How DOMA is Keeping me From Being the Parent I Want to Be


My baby girl had her four-month check up today. I woke up with a tremendous feeling of sadness realizing how fast the time has gone and the realization that I must go back to work soon. I have loved these days of being home with her, caring for her, watching her grow, smile, and discover her hands, her voice, and most of all her love for me.

Before having Ava, I thought I was going to be the kind of mom who is eager to return to my job for the adult interaction, professional atmosphere, and to feel like “myself” again. Well, as it turns out, I’ve never felt more like “myself.” I now realize that this is who I was meant to be. I’ve never been happier—even at the jobs that I’ve loved the most—than I am right now. My job is to know my baby’s cues, meet her needs, and love her every minute of the day, and I love it.

Childcare in New York City where I live with my partner is so expensive that the majority of my paycheck will go to pay the daycare where Ava will be while my partner and I are at work. So essentially, I am going to work to make money to pay someone else to take care of my child while I go to work at a job that doesn’t make me nearly as happy as staying home with my baby. Why would I do that?

In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Apparently part of what is meant by “defending marriage,” is denying health care benefits to same-sex spouses of those who work day in and day out for the U.S. Government, spreading diplomacy and defending America for wages far below the private sector. (DOMA also denies Social Security survivors’ benefits and the filing of joint tax returns.) What that has to do with protecting the sanctity of marriage is beyond me. What I do know, however, is that if I were straight, I would just go on my husband’s health insurance, be a stay-at-home mom, and my baby and I would continue living in our current world of happiness. I am not straight, though, so if I do not go back to work I am stuck paying out of pocket for health insurance. So while before I was just about “breaking even” with the salary vs. the cost of daycare, paying my own health insurance bills each month would put me in the hole at least $700 a month (and this is just COBRA, which is for a limited time, not even buying health insurance outright, which will add another several hundred to that figure).

Fortunately, because of second-parent adoption, Ava was added to go on my partner’s insurance, even though I can’t. (And yes, in case you’re wondering, we have considered having my partner “adopt” me, too!) Also fortunately, DOMA is becoming less popular. Several court cases have found DOMA unconstitutional and last year the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in court. Just this week the Justice Department put pressure on the Supreme Court to review lower courts’ actions striking down DOMA as soon as its next term, although a decision isn’t expected until this time next year.

So while no DOMA-repealer-in-shining-armor is coming to my rescue in time to save me before Ava goes to daycare, I am optimistic about the prospect for future parents in my position. By the time Ava is in grade school, I hope she learns about DOMA in the same way that I learned about life before the civil rights movement; as an incredibly sad, unjust thing of the past that is unfathomable to anyone in the modern era.

Jen is currently a full-time “slava:” a slave to Ava, her new baby. She is also the spouse of a diplomat, which means packing up the cats and moving to a new faraway land every few years. They’ve lived in Cyprus and Greece and head to Finland next year. In the meantime, she and her partner Barb are the only lesbians that live in the gayborhood of Chelsea and they love it.

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