Do you have a 'Duncle' in your family?
“Well, I thought he wasn’t exactly my dad but I made a present for him on Father’s Day and I made a little thingy and it said duncle ‘cause he’s my uncle but he’s like sort of my dad… but not really.”
That’s how Kaila de Souza, a 13-year-old who lives in Berkeley, responded when I asked her to describe her biological father.
Nearly a third of female same-sex couples in the U.S. are raising children, and more than half of those couples live in California. For lesbian couples, a brother is a common and often safer, easier and less expensive choice for a donor. As a result, like many kids her age in the East Bay, Kaila has a “duncle,” meaning her biological father is actually her uncle.
“My girlfriend at the time and I were together for a few years and then decided that we wanted to have a baby.” said Jody de Souza, Kaila’s mom. The couple’s first choice for a donor was Jody’s partner’s brother, Dre.
“He immediately was on board”, Jody said. “He’s also gay, he’s in San Francisco. And it was just an automatic absolute yes.”
Since Dre shares half his genes with Donna, his sister, this was the closest the two women could get to having a baby that belonged to both of them, biologically. Dre was happy to give up parental rights and after that, Jody said, everything happened “really really fast.” The couple hired a midwife to come to the house, where she cleaned the sample from Dre and did an intrauterine insemination. Jody became pregnant after the second try.
Things have changed more since then. When Kaila was about two, Donna and Jody split up, sharing custody. And they both found new partners. So now Kaila technically has four moms.
And when Kaila was about six, the more difficult questions began.
“She said, ‘Mommy,since you don’t have sperm then how did the sperm get in you?’ ” Jody said, laughing. “So what I said was, ‘Remember uncle Dre? He was very, very generous and he offered sperm.’”
Now that Kaila’s 11, the basic questions have been answered. But she’s still grown up her whole life without a stereotypical dad.
“Still in this actual house there’s nobody who’s a man. And in the other house there’s also nobody who’s a man either. So it’s like woman, woman, woman, girl girl, female, female,” she said.
Kaila lives in Berkeley, and Jody says she has at least five friends who also have more than one mom.
“I have a friend named Maggy and she goes to my school,” Kaila said. “She has two moms. We always say ‘Oh I really wish I had a dad cause we all have like donors, or uncles, or duncles or stuff like that.”
I asked her what she thought it would be like to have a dad.
“Sometimes the stereotype is like the mom is all like straight forward like you clean your room and then your dad would like take you to your volleyball games and like your sports and like take you to your play dates and like hang out with you, have fun,” she said. “Well I don’t really think so. Well maybe I really think so? Well, no.”
These gender roles that Kaila sees in movies and on TV are just different from her own family and that dissonance can be confusing. Jody’s strategy for explaining all of this to her pre-teen daughter is just to be as open and honest as possible. When Kaila asks a question, she just answers it.
“I never worried about Kaila being made fun of because she doesn’t have a dad,” she said. “I never thought Kaila would have even a substantial worry about not having a dad because this is a normal thing for me, being gay, being a lesbian is just a simple as some other person being straight. “
Jody and her partner, Linda, and Donna and Dre and Donna’s ex-partner, Robyn are all bonded together in their love for their daughter, Kaila.
“For me, family is a group of people together that can raise a child with love,” Jody said. And Kaila is living proof.