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Academics Versus Parenthood

"It really moves me when we go to meetups because queer people don't take parenting for granted, you know what I mean?"

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Writer Honni van Rijswijk’s journey to a rainbow family was years in the making. It was only in their thirties while living in Seattle’s thriving LGBTIQA+ scene and seeing friends getting into serious relationships and having kids that her thinking started shifting towards having her own, writes Jo Falvey.

“Before my thirties it was me, me, me. But as I was teaching, I started thinking about the next generation,” says Honni.

When Honni’s younger brother sent a video of his baby daughter’s first time splashing about in water, she noticed the look of love on her brother’s face and finally understood that she wanted that.

She looked into fostering and adoption; but adoption isn’t really a thing in Australia. When she returned to Sydney after finishing her PHD, Honni looked at the peer-reviewed evidence for donor-conceived kids and found that the outcomes for kids of parents who have used a donor were very positive.

“I had been dating for years but it had never become anything serious,” says Honni. “I figured I could do this as a single woman. I have done a lot of therapy and am emotionally aware; I’m financially stable, all those things. From a rational point of view, I knew that I could contribute a lot to their upbringing and the kid would have a great life.”

Honni began IVF procedures on her own initially but then met Laura 18 months in. Laura also thought she would never have a child, despite being ten years younger. In love, they moved in and committed to parenting together and then began their IVF process.

Honni’s pregnancy and birthing journey threw up questions about gender. She felt it was like being another gender – “you’re treated like an ultra-woman!” she says – which inspired her to write a dystopian novel called ‘Breeder’ (Blackstone Publishing, 2021). She wanted a baby but she hated the gender-focused nature of pregnancy. However, everything went smoothly on the day. “My C-section was one of the best experiences of my life!” she says.

Honni’s experience of having a child was overwhelmingly positive: “If LGBTIA+ people are thinking of having kids then they should totally go for it because there’s so much support out there,” she says. “Once our daughter was born we joined Rainbow Families in Sydney. They have playgroups and we march in Mardi Gras with them. It’s great for parents to see other families like them and it’s really great for the kids to meet other rainbow-family kids and other donor-conceived kids. There’s just so much joy in the community. It really moves me when we go to meetups because queer people don’t take parenting for granted, you know what I mean?”

She continues: “Once Anika was born – and Laura and I are both academics with zero practical skills – it took me four weeks to get up the courage to open the box the pram was in. It was kind of comically bad because everything about that first year with a baby is about practical skills. We had a baby who was extremely strong-willed and I suppose we responded to that with the ‘Overlord’ blog, because it just felt that we were living under the reign of this extremely angry and hard-to-please tyrant and that everything we did made the tyrant angry at us and displeased her. It really felt like she knew that we were unqualified to look after her and that she was displeased about it.”

They were lucky enough to have an expert close by. “Laura’s mum is a retired theatre nurse so she has the best practical skills in the world, she’s so good,” says Honni. “Whenever she came over, Anika would be like: ‘This is amazing. Do you see what I put up with? Can you just see how incompetent they are?’ Laura’s mum would be like, ‘I can’t believe you have to live under these conditions!’ She watched us give Anika a bath and she was like, ‘Oh my god. What are you doing? Why are you making it so complicated?’”

After a year, much of the baby equipment went and things got easier. While Honni and Laura don’t update the ‘Overlord’ blog as often now, nine-year-old Anika still shares exactly how she feels.

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Honni van Rijswijk’s Breeder (Blackstone Publishing, 2021)