Written by Jen Brister


Tales from the other mother

Jen Brister is a mum. No, not that one. The other one. This month, she’s navigating epic amounts of poo, baby chat and the perils of small talk when people find out her boys’ parents are a lesbian couple.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Now that I’ve made the decision to write these articles/updates regularly, I am very aware that being a parent and stories of other people’s children are BORING. I know this, I really do. In fact I’m conscious that even when my friends ask me about my boys they’re just being polite.

Just recently I made the mistake of launching into (what I realise with hindsight was) one of the most dull anecdotes I’ve ever told: “Oh my God it was so funny because L tried to climb into this box but he couldn’t. Ha ha ha! And then he just got stuck so we had to pull him out! Ha ha ha!” *tap tap tap* “Is this thing on?” See what I mean? BORING.

You’d think something as huge and as life-changing as parenthood would make you more interesting. No, in fact it makes you the opposite of ‘interesting’ because nothing ‘interesting’ happens to you anymore. The most remarkable part of your day is wondering how an eight-month-old baby can do a shit so huge that it’s not only gone up his entire back but managed to cover his shoulders. Try starting a conversation with that anecdote and it’ll be your last of the day.

“Small talk is horrific at the best of times but add lesbian parents in there and it’s a social minefield.”

During my girlfriend’s pregnancy all we heard from other parents was, “It’s so exciting! It’s a magical time; you’ll get so much from your kids; you’ll grow as a human; they’ll make you a better person, it’s so fulfilling!” And it is all of those things.

It’s also ever so slightly horrific.

For a start, you have no more time. I mean NO TIME to do anything. Not even to go to the toilet. If I’m on my own with the boys, I have to poo with the door open. I’m a 40-year-old woman taking a dump while my two one-year-old boys chew on a bog roll; this is not what I envisaged from parenthood.

The truth is I don’t know what I envisaged. To be honest I’ve probably watched too many Pampers adverts. I just thought there’d be a bit more giggling in soft focus and a lot less screaming in stereo.

Don’t get me wrong: I love being a mum blah blah blah, but there is a part of me that cannot believe how I took so many things for granted. Before I had children I used to have fantasies about travelling, going for expensive meals out, weekend city breaks, nights in a hotel with my girlfriend, you know the usual guff. Since the boys arrived I fantasise about commuting to Reigate to work full-time in an office doing data entry, just for some ‘me time’.

Travelling anywhere with twins requires organisation. If you go away for more than one day you have to pack with military precision. You cannot wing this shit. I know this all too well after leaving the house without any spare nappies and having to wrap my son’s bum in my jumper. (No I don’t have that jumper anymore.) Fortunately for me and for my boys, my girlfriend is the most organised woman on the planet. She’s the kind of person that makes a list of all the lists she needs to make. I find it frightening that she always knows where her keys are – it’s like she’s a witch or something.

It’s just as well she is otherwise we’d never leave the house, which at times might be preferable to having two boys screaming in the back of the car for an hour while we try to navigate our way through traffic.

“’Which one of you is ‘mum’?’ Given that my girlfriend has done ALL the hard work carrying them for nine months, I find myself pointing at her.”

The other problem with leaving the house with two small humans is the endless small talk you have to suffer with strangers. You’d think people had never seen a couple of babies before. Other parents are the worst: “Oh my God, they’re so adorable! I have a son and a daughter, they’re 28 and 24 now, they’ve both graduated from university and have great jobs!”

All parents do it, they have to tell you they have kids and then give you their CV. “Not only did I have children, I have two successful ones which means that I’m a shit-hot mum and winning at life… anyway, good luck with these two.” I’m sure that’s not how it’s meant but what the hell am I supposed to say to that? “That’s wonderful! My son just learned to hold a cup so we’ll be on the blower to MENSA any day now.”

The other lot that can’t get enough of us is basically any human type person that has ever met a twin. “My Mum is a twin!” “I’m a twin” “I have twins!” “My favourite movie is TWINS!” OK, no one has ever said that last one. Again, what are you supposed to do with that information? “That’s great to hear, thanks for letting us know… OK, BYE NOW.”

Small talk is horrific at the best of times but add lesbian parents in there and it’s a social minefield.

“Which one of you is ‘mum’?” Given that my girlfriend has done ALL the hard work carrying them for nine months, I find myself pointing at her. All conversation is then directed at my girlfriend.

“Twins are so much work; you’re doing a great job!” At this point either one of us could say something, but we don’t; we just continue with the most awkward conversation in the world.

“Still it’s great to have a friend helping you out!” Yeah I’m the helpful friend who changes nappies, gets up half a dozen times in the night to rock my ‘friend’s’ boys to sleep, cuddle them when they’re sick, feed them when they’re hungry. I’m THAT helpful.

I know we’re both at fault here and more recently we’ve decided to just deal with the question as it comes up and say, “We’re both mums.” Two weeks ago, the question did, unsurprisingly, come up again. This time we were at a Christmas fair in rural Sussex. It was obvious we were the only gays in the village that day; I was also the only vaguely foreign person there too. In fact we were the only people there under 50.

“The most remarkable part of your day is wondering how an eight-month-old baby can do a shit so huge that it’s not only gone up his entire back but managed to cover his shoulders.”

After spending 20 minutes watching my girlfriend haggle over a birdhouse (don’t ask) we eventually found ourselves in a small room. In the corner, three elderly women were knitting baby clothes and we surveyed their wares on the table in front of them. With our boys strapped to our chests, the dynamic was pretty obvious and my immediate thought was, “I don’t want to get into this conversation.”

Naturally, questions were asked: “How old are they? What are their names? Are they sleeping through yet?” We took it in turns to answer before I decided to find a clean exit to the chit-chat by buying something. “I think we’ll take these booties, they’re for a friend who’s having a baby… Not for us ’cause we already have two…” Jesus, why are you still talking woman?

There was an awkward beat as I saw the women take in the scene before them. In my head I could feel their judgment and confusion but before we could make a hasty retreat the third woman, who had been sitting quietly and hadn’t asked us any questions, took my money and said, “Well, they’re very lucky to have you both.” I was so disarmed by her comment I nearly welled up. “Oh thank you… we’re… um… yes, well we feel very lucky too.”

I learned a lot that day, and not just that knitted booties for a newborn baby are going to itch like hell. That day I was reminded that being the other one is no different from being any parent – you just have to remind people who don’t know, that you’re not the friend, the help or the nanny. You’re the “other mother” and if your kids have two parents that love them unconditionally, well they’re more than lucky; they’ve hit the jackpot.

Read all of Jen’s other mother tales here.


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Written by Jen Brister

Jen Brister is a stand-up comic, writer and comedy actor. A regular performer on the UK and international circuit, she has also written for BBC Scotland and presented for BBC 6Music.