Miriam Ragen is a busy part-time working mum to sixteen-month-old Oliver, a happy and healthy little boy who loves to play with his digger. Miriam’s love and close bond with her beautiful son is clear to see, and while she is his mama, they are not biologically related.
“I refer to myself as Oliver’s mum and people understandably make assumptions about our relationship. It can cause confusion when I explain that yes, I am his mum, but no, we are not related. I have had to field some fairly strange and hurtful comments that can make me feel like I don’t belong in my own family.”
Oliver’s other mum and Miriam’s partner of more than 10 years, Kristy Williams, conceived and gave birth to Oliver from her egg and donor sperm by intrauterine insemination.
For colour consultant Miriam, it has been a long road to finding peace with her role as the non-biological parent since they first discussed trying for a family in 2013.
“I wanted to conceive first for a few reasons, namely that I was older than Kristy and also because I have some auto-immune conditions and polycystic ovaries. We registered with a local clinic in Newcastle and chose a male donor based on his good health record and cute baby picture.
“Because of my polycystic ovaries and a predisposition to blood clotting, I needed to take blood thinning medication and undergo IVF, which I found awful and really invasive. We went through two failed attempts to implant fertilised eggs and then decided we needed a to take a break from the stress and heartache.”
At the start of 2016, Kristy and Miriam felt ready to try again but this time Kristy offered to take a turn at conception.
“We chose to use the same male donor as I had two fertilised frozen embryos already in storage using the same donor. I was with Kristy at the clinic when she was inseminated via Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), which is thankfully a much simpler process than IVF. Unfortunately, it failed on the first attempt but we were lucky second time around.”
Before and during the ICSI process Miriam was feeling positive about their future family, but when Kristy fell pregnant, Miriam fell apart.
“I was excited because I wanted a family, but my feelings were complicated. I think many women who have tried and failed to have a baby would understand that I was emotional. I was jealous and I felt like my body had failed me.
"I also didn’t know where I belonged in the whole scenario. I felt like a third wheel and it didn’t help when people we mostly didn’t know, made insensitive remarks.”
Time and time again Miriam has had to explain that legally, she is Oliver’s parent. She is listed on the birth certificate and has been a part of his life for as long as Kristy has.
“What people don’t understand is that Kristy and I made decisions about him, his name and his donor before he was even conceived. We were equally invested in bringing him into the world, yet I could not carry him.”
When Oliver was born in early 2017, Miriam loved him instantly but her feelings of insecurity took a few months to dissipate.
“When I held him in my arms for the first time, I was so happy. I felt that maternal bond in spite of not having the endorphins or the oxytocin hormones that Kristy had.
"I also felt so much love for Kristy after seeing her give birth to him, she was so strong and stoic and I was so proud of her. Funnily enough, I wasn’t jealous of the birthing part at all."
After two and a half months, Kristy went back to work as an accountant and Miriam took the lion’s share of maternity leave to care for Oliver, doing three-days-per-week with the help of her mum.
“As I spent more and more time caring for Oliver by myself, I began to feel much more confident and like his mum. He needed me and so did Kristy - we were a team. As the days, then weeks and months went past and I was busy caring and working, my primal need to fall pregnant went away. I realised I could still be a ‘mum’ without having to carry a baby - Oliver was solid proof.”
The recent ‘yes’ vote to legalise same-sex marriage in Australia meant a lot to Miriam as while the couple are not planning to marry, Miriam believes it has helped people to embrace family units such as theirs.
“It was a huge deal for us and very emotional the day that the ‘yes’ vote passed. We just want to be seen as a ‘normal’ family, both legally and in the eyes of those around us. There is still work to be done for people to truly understand how our family dynamics work, but we feel a lot more celebrated and welcome. We’re not thinking about getting married any time soon but at least we now have the option."
Miriam and Kristy are both now starting to consider a sibling for Oliver and with two eggs still frozen, there is a chance that Miriam will revisit IVF.
“Second time around there will be less pressure on me to conceive because I know Kristy is willing to try again and I am so much more comfortable with that now. At the end of the day, we’re lucky to have Oliver and if we do have a sibling for him, I hope to be a lot less worried about how he or she is conceived, and more focused on being there with the love and the support when our baby is born.”