Voices Of Equality: Alli's Unique Journey To Motherhood

  • Ashley Nackos
  • June 27, 2024

We are so excited to introduce a new friend and fellow industry ally, Alli Harper from Our Shelves. Alli has two children with her former partner, Jenn, and is here to share her unique journey to parenthood.  

 

Q: Thanks so much for being here Alli. Let’s jump right in and start with your coming out story. 

Alli: It's interesting because I think a lot of people have a significant coming out moment. For me, it was much more of a process, with a lot of people, and over time. It started with my closest family and friends, then went outward from there. It was a series of individual conversations that were mostly very positive and affirming. 

When I told my father, who has since passed, I said,“What would you say if I told you I wanted to date a girl?” And he said, “I’d be so relieved that you finally found someone you felt strongly about!”  

When I told my mom, she was very loving and kind and which was mirrored by my brother who was extremely loving and supportive as well. Close friends were almost all very supportive except one friend who wrote me a long letter asking why I’d give up the dream of a white picket fence family. At the time I thought, ‘I’m sure gay people can have white picket fences, too.’ :) (But I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted anyway. :) 

Throughout my life it’s been an ongoing experience. You have to go through it as you get into new jobs, and someone asks, “do you have a boyfriend” or assumptions are made and then you’re on the spot to disclose something personal. Most of the time I found it interesting to see people’s reactions 

 

Q: When did the idea of a family come into the equation?  

Alli: I’ll start with a fun fact as I think back to that time when we were starting our family and working toward marriage equality! . . .The fact is . . . Jenn and I were the first same-sex couple in Baltimore to apply for a marriage license.   

So, family has always been very important to both of us, and we were eager to have children. We didn’t know if it would work, but Jen and I were both interested in the experience of trying to get pregnant and birth a child.  

We opted for the anonymous donor selection process, but ironically, when we got it down to two finalists, we were able to find out who one of them was based on his profile information and some Google searches. So, we didn’t end up going with him. We went with the same donor for both children and at 18, the kids can choose if they want to find out who the donor is. 

 

Q: You said “both” children? Tell us about your children’s birth stories! 

Alli: I carried and birthed our first child, Anna, and Jenn carried and birthed our second child, Isaac. 

One interesting piece of the Anna story is that I was president of the Maryland ACLU at the time of the marriage equality fight and eventual victory, while pregnant with Anna. I had the opportunity to speak about our family and wanting to be recognized and have rights with Anna right there growing inside my belly. So that was kinda cool. 

 The other funny story about Anna is that she was born in a car (and it very much fits her personality). She’s very passionate and has strong feelings about things. When Anna was ready to come, she was ready to come. I delivered her in our Subaru Outback in the hospital parking lot with only one push. (How gay is that? 😉). 

The kids’ other mom, Jenn, did an amazing job carrying Isaac, who is now five. A funny piece to the Isaac story is that Jenn is a doctor and was working a long shift in the hospital when she went into labor. She had to get in the elevator and go to the labor and delivery floor all the while finding someone to cover her shift.  

 

Q: What incredible birth stories! What surprised you about parenting? Anything you didn’t expect? 

I find parenting to be a very humbling experience. :) In the first year for both kids, there was both an incredible love and energy intensely focused on our growing family and at the same time an incredible exhaustion. 

When we were first looking for books to read to Anna, I was so surprised that there was basically only one board book that depicted a family like us: Mommy, Mama and Me. I felt like I knew the people who would know about more books because of the work that I did, but we couldn’t find them. Not only books that showed our families, but other kids and their families, too.  

 

Q: Ahh, and this is where the brilliant idea and need for Our Shelves came from? 

Alli: Exactly. We wanted to ensure our kids were finding families like their two-mom family – and also the many other kids and families of our world – in the books we were reading, but LGBTQ+ and other diverse books were much too hard to find. We wanted to cultivate our values of pride, diversity, equity, inclusion – and joy and fun, too – from an early age! (We have since learned that kids can start to notice race-based differences at 6 months and can start to show internalized bias at ages 2-4.) Here's a link if helpful: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/emotional-wellness/Building-Resilience/Pages/Talking-to-Children-About-Racial-Bias.aspx  

We also wanted the books to be high-quality and developmentally appropriate – like I didn’t want to be reading a book about a homophobic neighbor to my infant as a bedtime story. I also wanted books my kids wanted to read again and again, including fun, playful, silly books that make us laugh! 

So, we started OurShelves, which is a diverse children’s expert-curated book box service that helps busy families, teachers and others find high quality kids’ books to cultivate their values with their kids from birth. And when we can’t find the books we seek, we advocate for them – with our bulk sales strengthening our advocacy! 

   

Q: Do you have any other resources you’d like to share for LGBTQIA+ families? 

Alli: On a national level, Family Equality. Family Equality hosts events, programs, meet-ups, and Family Week - the largest annual gathering of LGBTQ+ families in the world, where we can enjoy an entire week filled with activities that are fun for the whole family! OurShelves actually runs the book programming for the young kids! In addition to programming, Family Equality also advocates through policy change and litigation to support our families. I also suggest checking out any local LGBTQ+ family groups in your area if you have one! 

On the book front, we hope you’ll check out OurShelves.com. Our Curation Team of experts chooses the sweetest diverse board books for our Sunshine book boxes for ages 0-2! 

Besides OurShelves, Mombian.com is a leading LGBTQ+ kids book reviewer and great resource who we love. 

School-aged kids: A lot of families are running into issues when advocating for our families to be represented in books and curriculum in their schools. We were one of the partners who set up the website, Get Ready, Stay Ready, which helps community members to both proactively advocate for diverse books and/or respond to attempts at book challenges and bans. Getreadystayready.info 

And then lastly, supporting brands that are proudly and openly supportive of LGBTQ+ families like DockATot! They’re taking risks in doing so and we want to make sure to support them. 

 

 

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