CHENNAI: They say it takes a village to raise a child. Defying the age-old African proverb, while braving existing social conditioning of parenthood being associated with heterosexual couples, are two gay dads -- Vignesh and Andrea -- who’ve been running the show in raising their baby girl Meenakshi; all by themselves in Sydney.
While this may come across as yet another story with the western world witnessing a recent rise in the queer parenting community, this little family of three has got its own touching journey, peppered with plenty of takeaways, to share with the rest of the world. And they’ve rightly been doing so on their Instagram account -- Dads of Meenakshi -- where Vignesh has been offering a slice of their everyday life with 26.4k followers since August 2021. All in an attempt to amplify the voices of folks from the LGBTQIA+ community and bring visibility to same-sex parents.
On a mundane weekday, while his partner Andrea, a data statistician, and daughter Meenakshi are away at work and daycare, Vignesh, a team coach, spares an hour from his schedule to open up on the intricacies of queer fatherhood and how it has transformed their lives over a video call with The New Indian Express.
“Deciding to be a dad was not a small decision for us. There’s nothing that you as a dad cannot do that a mom can do; except breastfeeding. We don’t feel the urge to be a mother to our daughter. We are her dads and much capable of showering her with nourishment, warmth, and care; characteristics that are often attached by society to a mother,” asserts a confident Vignesh.
A family of their own
The 436 posts on their page walk us through the timeline of events in their lives -- from opting for surrogacy to daily struggles in striking work-life balance while having their hands full with the baby.
“Sometimes we feel that unrealistic and unfair expectations are being placed on us as gay parents. When we vent about not having time to do anything besides parenting, the instant reply would be ‘this is why you need a mom as she takes care of it all.’ About 80 per cent of our followers are heterosexual women who do most of the baby-related chores. Our challenges are alike. Please cut us some slack,” shares Vignesh.
Beyond four walls, the page has adorable reels of Meenakshi’s tantrums during weekend picnics, temple visits, festive celebrations, and while playing with all kinds of flowers in their garden.
The couple strongly believes in equal parenting and takes turns to run errands, perform household chores, take care of Meenakshi, and occasionally break for self-care if time permits; all this while navigating personal relationships and professional responsibilities. While not every day is the same, they manage to work out an effective strategy.
“Meenakshi was born after two days of labour. We were sleepless and exhausted during the whole process. Her birth kicked off our oxytocin levels and parenthood hit our nurturing instincts differently. Our surrogate, a healthcare worker who specialises in newborns, prepared us with prenatal education and that came in handy, to begin with. The early days were extremely difficult. We had to feed her and change the diapers often. Adding to our woes, we were stuck in the US because of the pandemic and even had to travel long hours on flights. We’ve come a long way since then, with occasional suggestions from our parents. Of which, we only follow what we find to be appropriate. Parental guilt can take an emotional toll,” he notes.
Given that the borders have opened, Andrea’s parents made a recent visit to spend some quality time with their grandchild.
“We may have become resilient by raising Meenakshi without anybody’s help. But, with the grandparents around, it’s been a breather as they play a crucial role in sharing the workload. Having seen them on video calls for a long time, Meenakshi is bonding well. For my part, I’ve been treating their taste buds to Indian delicacies. We’re having much-needed family time. My side of the family will be visiting us soon. We’ve also been blessed with strong women around us whom Meenakshi can look up to and ask anything about bodily changes as she grows. But we, as parents, need to be prepared for those conversations too,” says an excited Vignesh.
Besides this, they have an active gay parent networking group across Australia through which they interact and share experiences.
Life on the other side
The couple does not intend to monetise their page at any point in time. Rather, they hope to educate people and spread love.
“I’m a Tamilian from Madurai and my partner is an Italian. We’ve battled our share of hurtful stigmas from coming out to our parents, setting down to bringing a child into our lives. We want our daughter to grow up embracing both our cultures and traditions. We’ve named her Meenakshi after the matrilineal queen of Madurai who was fiercely independent and her second name Carboni is of my husband’s family. We communicate with her in our individual languages — Tamil and Italian,” he highlights.
The fathers have been consciously refraining from sharing the most private moments with Meenakshi and using the page only to document and celebrate some of her milestones.
“Meenakshi is like any other baby. While it’s only the happy pictures that make it to the page, she also gets cranky and cries. It would be unfair to compare her with other babies. I hardly spend 40 minutes a day on Instagram so what you see is just a snippet of our lives. All is not rosy. And, much to our surprise, we’ve been receiving an overwhelmingly positive response from even small towns like Madurai, Salem, Melur, and Thoothukudi. So we seldom pay heed to trolls or negative comments,” he says.
Friends from India often approach Vignesh about his journey of coming out to his parents. His instant response would be to get the financial independence sorted and then, give it a serious thought.
“No one solution applies to all. It’s not a luxury everybody can afford. We may come from a place of privilege where same-sex marriage is legalised. But, that’s not the case with our friends in India who are struggling for even the basics. We’re only hoping that our page will widen the perspective of the general public that children of same-sex parents will be no different from heterosexual parents and this can bring confidence to queer people to pursue parenthood. In our case, both sides of the family were apprehensive about our capabilities of fathering a child. But, here we are.” he reassures.
Proud father of Meenakshi, loving husband to Andrea, and an advocate for equal parenting; Vignesh C of ‘Dads of Meenakshi’ has been normalising the idea of gay men raising a child, one Instagram post at a time