tomorrow, 12 February 2013, is an important day here in France. tomorrow, the National Assembly (l’Assemblee nationale) is making their final vote on a bill that would give Froggy (little sun’s other mother) and me the right to marry. it may also give us the right to adopt. both of these rights will change our lives significantly, and we are both hoping that it passes, but i can’t help but feel angry that it’s taken so long….. now it’s too late, much too late for little sun.
despite what people on the other side of the pond seem to think, France is not a paradise of enlightenment and liberalism. yes, there is a system of socialized medicine that ensures health care for all, and no one goes into debt to pay their medical bills. and, yes, attitudes towards sex are more relaxed than they are back home. when it comes to gay rights, though, France lags far behind most of its European neighbors. ignoring completely the socially advanced Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands (where one *expects* gay marriage to be legal), we have our two neighbors on the Iberian peninsula who, despite being extremely Catholic, allow same sex marriage and adoption. the Belgians, too, are far in advance of the French, and the UK has just voted in full marriage equality.
here we have the PACS, a civil partnership that is open to all couples, straight or gay. our PACS makes it somewhat easier for me to stay in France with Froggy, but it does not bestow on us the same rights that married heterosexual couples have….it doesn’t even given us the same rights as PACSed heterosexual couples. we found this out when we started on our long journey to conceiving little sun.
in France, it is illegal for lesbians to receive reproductive assistance. yes, illegal. this means that we have no access to the doctors and sperm we need. my friends back in the States can order sperm and have it delivered to their homes, if they want, or to a doctor or midwife who performs an insemination. here, it’s impossible to order sperm, and any doctor offering inseminations could be subject to prosecution. when we were trying to create our family, we had two choices: find a man willing to donate in person or travel to another country where reproductive assistance is available to us. we ended up trying both routes. the first choice meant sifting through internet offers from all kinds of strangers… men who would donate only if it were done “the old-fashioned way”, men who refused any kind of STD test and men for whom Froggy and i were too old. we finally found the perfect donor, and for over a year, we both tried to get pregnant. our gynecologist was less than helpful, and we both began to wonder if our dream of having children would ever be realized. those were hard times, as month after month, we were faced with two bone-white pregnancy tests. sometimes, when the hormones were particularly high, one or both of us would cry, and Froggy would rail at the unfairness of it all. “i pay my taxes. i do my part,” she would say, followed by “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, mon cul.” you see, Froggy’s brother and his partner, a heterosexual couple that is Pacsed just like us, got all their fertility treatments, including IVF, for free. they went to the doctor a few kilometers from their house and got everything paid for by the same social security system that Froggy and i pay our taxes to. we had struggled for nearly two years, jumping hurdle after hurdle, doing at-home inseminations and dealing with a gynecologist who was either too scared or just unwilling to help us. we both felt defeated and angry at the system here for denying us the chance to be parents.
before we found our donor, we had talked about going to Spain or Denmark to get help, but both places involved rather expensive last minute airplane travel. our first inclincation was to head to our beloved Barcelona (where there are several well-known clinics), but the cost of fertility treatments in Spain is exorbitant. we thought about Belgium, but in recent years, the country’s fertility centers had been overrun with French lesbians and single women who were desperate for the reproductive help they couldn’t find in their own country. we’d heard there was now a sperm shortage and a two-year waiting list. we hadn’t even considered it as an option until i happen to watch a reality tv show about two French lesbians who cross the border for inseminations. the day after i made my first call to the Belgian clinic, Froggy and i were meeting with the doctors to discuss our treatment. four months later, i found out i was pregnant with little sun.
that is the first way that this country has worked against us as a family. (forgetting the fact that my straight friends who are married to French citizens don’t have to go through the yearly hassles that i do just to stay in the country with my partner.) we knew that with the new socialist government in power, marriage and adoption, and yes…maybe even the coveted access to reproductive assistance were in our near future. we worried a lot about this while i was pregnant with little sun. we knew that, as far as the French government was concerned, Froggy was a good as a stranger to our son. she would have no legal rights over him, and were anything to ever happen to me, my family would be able to come and take our child away. six months into my pregnancy, i phoned my father and stepmother and asked them to make sure that Froggy got custody of little sun if i died. i tried not to cry as i begged them to remember that she was his mother, too. my stepmother said they would even sign something if we needed them too, and i felt so much love and gratitude towards her in that moment. as worried as we were about things, we assumed that once this law passed, Froggy could just marry me and adopt little sun, and all our problems would be solved. at work, she wrote letters to her big bosses asking for the paternity leave that is accorded to all fathers when their partners give birth. she was ready to go even higher if her request were denied, but just weeks before little sun was born, the government changed the existing paternity leave into something that could be accorded to either sex. little by little, the battles were being won, and it looked like little sun would grow up in a world where both Froggy and i were recognized as his parents. it was too little, too late, though.
