Brandi Carlile is trailblazing her own style of parenting.
The Grammy-winning artist, 39, came out in 2002 and later tied the knot with Catherine Shepherd in 2012. Now, the pair are moms to daughters Elijah, 2, and Evangeline, 6, and in a new essay for Parents magazine's February issue, Carlile opens up about defining what it looks like to be a parent who's part of the LGBTQ+ community.
"I wish there had been more for me to read or to absentmindedly absorb through TV sitcoms, movies and ads — things that could have prepared me for the strangeness of being wholly responsible for a child without much representation or mirror to show me what it would look like," she says. "Now I want to be a part of building some of that history for other LGBTQ+ parents."
To welcome their first daughter, the couple used IVF, harvesting Carlile's eggs for Catherine to carry. She says the experience was "really complicated and beautiful."
"It was complicated because I didn't know who I was supposed to be in this equation," explains Carlile. "I knew I wasn't 'Dad,' but I wasn't pregnant either. Catherine was uncomfortable with all the things that were happening to her body, and the whole concept felt so foreign to us."
"This is because queer parenting lacks a manual," she says. "There's no way to prepare same-sex parents for what a lifetime of exposure to only heteronormative parenting will do to your heart and mind while you're contemplating and creating a new little life."
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Carlile recalls not knowing how to fit in when she attended birthing classes with her wife, leading the couple to search for instructors that could cater to soon-to-be parents that didn't fit the heteronormative mold.
"We found a really amazing LGBTQ+-sensitive instructor who came to our home and helped us navigate and identify our natural parental inclinations together, and that was hugely important," she says. "I strongly recommend this for LGBTQ+ parents embarking on this journey. There are so many mechanisms in place that make us feel inadequate — more than people really understand."
"Evangeline was born to two mothers on Father's Day, but she made it clear right away that she only needed us. The rigidity around gender roles in parenting is indeed a construct. We know that now! But it took time," writes Carlile.
The singer — whose memoir Broken Horses debuts April 6 — remembers worrying what terms her kids would eventually use to refer to her and Catherine. Their anxiety on the matter quickly faded, however.
"Our kids know us …. like, really know us. We are learning about ourselves through them. They're the teachers. I'm Mama and Catherine is Mummy," she shares. "The girls decided that on their own, probably based on what we call our own mothers."
When they decided to expand their family again, they decided against IVF since "Catherine was reluctant to take IVF drugs" again, so they instead tried artificial insemination, and she carried their second child again. She said with baby No. 2, they "felt like pros."
"We were ready for the birth and we had our different but complementing baby skills nailed down and ready for the big arrival," says Carlile. "I never felt a pang of the anxiety, guilt, or confusion that we wrestled with the first time."
Carlile says their parenting approach now seems "instinctual" and "natural" since they no longer feel beholden to "society's expectations of moms and dads." Their parenting roles, she explains, are "really free."
"We are absolutely euphoric with gratitude for our kids and the support from all kinds of people we've encountered as we travel this partially paved road," she says.
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