Carly and Kara Pettinger from Kitchener, Ont., have been writing love letters to their children since 2018. They have not met them yet, but the couple is certain they will one day.
“It was important that our baby knew how much they were wanted,” Carly said.
“It can’t be understated that queer people don’t just have children, queer people fight for their children from the second we dream about them.”
The couple decided to start trying for a family in March 2020 with the help of a fertility clinic, but the timing was terrible. As COVID-19 hit, many clinics were forced to close for a period of time. When offices reopened, new restrictions were in place, and the process became much more isolating. Kara was no longer allowed at the appointments with her wife.
“I remember our first try in June and I kind of pleaded with the nurse. I said, ‘this is our first try trying to make a family, and I’m really scared, and I need [Kara] right here … [They told us] they couldn’t make an exception,’” Carly said.
“I was just completely removed from the process,” Kara added.
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Rachel Epstein is a LGBTQ2 parent advocate and said the pandemic and its many rules, while done for good reasons, can inadvertently contribute to the emotional challenges same-sex couples face. This is especially true if couples are separated for doctor and insemination appointments.
Epstein said, given that often only one parent is biologically connected to the pregnancy, the other can feel left out. “It just creates that sense of distance and alienation,” Epstein said. “It probably furthers that sense of not being quite legitimate, like ‘I’m not really part of things.’”
Carly said this is a fear she knows all too well.
“I have so much anxiety about how the world, how people are going to treat Kara as the other parent, as the parent who did not carry our baby,” Kara said.
“She deserves to be there while we were making our kids, you know, while every try for us wasn’t just a medical procedure. It was potentially the story of how our baby came to be.”
Kara said another frustration they encountered was incorrect assumptions made about their family.
“Carly calls into the fertility clinic, they say, oh “what’s your husband’s name? And it’s like… really? It’s 2020 — those sorts of things shouldn’t be happening,” Kara said.
“You just want to start a family and it should be sort of happy and joyful experience and for us, that just wasn’t our experience.”
In November, Kara and Carly turned to IVF. They hoped this would be their golden ticket to become parents. Not long after, the couple found out they were pregnant.
“I heard Carly screaming like, ‘oh my God, there’s a line, there’s a line,’” Kara recalled.
“It was sort of like I could breathe for the first time in months because I was like, ‘finally, after everything we’ve been through, this is going to happen for us.’”
In the weeks that followed, blood work was normal, but an ultrasound raised concerns. The medical team confirmed the pregnancy had resulted in a miscarriage.
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“I just couldn’t imagine that something had gone wrong,” Carly said through tears.
“You know we had done everything in our power, when they said miscarriage I burst into tears.”
But the situation got worse as doctors became concerned about what they thought might be small tumours growing in Carly’s uterus. The worry was the possibility that the growths could become cancerous if not removed. Carly was rushed to surgery, and Kara waited at home alone.
“Losing the baby was traumatic,” Kara said.
“Then to imagine, ‘oh my gosh, Carly’s life is now at risk too’… and she could potentially have a cancerous tumour growing in her after all of this. It was just shocking and heartbreaking.”
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Waiting for the procedure, Carly remembers the feeling of isolation, and wished Kara could be with her. But the rules of the pandemic meant that was not a possibility.
“I wanted Kara so bad,” Carly said. “I just … I couldn’t believe that I was doing this alone, that it was happening … that the baby inside of me was actually hurting me, it’s something I had never considered. I just couldn’t believe I had to let go of it.”
The Pettingers are not letting go of their dreams of becoming parents. The love letters continue to be written, and the journals are filling up. For them, this baby is family and their chapter — while painful — is part of their family’s story.
“We’re going to find ways to make sure that our futures kids know,” Carly said.
“We’re going to find ways to keep loving it, keep talking about it, keep feeling the range of what it’s done for us.”
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