I didn’t want children. I’d been in a relationship with Maxine for five years and I felt everything was solid. She was a bit older than me. I was 29, she was 36 and I suppose I was the more feminine of the two. There was nothing I wouldn’t have done for her. She wasn’t my first relationship but she was the first woman I really fell in love with.
Our family and friends, straight couples, had children and Maxine suggested it would be nice if we had a child.
At first I thought, ‘No.’ I wasn’t interested. I didn’t feel in the slightest way maternal, not at all. Then gradually I thought, ‘Well, I’ll think about it.’
Maxine didn’t want to do it [get pregnant]. She wanted me to have a one-night stand with her cousin or one of the boys I worked with. I thought, ‘No!’ There was no way I was going to have a random sexual fling with any guy – and that’s when the idea of artificial insemination came in.
At first Maxine wanted to use someone from her family but I wouldn’t do that either. I decided if I was going to do it, it would be artificial insemination through a clinic where all the checks were done and it would be an anonymous donor. I wasn’t going to end up with a disease or a disabled child.
So we wrote a letter to a pregnancy advisory service in Glasgow. I didn’t say I was gay. I just said I was single and due to my age felt ready for a baby.
The letter I got back explained that the doctor in Glasgow did not see single women so I would have to go to Liverpool for the initial consultation, counselling and screening. After that, the inseminations themselves could be done in Glasgow.
In a way, I’d hoped the letter would come back a no-go but I ended up going to Liverpool. Maxine didn’t go with me. She was going to but some family thing cropped up so I went on my own.
The counsellor discussed having a child, making sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Obviously I convinced her.
I had the medical checks done, the internal. I came away feeling absolutely disgusted, creeped out by it. I came out wanting a shower. I didn’t like the doctor, a man with a nurse present. I just didn’t want to be doing any of this.
At the consultation you got to discuss the characteristics of the donor. I just went for the same colouring as myself – same eye colour and hair, not African or anything – same likes and dislikes (I was always good at sports). I wanted to make sure that there would be no strange family traits or strong features, just average appearance.
It cost about £150-£200, the consultation in Liverpool. Remember this is 25 years ago.
I came back to Edinburgh thinking I would just put it all behind me. Maybe it would all go away. But a letter came about a month later, saying I was healthy, there was nothing to stop me getting pregnant. It said I should contact the clinic in Glasgow.
I didn’t make the appointment straightaway. I kept saying I would, I was always “going to” …but I didn’t.
Then I came home from work one day and Maxine had made the appointment for me.
I saw the nurses and they told me to start to take note of my cycle, so I would know when I was ready to ovulate.
Within four months I was pregnant. You got two inseminations each month, a day apart. I would get the train through to Glasgow and I was there for about two hours. You got the insemination and then you had to lie down for half an hour. I’d do it on my day off, arrange my shifts to fit.
I kept thinking it wasn’t going to work. Then I missed my period and I felt sick, awfully sick. I went back to the clinic and they confirmed I was pregnant.
I remember going into the toilets at Queen Street, shutting the door and crying for an hour. I would have sat there all afternoon if it wasn’t for the attendant banging on the door and asking if I was OK. I said I had a really bad headache and didn’t feel very well. She even offered me a cup of tea. I said I was fine now and got the train home.
I went back to the flat. Maxine was very pleased about it, she was happy.
I didn’t tell anyone until after the first antenatal, the 12 week scan – not work, not friends, family, nobody. I kept thinking maybe I’d miscarry and not have to tell anybody anything.
Maxine knew I felt like this but she could talk me into anything, I was so in love with her.
After the scan I told my mother, my sister, my brothers. My mum was a bit concerned about two women having a child.
I felt ill throughout the whole pregnancy, dreadful. I didn’t like it. And then the birth, it was horrendous too.
When I got to my 40th week, I’d been for the antenatal in the morning. It was July, a scorching day but I was shivering. My back was aching. I was told it was because I was nearly ready. They said that if I didn’t give birth naturally over the weekend, they’d induce. That was Thursday.
