The other night, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I was interviewed on an internet radio show along with three other lesbian/ bisexual romance writers. During the course of the show, a listener wrote in to ask if I planned to have athletes in all of my books, given that my first novel, Solstice, is about soccer players and my second, Leaving L.A., features a jogger.
“Not everyone I write about is an athlete,” I answered. “But we are kind of sports junkies in our family.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, my wife Kris and I fall into the Sporty Spi—I mean, Sporty Lesbian category. We met twenty years ago playing soccer for our college team, fell out of touch for a number of years, and then got back in contact through involvement with a non-profit women’s soccer organization. At the time we resumed our friendship, Kris was a college soccer coach in California while I was working for a software company in Seattle, playing rec soccer three times a week, and writing for the non-profit that led us back to one another. Soccer is the reason Kris and I met, the reason we came back into one another’s lives, and, quite literally, the reason we fell in love.
Quick aside here: For anyone who recognizes certain similarities between the plot of Solstice and my real-life relationship with my wife, there is in fact some overlap. But the thing is, I finished the first draft of Solstice a year before Kris e-mailed me to see if that was really my byline on the women’s soccer newsletter she subscribed to. This means Solstice was in near-final shape two full years before Kris invited me to be her assistant coach, an invitation that led to us shacking up embarrassingly quickly. We didn’t even need a U-Haul, that ultimate lesbian cliché—we were already living together before we started dating.
It’s probably not surprising, either, that we have a sports package in addition to basic cable so that I can DVR English Premier League soccer matches, or that we usually have sports contests of all sorts—football, basketball, tennis—archived on our DVR, or that we have actually watched curling on television, or that one of the mutually agreed-upon highlights of our lives so far was attending the Winter Olympics in nearby Vancouver, BC, where we were lucky enough to see Apolo Ohno win a medal in speed-skating.
Why am I telling you about our sports addiction? To provide context for a recent experience in our childbirth class. Now, let me just say upfront that I wasn’t thrilled to be taking a childbirth class from a straight woman with four other couples, all straight–no offense intended to the heterosexuals out there. Anyway, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve (shocking, I know), so Kris had to deal with me stomping around the house each Tuesday night before class grumbling about our teacher’s pedagogical failings and the annoying class schedule. I mean, who offers a two-hour birth class at dinner time? Come on, man.
I like to think of myself as fairly self-aware, but we were a few weeks in to the five-week course before I understood that I wasn’t really brooding over my pedagogical differences with the instructor or the interruption in our dinner routine. What was bothering me was that all the other couples in the room were made up of a mother and a father both presumably biologically related to their baby. Meanwhile, I was the only woman in the room who wasn’t a “real” mother, and there was no way to hide this fact.
My sense of non-biological mom otherness was reinforced each time the instructor deemed the act of giving birth a woman’s most sacred life experience. While I would argue long and hard with anyone who tries to claim that we’re in a post-feminist culture (or post-racial, for that matter), I do believe we’ve progressed far enough that a childbirth instructor in 2011 should know better than to equate womanhood with motherhood. I’m not trying to say that having a baby isn’t a sacred experience. I’m just saying that while womanhood may be a prerequisite for biological motherhood, the reverse is definitely not the case.
And yet, despite my weekly worry fest, my moodiness rarely lasted past the car ride to the birth center. During class, I chimed in with stories and questions as much as the next spouse as, together, we learned what to expect from the stages of birth, watched video after video of women having babies (desensitization, anyone?), and practiced stretching and massage techniques to relieve pain during contractions. The instructor managed to impart quite a bit of information in only ten hours of meetings. Without the class, I might not have known there was more than one stage of labor, or that babies instinctively turn their shoulders as they leave the birth canal, or that people save their placenta and make herbal tea from it or—seriously—fry it up for dinner.
During the next-to-last class, we started the evening’s lesson with a game. Instead of simply sitting in place for two hours while the instructor lectured and my stomach growled impossibly loudly, we were offered an interactive challenge. At first I was psyched. But as the teacher proceeded to explain the rules of the game, my excitement waned. Basically, Kris and I would be competing against the other couples in the room to see who knew more about each other. A newlywed game of sorts, the instructor explained, only instead of such inane topics as your husband’s favorite meal or your wife’s idea of the most romantic date ever, we would be judged on our answers to a series of questions about (you guessed it) childbirth.
You may be wondering why my Sporty Lesbian side wasn’t positively aflutter at this chance to compete. In hindsight, I think it was that I already felt conspicuous as the only lesbian dad (a term I’m borrowing from Polly Pagenhart, author of the Lesbian Dad Blog) in the room. Only a week earlier at the beginning of class our instructor had led off her list of ways to naturally induce childbirth with “sex.” Then she paused, looked at Kris and me, and added, “This doesn’t apply to you two, of course, because I’m talking about irritation of the cervix.” I actually closed my eyes, but not before I saw every other eye in the room hone in on us, the lone lesbians in a room full of straight people. Fresh from that experience, I think I was loath for us to become the center of attention anytime soon.
For the non-newlywed game, the mom-to-be had to answer each question the way she thought her partner would while the partner simultaneously wrote their own answer on a separate note card. In other words, Kris had to predict my responses while I had to choose answers I thought she would expect me to give. There were six questions in all: how confident was I in my ability to support her during labor; which of us tended to deal with stressful situations better; on what area of her body did Kris prefer not to be touched; what would I would bring to the birth that would help see me through; what thing or experience did Kris not want to have at the birth; and what worried me most about the birth process.
I’m not going to tell you our individual answers, only that we rocked the game’s world—out of the five couples present, we were the only ones to answer every single question correctly. Or, rather, to go six for six in matching each other’s answers. Heck, yeah. That’s what I’m talking about.
An hour and a half later, as we walked outside and crossed the parking lot, I glanced sideways at Kris. This was our first moment alone since the end of the non-newlywed game, and I wondered if she was thinking what I was. She looked back at me and held up her hand for a high five. Make it seven for seven, baby.
“We totally won,” I said, slapping her palm. “Crushed it.”
“Yeah we did,” she said, and smiled happily at me.
For the record, Kris says we shouldn’t be embarrassed we trumped even the most clichéd of rushed lesbian beginnings by living together before we became a couple. Because if you think about it, we won that one, too.