Photographer and rainbow parent Mia McDonald was standing on the steps of the State Library of Victoria in November 2017 when the results of same-sex marriage plebiscite came in.
“I quickly realised that the vote was only 63 per cent,” she remembers. “That’s a really terrible result for people like us and our kids and our families.
“When you’re in a hetero-normatic relationship, you’re just accepted, that’s the norm. As a queer parent, you have to come out daily, weekly, all the time: to the school principal, to your kids best friend’s parents, to the Centrelink office. So the labour of that storytelling is real.
“But I could see that explaining different stories is a really great anchor for people to shift their perspective. And I decided I wanted to explore and share stories of different family units under the queer umbrella.”
So, McDonald began photographing and speaking to other rainbow families along the east coast of Australia. The result is the book Once In A Lullaby, and PRIMER has serialised some of the stories below.
Gavin, Tim, Finn and Evan
Gavin: Finn and Evan haven’t got to the stage of talking properly yet but they do seem to call us both Daddy at the moment. As I am sure is the same for others who have gone down the path of overseas gestational surrogacy, it took several years from that initial decision to become parents to the day it finally happened.
You have to put a huge amount of trust in people you’ve only just met and with everything happening so far away from you, you feel like you have very little control over all the things that have to happen to bring your child into this world. Each milestone you reach—whether it is the creation of the embryos, being matched with a surrogate, the embryo transfer, or the confirmation of pregnancy—is an emotionally charged event and all you can do is sit at home and wait for the (hopefully good) news to arrive via email.
I won’t lie, it was an extremely tough ride and it certainly tested our resolve, our patience, our desire to be parents, our finances, our relationship, and many other things too. However, as soon as that little bundle is placed in your arms, you immediately forget about all the difficulties you went through and are overcome with feelings of love, joy, and a little bit of panic too! We are proud of our family and want Finn and Evan be proud of their family too. Although their story is unique to them, the fact that they have two dads is not, and they should never be made to feel ashamed or awkward because of that.
Bethia, Nicole, Nina, Caspian, Annie and Tyrone
Bethia: I am Mum and Nicole is Mama. During the marriage survey we experienced a real sense of scrutiny and judgement like we never felt before in our 19years together. We had never really experienced negativity or felt like we couldn’t be open about ourselves (in Australia anyway) and hold hands, for example.
We had the rainbow sticker removed from our car whilst in our own ‘safe’ neighbourhood—which voted yes 76%. We felt like we had to shelter the kids from the news, talkback radio and junk mail.
We felt like the world had been opened up for people to have an opinion on our validity—which it had actually. After it was all over, our kids had a story or two that they had kept from us—such as the grade 3 kid who felt the need to tell our daughter that her dad had voted ‘no’. We didn’t feel much better when it was all over. 60% is shithouse.
Married life with four kids—especially as the teenage years advance on us—is mostly wonderful; a wild mix of breaking up fights, breaking up late night snack parties and copping attitudes and insults, with just enough hugs and ‘I love you’s in between to let us know that we’re doing ok and they’re going to be alright.
Catherine, Claire and Ettie
Catherine: Claire is Mummy and I am Mumma. When we decided to have a baby, we searched for examples of families that looked like ours. The search turned up with close to nil examples. Two mothers, one trans, one cis and a child. My pregnancy was confirmed the same week that Claire started hormone replacement therapy, together we embarked on a journey of transformation. Changing bodies, changing identities — explorations of gender, personhood and motherhood.
I was 27 years old when Ettie was born. I hadn’t really felt comfortable in my identity as an individual and didn’t realise how big the thing we were doing was, until it was all happening. People would make offhand stereotypical remarks about mums—which I rejected. I was just coming out of being a twenty something, taking a few too many risks, living fast and not really sitting back to examine it.
Then I had a baby and was supporting someone who was going through a gender affirming journey which was all new and more difficult than I could have imagined. Ettie is the best thing that has happened to me—but the grittiness of life’s experience is so real for families like ours. For the first six months of Ettie’s life we looked, to the outside world, like a heterosexual couple.
It was very isolating; I wish we didn’t go through so much alone. At the time, the same sex marriage plebiscite was happening, we had a new baby and we were dealing with so much that making other people understand or having to explain it felt like more than we could manage.
Luke, David, Kelly and Eden Aisla
Luke: David and I are partners. We co-parent Eden Aisla with our friend Kelly. Eden calls Kelly, Mama; Dave, Dadda and me, Daddy. We tried to access IVF treatment so we were ready to begin that process, but for us we were lucky when we tried home insemination.
The IVF process was very unclear for a co-parenting situation as the law does not currently recognise more than two parents. The only way we could access this treatment was if we lied about our situation—Kelly and I either had to present as a heterosexual couple, leaving Dave out of the process, or I needed to present as a known doner—rather than a parent alongside Dave and Kelly as we intended. We plan to share Edie’s conception story openly with her.
She knows that she has two dads and a mum, and that although her family may exist across two homes in the future, she will always have one family that loves her unconditionally.
Kelly: Facebook recently brought up a memory of myself and friends at the Support Same Sex Marriage rally in Melbourne. Behind us a pink fluffy sign happily exclaims ‘Love is Love’. I didn’t know at the time how deeply significant the plebiscite would become for me, though of course I marched in support of many dear friends’ right to equality. The photos are something I will proudly share with our daughter someday. She’s in the photos that followed, albeit in utero, at her dads’ wedding. The Yes vote has done so much to legitimise and normalise same-sex relationships in the mainstream and our daughter will benefit from that.
Sia, Kate, Ismail and Hanna
Sia: I am still called Dad and Kate is Mum. Both children were conceived before I started any medical processes for my gender affirmation. When we started thinking about having Hanna, it was in the midst of our initial thoughts and worries around gender identity and what that meant for us and me in particular so there was a lot of heady thinking about our family structure.
I think we can both agree that when it comes to being parents, we share the same love and values for them both. We also appreciate that each other slowly finding a better place in ourselves makes one another a better person to be a good parent for our kids.
Ismail and Hanna are definitely the emotional anchors for our family and that’s brought us to be the strongest we can be as a family unit. If anything, this is us fighting against patriarchal norms and ripping up the guide to start again. So much of my gender identity narrative is about being the best parent I can be rather than becoming a ‘mum’. I didn’t grow up thinking or feeling like I wanted to be a mum, so it wasn’t a big consideration in the end.
Hayley, Sophie, Max, Lucy
Hayley: I am called Mum. Soph is called Mama. However, both kids call us Hayley and Soph.
We met at university in Christchurch in 2002 and were married in New Zealand in 2012. Our idea of who the donor would be evolved overtime. We didn’t want to choose a donor we didn’t like so we started reaching out to friends and found our donor Bipin through a friend. Bipin lived in Mauritius. It was pretty complex really. We had to get him over here, we did online counselling sessions. He came to Australia and he donated four days later, we both did egg retrievals and had a grand plan of getting pregnant together.
We’re actually really boring and normal. I think people in their minds are interested in what we do at home.We are so so normal. Our lives are just like other people, but we don’t have a man.
People say, oh you’re so lucky to have Sophie because she took the maternity leave. No, it’s not because she’s a lady, that’s because she’s another parent. Everyone has this opportunity. Sophie took maternity leave for Lucy and induced lactation and bottle fed whileI was working and that happened because we made it happen. We don’t fall back on gender norms, therefore nobody really has to either. Max is now three and Lucy is nearly two.