Published on January 23rd, 2019 | by Ethan Somerman0
Saying Yes to Fear and Doing It Anyways
We inherit a whole collection of stories about parenthood: from our parents, from friends, from episodes of This is Us, books, social pressure, people in the grocery store who have a lot of unsolicited advice, infant classes, social media, feedback on our posts to social media, etc. The list could go on and on. The myth of the perfect parent has a lot of contributors.
But, my life didn’t quite step in line with the stories. And, really, whose story does line up with all these expectations and pressures? It doesn’t take much to disqualify from the ideal narrative of the perfect family. My family started off on a different foot than most. My ex-wife and I were a queer couple. Our daughter was conceived with an anonymous donor through a sperm bank. My wife got pregnant with the help of pee sticks to measure her fertile window, a vial of sperm, and an obnoxious gynecologist. Forty weeks later and our family of two had expanded to three.
I was worried that I’d feel disconnected from my family. I wasn’t linked genetically to my daughter. I wasn’t going to give birth. The ties connecting myself to my daughter felt thin. I worried that the queerness of our family would be a burden to our daughter. I worried that being non-binary was just selfish of me and would only confuse my daughter. I worried that all the things that made our family different from the norm would cause discomfort and pain to our family.
And then she was born. And there were so many new worries, joys, discoveries, and experiences to navigate. My anxiety about us being a different sort of family got lost in all the totally normal things we did every day. The sleeplessness, baby holding, baby soothing, and daily chores claimed all of my energy and attention. I suddenly didn’t care about our differences. I was too busy and tired.
I got used to being distracted from my fear of coming out. I didn’t hold as much space for my fear as I used to. It got crowded out of the way by everything else. Being distracted from fear looks a lot like bravery. Over time, the baby care and sleeplessness took up less of my attention as I adjusted to my new role. My brain could hold more. The room for the fear was there. But for some reason, I got used to not attending to it quite so closely. I held the fear, but wasn’t captivated by it. Other things were compelling me. I held the value of my family’s unique story. I held the desire for my daughter to witness me being who I am, despite discomfort. I held the desire for our family to pave a path for more families with different stories to feel community and support.
There’s this weird idea out there that fear is something to conquer. In order to behave bravely, we must first overcome fear. We have made out that fear is our enemy to be defeated. To me, conquering fear sounds a lot like shutting down to your own gut and inner life. It sounds like you need to squash your emotions in order to live bravely. I don’t believe this story for a second.
Fear exists for a reason. Fear tells me important things. Sometimes it passes on messages for safety and security. These are messages I often listen to. Other times, it tells me stories of what seems acceptable, normal, and reasonable. Fear can easily rattle off society’s expectations of us. It tells me these things because feeling a sense of belonging and acceptance are indeed tied in with feelings of safety and security. Fear often tells me the story of the ideal parent and family. It tells me what the perfect family would look like and act like so that I can experience a sense of belonging to society.
But, I know things beyond my fear. I know that some of the beliefs and views of society are simply bullshit. I know that I must first belong to myself before I can belong anywhere else. I know that what my fear is telling me is not always in my best interest. I know that the feeling of fear can become larger than the life I want to live.
And, here is the truly magical thing: I can feel the fear and not listen to a single word of it. I can say yes to fear, allow me to feel you. Don’t shut me down to what I am feeling. You are allowed in. I am a non-binary parent. My family is queer. My daughter’s conception is outside of the norm. I fear that my family might be viewed as being outsiders who don’t belong. I fear that we might experience rejection, judgement, and hatred from others. And, that is not the end of the story.
I hold the fear, and deck myself in rainbows and march at Pride. I hold the fear, and politely correct the pediatrician when she refers to me as “mama.” I hold the fear, and I come out to friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers every day. I hold the fear, and look forward to proudly telling my daughter the story of her family and how we came to be. I am not conquering my fear. I listen to my fear. I am quaking in my shoes. And yet my feet can still take one shaky step at a time. And that is bravery.