The Story of “It Takes Love”

Hi there, I’m LL Bird and I am thrilled to inaugurate the Catadon Press blog by talking about its first project: It Takes Love (and some other stuff) to Make a Baby.

The idea for the book came about in spring of 2012 during what seems in retrospect–to me anyway–a burst of momentum in the struggle for LGBTQ rights. The previous summer an epidemic of teen suicides gained national and even international attention. These were kids and young adults who were bullied either because they were gay or were perceived as gay. Of course this had been going on for a long time, but what was remarkable this time was that the issue gained such attention in the mainstream media, and that it caused such an overwhelming response.

That fall, Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better Project.” For those who aren’t familiar with it, it’s an online site for LGBTQ teens where people post videos about their lives. It reaches them in a way that they can hear: online and face-to-face with videos that share words of hope and a living vision of the future. People from all walks of life and from all over the world have posted videos. If you visit the site you will see messages from Obama and Hillary, from celebrities, clergy, athletes straight and gay, Spanish-speakers, trans people living their lives as the person they were meant to be. Again and again: LGBT families with kids, happy and ordinary. If there was one good thing to come out of that summer of tragedy it was that the weather changed in this country, and while things are not perfect, for those of us walking the long road to justice there has been a bright patch of hope.

So in this story there’s the big picture, and there’s the small picture. The small picture is the night that I was getting my then six-year-old son ready for bed. We were in the bathroom and I was pulling out dental floss, turning on bath water and whatnot, when out of nowhere he asked, “Mommy, how does the sperm get into the lady?”

OK, I was not prepared for this. I gave him my canned speech about how the man makes the seed (we used garden metaphors because at that point in time he was big into gardening) and it grows in the lady. But like most little kids, he recognized a dodge when he saw it and would not be put off. So he kept asking and asking his question, until I had to quit skirting the issue and told him I’d find him a book. That satisfied him for the moment, although every day he would ask, “Where’s the book?” The pressure was definitely on!

As it turns out, this scene is fairly typical. Kids think about things and once they’ve reached a point where they just can’t figure it out, that’s when they pop their questions. These often come out of the blue, in the car or some other time when it might be difficult to concentrate and give the answer the question deserves. My son learned about reproduction from a school friend, whose older brother was going through sex ed. Many of his harder questions, about death, God, race, came out of playground. So the lesson is, kids will hear things. Don’t assume you can wait until later to develop a script to get through a sensitive discussion.

Anyway, I found him some wonderful books on human reproduction that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. These books made a great effort to be inclusive. They depicted people with different body types and skin colors, included a page showing different family structures, and another that talked about IVF and adoption. But the heart of the story was always how the man and the woman loved each other and touched each other in a special way. My kid didn’t quite get what was going on in the cartoon, but he knew that page was golden.

My own take was that the narrative was appealing, but it didn’t represent our family or our truth, or many families that we knew. A nod to alternative family structures and other ways of forming families was considerate, but in the end it was a footnote within the main story, which was about straight couples and straight sex. I went looking for the other books, the ones that weren’t necessarily in the library or on school reference lists, and found some good ones. What I didn’t see, though, was a really good book for lesbian parents that could answer questions like the ones my kid had. So I decided to write one myself.

The content and style of the manuscript of It Takes Love was shaped by my experience with my son and working with patients. That is, the best way to present sensitive information is to be clear, simple, and precise; to respect the person’s right to knowledge and where they are in life.

I wrote this book in the shadow of the events of the summer of 2011, in the conviction that all children have the right to be proud of who they are. It is a small contribution. May it add light to the sum of lights on the road.

LL Bird
Spring 2014