Romeo Romeo follows Jessica and Lexy as they decide to have a baby, figure out how to go about doing so, and then struggle, year after year, to conceive. Is starting a family always going to be this complicated for queer girls like us?
When I was seven, I was given this baby doll. It looked like a newborn, and it fit perfectly in my arms. I held her close and whispered her name, my breath bouncing back to me against the dome of her soft plastic skull. The curve of one of her tiny ears was particularly alluring. They had done a good job with her tiny fingernails. She was dressed in a soft pink romper, with a striped hat and bib. I was in love.
I knew what pregnancy was, and up until then, it had horrified me. It seemed gross and completely mortifying to be so visibly engorged with the proof of having sex. But that day, holding that tiny doll, was the first time I felt like all of that horrible grown-up stuff might be worth it for the end result. It was the first time I ever wanted children.
From that day on, I knew I was going to be a mama.
In high school, right about the time they were warning us about premarital sex (“you WILL get pregnant”), my hormones revved up and the craving struck hard. I satisfied it by taking a job as an after-school nanny for a neighbor of ours, filling my hours with the care of twin infants and their three year-old sister. The mother was home with us, falling asleep over the vacuum, doing load upon load of laundry; in winter, the spaces in the house shrunk down in that way that woodstove heat and crying babies and the pervasive smell of baby poo and breastmilk will create. When the father came home at the end of the day, he felt like an interloper. He’d put his feet up in his recliner, invite the children to sit on him as he watched the game, and ask his wife again why they were spending so much money on babysitting.
Still, I was in heaven. I would put old jazz standards on the stereo and hoist a baby onto each hip, inviting their sister to dance with us. Time with babies both narrows and swells with play, with movement, with the meeting of basic needs. Minutes are so long but before you know it, hours have passed, hours in which you kept someone precious safe, taught them things, loved them dearly, fostered their development. I went home each day tired and contented, mentally counting the years in my head that would have to pass before I could have children of my own.
My twenties hit. I was dating a man. I went on birth control. I had a plan. My fifth-grade teacher had had his first child at age thirty-two, and for some reason it stuck with me as a good age. I was going to have one at thirty-two, and one at thirty-four, and be done with it. Surely, by then, I would have been happily married for at least five years.
But this funny thing was happening. As the years passed, I started feeling less and less like an adult. I watched friends settle into long-term relationships, finish college, get married. Meanwhile, the things I had been so sure about at twenty-one didn’t feel certain at all anymore. It was like that refrigerator magnet that tells the teenager to move out, get a job, and start a family “while you still know everything.” The older I got, the less I knew. I certainly wasn’t ready to have a child. I never had been, but now I was at least old enough to know that.
I’m thirty now. I watch my friends with young children struggling, their lives so full of purpose but so devoid of sleep and self-care. And I am still unpacking who I am, who I will grow up to be. In the grand scheme of my life, I feel as though I am still just learning to walk. There is so much about myself that I must learn, so much about the world that I must explore. The clock, as they gleefully insist on saying, is ticking. When will I be ready? And when I am, will my body do what I need it to do?
All of which is a very, very long introduction to what I was going to write about, which is that I just rented Lizzy Gottlieb’s documentary Romeo Romeo, about a lesbian couple who is trying to conceive. Oh my word, the trials these two face. Lexy has always wanted to carry a baby, which is good, because Jessica (who should really work on her emotional maturity) doesn’t seem too into that part of things. When the couple runs into stumbling blocks with Lexy’s fertility, Jessica is quick to rub it in with jokes about her wife’s failings; those jokes cover a disappointment that runs just as deep as Lexy’s each time the little stick tells them no. Procedure after procedure follows, draining their savings, before a male friend offers his fresh sperm and they go back to basics, giving it the old college try.
Fertility issues must be one heck of an obstacle course for any couple. There’s a reason we call the bad things that happen to us “trials.” Jessica and Lexy’s relationship prevails (although I would’ve decked Jessica more than a few times — Lexy must be a very patient person). I once went out with an older woman whose last relationship hadn’t survived fertility issues; she spent most of our second date talking about how expensive it can be to procure sperm on the internet. It all sounded like a very traumatic and drawn-out experience, lots of baggage that she hadn’t yet been able to move on from.
And that date was the first time I had confronted something I hadn’t really thought to worry about yet — when my future wife and I are ready to have children, exactly what will that look like? Will it really be so much more difficult, and so much more expensive, than if I had ended up with a guy? And if it is difficult, just how far will we be willing to go to make it happen? Having children used to feel like such an urgent need. It was what I was put on this earth to do. Now it feels so remote, so abstracted, so far away from what my life currently is. Is it still something that matters deeply to me? Will that urgent need come back?
I’ve always done things one step at a time. I feel like I have to get things in proper emotional order before I move on to whatever I have deemed the next step. That’s why it has taken me so long to come out, and it’s probably why having children doesn’t feel like any sort of priority to me right now. But especially after watching documentaries like this one, it’s not lost on me that by the time I am ready to start thinking about kids, it could already be too late. I’m sure things will work out, one way or another, but I wish I could see into the future, and know that whatever happens, it will be okay.