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Singer Brandi Carlile talks about raising children as an LGBTQ+ mom

"There's some serious pioneering involved here."
/ Source: TODAY

When singer Brandi Carlile ("The Story") and her wife Catherine Shepherd became parents, they quickly found that, especially for LGBTQ+ parents, there is no manual and "everything is a lesson."

In a new essay for Parents Magazine, Carlile, 39, writes about raising daughters Evangeline, 6, and Elijah, 2, with Shepherd and wanting to be a part of representing and building a history she didn't have for other LGBTQ+ parents who come after her.

Singer Brandi Carlile with wife Catherine Shepherd and their daughters, Evangeline and Elijah
Brandi Carlile, pictured here with wife Catherine Shepherd and their daughters Evangeline and Elijah, said that "when same-sex parents are honest with ourselves, we worry deep down that we are depriving our children of a gendered experience. We have to work too hard to overcome it — that's a little planted seed we can now uproot." Steve Granitz / WireImage

Carlile and Shepherd conceived Evangeline through IVF, Carlile wrote, by harvesting Carlile's eggs and having Shepherd carry the pregnancy. Right away, she said, it was "complicated."

"I didn't know who I was supposed to be in this equation. I knew I wasn't 'Dad,' but I wasn't pregnant either," Carlile wrote. "Catherine was uncomfortable with all the things that were happening to her body, and the whole concept felt so foreign to us."

Carlile wrote that she missed having a point of reference for what parenthood might look like for her and Shepherd.

"There's some serious pioneering involved here," she said. "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."

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Even determining what Evangeline would call them was a dilemma. "What did we even want to be called?" Carlile wrote. "Someone wise, an older lesbian who’d raised her kids and has a whole bunch of grandkids at this point, told me that no matter what your children call you, even if they use the same name for you and your partner, you’ll know who they’re talking to by their voice."

This turned out to be true for Carlile and Shepherd. "Our kids know us ... like, really know us. We are learning about ourselves through them. They’re the teachers," she wrote. "I’m Mama, and Catherine is Mummy. The girls decided that on their own, probably based on what we call our own mothers.”

But although the beginning of their parenting journey often felt, Carlile said, "a little like walking out onto thin ice, blindfolded," they have figured it out together and with the help and support of their friends.

By the time Shepherd gave birth to younger daughter Elijah through artificial insemination (IUI), the two "felt like pros!" Carlile wrote. "We were ready for the birth and we had our different but complementing baby skills nailed down and ready for the big arrival. I never felt a pang of the anxiety, guilt, or confusion that we wrestled with the first time."

Carlile and Shepherd parent by instinct now, Carlile said, and each takes the tasks and roles that come more naturally to her. "I’m definitely in charge of splinter removal, and I take on discipline more than I thought I would," she wrote. "I was always such a cool auntie that I never expected to be such a strict mom."

After their experience, the singer said she has a wish for LGBTQ+ families who are "treading out on the ice":

"Keep on moving the world forward and being honest about your family and your experience. Be clear and vocal about the importance of cultural representation."

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