This week on Queers You Should Know, I have single parent and Down Syndrome Advocate, Jaime Harman.  Jaime became an accidental activist when her Instagram account, documenting  life with 4-year-old Jaidin, went viral and racked up more than 12,000 followers. She now uses social media as a tool to educate the world on the realities of being a lesbian mom to her 4-year-old son with special needs.

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Hey Jaime, tell me a bit about yourself and your family?

I’m a pretty quiet and reserved person so I never know what to say when I’m asked to talk about myself.

It’s cool, take your time, what do you do for work?

I am a parole and probation agent for the state of Maryland; it ‘s not an easy profession but I love it. I see and hear so many different stories and people, I never stop learning something new about people in general. It has taught me a lot about myself and opened my eyes to just how fortunate I have been in my life. It comes with its ups and downs like any job but this career tends to be more emotional. I have come home from work and cried before over stories my probationers have told me or from seeing people at their worst. On the other side of that, I have see people turn their lives around. I hope I was able to play a small role in that. It is a good feeling knowing that I can have a positive impact on someone.

I definitely think you have a positive impact on Jaidin. Can you tell us about your son?

Ohhh,  my baby Jaidin. He is quite the character. Jaidin is just like any other child; he is full of attitude, listens when he wants to, laughs, cries, smiles, loves, gets angry, and everything in between. The only difference is that he has 47 chromosomes opposed to the 46 his typical peers have. For anyone who doesn’t already know this, Jaidin has Down Syndrome. I don’t like to focus too much on it because it is just a part of who he is, it isn’t who is. He is a person – he is my son.

I definitely understand that. It’s gotta be difficult to have that be the one thing people focus on when they first meet him. Do you mind sharing the details of conception? I know some parents do not like to disclose that information, so please don’t feel obligated if you’re uncomfortable.

I don’t mind talking about it, at all. I think it’s important for other lesbians who are planning to have children to have an understanding of the process. At least, it may give them a starting point. It can be extremely overwhelming… but totally worth it.

With Jaidin, my ex-partner and I used a donor that we both knew and loved. When we decided to try for a child, he was the only person that we wanted  to use. It can be tricky using a known donor so we had him sign a legal contract stating that he would never try to seek parental rights. After Jaidin was born, I actually second parent adopted him so I am on his birth certificate and am very much his parent just as his other mom is. The actual insemination process was simple and done at home. It took 2 attempts for her to become pregnant and that was the start of it all.

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Photo Credit: Jaime Harman

Whoa… that’s super fast. I’ve heard stories of couples trying multiple times with no success. When did you find out Jaidin had Down Syndrome?

At the 20 week ultrasound to find out the sex of the baby. They ended up finding a “soft marker”. Soft markers are abnormalities that appear on an ultrasound which can indicate down syndrome, another genetic disorder, or nothing at all. In Jaidin’s case, his soft marker was echogenic bowel. Basically, that means that his bowel appeared bright on the ultrasound. My ex was scheduled for an amniocentesis which would test the cells in the amniotic fluid. We had to wait a weekend to find out the results, which was agonizing. I already had a gut feeling that he did have Downs though, so I was already expecting it. I thought that would lessen the blow a little but it didn’t. Hearing the results was the worst heartbreak that I have ever been through; it knocked the air out of me. All I could do was cry and become angry. I suddenly found myself not excited for this baby anymore. It makes me cringe and feel ashamed now when I’m thinking back about that time. I just had no idea what to expect or how to parent a child with Downs. I didn’t do much for the two weeks following that; I was caught in a mixture of emotions. After two weeks, I made the choice to get back up off my knees and start to learn all that I could and prepare myself for his birth. It wasn’t his fault that he had Down Syndrome. He deserved better than what I was giving him at that point. As the time went on, I became excited for him again, even more so than before.

I can understand that. You had to adjust your expectations and learn what was expected of you. When was he born?

March 16th, 2011 at exactly noon, this tiny little 5-pound baby was in my arms. I looked at him and fell in love. I didn’t think about Down Syndrome, I only thought about how lucky I was to have him. I do remember thinking “but he’s so normal”… That sounds horrible now, I’m not really sure what I was expecting to see, but he was just like any other crying blue-eyed newborn.

You and your partner are divorced, can you tell us a bit about your co-parenting? Do you share custody?

We went our separate ways when Jaidin was still a small baby. We were living in Florida at the time and we had always split custody 50/50, it worked for us. Almost 2 years ago, we moved up north. I am in Maryland and she is in New York, we meet halfway in New Jersey when he goes with the other parent. At 3 years old, kids with down syndrome are put into the public school system so start their education. We were trying our best to agree on custody to ensure he was getting what was best for him. He is with her the majority of the time. I get him one long weekend a month and holidays. I will usually get him four days at a time as opposed to two weekends a month. It’s the same amount of days with him but all at once. It isn’t my favorite situation. Structure is super important for kids with Downs so I wanted to make sure we were prioritizing his education and what’s best for him in terms of his adjustment. Obviously, I’d love to get more time with him but I have to do what is best for his development.

