New Beginnings

07.23.11

My Daughter, Her Partner, and Their Beautiful Baby

A new grandmother on the other side of the Atlantic reflects on what it means to be part of a new kind of family.

My beautiful first granddaughter was born on Friday, and I love her to pieces already. Both mothers are doing fine.

Huckleberry Florence, as she is called, weighed in at eight pounds, six ounces at 8:40 p.m. on Friday, perfect in every way. By all accounts, her mother Tiffany, my elder daughter’s long-term partner, had a fairly easy time giving birth in a Florida hospital. On the other side of the Atlantic, this granny was pacing the floor.

I finally fell asleep before the baby made her debut. The pictures were already up on Facebook when I awoke, and because of the time difference I had to wait a few hours to hear how it all went.

Wonderful as it was, it felt strangely detached, but I guess we’re charting new territory in grandparenthood here, and the horizon occasionally wobbles a little.

For that reason, the New York celebrations of gay marriage this weekend make me feel very relieved and happy. One day, I hope, my daughter Holly will marry Tiffany, and although I guess it will be some time before Florida follows suit and sanctions same-sex marriages, I look forward to making my appearance as mother of the brides.

Like any mother, I want life to run smoothly for all my darling daughters, or at the least I want a level playing field for Holly, Tiffany, and their little girl. I don’t want them to have to worry about legal property or inheritance problems in the event of a death or a split or any of the other brickbats that life might throw at them. I want them to be able to get insurance and mortgages and health care as a family.

Holly intends to adopt Huckleberry, but until she does, she has no legal right to her as a mother, and by the same token I have no real right to call myself her granny. But I am, and I do.

Most of all, I want to see my granddaughter growing up in a world where same-sex marriages are not seen as weird, and where it’s OK to have two mums, just like the family in The Kids Are All Right.

I knew years ago that Holly was gay but decided to wait for her to tell me when she was ready. I had to wait several years, but I knew that I had to be ready too, because first reactions stay with you forever. In the meantime I began dropping hints at home, so that by the time I told my husband, he was convinced he knew all along anyway, and he has been totally supportive.

Our younger daughter Katy married a lovely man earlier this year, and they are expecting our second grandchild in the autumn. When Holly was preparing to come out, Katy would tell her, “Don’t worry. Mum will think it’s cool.”

Holly intends to adopt Huckleberry, but until she does, she has no legal right to her as a mother, and by the same token I have no real right to call myself her granny.

Of course, it doesn’t make a button of difference to me that my daughter is gay. I love her just the same, if anything a bit more protectively, because I used to fear that it would make her life more difficult.

I’m from the baby-boom generation, when girls were expected to get married, have a couple of children, live happily ever after … oh, and have a glittering career as well. And I come from a part of the world, Northern Ireland, where everybody knows your business, and where some still sigh sympathetically at the news that your offspring might have married someone, well, different. It’s all very well for Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the cozy middle-class professional world of their movie, but it’s not quite the same in real life in County Down, Northern Ireland, or even in suburban Surrey, England, where I live now.

From the start I was ready to chop people off at the knees if they made stupid homophobic remarks or jokes about lesbians. These days I take perverse pleasure in letting people dig holes for themselves and watching them squirm. Still, I was a bit taken aback by one person I know well—or at least thought I did—who asked me if I thought it was caused by a "gene deficiency."

Telling the relatives was a minor hurdle that I felt had to be done in a natural way. It’s not something you announce in the newspapers or send out in official letters to friends and family. The people who know and love Holly the most guessed already and wished her well.

They were, however, curious about the baby and its origins. I explained that a lovely young man—single, straight, and devoted to the two girls—had helped them out. If all goes well, he will do the same for Holly next year, and the two children will have the same father, who will be a loving part of their lives as well, albeit at a distance, as he lives in the U.K.

The one person we didn’t tell was my 91-year-old mother-in-law, who lived with us till her death in April. We were afraid it would confuse her or upset her. How wrong we were. She was in her last weeks of life when Holly told her about Tiffany and the baby, and she smiled happily and said simply: “Well, at least nobody can say our family is boring.”

Something that tends to stop people in their tracks is the baby’s name. I’m used to it now and actually think it’s a really pretty name for a girl. And at the risk of being accused of name dropping, I will add that it was given the official seal of approval by the president of the United States.

A few weeks before the birth, the two girls were invited to a reception at the Miami residence of the U.S. ambassador to Singapore, Steven Green. All guests were invited to meet the president, and when Tiffany’s turn came she whipped out a scan photo of the baby and asked him to write a message.

The utterly charming Mr. Obama won himself at least two devoted fans that day as he wrote: “To Huckleberry, welcome to the world! Barack Obama.”

So thank you, Mr. President, and thank you to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and all the other brave New York politicians who have stuck their heads above the parapet on this one. And thank you to Holly and Tiffany for making me a granny for the first time.

There are so many firsts here for us all, and I’m trying hard to get it right as a granny. There may be both metaphorical and actual hiccups and burps ahead, but the starting point for the three girls is awash with love and support, and that can’t be bad.