I went home with a really bad back but they wouldn’t give me any painkillers. They said it was muscular. It was so sore, I was so uncomfortable, I was up all night.
Maxine must have fallen asleep and woken up again because she realised the pain in my back was every 10 minutes. It was contractions, so we went to the hospital. My waters had broken in the night but I was so tired, I hadn’t noticed. I’d been to the toilet and there’d been a flood that wouldn’t stop but I was so exhausted I just wanted to get back to the chair.
By the time we got to the maternity hospital I was so tired and in such pain that because of foetal distress I had a C section, a general anaesthetic.
Throughout this I remember thinking: ‘I’m going through all this to have a child. If the baby dies, let me die with it.’
In amongst all the mayhem, I remember seeing my granny, who’d been dead 10 years, tapping my hand and saying, “It’ll be all right, Dawn.”
I came round in the ward in a lot of pain from the C section and I didn’t even know if I’d had a boy or a girl, alive or dead.
I remember asking, “Do I have a baby?” and they brought the baby and lay it on the pillow beside me. The nurse told me it was a wee girl.
I didn’t feel love. I remember looking at her and thinking, ‘Christ, I’m responsible for this new life.’
I’d lost a lot of blood and I was still groggy. I didn’t feel strong enough to hold her so they put her in a cot beside the bed. The way they put her, she wasn’t facing me, I was looking at the back of her head. I was hooked up with a drain from my stomach, a catheter…
When I came to, next morning, there were flowers and cards. My sister Ailsa had come down from Aberdeen but I’d no recollection of her being there. She’d tried talking to me but I was talking gibberish.
I think that’s when I was told I’d haemorrhaged. I’d lost a lot of blood but they hadn’t transferred me to another hospital because I was too ill. They wanted to transfer me then but I didn’t want to go. I said if I couldn’t stay, I wanted to go home.
I was there a month. I saw loads of girls come in, have their babies, have C sections and move out. The baby was healthy but I was in there for a month so it was a month before she came out.
I went home, Maxine came home and it was nice. She took us back to the flat we had and we settled into a routine with Jenny, the baby. I was on maternity leave. Maxine only worked part time so she did most of the caring.
I went back to work after three months. I used to leave the flat at 8am and not be back ’til 5 or 6pm. Sometimes I did night shifts so Maxine still did most of the caring. That suited me fine because I felt I’d done my bit.
For the best part of a year it seemed to work. Maxine did most of the work. I’d come back at night and do a bit – bath Jenny, change her nappy.
The baby went without nothing but emotionally my attachment to Jenny wasn’t there.
Babies are financially very wearing. I bought everything for the wee one. Money wasn’t an issue but gradually over time Maxine was asking me for more and more, for the baby or for groceries.
For a little while it suited me to do the extra hours but then I started thinking, ‘What on earth’s she spending this money on?’
I can remember buying a bag of 50 nappies one night, maybe a Monday and by Wednesday Maxine was asking me for more money for nappies and there were only eight left. I thought, ‘How can she be using so many nappies?’
I started noticing more – not just nappies but clothes, creams and lotions. It turned out that Maxine’s cousin had a child not much different in age, was on benefits and Maxine was helping her out. And it turned out that during the day, Maxine was going out having coffees, having lunches and I was paying.
It started building up, the bitterness, the resentment.
When Jenny was about a year old, there was a baseball event in Glasgow and I bought a little baseball suit for Jenny. It was a lot of money but she did look really cute. She out-grew it but it was still in the drawer. I really liked it.
I mentioned the suit to a girl at work and I was going to give it to her. I went looking for it but I couldn’t find it. Maxine told me she couldn’t find it either.
A month or so later, we were walking in Princes Street and I saw Maxine’s cousin. I looked into the pram and there was her baby, wearing Jenny’s baseball suit. She told me Maxine had bought it for her.
After that, with a bit of detective work, I found out a lot more about creams and baby bath and clothes that Maxine had said had got ripped or destroyed in the wash. They hadn’t, the cousin had them.
I exploded big time. The cousin had a man living with her. I said I wasn’t bringing up two children.