the day after Froggy and i held little sun as he left this world, two days after she held my hand as i pushed him into this world, my dear sweet wife had to make the trek from our hospital room to the town hall of the arrondissement where our son was born to declare his birth. had we been a straight couple, we could have declared his birth right there in the hospital within the three-day time frame dictated by law. had we been a straight couple, little sun would have had both our names on his birth certificate and Froggy’s last name as half of his. since we are a gay couple, though, the only way her name would appear anywhere, on any document, as a part of his short life was if she went in person to declare his birth. i honestly don’t know how she did it. i was still stunned and hurting, exhausted from his birth and devastated by his death, and i couldn’t imagine venturing out of that hospital room into a world that didn’t include my baby. but Froggy got up from the folding cot next to my hospital bed, showered and got dressed and walked to the town hall so that she wouldn’t be invisible in her own son’s life. her mother and father and best friend surrounded her as she made the trip, and i think they are the only things that kept her upright and breathing. on his birth certificate, little sun has only my last name. my name is listed next to mère and there is nothing next to père. at the very bottom, next to the word for “witness”, there is Froggy’s name. as far as the government is concerned, it is our only proof that she was there.
i don’t want to give you the wrong idea about the French people. the government and the people here are two different things. for the most part Froggy and i have been treated like any other couple, and we have been shown incredible love and kindness. our friends celebrated when they found out that we were expecting and mourned with us when we lost our little sun. we are not a married couple, however, since he died we’ve been told that the government will subsidize his funeral, give us free psychological counseling and even pay for us to go away if we think a vacation will help us in the grieving process. throughout my pregnancy, during my delivery and throughout little sun’s brief life, the hospital staff were friendly and kind to us, and we never felt that we were any different from the pairs of mothers and fathers we saw there. on the last day of little sun’s life, as we sat in the sad machine-filled room watching his swollen, mottled body slip away from us, Froggy told the pediatrician about the trip to the town hall she would have to make the next day. she was crying and her face was twisted with pain as she said, “it’s the only way my name will be anywhere. it’s the only proof we’ll have.” the doctor shook her head, leaned in close to Froggy and said, “you *are* his mother. look where you are and what you are doing right now. look at what you feel. no piece of paper can take that away from you. no one can say that you aren’t his mother.”
she was right, that beautiful soul of a doctor. Froggy was as much little sun’s “maman” as i was… as we both still are. the day i got my first postive pregnancy test, it was Froggy who started crying and snapping pictures of us and the test (and us with the test.) it was Froggy who made sure i got to appointments and had the right things to eat. it was Froggy who cried again the first time she felt little sun kicking inside my belly and who began planning the all-natural purées she would make for him when he was old enough for solids. she’s the one who stripped wall paper, repapered and then painted his room…the one who made sure we had everything we needed for his birth and his life at home with us. it’s Froggy who spent the night on the hard floor of the hospital when i had a false alarm 35 weeks into my pregnancy and Froggy who carried the groceries and everything else, who did the cleaning and the cooking and the takingcareofeverything when i could no longer move much because of my painful pelvis. when my back was hurting, Froggy would massage it and my huge belly. she packed all the hospital bags for the three of us, and on the day i went into labor, she drove me to the hospital. she held me when the contractions hit hard and brought me water-soaked kleenex to suck on when i was no longer allowed to drink. she told me again and again that i could do it, that i was strong and she said “crush my hand, go on crush it,” as she held up my head and i pushed and pushed. she saw little sun come out and laughed when she told me that he had hair. she cut his cord…and when they took his silent, still body out of the room, Froggy followed, ignoring the nurse who was telling her to just wait a minute. it is Froggy who first saw him wiggle and cry, Froggy who took that picture in my first post, Froggy who watched as they checked and tested him and Froggy who first held him in her arms as she brought him back to me. When she handed little sun to me for the first time, there was a look of such wonder on her face…of pure love and pride. later, when we thought he’d never stop crying, she rocked and ssshed him to sleep and i watched as my new little son slept in my wife’s arms. in that moment, my heart exploded with love for them both. my little sun and his mother.
in just a few hours, they will vote. in a few hours, they will decide whether Froggy and i will truly be considered family in the eyes of the law. in a few hours, they will decide whether both the mothers of little sun’s future siblings will be recognized. even if it’s too late for little sun, i hope we get that chance.