From a young age, writer Jennifer Berney knew she wanted a baby. Her longing is palpable and moving in The Other Mothers: Two Women’s Journey to Find the Family That Was Always Theirs as she expresses her desire to care for another little creature, to nurture a life and see it thrive. But her partner, Kellie, is less sure, and Berney shares their story, relating how she and Kellie stayed present with each other as they felt their way through the decision to start a family. It’s a decision that cannot be rushed and requires both women to be patient and steadfast. Once they agree, the book moves on to explore the unique concerns of two women pursuing pregnancy and making a family.
Questions of where to acquire sperm, how to aid conception and how to know if you are receiving adequate medical care unfold through a series of well-drawn scenes. As a queer woman living in Seattle, Berney expects that medical spaces will be designed with her in mind. The truth proves far more complicated—and infuriating. From impersonal and patriarchal sperm banks to maddening appointments with dense doctors, the journey often feels like a roller coaster. To contextualize her experiences, Berney investigates the history of queer family-making in the Seattle area and finds that informal community networks often facilitated the donation and fertilization processes. Such networks declined during the AIDS epidemic, but in Berney’s present-day story, as the months lengthen, she and her partner begin to pursue similar avenues within their community. Unlike the impersonal and expensive medical experts, these people truly understand the couple—and want to help them.
In all, this is a beautiful book about love, family, identity and queer community by a gentle and observant writer. Berney is attuned to her body as it goes through the process of fertilization and loss, pregnancy and birth, and as it responds to the people she loves, whether her mother (who can make her heart race) or her partner (who makes her breathe deep) or her friends. As someone who had a child in the last year, I found myself nodding and tearing up as Berney describes what it feels like to want, conceive, carry and bear a child. And as the book reached its closing pages, I found myself wanting to cheer as Berney and her partner become the parents they always wanted to be.