It stopped for a while, then more resentment started coming up. Maxine said one time that Jenny wasn’t her baby, she was my child – and she was having to deal with it!
The argument built up until I told her to get her stuff together and to **** off. It was my flat, my name on all the bills. I was Jenny’s biological mother so I was responsible for the child. It was just an argument but a lot was said. I just couldn’t take any more.
Jenny was just over two years old when it happened.
I went up to my parents in Oban for a long weekend and took the wee one with me. I met up with an old friend and I suppose because I was feeling so low, I had a brief affair.
I was torn between Maxine and her but I also felt enough was enough. I called Maxine and told her about the affair. When I came back to Edinburgh Maxine was packed and gone.
I was relieved I wouldn’t have to talk to her. She’d only taken a bag of clothes so I knew she’d be back. I phoned a locksmith and had the locks changed. I phoned her sister, asking when she wanted to remove the rest of her belongings.
There was a period after that when she was wanting to come back to live in my flat but I wouldn’t have it.
The girl next door was looking after Jenny for me and I was looking into putting her in a day nursery but all that fell through because financially I couldn’t cope with it. I used all my holiday entitlement but it wasn’t enough so I had to pack in my job.
Eventually my sister Ailsa realised something wasn’t right with me. She came down and got me to go to the benefits office and get sorted. I’d never been in a benefits office in my life. I found it very difficult. I’d never spent that amount of time with Jenny either, being a full-time mother.
I struggled for about a year and then I contacted social services. Ailsa and my brother-in-law were going to adopt Jenny because I didn’t feel I could cope. Because it was in the family and they didn’t have anything to prevent them taking on a child it was quite straightforward. But a week before the signing of the final papers, I had a heart to heart with Ailsa.
She said once the adoption went through, she would never deny that I was Jenny’s mother but there would be no going back. To all intents and purposes they’d be the parents, deciding schooling and everything. I wouldn’t be able to dip in and out. Jenny would be their child, not mine.
We sat up all night, talked and cried. I decided I wanted to keep Jenny. I wanted to be her mother. By this time Jenny was four going on five, about to start school. I started to be a proper mother then.
Before the adoption idea, after Maxine left me, I did attempt suicide. I had gone up to Aberdeen, where my brother-in-law Nick had a garage and sold cars. My sister had taken the wee one out and Nick had gone out and locked up the garage.
I didn’t know what I was doing, I was out of it. (I’d dropped about seven stone, I was a bag of bones). I’d gone into the kitchen, taken the keys for the garage, taken a car out of the forecourt, locked up the garage again and put the keys back in the house.
I knew the area. I’d taken a hose from the garage and I took the car and was heading to a spot a mile away. I’d decided the wee one was better off with my sister and brother-in-law.
Meanwhile, Nick had come back and seen one of his cars was missing. He knew I was feeling down so instead of calling the police he called family and friends to scour the area.
What I didn’t know was, he only kept enough petrol in the cars to move them around the forecourt. I only had enough petrol to get me just out of the village. Nick’s brother found me in the car, sobbing. I couldn’t even get that right.
I had a breakdown. It was only after that, that I had thought about the adoption.
When Jenny started school I got a cleaning job. I had help and support from my sister-in-law. There were two gay guys I knew at the time, Oscar and Lee, who were great – I couldn’t have done without them. Jenny grew up knowing them as Uncle Oscar – he was like a mother hen – and Uncle Lee.
Oscar at the time was a drag queen, so he was on the circuit. Lee had a job as a civil servant. It was through Oscar that I became a housekeeper for four guys, entertainers who had a flat share. They had jobs through the day and were female impersonators at night.
I’d make cash in hand, cleaning their flat, occasionally helping out with their dresses, keeping them ironed, picking up their costumes.
One of the boys, Don, used to buy Jenny ‘Thomas the Tank’ juices for when she came with me. These men with Thomas the Tank juices in their fridge! Jenny used to call them ‘the ladymans’ because she saw them dressed up.
