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The Other Mother

A Lesbian's Fight for Her Daughter

Nancy Abrams

Publication Year: 1999

On a spring day in 1993, Nancy Abrams helped her daughter dress for day care, packed her lunch, and said good-bye. Next she drove to court, where she learned that in the eyes of the law she was nothing more than “a biological stranger” to the child she helped bring into the world and raise. That was the last time she would see her daughter or hear her voice for five years.
    The Other Mother begins as Abrams and her female lover decide to start a family together. With giddy anticipation, they search for a sperm donor, shop for baby clothes and crib, and attend childbirth classes. But despite their high hopes, the relationship begins to fall apart, and they separate when their daughter is a toddler. Problems between the two intensify until, shortly before her daughter’s fifth birthday, Abrams loses custody.
    In unprecedented depth, Abrams’s compelling narrative examines the social, legal, and political implications of gay and lesbian parenting. Her haunting memoir asks the question, “What makes a mother?” It is a question that biological parents, co-parents, adoptive parents, step-parents, and divorced parents must each answer in their own way. In telling one woman’s story, The Other Mother makes a solid case for legal protections, including marriage, for lesbian and gay families.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Many people helped me to see that this story had significance beyond my own personal challenges: I would like to thank JP for suggesting I keep track of it all; the readers from Dodge who showed me that I had no choice but to write this down; Jane Howard who asked me to write about a party and who always wanted to know the interesting details; and Le...

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Author’s Note

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pp. xi

I once heard Grace Paley say that any story told twice is fiction. I believe that statement wholeheartedly. And yet, what follows is not fiction. It is the truest rendition I could give of my experience. Nonetheless, I have created many fictions in order to tell this story. I have changed the names of characters and places to protect the privacy of the real people about whom I have...

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pp. 3-43

Yesterday someone asked me when I last saw you. I tried to come up with an answer, but as soon as I began to mentally roll back through time my mind slid off a cliff into clear white space. I had to say I didn't know. When you were born, we counted first the days, then weeks, then months that you were with us. "Can you believe she's a whole week old?" Norma would ask, staring at your eight-pound body wriggling in my arms. At nine months we had a miniature birthday party...

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pp. 44-82

I worry that you will find your beginnings marred. Certainly you will meet people who were the result of something that went on in a petri dish, in a laboratory, or on the crackling paper of a doctor's examining table. I want to tell you that you are not like them. That your beginnings were not so sterile. And yet, against my will I believe there is a proper way to conceive a child. The most important thing, I find...

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pp. 83-111

I've often thought that one day I would laugh and tell you that you were born a virgin birth on Virgin Mary's birthday. It's true. Both parts. You were conceived with no man present. And the woman who cut my hair the day you were born confirmed the part about the birthday. As it turns out, you, Mary, and the hairdresser all share the same one. Stripped down to these facts, your birth is a fairy tale in which you are the enchanted one. A new nativity play, in which Norma...

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pp. 112-145

Once, soon after the breakup, I woke after midnight, sure I had heard you cry. I sat straight up in bed, ready to go to your crib. But when my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I remembered I had moved; you weren't there. I went back to sleep and forgot about the dream until morning, when Norma dropped you off for a visit. ''Amelia misses you, " she told me. "She woke up calling for you last night. "I looked at you in wonder. Had I really heard you? Was it just a coincidence? But it happened...

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In Loco Parentis

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pp. 146-191

I heated up a pot of soup the night I said good-bye to you. But when I sat down on the couch with the warm bowl balanced on my knees, I knew I wasn't hungry. I heard footsteps on the stairs and Whit's voice at the door. "Are you all right?" she asked, striding into the living room. I nodded. "Would you like some help putting these things away?" She stooped down to clear away your books and blocks that were strewn across...

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pp. 192-234

In the rearview mirror I see you carefully sucking your strawberry milkshake through a straw. You appear content, having charmed the waitress and the retired couple who sat at the booth behind us. But you also know that this trip is serious, and you are quiet and obedient for the occasion. You are happy, too. I imagine you share my exhilaration at having just escaped. For the time being, the safety of the cushioned...

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Things That Stay

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pp. 235-261

We were swimming in a pool of Caribbean blue water. You paddled toward me. Then, inexplicably, you sank: suddenly, like a stone. As I dove down, the water turned dark as a stormy sky. In the absence of sight, I groped the wet depths, until I reached you. We broke through the water's surface and climbed out of the pool. I was holding your small, solid body, and you were...

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Ima: An Epilogue

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pp. 262-269

I wrote this down for you in the years when we could not see or speak to each other. One day, I thought, we'd reunite, and maybe you'd ask what happened, or why I did one thing, and not another. Even if you didn't voice the questions, you would wonder. I wrote this down knowing other people would read it, too. Because we're not the only ones who have had to go through something like this. I've begun to interview other co-mothers who lost...

E-ISBN-13: 9780299164935
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299164942

Publication Year: 1999