GET TO KNOW… ASquaredMamaSquared
Allia is a Senior Producer at Verizon Media and Alison is a High School English and Drama Teacher. They are mamas to Kingston Grey, 20 months old.
Very excited to share this feature on our family, from the website Ani and Wren (a maternity-wear and baby store in Toronto, Ontario). All photos are by Trish Mennell.
TALK TO US ABOUT YOUR FERTILITY JOURNEY — CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT THE PROCESS, THE CHALLENGES AND THE SURPRISES? HOW DID YOU DECIDE THAT ALISON WOULD BE THE ONE TO CARRY THE BABY?
AC: As a queer couple, we knew that we wouldn’t have what some people see as a conventional approach to pregnancy. We both had an interest in carrying and, for us, deciding what donor process we would use helped to shape our decisions. We wanted our children, if we had several, to be biologically related to one another, so we had to explore some different options. Ultimately, fate decided some things for us.
AM: Because I was older we decided that I would try carrying first. We quickly encountered lots of surprises and challenges. The fertility industry wasn’t as progressive as we had hoped. Forms we filled out didn’t have options like “no man in the relationship” which led to one of our first intake forms saying, “Diagnosis — same-sex couple.” Additionally, we found ourselves having to educate people, including medical staff at various clinics and even at the hospital, about the specifics of how a same-sex couple comes to find themselves expecting. One of these trips to the hospital happened after my second miscarriage. Getting pregnant was easy for me, keeping the baby was the hard part. After two years of trying, I decided to take a break for my mental and physical health.
AC: That meant that I was on deck. With me carrying, we chose a donor with a similar background as Allia, Jamaican-Irish; it was really important to us, as an interracial couple, that our kids have a similar racial background. It worked out pretty beautifully. Our son looks like both of us and we love that whomever is with Kingston is automatically assumed to be the mother. Obviously we both ARE the mother, but you’d be surprised how many people ask bold, often ignorant questions. A lot of people are still not used to seeing children with two moms, or even with different backgrounds from one or both parents (whether that be multi-racial or blended families, adoption, surrogacy, etc). Of course, we are just happy that he is healthy and ours.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE HOW YOU FELT WHEN YOUR SON WAS BORN? WHAT WERE SOME OF THE EMOTIONS THAT YOU FELT? HOW DID THE FIRST “100” DAYS GO (OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE MEMORABLE 4TH TRIMESTER)?
AM: You really can’t prepare yourself for the moment of seeing your child for the first time. I was overwhelmed with excitement and gratitude for our midwives and our doula. But I was also fully fearful of the realness of motherhood, and just stunned at Alison’s strength during labour. The first 100 days included moments where we’d look at each other and joyfully say, “we have a baby!” or “we’re parents!” There were also lots of conversations around poop.
AC: I felt everything! Literally, too, since the epidural only worked on one side of my body. I was so in love from the minute I knew I was pregnant, then even more once he was born. You think you love your partner, then you meet your child and you think “not like THIS.” It’s terrifying to care so much about something, and anxiety-provoking to love and want to protect this tiny, fragile little person. I didn’t know how I would do with “mothering” to be honest. I love teaching high school aged kids, but babies were a bit of a mystery, so I was relieved at how much I enjoyed it. He was a very happy baby, so that definitely helped.
WE LOVE THE NAME KINGSTON GREY – IS HE NAMED AFTER ANYONE?
AC: It was a natural pick for us and we agreed quickly on his name. I grew up with a cottage on Wolfe Island, spending much of my childhood in Kingston, Ontario. Allia was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and those roots hold a deep significance for her. His name reflects our two worlds and how he is a blend of both. With a mouthful of a last name, we wanted a short, strong middle name. I’m a big fan of Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), with one letter changed, it’s a nod to queer literary history.
AS A GAY INTERRACIAL COUPLE, HOW DO YOU PLAN ON ADDRESSING ISSUES OF RACE, RACISM AND SEXUALITY WITH YOUR SON. WE KNOW HE IS STILL YOUNG, BUT HAVE YOU THOUGHT ABOUT THE CONVERSATIONS YOU WILL HAVE?
AM: For a lot of individuals who identify as BIPOC or are part of the LGBTQ+ community, we find ourselves talking about race, racism and sexuality frequently. As a couple, we have always been open about our fertility journey and our queer identity. And I don’t shy away from conversations around my multi-racial identity. We are conscious of the images Kingston sees, the media he might consume and we recognize the importance of diversity and celebrating difference in all aspects of our life. My hope is that he will feel we have created a safe, brave space for him to be curious about these issues so we can have open, honest conversations.
AC: In some ways those choices and conversations are just a natural part of raising a child. You reflect what you value in the choices you make. And the discussions that might seem awkward or difficult become second nature when you are proud of who you are, who you love and your heritage. Removing shame from the equation really opens up the possibility of raising a child in a deliberate, celebratory way; we hope to raise a little person who is gentle, thoughtful, courageous, open-hearted and with a generous spirit. He is growing in an incredible community of strong, vibrant people. He has great role-models and sees different cultures, sexualities and love all around him.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN COPING WITH THE CURRENT CLIMATE IN THE WAKE OF THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT. HAVE YOU FELT SUPPORTED BOTH PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY? WHAT HAVE YOUR WORK AND YOUR FRIENDS DONE THAT YOU HAVE FOUND ENCOURAGING?
