THE NEW FAMILY VALUES CROWD


Johnson and O'Connor are themselves a new suburban family. They live on a tucked-away street in Oakdale, not far from Dowling, in a split-level house inherited by Johnson, who grew up there. O'Connor, who's from Ohio, stays at home with the girls, Bailey, 5, and Rowan, 2, playing Twister and reading kids' books and limiting TV time and fixing popcorn. Bailey goes to public kindergarten. There are neatly framed family photographs on the mantle, Christmas stockings dangling below it, a fluffy cat lounging on the backyard patio, living-room shelves holding books from Primary Colors and Plato to Williams & Sonoma cookbooks and the AIDS chronicle And the Band Played On.

Both girls were borne by O'Connor, who was artificially inseminated with the sperm of an anonymous donor, chosen in part for his description of features similar to the blond, fair ones of Johnson. So far the daughters have not asked their moms—"Mom" and "Mama"—much about what makes their family different, although when Bailey was 4, she came home from school and told them that a classmate said two girls can't get married. "Aren't you married?" Bailey asked her moms. Although they've never had a ceremony, the moms, who met 15 years ago as Ph.D. students at Stony Brook, told her yes, of course they were married, that they loved each other and that's all that was required, and that maybe this friend just didn't know. That was apparently all Bailey needed to hear; she hasn't brought it up again.

"I think both of us have found that you let the child lead the way," Johnson says. "We assume that as their cognitive awareness increases, there will definitely be more questions."

They claim they've never encountered homophobia from Bailey's school, pediatricians, neighbors or Dowling College, which provides domestic partnership coverage and has been "completely supportive" of the study, says Johnson. And now even the grandparents have eased into the idea.

O'Connor's parents never like the fact that she was gay, but she says they softened after Bailey was born. "The minute there was a grandchild on the way, things were very different," she recalls.

"I was totally stunned," says O'Connor's mom, Marie, about her daughter's announcement that she and Suzanne were going to have a baby. "My biggest worry is what's going to face the children as they grow older." Although she says it took her a long time to accept the idea of a two-mother household, knowing the children has made it easier to deal with. "I've fallen in love with those girls," she says.

When Beth first came out, her father Jack says, he had a difficult time. "I told Bethie, 'I can't agree with this, because it's against everything I've ever been taught...'" he recalls. "But I did a lot of soul-searching, and I thought if I raise hell with her about it, I'm not going to get anywhere." He remembers confiding to his other daughter (they also have three sons), " 'The thing that bothers me about this the most is that she'll never have children.' But then Bethie called me up one day and said, 'Dad, I'm pregnant.' And they're doing a good job." But, he adds, "I can't say I would've accepted it as easily if it was one of the boys."

Suzanne's mother, Joye Schulton, had an easier time with their decision to have children. "I felt like it was their choice," she says. "The little girls are just beautiful, and I love them. Other people may feel differently, and that's their choice."

Johnson and O'Connor decided to conduct a study of gay parents when they realized, as clinical psychologists, that not much research had ever been done on the topic. And it seemed that publishers were hungry for the information. When the two women, both 38, sent their study proposal out to four university presses last year, all wrote back with strong interest within two weeks.

Then they placed announcements seeking study subjects on Internet websites and in gay publications and, since June, they've seen an overwhelming response. So far they've had more than 100 participants, mostly women, representing 27 states. They're hoping for 100 more, and it seems likely that they'll get them, considering that just last month, an ad in Alternative Family Magazine, a gay-parent magazine published in Illinois, sent them 200 more lesbian and gay moms and dads who are interested in taking part in the study.

It seemed as if gay parents—even those who were edgy about being outed at their jobs or to certain members of their extended families—were as hungry to talk about their experiences as the publishers were to print them. The fact that O'Connor and Johnson are lesbian moms seemed to ease many people's minds.

"I guess our timing has been good," Johnson says.

The 14-page survey is straightforward, inquiring first about jobs, level of education, income, marital status, religion and how the children were conceived (from a prior heterosexual relationship, through insemination, adoption, etc.). In a section called "pre-parental issues," the subjects are asked questions about when and how they decided to have children, negative reactions from family members or friends, concerns about employment and difficulties with medical care. Other sections assess participants' general attitudes toward child-rearing, their concerns about children in a homosexual household and the response of their communities. The project also gauges partners' parenting practices and their relationship to each other.

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