Mommy, Mama and Baba…Oh My!
One parent’s journey from other mother to babahood.
It’s not every day that you get to change your whole identity. But last month, I did exactly that: I shed my “mama” title and accepted the new moniker of “baba.”
What’s a baba you ask? Good question.
When my partner was pregnant with our son, I knew that I didn’t feel like anyone’s mommy. Once he was born, I self-identified as a parent, jostled in the gray area between mother and father. When I returned to work from post-baby leave, a well-meaning co-worker asked me, “How does it feel to be a mom…or whatever?”
As absurd as that question was, I knew what she meant. Although my partner and I don’t assume traditional male and female roles, when it comes to our personal energy—especially as it projects around children—mine is decidedly more paternal.
That said, we decided that she would be mommy and that I would be mama. Early research on my part did not seem to provide any other insight on how to brand two mothers. I know ethnically diverse couples who adopt a “mother” title in their native language, such as mère in French and màna in Greek, but that wasn’t a viable option for me. Regardless of the origin, typical maternal monikers just didn’t seem to fit my brand of parenthood.
So away we went, as mommy, mama, and baby, but something just didn’t click. First, my partner and I couldn’t keep our own names straight, often calling each other by one name or the other. Second, the personas just seemed…off. My partner seems more like a mama. I really wasn’t a mommy or a mama—and my son knew this, too.
When he was around the age of 18 months, our relationship started to strain. Once he started talking, he would call for “mama,” but when I showed up, it was clear that I was not the one he was looking for. I was not the mama, and it frustrated him. He began to pull away, eschewing me in favor of my partner, which definitely hurt. I tried not to take it personally, but when your kid repeatedly looks at you as he cries no and pushes you away, it stings.
As the “other mother,” I often questioned my role in our family structure. I’m not the birth mother. I’m not the father. Where does that leave me? Am I any different from an aunt? A special family friend? Does my son know who I am to him, within a parade of external family and friends who also love him very much?
Those moments of being turned away by my own child certainly did not help my insecurity, and I was at a crossroads. Something had to change. I was willing to try anything to get us back on course.
I began to explore the concept of babahood after reading Abby Dorsey’s April 2013 article in the Advocate, “The New Lesbian Dad: How some women are reinventing what it means to be a parent.” Dorsey described the situation of LesbianDad.net blogger Polly Pagenhart, among others.
As Pagenhart explained, “For some women, myself included, the word ‘mother’ just couldn’t ever fit comfortably, even with a modifier. ‘Parent’ is what I am most unequivocally.” After exploring various parental titles, Pagenhart decided on the title “baba,” the diminutive for “father” in Frankfurter, a German dialect. The more she researched the term, the more she discovered that it had meanings in many cultures, denoting a warm, loving caregiver or protector.
Although the realm of lesbian fatherhood is still being pioneered, lesbian dads most often identify as butch or gender-queer and are usually the non-biological parent in their partnership. While some stick to being called “mom” or “mama,” many embrace alternative titles, ranging from “baba” to “papa” to the old standards “dad” or “daddy.”
With these insights, I found my place—somewhere in that gray area between mother and father.
I have embraced my new identity as baba. And, so far, so good. I like having my own special name; our son thinks it’s fun to say. When I hear “BA-BA!” hollered through the house, I know that he wants ME and that he now has a way to describe and express our relationship.
Throughout this journey, I credit my partner for her support in helping me navigate these waves of insecurity and self-doubt. She is quick to reassure me of the special bond that he and I share and all of the unique and meaningful ways that our son shows his love to me. Although he and I know that there’s only one mom in our house, we continue to develop and deepen our own connection each day. My son knows that he has a baba—a teammate, a band mate, a caped partner-in-crime. He has a baba who loves, supports, and protects him unconditionally, and that’s one role I’m completely and totally down with.