The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians: How to Stay Sane and Care for Yourself from Preconception through Birth

reviewed by Judith E. Beckett, R.N.

The Ultimate Guide to Pregnancy for Lesbians

by Rachel Pepper
Second Edition, Cleis Press, 2005

This book is a must read for all lesbians and lesbian couples who are either thinking about or trying to get pregnant. If you don’t know what spinnbarkeit, OPK’s and “yes” donors are, it’s time to find out.

Author Rachel Pepper writes, “For lesbians, getting pregnant is not so much a quick decision as a long and winding road–fraught with detours and potholes, yet offering the occasional stunning vista.”

Pepper is a wonderful writer. Her book is lively, fun to read, and full of good information. I read it cover to cover and enjoyed it all. The idea was born in 1998 when Pepper, frustrated by her own unsuccessful attempts to conceive (and unaware that she was already pregnant), wrote an article for Curve magazine. The response was so huge, she decided to write this book.

Well, not this book. This is the second edition and that’s important because things are changing quickly both legally and technologically in our community. For instance, did you know that in California in 2005, a child born to registered domestic partners is legally the child of both parents? And how about this? Recently, lesbians have been breaking ground by attempting ovum donation: taking one partner’s fertilized eggs and placing them in her lover’s uterus for gestation so that both parents are biologically related to the child.

The most current legal advice available is provided by Kate Kendell from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. (“Legal issues that apply to the queer community are changing constantly. See a knowledgeable lawyer for advice!”)

Other experts include Susie Bright (Sexual Reality), Ann Semans (The Mother’s Guide to Sex), and lesbian midwife Deborah Simone. Sprinkled liberally throughout are the names of books, magazines, websites, chat rooms and support groups that Pepper recommends.

The information here cannot be found in mainstream books about pregnancy. Most of those assume that you are already pregnant when you buy the book, but the first one hundred pages or so of Pepper’s book are devoted to the process of getting pregnant. She explains in detail how to become familiar with your body’s fertility pattern, how to pick a donor, how to obtain sperm, how to keep it viable, how to inseminate at home, how much it will cost, and how to protect yourself legally. There’s even a tour of the Sperm Bank of California led by Lead Health Worker Cathy Winks.

There are lots of quotes throughout the book from real lesbians who either wrote to Rachel or were interviewed by her. They share their most intimate moments and some of them are pretty funny. Rebecca wrote:

We did all the right things the first time around and made the try special … and we didn’t get pregnant. By try six we were watching Jeopardy! while inseminating. And try fourteen was all around irritating, with bad scheduling and a hectic day and rotten traffic, and we were sure we had the timing all wrong – and that’s when we got pregnant. It was about as romantic as a root canal.

Pepper says that “only women who are intentionally trying to get pregnant (and paying lots of money to do so, besides!) can appreciate the madness of this process.” Advice, support and encouragement are available here.

All three trimesters are covered in detail and, again, it is the humor and honesty that is so unusual and fun. “So You’re Finally Pregnant! Welcome to the World of Eating, Sleeping and Puking” is the title of the first chapter in this section.

While mainstream books assume that everyone you know will be delighted to hear you’ve conceived, Pepper asks, “You know but should you tell?”

Mimi wrote:

When I told my mother I was finally pregnant after months of trying, her first reaction was, “Are you sure that’s what you want?” I was really hurt because it seemed like she was saying it was only a mistake! She never asked my straight brother that and their son was unplanned.

Pepper suggests that telling your parents about legal preparations you have made for your child (especially if the infant is born to your partner) such as second-parent adoption may help them to accept their new grandchild.

Concerning your second trimester, Pepper writes that “it is indeed the perfect time to shop”, and includes tips on maternity shopping for dykes. She then concludes, “There is nothing more sporty than a pregnant belly.”

More serious topics such as an unsupportive partner or a change in your relationship are addressed, too. There is information about rough sex, the possibility of an intersex child, coping with disappointment about the sex of the baby, circumcision (she suggests an alternative bris that does no harm), and the birth certificate. There’s lots of info for non-biomoms, dyke dads, and tranny pops, too.

While Pepper’s support and encouragement are invaluable and her non-medical advice is excellent, there are some serious obstetrical inaccuracies here. For instance, Pepper describes the procedure of stripping the membranes to induce labor, as “pushing away the thin skin covering the cervix” (p.188). There is no skin covering the cervix. The procedure involves inserting a finger through the internal os of the cervix and then gently pushing away the amniotic sac.

On the same page, Pepper recommends notifying your physician immediately “if you haven’t noticed any fetal movements in a few days.” There is nothing “immediate” about a few days and a few days will be too late for a baby experiencing problems in the womb. After 32 weeks, ask your physician or midwife how to monitor your baby’s activity pattern.

I still think you will love this book. Read it cover to cover as I did. Reading it is like sitting down with a good friend who knows exactly what you’re going through because she’s been there. But remember, this friend is not a physician or a midwife and should not be your only source of medical advice.

Pepper writes:

”… most queer parents are extremely good at raising their children, and their kids are so wanted and well loved, I have no doubt that the quiet revolution in parenting is changing the very face of the country.”

And won’t it be wonderful to be a part of that?

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