An American Family: Gay women share lives, raise children

An American Family: Gay women share lives, raise children
Bellevue Leader (April 14, 2004)
By Wendy Townley

Finding the northwest Bellevue home of Kim and Laurie Loncke isn’t difficult.

“We’re the only house on the block with a white picket fence,” Laurie says.

The white picket fence: a symbol of the American family. A mother, a father, a few children and their pets. Jobs. School. A minivan. Doctor appointments. Cookies. Vacations. Cupcakes. Trips to the grocery store. Weekends at the zoo.

The Loncke home has all these things, except one. In the Loncke home, there’s no father.

In the Loncke home, there are two mothers, a daughter, a son and a second daughter on the way.

In the Loncke home, there’s a family.

* * *

Kim Erwin met Laurie Loncke nearly 11 years ago through mutual friends. Kim grew up in north Omaha; Laurie was raised in Bellevue. The women didn’t meet until moving back to Nebraska. Laurie lived in Georgia for eight years, Kim in California for five.

“I just got over a relationship, and I was over it,” says Laurie, her eyes scanning the front yard where her two children play in the late-day sun. “I worked and lived with my dad. That’s what I was going to do. That was my life.”

Within a week of moving home, they met. Kim was in a relationship; Laurie was single. Neither was looking for anything long-term, but fate had other plans.

“We hit it off,” says Kim, also eyeing her two children.

The two started dating exclusively while Kim worked at Norwest Bank and Laurie at Airlite Plastics.

Weeks later, Laurie moved out of her dad’s house and in with Kim in downtown Omaha. Their relationship bloomed. Five years passed.

On July 4, 1998, with friends at their sides, Kim and Laurie were united in a commitment ceremony in Las Vegas.

A month later, Kim and Laurie, wearing matching tuxedos and carrying floral bouquets, celebrated their new lives with 300 family members and friends during a reception at Millard Social Hall.

“It was like a traditional wedding,” Laurie says with a smile. “We sent out invitations.”

Kim and Laurie, both 38, say their families have been supportive of their relationship. It’s been a blessing, the women say, especially when parts of society look down upon gay relationships and the gay community as a whole.

The women’s lives progressed without much fanfare. They purchased a home. Kim went to law school. They spent time together on weekends, going to baseball games and the zoo. Children weren’t even part of the picture.

“We didn’t talk about kids, or any of this,” says Laurie, gesturing to her two children, minivan and white picket fence.

Kim and Laurie’s conversations didn’t focus on children – a family, really – until the death of Laurie’s father, in January 1999.

“I realized that it wasn’t about the things anymore,” Laurie says. “It’s not about what I leave my children. It’s what I give them, whether it be the ABCs, or whatever. I realized that what he had given me wasn’t the stuff.

“It was an awakening.”

Six months later, Kim and Laurie traveled to Kansas City to celebrate the one-year anniversary of their commitment ceremony. Between time at Worlds of Fun and touring the city, the couple decided to start a family. They knew of heterosexual couples who underwent artificial insemination, but same-sex couples? Hardly. So Kim and Laurie called the fertility specialist who worked with a heterosexual couple Laurie knew.

The couple underwent an initial consultation at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. They went through one session of counseling before examining the sperm donor list.

“They wanted to see if we were ready to be parents, if this was a phase,” Laurie says.

Next, the women were given a five-page list of sperm donors. Identified anonymously by ID numbers, the pages revealed each donor’s eye and hair color, ethnicity, occupation, hobbies and education.

The couple decided Laurie would carry the child. When selecting a donor, they sought one with features matching Kim’s: tall, lighter hair.

After the first donor was selected, Laurie, through artificial insemination, got pregnant with twins. Sadly, she miscarried.

Kim and Laurie tried other sperm donors. She got pregnant a second time, again with twins. Again, Laurie miscarried.

Yet another attempt at pregnancy was a success. In early 2001, Laurie got pregnant with a baby girl.

The pregnancy was exciting for the couple. Like many expecting parents, Kim and Laurie went to birthing and breastfeeding classes. They interviewed pediatricians. They joined parenting groups on the Internet. They bought books on parenting.

“We did everything,” says Kim, who legally changed her last name to Erwin-Loncke in 2000.

Then it came time for delivery. Laurie was to be induced Sept. 11, 2001, at Bergan Mercy Medical Center. Too many inducements – not to mention a national tragedy – put the brakes on those plans. Laurie was admitted the next day and delivered MacKenzie Sept. 14.

The first child of Kim and Laurie was born into the world amid a country in chaos. There was joy for Kim, Laurie and their families, but that joy wasn’t free of worry.

“I wondered if we did the right thing, bringing a baby into the world (after 9/11),” Kim says. “All our happy feelings were filled with scary feelings.”

Eventually, the fears subsided. Kim and Laurie brought MacKenzie home. During the first few months of her life, MacKenzie unknowingly was the focus of her mothers’ unconditional gazes.

“We sat up all night and stared at her,” Kim says with a grin.

The joy of raising a child had already begun filling the Loncke home with love. Six months later, Kim and Laurie went through the same process to have a second baby. Using sperm from the same donor as MacKenzie, Laurie got pregnant a second time in the spring of 2002.