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Photo Credit: Jaime Harman

I completely get that. What are some of the struggles and rewards of being a single gay parent?

Being a gay single parent is… interesting. One of the more funny aspects is when someone that I don’t know asks me about having a kid, I can just tell that they want to know if I had him with a man or what my story is because obviously I look like a lesbian lol. I can see it all over their face that they are dying to know. haha

Some of the struggles that I face just as a single parent alone is that when I have Jaidin, I have to take time off of work in order to have him a decent amount of time a month. There are also times when my friends may have something planned and I miss out on it because I have him. I clearly want to spend as much time with him as possible since I’m not able to see him everyday. Not everyone can understand that because they don’t have a child, so they don’t get it.

I’m happy being a single parent. When I have him, it’s just the two of us – I don’t have to share him with anyone besides my family, of course but usually it’s just us. Also, it doesn’t hurt that he’s cute and women are always gawking at him. He’s a good wingman lol.

He is pretty adorable! Have you experienced any opposition because you’re gay?

I haven’t really experienced any opposition for being a gay parent other than ignorant comments that people will leave on some of my Instagram pictures I’ve posted. People also tend to stare a lot. I don’t know if they’re just intrigued about the situation or if they are being judgemental. Sometimes I will see them whisper to the person they are with and then they will all start looking at us. I’m sure some are judging and some are just curious. I prefer people to talk to me about it rather than just stare at us.

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Photo Credit: Jaime Harman

I can’t even imagine how awful the comments from anonymous trolls on the internet are. With 12.3k followers on Instagram ( @jaisquared ), you’re a bonafide Instagram celebrity. How do you use your online status to promote love for children with Downs?

Honestly, a lot of people are not educated on down syndrome, they only know what society tells them about it, it’s very surface level. With social media, I have been able to show them a real side of down syndrome. Obviously I don’t post every struggle that comes along with it.. but I do try to paint an accurate portrait of our lives. I  get messages all the time saying how Jaidin has opened their eyes to Downs, or how they have to do a project for school so they chose to do it on Down Syndrome because of Jaidin, and just random positive feedback. Jaidin is very lucky to have so much love and support. I get messages from people from all over the world without ever meeting any of them. I just hope I can expose folks to our everyday life.

Can you share any resources you’ve found for lesbian parents of children with disabilities?

The main place to connect and receive first hand information on being LGBTQ and raising special needs kids is Facebook. There are groups out there for LGBTQ parents with special needs children that offer advice or if you have a question, usually someone on there has already “been there – done that”, so they can help you with whatever it is. The National Down Syndrome Society is an awesome site that advocates for people with Downs. There is so much information for anyone looking. They have anything from stories people submit to laws that have been passed. Definitely a good resource for people looking for more information.

It seems like your account is mostly Jaidin with splashes of typical 20 something lesbian life hahaha Who are your followers, lesbians? Downs advocates?

lol… Well, they majority of my followers are lesbians for sure. I would say the next biggest group are other down syndrome families and then just all kinds of random followers. I do post a lot of Jaidin; he is too cute not to show off and I know people  love seeing his pics and videos.  

I also get a lot of younger lesbians. They send me messages asking advice for coming out to their families or talking about how they’re scared to come out. These girls will message me and ask if I have any advice for them or they will just say thank you for showing them that it is OK to be who you are.

As far as the 20 something lesbian life, lol considering I’m 32, maybe I need to up my IG game! I don’t like to post a billion selfies of just my face.. Who really wants to see that?! I pretty much just post funny memes, Jaidin, my friends and I, and the occasional selfie of my mug.

HAHAHA gotta keep folks interested. I think that’s awesome that you’re trying to paint an image that shows what it’s like to be impacted by Downs and being a lesbian. Both communities need positive role models. Since we were talking about lesbian life… the people want to know. What’s it like dating in the lesbian world with a kid?

Hmmm, lol… I honestly don’t date a lot. I don’t have the time or energy but if I am dating someone, they always know ahead of time that I have a son.. who has special needs.. and I share custody. That is a lot for someone to deal with, so if they think they can handle that then good, if not, I understand. I’m sure there will be times, if not already, where someone contemplated talking to me but decided against it because I have a child.

Do you feel like your followers erotize you? I couldn’t help but notice all the heart eye emojis in the comments under your photos. How does that make you feel?

lol, that’s funny. I love my followers, they have no issues letting me know how they feel lol.. It’s cute and I really appreciate it. I don’t get why they think I’m attractive, but I really do appreciate their compliments…… and heart eyes lol. I honestly think I am just the typical average looking lesbian. It’s funny to me to think about them erotizing me… I am such an awkward and weird person in real life – I really am a dork, so it’s comical that anyone would think of me in a not so innocent way lol. I guess I look better on the internet haha.  Also, people just assume a lot of things about me based on their limited knowledge of my life. I don’t post 100% of myself online so any judgments based on my Instagram are incomplete at best.

Want to learn more about Jaime and Jaidin? Follow her on Instagram or check out her recent interview on LezBeMommies Radio or her feature with the Promote Love Movement.