Brandi Carlile is painting the picture of what queer parenting looks like one day at a time.
The Grammy-winning artist, 39, came out in 2002, later marrying Catherine Shepherd in 2012. The two are now moms to daughters Elijah, 2, and Evangeline, 6, with Carlile recently penning an essay of how she is navigating parenting as a member of the LBTQ+ community.
“I wish there had been more for me to read or to absentmindedly absorb through TV sitcoms, movies and ads — things that could have prepared me for the strangeness of being wholly responsible for a child without much representation or mirror to show me what it would look like,” she says. “Now I want to be a part of building some of that history for other LGBTQ+ parents.”
When the two had their first daughter, the couple used IVF, harvesting Carlile’s eggs for Catherine to carry. She says the experience was “really complicated and beautiful.”
“It was complicated because I didn’t know who I was supposed to be in this equation,” explains Carlile. “I knew I wasn’t ‘Dad,’ but I wasn’t pregnant either. Catherine was uncomfortable with all the things that were happening to her body, and the whole concept felt so foreign to us.”
“This is because queer parenting lacks a manual,” she says. “There’s no way to prepare same-sex parents for what a lifetime of exposure to only heteronormative parenting will do to your heart and mind while you’re contemplating and creating a new little life.”
Carlile recalled not being sure how to fit in when she attended birthing classes with her wife — which led to the couple seeking LGBTQ+-sensitive instructors.
“We found a really amazing LGBTQ+-sensitive instructor who came to our home and helped us navigate and identify our natural parental inclinations together, and that was hugely important,” she says. “I strongly recommend this for LGBTQ+ parents embarking on this journey. There are so many mechanisms in place that make us feel inadequate — more than people really understand.”
“Evangeline was born to two mothers on Father’s Day, but she made it clear right away that she only needed us. The rigidity around gender roles in parenting is indeed a construct. We know that now! But it took time,” writes Carlile.
The singer recalled anxiety over what terms her kids would use to refer to herself and Catherine.
“Our kids know us …. like, really know us. We are learning about ourselves through them. They’re the teachers. I’m Mama and Catherine is Mummy,” she shares. “The girls decided that on their own, probably based on what we call our own mothers.”
And when the moment came to expand their family, they decided against IVF as “Catherine was reluctant to take IVF drugs” again, so they decided instead to try artificial insemination, and she carried their second child again. And with baby No. 2, they “felt like pros.”
“We were ready for the birth and we had our different but complementing baby skills nailed down and ready for the big arrival,” says Carlile. “I never felt a pang of the anxiety, guilt, or confusion that we wrestled with the first time.”
“We are absolutely euphoric with gratitude for our kids and the support from all kinds of people we’ve encountered as we travel this partially paved road,” she says.
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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