Her due date was January 2003, but the baby boy came four months early. Ethan was born Nov. 4, 2002, but not without medical problems. Ethan was breech and delivered via Caesarean section. After birth, Ethan was placed in Bergan Mercy’s neonatal intensive care unit. Laurie and Kim couldn’t go near their new son.

“The doctors didn’t tell us much,” Kim says today, as little Ethan runs across the green grass. “They said that if we believed in baptism, we should have him baptized.”

With heavy hearts and fear for the future, Kim and Laurie baptized their baby boy. Ethan, however, grew strong. Eight weeks later, he was sent home. The family of Kim and Laurie and MacKenzie had a new member.

“We’re lucky,” Kim says. “He’s totally a miracle baby.”

Last October, Laurie got pregnant a third time, again with the same sperm donor as Ethan and MacKenzie. It’s a girl, due, oddly enough, July 4: the six-year anniversary of the couple’s Las Vegas civil ceremony.

“I’ll never make it that far,” Laurie says with a laugh. They’re considering Emma and Ashley as names for their baby girl.
Until she’s born, Kim and Laurie have the busy task of raising their two children. MacKenzie’s 2 ? years old, Ethan is 17 months.

And while their son remains young, MacKenzie is old enough to understand her family: a family with two mothers and no father.

* * *

“Who’s your family? Tell us your family,” Laurie asks MacKenzie, a tall, trim 2-year-old who loves anything pink.

“Mommy, Momma, Brother and Sissy! We’re all a family!” MacKenzie yells with a lisp, while her baby brother claps and gurgles.

Laurie and Kim have always been honest with MacKenzie – and plan to be with Ethan and baby No. 3 – about where they came from and their family. They anticipate more questions from MacKenzie, when she starts preschool this fall.

MacKenzie calls Laurie Mommy; Kim, she calls Momma.
“Every once in awhile she comes up with a Kim and a Laurie,” Kim says with a laugh.

Kim works full time at an Omaha insurance company, while Laurie is a full-time, stay-at-home mom. Because of laws in Nebraska, Kim can’t insure Laurie or the children through her work. As such, Laurie is classified as a single parent. She and the two children are on Medicaid. Unless laws change during the next few months, the third child will also be insured through the State of Nebraska.

Kim doesn’t have legal rights to the children, but family contracts have been drawn up and signed should something happen to Laurie.

Since the children became the focus of their lives in 2001, Kim and Laurie say their relationship has grown stronger. They talk more, but are more tired at the end of the day, like any parents of small children.

“They are my priority. They are my life. They come first, no matter what,” Laurie says. “I don’t put politics before them. I don’t put other people before them. I don’t put Kim before them. I really don’t.”

The nature of their family, both women know, isn’t as common as the traditional mother-father example the world has known for years. Kim and Laurie, however, are comfortable in who they are and what role they play in their family’s life.

“I can’t make a daddy appear,” Laurie says. “There’s no possible way.”

The children have male role models, in the form of family members and friends. Kim and Laurie aren’t worried about their children’s development without a father. The way the couple sees it, many children grow up in single-parent households.

“Not every kid has a dad in their life,” Laurie says. “Life trials happen whether you’re gay or you’re straight.”

On a recent job application, Kim was asked to list her greatest accomplishments. She included her law degree, but was stumped on what else to write. It took her a moment, but Kim listed her children.

“Having two, wonderful, beautiful children,” Kim says.

Local media covered Kim and Laurie’s story when they, with their children, flew to San Francisco in March to get a marriage license. (The legality of the license remains in limbo, however, with the California Supreme Court scheduled to rule on same-sex marriage this summer.)

The scene inside the rotunda of San Francisco’s City Hall was chaotic and wonderful, Laurie says.

“There was so much love in that building,” Laurie says. “There was so much laughter. It was awesome. It really was. Everything seemed real.”

Since returning from San Francisco, Kim and Laurie haven’t shied away from telling their story. They’re outspoken about their relationship, their children and their family. They don’t believe staying silent will do any good.

“The reason people are so critical about gay people in the gay community is because they don’t know anybody,” Kim says, Ethan resting on her lap. “We’re just saying that we’re like you. By reading things and seeing pictures, maybe they’ll realize they’re just like us. And that, maybe, will change some minds.”

Adds Laurie: “My mom always says you change people one person at a time. That’s the way we’ve always thought about it.”

Since becoming parents, Kim and Laurie say they’re more aware of their lives as lesbians.

“We’re just so used to being who we are,” Kim says.

That recognition was key to embracing their roles as parents, Laurie says, regardless of the paths their lives take: “When you have children, you have to decide, right then and there, that who you are is who you are.”

Because their lifestyle has yielded such controversy on a local, state and national level, Kim and Laurie anticipate tough days ahead as they raise their children and actively participate in the community as parents.

Any fear or concern, Laurie says, is worth the price of having a family.

“I don’t care if you like or dislike, believe or don’t believe, or any of that about our family,” Laurie says. “I can’t change that. But I will ask you to respect my children and respect Kim and myself. And we’ll hold you to that, just like anybody else.”

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