Her voice came through the phone light, yet purposeful. We had rescheduled our call from earlier that day as Rui Cai had been enjoying the summer sun with her twin babies, Helen and Harry, and needed to find a calm place to sit. Cai and her partner, Cleo Wu, were one of the first same-sex couples in China to have used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to conceive their children. The couple’s fraternal twins, were born in one of Beijing’s private hospitals in April 2016.
In a country where only in 2001 was homosexuality removed from the list of mental illnesses, Cai and Wu’s marriage and their children to many stands as a unique and hopeful partnership. During our conversation Cai made it clear that in raising her children, she and her wife will focus on giving her kids the agency to decide how they will tell the story of their lives. “I will not teach my children about how to explain our family. I won’t tell them how to respond to others. Rather I will focus on giving them a happy worldview and state of mind.”
Marriage Across the Pond
Cai and Wu married in England in July 2014, only a few months after the country formally implemented its new law permitting same-sex marriage. After marrying, the couple attempted IVF treatment twice in England before finding success in Portland, Oregon in the United States. The couple used Wu’s egg and a donor sperm to conceive their children while Cai carried and later gave birth to the couple’s twins.
China does not recognize same-sex marriage, and also does not permit single women access to sperm banks or IVF treatment. Therefore, when it came time to have children, Cai and Wu knew they had to leave the country. Cai admits that they were fortunate to be able to afford IVF treatment abroad. “Couples that aren’t able to afford IVF treatment usually find alternative methods to conceive such as coordinating with a friend or acquaintance in conceiving their children,” Cai said.
Previously a staff member at Oxfam, Cai now balances her role as a stay-at-home mom with running the couple’s social enterprise, Rainbow Babies, an official WeChat group that provides support and resources to same-sex couples and single parents either seeking IVF treatment abroad or simply searching for a community of parents going through similar experiences. Rainbow Babies plans on releasing an illustrated children’s book in September with stories from its audience sharing the makeup of their families and also hopes to speak to those outside of the LGBT community to broaden the understanding of LGBT issues in China.
Family Values of Confidence, Honesty, and Safety
While others may find their family structure unusual, Cai says that at the moment the twins find having two mothers quite natural. However, Cai recognizes that as they grow older, make friends, and meet other families, the twins will have to face the fact that they are growing up in what is now considered a unique family structure. “I don’t know what their [the twins’]methods for explaining our family to other people will be,” Cai chuckled into the phone, “right now I am only speculating about what they will experience.”
Often those around the world opposed to same-sex partnerships will cite family values for not accepting same-sex partnerships. But the foundation of family values are built upon such principles as honesty and loyalty, just two traits that Cai and her wife plan to make the building blocks of their family. “What us as parents have to do for [our kids]is to make sure they have confidence in our family,” Cai stated. “We believe that our children’s’ sense of safety comes from our love and honesty.” In addition to building a safe and loving environment for her kids to thrive, Cai believes that as a parent, she must take responsibility for supplying her children with the emotional capacity and reasoning to come to their own conclusions organically. “We will train them to have the confidence and introspection that will allow them to be forgiving and powerful.”
During our conversation, Cai recalled the story of a single-mother and her five-year old son who are a part of the Rainbow Babies community. When asked about his father, the child simply replies that his father is out climbing mountains, a response that Cai says draws inspiration from the hiking trips he and his mother take together. When asked if Cai might be concerned that the child is hiding negative feelings, Cai pushed back, focusing on the foundation of the question.
“We don’t think families need a father figure. These traditional points of view create a divide between men and women and attribute the [roles of bravery, providing for the family, and courage]solely to men.” Cai believes that, both men and women can provide well-rounded and nurturing households for their children, regardless of the gender of their parents.
An International Marriage, A Domestic Birth
Often same-sex couples will choose to adopt, but when asked why the couple sought IVF treatment rather than adopting, Cai cited her and Wu’s parents. “We have always wanted, and even still want, to adopt,” Cai explained, “the reason we didn’t adopt before was because of our parents. Our parents wanted very much for us to have our own [biological]kids.” When discussing their parents’ reactions, Cai laughed and said she was surprised, not realizing how much her dad valued these traditional norms. “Now he even talks a lot about the type of house we will need,” Cai giggled. While part of the reason they had their children was for their parents, the couple says they may consider adoption once the twins are older and life is more settled.
Cai said that in the future, the couple would support their children no matter who they choose as their partners. Though the couple may not stay in Beijing forever, Cai said barring a few awkward occurrences, she has found the community in the city welcoming to her family. When asked if there was anything she would want her kids to know Cai responded, “Mama and Mommy love you.”
For more information on Rainbow Babies, follow their WeChat account (lgbtbabies).
Photos: Rui Cai