There were some funny times. Don used to wear a mink stole as part of his act and one day Jenny must’ve picked up the stole from a chair and she was stroking it like a cat. They were in fits of laughter.
Things started picking up. I was enjoying Jenny more. We did have a laugh and some good times.
One night they talked me into getting made up so I looked like I had a 5 o’clock shadow. I used to sing then, too. I was known as Oor Elvis. Sometimes I scared myself as I thought, ‘They like me too much.’
As Jenny got older, I thought I should tone it down. I remember we went on a school trip to the zoo and the guy had taken out two snails and was talking about ‘this snail and his girlfriend.’ Jenny said, “My mummy’s got a girlfriend” and everyone was looking back and just smiling.
She went through primary and secondary and all the usual stuff, where they think they know it all.
I had a few relationships in between but I never had anyone stay over that I hadn’t been seeing for a length of time. She never came in in the morning and saw a stranger in my bed.
Jenny was about 10 when Don and the boys sold the flat and moved down to London, so I no longer acted as housekeeper. That’s when I started working in a care home.
Around that time, when Jenny was 10 or 11, there was a lesbian mothers’ group starting up in Edinburgh but they were all women who’d been married, had kiddies, spilt with their husbands and decided they were gay and looking for a partner. I didn’t relate to them. I’d been with a female partner and gone through insemination, it was different for me. I didn’t feel I belonged.
So I went through to a lesbian group in Glasgow and met May, who’d had a child by artificial insemination in London. It was a good friendship and our girls were close in ages but she wanted more from the relationship than me so I stopped contact with her.
My partner now is Emma. We had a civil partnership last year. When I was 18 I joined the army – the WRAC – and Emma was in the same intake. We didn’t really get on then because we’re very different. I was always out and about doing while she had her nose in a book. Our lives went in different ways. She got married and had children.
We met up again at a WRAC reunion about five years ago. We got speaking and realised, through photographs, that we’d known each other ’way back. We started meeting for coffee as friends and over time it just grew into more. I’m in a happier place now.
As far as Maxine goes, she went to London when Jenny was two and came back to Edinburgh when Jenny was 13. I was in Asda shopping and this woman was looking at me, staring. She was dishevelled and because I was a support worker, I thought she must be an old client. She came over and said my name and I thought, ‘Where do I know you from?’ It was only when I looked into her eyes that I knew it was Maxine.
She looked older, in poor health through drinking, smoking; she dabbled in drugs. She started telling me I was the only woman she’d ever really loved, she was sorry, we should never have broken up – and she started talking to Jenny.
I didn’t see her again, I was in a relationship but I think she and Jenny met up a couple of times. She made out we’d only split up because of things I’d done, which caused a lot of conflict between Jenny and me in her teenage years.
Jenny has no contact with Maxine today but for that period, until Jenny was 16, she caused problems. I tried to give Jenny the freedom to choose but when she went off the rails and got pregnant, I told Maxine enough was enough and to get out of our lives.
Jenny has a son now – Ruaridh – and oh, he’s just amazing! He’s seven years old and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do or give up for the wee man. And the strange thing is, I look into his face and the resemblance is so strong, it’s like looking at pictures of me as a child, only with short hair rather than long. He’s so much like me.
I dote on him. I can love and care and do things for him, things I could never do with Jenny. I think she sometimes gets jealous of the bond I have with him that I didn’t have with her.
But Jenny’s OK. She has a part-time job. At times my relationship with her is strained, at other times it’s very good. I think our earlier years have affected things.
Sometimes we can be very close but she won’t listen to me if I think a course of action she’s taking is very wrong. She can be so pig-headed. Ailsa says I was like that when I was a teenager. I’d do what I wanted and to hell with the consequences.
I am over 50 but I am more settled now than I’ve been all my life. It’s just taken 50 years to get here.
If I see Maxine now I cross the street. She’s an alcoholic, living in disabled housing. She looks that bad, I wouldn’t even want anyone to acknowledge I ever had anything to do with her.
But if it hadn’t been for Maxine I wouldn’t have Jenny or Ruaridh.