“Are you helping mama with her errands today?” the grocery clerk asked my son at the check-out.
“Mummy, not mama,” Nate corrected, emphasising the last syllable of each word. At three and a half, he is quite the helper. He continued to transfer containers of Greek yogurt from our trolley to the conveyer belt. Mummy and Mama are not interchangeable terms in our house. He has one of each, and it was plainly obvious—to him—that he was shopping with his Mummy, not his Mama.
“I see,” said the clerk. She seemed amused by his precision. Nate was actually making a few distinctions about our family: the title of the parent he was with, and the fact that he had another female parent at home. Matter-of-factly, he was coming out as having a same-sex headed family.
Even before Nate could call us by name, my partner Jamie and I wanted titles that would differentiate us from one another. “Mummy A” and “Mummy J” were our first attempt, but they felt too cumbersome and too similar. Surely in the middle of the night, we would both insist that the other was being requested by the little voice calling out from down the hall. So, we did what any egalitarian couple would do: we flipped a coin and assigned titles. The nickel landed heads up. I became Mummy and Jamie, Mama.
It wasn’t the first time Jamie and I faced a naming dilemma. When we got married, there were no etiquette manuals to suggest what to do—not that we necessarily would have listened to the advice anyway. We both had last names that were mispronounced more often than they were said correctly. Together, the names would have been a hyphenated disaster. We opted for neither name and became the Davis family, in honor of my great-grandmother, a loving matriarch with a name no one else was carrying on. At 99, she died the year we got engaged.
Through our intentional choices about names, we defined ourselves, both within our family as parents and beyond our home as a family. Nate’s clarification at the grocery store pleased me. He wanted us to be seen and known accurately. I share his wish and often feel dismayed that it doesn’t come easily.
Earlier this year Jamie and I welcomed a second child—a daughter—into our family. I had given birth to Nate and, using the same sperm donor, Jamie carried Charlotte. Jamie opted to have her prenatal care, labor, and delivery at a birth center with an adjacent hospital. After meeting several midwives, we followed their recommendation of “primary midwifery” and selected one midwife to see throughout the pregnancy. Our midwife’s knowledge, candor, and irreverent humor made her a great fit for us.
In other encounters, we were not so lucky. As we prepared to become a family of four, we felt unseen yet again. It was beginning to feel like a rite of passage with each major event in our lives. One of the first slights came from our health insurance. A couple months into the pregnancy, a bill came in the mail for all of the prenatal visits to date. How could this be? We had a great policy with 100% coverage for maternity care. Their explanation: maternity care is not covered for males. Huh? As it turns out, only subscribers check a box to indicate their gender on the enrollment form. Since I was the subscriber and checked off female, my spouse was assumed to be male, and hence, “his” maternity care was not covered. It was quite a mess of needless paperwork to straighten out (no pun intended).