Written by Jen Brister


Tales from the other mother

In the first in a new series, Jen Brister charts the highs and lows of being a mum. But not that mum. The other one.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

Illustration by Louise Boulter.

I am a mother but not that ‘Mum’. I’m the ‘other one’. Confused? OK, let me back up a bit. My partner (she’s a woman; we’re not solicitors) gave birth to two beautiful boys last September. Already there’s a lot to take in here: gay mums, twins, solicitors – believe me, I’m still reeling myself.

The thing about being the ‘the other mother’ is that added to the life-changing experience of becoming a parent is the never-ending explaining that comes with being the non-biological Mum. Yeah I did just describe myself as a box of detergent. You’d think after saying that out loud to strangers on more than one occasion I’d strike it from my memory. Nope, it’s become my go-to response. What the hell is wrong with me?

When I’m out with my boys people just assume that I’m their only mum and that’s fine by me. The difficulty comes when people ask questions: “Was it a difficult birth?” “Are you breastfeeding?” “Does your husband help with the night feeds?” The answer to all of these questions is of course, “GO AWAY!” But I don’t say that; instead I stare blankly into the middle distance searching for the right way to explain my situation.

“I’m not their mum. I mean I am their Mum but I’m the other one. What I’m saying is, I didn’t squeeze them out of my… you know…”

At this point I find myself gesticulating vaguely between my legs while trying not to make eye contact with a woman now staring at my crotch with a look of confusion and discomfort on her face. Unsurprisingly, I’m not making many ‘mum’ friends.

“I have been asked ridiculous questions like, ‘Who’s the ‘dad’ in this situation?’ Um, there is no dad in this situation; there are two mums in this situation.”

It’s not like anyone cares – I live in Brighton, for crying out loud! A place that prides itself on its alternative, gender-queer, trans-focused, vegan, green-voting, allotment-loving, feminist-led, gay-loving, organic, muesli-munching credentials. Let’s be honest, we didn’t move here by accident. So what is my problem?

For a start I’m acutely aware that I didn’t grow them in my uterus for nine months, suffer fainting episodes in my second trimester, carpal tunnel syndrome in my third, as well as swollen ankles, painful tits and a bladder squeezed to the size of a fun-size Milky Way. And to top it all, NO BOOZE!

People have asked me, “Jen, how did you decide that you didn’t want to be the mum that carried your baby boys?” And to that I always reply, “I put a lot of thought into my decision, but the real reason is… because I’m not fucking stupid.” Why the hell would I go through all of that when I can get someone else to do it?

I am of course acutely aware that outside of Brighton our ‘alternative unit’ may challenge some people’s idea of what a family should be. I have been asked ridiculous questions like, “Who’s the ‘dad’ in this situation?” Um, there is no dad in this situation; there are two mums in this situation. I really hope that’s cleared that up.

“Yeah but, who’s going to teach the boys to be men?” We’ve bought a couple of box sets of Top Gear so I think we’ve got that one covered.

“What if you make your kids gay?” Here’s hoping we do, and to make sure it does happen we always dress our boys in gold lamé onesies and only let them listen to show tunes while watching Xanadu on a loop. No, they won’t be particularly ‘manly’, whatever that means, but on the flip side they won’t be raging misogynists either.

The truth is my girlfriend and I are just like any other new parents on the planet. We’re not doing anything differently or better or worse, we’re like everyone else: completely clueless. I’m not going to lie to you, most of our parenting skills have been taught to us by Google. We spend half our lives asking each other questions we know the other one has no idea how to answer: “When are they supposed to start walking?” “Are their poos supposed to be as big as this?” “WHY WON’T HE STOP CRYING?”

My boys have been on this planet for a whole year and I’ve learned a lot, the main thing being that being a mum doesn’t begin and end with conception, pregnancy or even birth. Being a parent begins the day you’re handed a brand new baby human and told not only is he yours, but that you’ll be responsible for him until the day you die. What the WHAT? We’re one year in and the journey has only just begun. God help us.


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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.