Home' LOTL : January 2005 Contents FAIRY TALES ARE VERY POTENT. DOES
ANYONE ELSE REMEMBER THE ONE ABOUT
THE GIRL WHOSE FATHER TELLS THE KING
THAT SHE CAN SPIN STRAW INTO GOLD?
BY BRIDGET HAIRE.
The king locks her in a room and orders her to work. The
penalty for failure is death. She weeps disconsolately until
a strange little man appears and offers to help her -- at a price.
He strikes a devil's bargain: he will spin the straw into gold if
she will give him her first-born.
A year and a day later he returns to collect.
I adore this tale, though I admit it's a bit too creepy for my
two-year old. In parallel stories like Faust with male
protagonists, it is always the soul that the devil seeks. A
woman's soul, it seems, is not worth that much, reflecting a
medieval notion that women mightn't actually have them. But
what women do have, and men revere and fear, is the power to
What does this have to do with lesbian parenting? Too
much, I fear. One man gets her into the whole mess, another
imprisons her, and then she is offered a form of miraculous help
by a third. Of course she takes it. But at the time that she strikes
her terrible bargain, she does not truly understand its price. She
is not yet a mother, and cannot know what it means to
surrender her first-born.
Unlike some of the grimmer fairly tales, this one has a happy
ending. The miller's daughter is released from her bargain if she
can find the true name of her helper-cum-tormenter. Against
formidable odds she discovers the name and keeps her son. She
Bargaining away your baby is something that no mother
should have to do, but there is a nefarious tradition of women
being compelled to do so. In the adoption era, unmarried
women were routinely bullied into giving up their children. It
was for the good of the child, conventional wisdom decreed.
These women were actively discouraged from seeing or holding
their newborns, for fear of the terrible force, maternal
attachment, which could rise up and empower even the most
compliant of mothers to withdraw consent at the last moment.
Today with regard to Australian babies, the humane
approach of fostering is used instead in instances where the
mother's capacity to care for her children is truly diminished.
With foster arrangements, the birth mother does not have to
renounce her relationship with her child even if she
acknowledges that she cannot supply the necessary care.
When we have children, lesbians adopt all kind of different
family models. Some of us opt for anonymous donor
insemination, others have 'donor dads' who play an avuncular
role in the family without taking on parental (and financial)
responsibilities. Others adopt co-parenting relationships that
include two, three or more parents all with active parenting
roles. It can be complex, exhausting and immensely rewarding
trying to constr uct the kind of family that you believe is going
to be optimal for your child's needs, that will also work for the
Co-parenting that includes someone who is not your life
partner is a choice that can be attractive for lesbians who are
single or whose partner doesn't live-in or doesn't want parental
responsibility. The advantages are not doing it all alone, not
shouldering all the responsibility and cost, having someone to
turn to in times of exhaustion and someone to rely on when
you try to resume your own 'normal' pre-baby life. In practice,
this kind of co-parenting often relies on arrangements that,
while not legally binding, have considerable emotional clout.
But this often means that at certain times, the mother has to
hand over her child into the care of another.
The bond between mother and baby is the strongest that I
have ever felt, and I'm a person who has been in the thrall of
my passions all my life. I could not have anticipated the ferocity
with which I now claim primary parenthood -- and my partner
is an exceptional mother. I would not surrender my position of
primacy, or even compromise on it, for all the gold in the world.
Each time I hear of another lesbian entering into an
arrangement where she is meant to hand over her child to the
child's father I shiver, and think of Rumplestiltskin:
"What use have I for riches, I who can spin straw into gold?
But a living child, that is a treasure beyond price."
IT CAN BE COMPLEX, EXHAUSTING AND IMMENSELY
REWARDING TRYING TO CONSTRUCT THE KIND OF
FAMILY THAT YOU BELIEVE IS GOING TO BE OPTIMAL
FOR YOUR CHILD'S NEEDS, THAT WILL ALSO WORK
FOR THE ADULTS INVOLVED.
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