Beware, if you pick up Double Pregnant: Two Lesbian Moms Make a Family by Natalie Meisner and you’re at all at the stage in your life where you’re beginning to feel the baby fever. I spent a good portion of the time reading this book thinking “Oh my god, my eggs are running out!!!” That said, Nova Scotia native Natalie Meisner and her wife Viviën’s story is ultimately a happy and successful one, despite their fairly late start in the baby game, so it’s an encouraging read in that way. Just, you know, be forewarned about the possible ovary pangs.
Meisner’s writing is somewhere between unadorned and ornate, which I really enjoyed. She does a great job setting the scene for some of the crazy adventures she and Viviën end up going on in the pursuit of a known sperm donor. (Because Viviën is a woman of colour who was adopted into a white family, it’s really important for them to find a donor who can have a relationship with their kids, so they forgo the anonymous sperm option). For instance, after another unsuccessful “date” with a potential donor, Meisner writes: “I … felt like the only strike-out at some bizarre reproductive Sadie Hawkins dance.” Overall, the experience is punctuated with “moment[s] where truth just shoulders fiction aside and dashes over the finish line of life’s race toward the bizarre.”
The joyful, hopeful writing about their discussions about and wishes for their future children was my favourite part of the book, I think. Like this:
“We have discussions late into the night about how we can best navigate these uncharted waters. On the one hand our discussions are practical: What friend can we turn to for a favour such as this? And dreamy on the other hand: We’ll teach them three languages, they’ll have two passports and the world will be their international oyster. We picture ourselves courtside at all their games. As basketball players ourselves, we take it as an article of faith that our children will want to play too. We’ll try to open the world up for them but also allow them to make their own mistakes. We’ll teach them the value of hard work, of kindness, and the importance of the social contract.”
Later, after she’s actually pregnant, Meisner writes to her unborn child, reflecting on her writing practice: “How could I have ever thought that to write you have to lock yourself away from all that is organic? You can’t. Now, I know that you can’t, and any attempt to sequester yourself from the world is both fruitless and misguided. This is the very stuff of feeling and of books. The very stuff of life itself.”
I also loved this beautiful and simple line about Viviën: “Suffice it to say that the first time she looked at me my future began remaking itself around her. I knew I could never let her go.”
Things get a little less hopeful as the journey to find a donor continues. It was a window into a strange world that I hadn’t really thought much about, to be honest. How bizarre to meeting with these strange men you find on sperm donation websites (they have those??) for these kind of date-like things where after small talk you get right to asking someone to ejaculate in a sterile cup for you. As you can imagine, some of the men offering their “services” aren’t doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.
It’s no spoiler to tell you that eventually both women get pregnant at the same time, which actually doesn’t end up being as crazy as it sounds (you know, relatively speaking). Meisner has this to say about the exquisite vulnerability of pregnancy:
“To let yourself want something. No … someone. To really want someone … leaves you absolutely no idea of how to keep going with your life if they are not in it, and it is terrifying. It’s like admitting you are in love without knowing if you’re loved in return.”
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I don’t get to read a lot about the east coast, and I was particularly pumped to discover Meisner is from a small town on the south shore of Nova Scotia, an area I’ve spent a bunch of time in because my ex is from there. I could really picture their old rickety house by the ocean! Everything I’ve said so far notwithstanding, I do have a bone to pick with this book. It’s unfortunately something that coloured a lot of the rest of the book for me after reading that section.
So, at one point the women are being referred to a maternity doctor, and they’re kind of hoping this doctor might be a lesbian. After meeting her and seeing that she’s wearing some kind of ballet flats with little bows on them, Meisner makes a short comment to the effect of “no lesbian would ever wear those shoes.” As a queer feminine woman, I was super offended by this supposed off-hand remark. Actually, it was the fact that it was supposed to be a funny, flippant comment that really bothered me. This is exactly the kind of insidious sexist and anti-feminine shit that made me feel like I couldn’t be feminine when I came out. Like, I couldn’t be the kind of woman I already was and also be queer. There are plenty of lesbians and bisexual women who would wear those kind of shoes—THEY’RE CALLED FEMMES. Duh. I don’t know why I even have to point this out. And saying it’s supposed to be funny and that someone who says something like that doesn’t really mean it is no excuse.
We as communities of queer women really need to work on the fact that femininity doesn’t read as queer and how incredibly fucked up and misognynist it is that our communities are so masculine-centric. I hate to end this review on such a negative note for an otherwise lovely book, but this issue is too close to home and has had too many really hurtful consequences on my life not to highlight it. Thoughts about this, anyone else?