When I first met Iris and Tori Saunders, they were at home with their then-10-week-old child Troyer. As Iris and I chatted, Tori rocked and bounced their sleepy babe. It was not the first time I had a peek into the sweet family’s life. Iris (she/they), and Tori (they/theirs), have been documenting their experience trying to conceive (TTC), pregnancy, and parenting journey on their Instagram @thesaunders_story since July 2021.
Until then, they felt like most of the fertility content on the social media platform wasn’t for them.
“We couldn’t go on Instagram and be like, ‘Oh, let me just do a quick search for other people’s fertility journey,’” Iris says. “It’s all straight people, and we can’t always relate to that.”
They started their account as a space to journal, share what they’ve been through and what they’ve learned, swap stories with followers, and bring awareness to the parenting experience of queer families.
“I was like, ‘Let’s get something out there, and let’s share more about what we go through,’” Iris says. “‘Let’s talk about the taboo. Let’s make it not taboo.’”
And so they started to share their story. The couple always knew they wanted to have kids. Iris wanted to carry a child, but they didn’t know what any of that would entail. There’s not enough information out there for queer families, Iris says, and so they were happy when they found a community of queer families online, in TTC Facebook groups for LGBTQ people, such as “LGBT TTC (Trying To Conceive)” and “LGBTQ+ Pregnancy To Parenting.”
As they learned more about the options and services within these groups, they met with an attorney and found out they would have to go through the process of “second parent adoption,” meaning whoever did not carry the child would have to appear in court and adopt their child.
“We found out that it is very challenging for queer families to be successful with this in the South, which is super unfortunate,” Iris says.
The couple had been living in Charlotte, North Carolina at the time, but this information and the desire to be closer to their family and community brought them back to Maryland, the place where their love story (and their eventual family of three) began. They started working with Fairfax Cryobank to find the “perfect donor for them.” It was important to Iris and Tori that they choose an “ID donor,” one who their child would have the option to get in touch with at a certain age.
“We were learning that a lot of donor-conceived children struggle when they grow up and realize they can’t reach out to a biological family member,” Iris says. “They can’t find out if maybe they have a half-sibling out there, and we wanted to be really intentional in recognizing that concern.”
After tracking Iris’ ovulation for the better part of the year—“When sperm isn’t easily accessible, you want to make sure you’re timing it right”–-they used their vials with Mosie Baby’s at-home insemination kit and entered the rollercoaster ride known as the “two-week wait” (TWW).
Iris with the cryo tank containing the vials they used with their at-home insemination kit.
They did their best to go about their days per usual, living by the sentiment that Iris was “pregnant until proven otherwise,” and treating her body as such (relaxing, being conscious of her consumption, doing what she could to “foster a good uterus”) while refraining from taking a daily test. There were highs when one of them felt sure she was pregnant, uncertain yet hopeful moments when Iris felt faint and wondered if that was a symptom, and there were lows of feeling like they missed it this cycle. On the thirteenth night, Iris felt certain her period would come the next day.
“We laid in bed and just cried with each other, so convinced that it was done,” Iris remembers. “We were just there for each other in that devastation.”
But the next day, her period didn’t start, and a faint second line appeared on her pregnancy test. A couple of days later, it was bold and clear.
“We are just overwhelmed with excitement,” Iris and Tori said when they shared the news on Instagram.
For nine months (and then some!), the couple continued to post, sharing bumpdates, their baby box, symptoms and struggles, their advice, their love story, and more. At 41 weeks, in June 2022, Iris and Tori went to the hospital for induction. After a long labor and scary birth where the umbilical cord was wrapped around their baby’s neck—which, as always, the couple spoke honestly about—Troyer Rivera Saunders was born.
As is the case with most new parents, Iris and Tori are feeling so much joy as they run on so little sleep. They love watching Troyer laugh and reach new milestones as they simultaneously learn how to navigate the inevitable physical changes and bickering that come with the postpartum period.
They are also embracing gender-creative parenting, not assigning Troyer a gender based on their anatomy—“They’ll tell us [their gender] one day”—and letting them wear a variety of clothes, play with a variety of toys, and do a variety of activities.
Iris says their growing online community has been so supportive of her family’s story and open about their own.
“It’s fun and we’ve made incredible connections,” she says. “We’re talking to people in DMs every single day, and last night we shared on our story that we felt like a wreck as parents, and the response was immediate of ‘Oh my gosh, me too! I thought it was just me.’”
As I started to say goodbye to the new mothers and they prepared to put Baby T down for a nap, they told me what they are looking forward to in parenthood. Of course, as for any new parents, the list is long and diverse. Tori is excited to “experience the world all over again” through Troyer’s eyes, even when it comes to simple things like “This is a spatula!’”
“And just creating the next generation,” the couple agrees. “Bringing in the queer baby boom.”