Karleen Pendleton Jiménez is a fascinating person. I was reading my She Does the City weekly summary email and came across her story, HOW TO GET A GIRL PREGNANT: ONE BUTCH LESBIAN’S QUEST TO GET KNOCKED UP which obviously caught my eye. I read her story and knew we had to share her story here. Not only has she written a book called How to Get a Girl Pregnant: http://tightropebooks.com/how-to-get-a-girl-pregnant-karle…/ she is now working on a animated web series based on the book:
I hope you enjoy the YouTube promo and thank you, Karleen, for your candid interview.
1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
I didn’t know if I would have trouble with fertility because I’ve been out as a dyke since I was 18. I never kept track of my body, I still don’t. My period continues to surprise me. But when I wanted to get pregnant, I started studying internet information, books, and monitoring myself. I think of infertility as a lot of monitoring: counting, poking, probing, collecting. I felt like a specimen. I had to fight to remember to be a person.
From the time I started asking a friend for sperm to the time I had a pregnancy take hold was about 6 years. The first barrier to fertility was asking friends for sperm. Not having access to sperm was a huge hurdle. Turns out guys don’t want to part with their sperm so easily. Not saying they should, but it did make it hard for me to have a baby.
My experiences of infertility were a number of intense emotions (here are a few):
I remember feeling jealous. One of my favourite students sent a photo of his brand new baby son, and I couldn’t even write to congratulate him. I still feel guilty about that.
I remember feeling lonely. I hardly told anyone that I was trying to get pregnant, not even some of my closest friends. I was afraid of failing and having everyone know that. I was also embarrassed because as a butch lesbian, most people don’t expect me to want to have a baby. They often think more feminine lesbians are the ones who have babies. I think it was a kind of internalized misogyny on my part. I’m proud of my masculinity, and I didn’t want my desire to have a baby to tarnish my image.
I remember feeling sexy. Wanting to have a baby charged up my libido. Women and men looked beautiful. I wanted my girlfriend and lovers on the side. I was full of passion and even if I knew intellectually that kissing my girlfriend couldn’t actually make a baby, my body seemed certain that it could.
I remember feeling desperate. I took out a new credit card with an outrageous interest rate because I had already maxed out a line of credit and another credit card. With each $1500 month of inseminations, what would I do when I hit the end of the new one? Should I try to find yet another credit card and gamble for the $10,000 in vitro procedure? I decided instead to pick up a couple of men in bars. They were free, and it was a lot more fun than going to the fertility clinic, but it was risky in other ways. What if I got an illness? What if I lost my healthy body? What if I was throwing away my perfectly good life to try to make another? It was terrifying and exhilarating and maybe a bit stupid. But, it felt like I had to have a baby at all costs.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
It has made my life worse because I’m still trying to pay off the debt. It has made my life better because it pushed me to write a book, and this book has connected me to many people. Family, friends and strangers have talked to me about my stories and have shared their own. I don’t like small talk. I like deep, intimate conversations. Talking about infertility can bring people close together. I hope our new film/web series opens even more conversations.
3) When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
When I gave up on certain tactics for getting pregnant, I would switch to new ones. That’s how I kept myself going. If I couldn’t get pregnant with a friend’s sperm, then I would buy it online. If I couldn’t get pregnant with frozen sperm, then I would look for fresh sperm at a bar. It’s like I would try each tactic about 10 times until I felt defeated and gave up, and then I would try another one.
When I had the miscarriage I was very upset at first because I had been trying for years. I had seen the little guy’s heart beating on an ultrasound. I had read stats that gave a fetus with a strong heartbeat a 90% chance of living. So how could it die? I really lost faith in numbers through the whole infertility process. The numbers of blood work, of sperm counts, of mortality never seemed to add up to what was happening. It made science and medicine seem pretty ridiculous. Also, the pregnancy had come from a one night stand in another country, so I couldn’t very well just try again.
On the other hand, I had gotten pregnant. My body had started making a baby. I had contractions when the baby left, and I saw and felt the life I had made. It was powerful to see my body make something after years of nothing. It gave me hope to try again.
4) What have you learned through this experience?
Humility. Didn’t matter how hard I tried, how smart I was, how much credit I could qualify for, how much I studied, how hard I prayed, how much I wanted, how strategic my tactics, I couldn’t get pregnant for 6 years.
It’s like other experiences in life that you have no control over: like the death of my mom, or the injustice of systemic discrimination, or the election of a monster. Each fills me with sorrow and rage, but I have learned to remember what I have control over and what I don’t, and contribute to the world the best I can.
5) What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
Someone told me to hold any fresh new baby, to bring them close and breathe in their sweet smell. My friend said this would help me get pregnant. This was a little hard for me because I find that most people don’t hand over a baby to a butch or a man. They hand them to women to hold. However, right at the time I was trying to conceive, a student asked if she could come to class with her newborn. I said, sure, if she let me hold him for a moment. I did this, and I did finally get pregnant that time, but who knows?
6) Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I’m a professor and a writer. I’ve got a girlfriend of 20 years, two step kids (20 and 23), and a daughter (8). I’m a Chicana-Canadian, mixed White and Mexican, born in LA, immigrated to Toronto when I was 26, and haven’t looked back. I like to go to the movies. I like to travel. I like languages. I like cooking.
7) What is a favourite quote?
“I’m scared all the time and when I am not scared, there is no chance for change. In me. That’s how I teach writing. “Go toward the fear.” I tell my students. “Feel its pulse. Let it speak to you.”… writing can sometimes force action in yourself and others. Sometimes. Sometimes you read or write words you got to live up to.” (Moraga, 2000, p. 185)
Moraga, C. (2000). Loving in the war years: lo que nunca pasó por sus labios (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: South End Press.
For further information, please check out Karleen's website or FB page below: