Being gay isn’t a disease, nor is it a choice.

My partner (now wife) and I felt the pain of not living up to the hallmark heteronormative relationship during our early military lives.

We lived in fear.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” was our motto.

The biggest questions that incinerated our souls: “Why aren’t you married? No kids yet?”

We were both hitting our mid-30s and surrounded by men. This stigma to be married with kids was expected of us. How did we combat this? We didn’t. We survived one day at a time. We lied. A LOT. It was torture.

Surprisingly though, many had no idea we were a lesbian couple. We were simply “roommates.” It was a stagnant life. We both felt having a family, living in hiding and fear, wouldn’t be fair.

Fast-forward to September of 2011: We were stationed in the state of Massachusetts when the repeal happened. We felt freedom and yet a deep sense of fear. Was this really okay? Could we be open, honest, safe, and comfortable?

As an introverted woman, I was still not ready to “expose” myself to anyone. My wife is the complete opposite, which got us into the most unpleasant of situations – situations where she felt the need to introduce me to others as her wife, which made people visibly uncomfortable. It was awkward.

Understandably though, she was just happy to be open. But we live in a time of great imbalance. It’s scary. People put up huge fronts to hide what they truly feel. It can be hard to know whether anyone is being sincere. The looks, the sneers, the questions were endless. Thank goodness those few closest to us offered support.

In the wake of the repeal, big decisions needed to be made. We decided right away to build a family. We already had the foundation set up and a plan for having kids. All we needed to do was execute it.

Or should we? Should we bring these babies into this world knowing what we were up against?

I can remember fighting endlessly with myself about not being able to give my child the traditional family “she deserved.” But with life comes difficulties. Those difficulties allowed us to find the warrior within and move forward. You literally grow up and realize life is too short to be unhappy just to please others.

My wife was first for pregnancy, I was second. Silly as it sounds, we went “shopping” for a donor from the California Cryobank and found a man who was most related to me in height, hobbies, and career.

We chose a five-foot, nine-inch Irish man with red hair and freckles, who loved to be outdoors and was an engineer by trade. We chose the “open” option, meaning the girls can contact their biological father when they turn 18, if they so choose.

I will not get into the many facets of what goes on with and IUI (Intrauterine Insemination) here, but I will say it was – and always will be – well worth it. My partner and I both were blessed with healthy baby girls. Our oldest is now two-and-a-half years old, and our youngest turned 16 months last November.

During the first pregnancy, we decided to move on base to be closer to work and daycare. I was extremely hesitant, because I was afraid how people would react to us. Will our home be defaced? Will our cars be compromised to harm us? Would the daycare teachers purposely neglect my babies or be rough with them? Would a crowd of moms come after us with pitchforks and torches!?

Probably not that last one, but the thoughts are real, as is the hurt and fear. The negative thoughts were enough to paralyze me everyday whenever I left my home – even when I went to sleep. We quickly had to learn to have patience with ignorance and prejudice.

Taking the girls to the parks on base are a highlight for them. They love being out of the house and playing. (We often keep them inside because we don’t want the girls to witness how other parents react to us.)

We brought them to the park one day to find another family enjoying themselves. Normally, we would avoid this and move along to another spot, but the girls were already running full speed toward the slide. There was no stopping them at that point (stopping them would lead to a demon tantrum), so we hoped for the best. 

While the girls laughed and said hello to the two little boys, the parents exchanged glances. Then the other couple packed up and left. I wasn’t surprised, but I felt a deep hurt because my two-year-old, with her big brown eyes, came to me and said, “Why leaving?” Her arms waved in the air saying bye to them as they ran off.

Our daughters know nothing of prejudice. My wife and I had to educate ourselves on what and how to convey these realities to them without making them feel like it’s their fault. This was not easy and most certainly not fair, but by loving the people we love, maybe we can teach our girls how to love without judgement. I hope we teach our girls how to love all humans for who they are and avoid imposing preconceived ideas about who they should be.

Each situation varies by location, family type, and developmental stage of your child, but here are some tips that might apply for all parents:

Be a mad scientist

Research various resources to help prepare you and your children to address different myths and issues that arise out of ignorance. PFLAG and Mombian are two great places to start.

Embrace untraditional

Being an adult, you forget what it’s like being a child. I went out and bought specific books for my girls, which bring up topics that normalize the “untraditional family.” You’ll find a great list here. As my kids get older, I plan on finding groups that connect them with other kids who have LGBT parents.

Use media resources

It can be very confusing for little ones when the world around them fails to reflect what their own family looks like. My toddler always gets extremely shy and scared when a man comes around (which is not very often). Their voices and their height is all “so amazing” as she says!

So we allow our daughers to watch kids films that help connect the dots. Our go-tos are “The Bravest Knight Who Ever Lived” and “Rosaline”.

Engage with toys, and love

Toys that imitate a child’s own family can provide a solid playground of material for her to imagine in a context she understands. My Family Builders are a great start.

Everyday is a new day with these girls, and everyday we strive to keep the peace and the tantrums to a minimum, just like any other parent. We can teach love and tolerance. We can find ways to just be with them.

Get your mind right. Your kids need you. They don’t care what you’re doing as long as you remain engaged and present with them. Learn to forgive yourself for being human, and forgive others for their humanity, too.