AM: My commitment has always been to celebrate difference and drive diversity, inclusion and equity initiatives. Because of the positions I hold within my job and my volunteer work, I’ve found myself in daily conversations around race, anti-black racism and diversity or the lack of it. Cue the extreme exhaustion. I’ve learned to lean into the discomfort with these conversations and create a brave space for others to center courage, care and vulnerability over silence. It’s not easy. I’m not alone in feeling the weight of the opportunity to redefine our reality. I have an amazing support system around me, both personally and professionally, who continue to recognize my fluctuating needs during this difficult time. They’ve stepped up their allyship by listening to my experiences and educating themselves on the issues surrounding systemic racism. I’ve seen many start to self-examine their own privilege and move from ally to accomplice by taking actions to support the black community. I’m encouraged by all of this because the issues we are facing aren’t going to be solved in one or two meetings, one or two actions; however, we can start by listening, self-examining, and practicing allyship through continued actions and conversations. My hope is that this is a movement and not just a moment. When anti-racism isn’t trending, will you still be there?
AC: I am committed to making changes, looking at my own bias/privilege and using the power I am afforded as a straight-passing, cis, white woman to make changes and amplify the voices of those within marginalized communities. It’s an ongoing journey and a responsibility to fight for change. At work, I’m part of my union’s Rights and Equity Committee. At my school, I am the GSA advisor, and an Equity Lead, helping to plan and facilitate professional development for our staff, including anti-black racism forums. In my classroom, I explicitly embed diverse sexualities, gender and cultural representation in the media, social issues and discussions, but there is a huge gap in core literature, so I’m doing an inventory and working to enrich our courses with Black and Indigenous content. I’m excited for two upcoming summer PD sessions, a racial justice and anti-racist learning series, to build my capacity in effective allyship and dismantling systemic racism. I want our son to grow up to see that meaningful change is in our hands. I am seeing, more and more, that my board and my colleagues are talking about, but also prioritizing this work and it makes me feel very hopeful.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CHARITIES YOU SUPPORT, BOOKS THAT YOU ARE CURRENTLY READING OR MOVIES/SHOWS THAT YOU HAVE WATCHED THAT HAVE IMPACTED YOU?
AM: We are supporters of the Inside Out Film Festival, SickKids, as well as mental health and equity initiatives through both of our work and personal relationships. We try to support local, whenever possible.
AC: Both of us have been involved in creative projects with an amazing independent Toronto Publisher, With/out Pretend, whose work centers on the idea that “Feelings Can Be Art.” That really resonates with us. In addition to doing a collection and live readings called “On Mothering,” which we loved, they explore concepts of care, mental health and self-expression, featuring writers of colour, women, non-binary and often underrepresented authors and artists. We both have big stacks of books on our night tables; I just finished Empire of Wild, and I’m currently reading White Fragility, Wow, No Thank You and The Book of Joy.
AM: I’m juggling Well-Read Black Girl and A Brief History of Seven Killings. We just bought lots of exciting stuff for Kingston, including Hair Love, Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History, I Am Enoughand Red: A Crayon’s Story. Don’t even get us started on television or podcasts!
WE JUST CAME TO THE END OF PRIDE MONTH — WHAT DOES “PRIDE” MEAN TO YOU?
AC: I came out when I was sixteen and have celebrated every year since, almost always on Church Street. We took Kingston to Family Pride events last year and that sense of fierce pride, celebration and community is what I want to share with him. I have been so lucky to have unconditional support from my family and we want him, above all else, to know that our love for him is constant and unwavering. Raising a son, we think a lot about what kind of man he will become, but also recognize that he is an individual; whether he is gay, straight, bi, trans… our child will be secure in our love. We want him to see us actively celebrating all kinds of people and identities. To help pave the way, we make some pretty deliberate decisions; we don’t steer him towards stereo-typically masculine toys, clothes, haircuts or expression. He is as likely to hand us The ABCs of Equality, as Little Blue Truck; he has pink jungle-print leggings and a baseball cap; loves his black baby doll and his blocks. We want to leave all options open, to see where he wants to go and who he wants to be.
AM: My journey towards self-acceptance was challenging. Raised religious, I struggled with my identity for most of my life. I’ve come a long way to embrace all aspects of myself. Finding power in one part of my identity has helped me feel pride in the others. It’s hard to love all of yourself if one part is being pushed aside. Pride is also about helping others feel comfortable being them self. As a mother, I would never want my son to feel he couldn’t be his full, authentic self.
ANY LAST WORDS OF WISDOM OR ADVICE FOR OTHER MAMAS OUT THERE? IS THERE A QUOTE OR MANTRA YOU LIVE BY?
AM: These words, by Katherine W. Phillips, sum up my personal, professional and mom-mantra: “The environment I wish to create in all aspects of my life will be one where difference is normalized. If you create that kind of environment in your organizations, in your schools, in your families, you will find that the value of diversity is there for you to capture.”