is over, that they cannot fulfil their aspirations, that they cannot have children, that they have no future.

As with all parents, I want my children's lives to be straightforward and without any extra burdens. But if I could take a pill tomorrow that would make me straight, I wouldn't - my life brings me a lot of joy.

INTERVIEWS BY GRANIA LANGDON-DOWN

Flis, Hazel and Chris tell their story in `Pink Parents', part of the `Modern Times' series to be broadcast tomorrow (Tuesday 1 Dec ) on BBC 2 at 9.30pm

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