When I first decided to have a baby I’d just been dumped. My girlfriend had left me for someone else, and had left me in an alleyway in the back streets of Newtown in a blubbering mess. A week earlier she’d told me she wanted to have a baby, but that plan seemed to have been dumped too, along with me. I don’t blame her really. I was a pain in the arse to be with back then, and not the greatest girlfriend in the world. But hey. There I was, about to turn 30, and watching my baby plans go up in smoke along with my relationship.
I’d always wanted to have a baby. It was almost an obsession really, and in a roundabout way I even ended up writing an entire PhD thesis on the topic, so I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a breakup get in my way. I was always going to need to use a donor, due to a distinct lack of sperm in my partner’s pants, so doing it on my own wasn’t too far a leap to make. For some reason though, ever since I’d come out at the age of 19, I’d never once considered how hard it might be to make a baby. The first hurdle was finding some sperm. Considering how tiny an amount you need to grow a baby, and considering how many people produce it, I had a surprisingly hard time finding anyone to give me some. Partly because most of my friends were queer women or trans men, but also partly because other people kept quite literally cock-blocking me..I wanted to use a known donor so that my child could know who they were biologically related to, but several people in a row turned me down because their partners (or even ex-partner in one case) weren’t so keen on the idea. So I cast the net wider. I asked my sister if she knew anyone, I asked my mum for ideas, I even asked someone who knew someone I knew and who lived on the other side of the world. But eventually the right person turned up right under my nose, and after a few heavy conversations about expectations and donor agreements, which were even more awkward than a series of sober first dates, we got round to doing the business.
Not fucking. Don’t be disgusting. Legally that’s a really dangerous way to conceive, because the courts view both parties involved in penis-in-vagina conception to be the legal parents, not to mention the prospective risk of STDs and STIs. No, we started doing home insemination. I found an article online and did everything that it suggested, including resorting to some hilariously heteronormative porn in order to achieve the desired orgasm to (theoretically) make my cervix contract and suck all that sperm up into my womb, but none of it worked. So against my wishes I ended up in a fertility clinic. Some people prefer to use clinics for their…clinicalness. They find the whole home insemination process a bit too icky, or feel it requires an intimate connection with their donor that they’d rather avoid. Some people also prefer to use anonymous donors for these same reasons. For those who want more information about the process of getting pregnant, for those who don’t have a working uterus, or access to one, and for those who are looking for other ways to make their rainbow family, there are a heap of resources on various ways to get pregnant as well as other options such as surrogacy, fostering, and adoption on the Rainbow Families Queensland website.
As a solo parent by choice some things were really lonely for me. Pregnancy and birth is very centred around hetero couples, neither demographic of which applied to me. Going to all the fertility and midwife appointments alone also kinda sucked, so I’d often take a friend or my sister along for moral support. But while I wasn’t looking for anyone to co-parent with I still had a good go at dating while up the duff.
Once my baby was born, I stopped being able to go to queer parties and performance nights and film nights and basically anything that wasn’t on at 10am in the morning in a fenced-in park. But other worlds opened up to me—I was on parental leave with no partner to tie me down so I bought a polka-dot teardrop caravan and took off around Australia for six months with my bub. I was the happiest I’d ever been, and even though the baby couldn’t talk I had someone I loved deeply to share all of the fantastic experiences with, and my life and heart felt very full.
Around this time I decided to leave Sydney and move to the bush in Queensland to live near my parents. My toddler was teething and I hadn’t slept in months, and help was hard to come by in the big smoke, everyone being busy with work and partners and parties. The change of pace fitted my new lifestyle, but regional Australia is generally pretty straight, and I had huge concerns that I was making a choice between community and support. So I did what anyone in my situation would do, and I started Rainbow Families Qld. I’d like to pretend it was to provide support and advocacy for LGBTQIAP+ parents like myself, but really it was so I could make some friends. I can’t recommend finding your local rainbow families group enough. There’s organisations in Qld, NSW, and Vic, and other states have more grassroots versions that you’ll find if you do a bit of digging around. In Qld we run playgroups for parents of kids under 5 (these groups are as much for the parents as the kids and will save your sanity when you’re sleep deprived and feeling isolated, so turn up at any point, even before the baby is born). There’s weekend meetups and social events, camping trips, Pride floats, and more. It’s SO important to look after your mental health. Forget the organic baby food and the cloth nappies and the gender-neutral bibs—as a queer parent finding your community is THE MOST important thing you can do in order to be a good parent.
Advocating for your family is also a very important role you’ll need to take on as your child gets older. Your kids will need you to be their ally in the playground, at kindy, at school, and with their friends’ parents. This means being open about your family structure where safe and comfortable, so that they don’t have to do this for themselves. It means modelling pride in front of your children, taking them to events where there’s other kids with families just like theirs, and talking freely with them from the very beginning about their conception stories so that there are no hidden secrets or shame. Rainbow Families Qld has also developed a brilliant childcare resource to help you to explain your family situation to your child’s educators so that you don’t have to do it all yourself.
Now I’ve got a four-year-old I sometimes question my decision to have kids. Everyone will take great pleasure in telling you how much bloody hard work it is to be a parent. They’re right. You stand to lose a lot—connection to community, identity, independence, sleep, sex, sanity. Of course you gain a lot too, and these same people will tell you how nothing feels better than holding your child in your arms, blah blah blah, or hearing them say “I love you”. All of this is true. It’s also true that parenting isn’t for everyone, and that there will be days when you wish you hadn’t done it. I felt like that last night when my partner and I really wanted to fuck but my child refused to go to sleep til nearly 10.30pm. And then my partner’s baby woke up and he had to go and chest-feed, and that was the end of that. However I’m writing this right now while I wait outside the fertility clinic to do an embryo transfer, trying for a second baby, so clearly I’m either deeply masochistic or slightly in denial about how much I actually do enjoy being a parent.
Holly Zwalf is a queer solo parent by choice who lives in the bush in regional Queensland with her wild child. She’s a freelance writer, screenwriter, smutty spoken word artist, she’s got a PhD in queer feminist kink, and in her spare time (of which she has none) she’s the coordinator of Rainbow Families Qld.