English-born Hayley Schönberg (30), aka Miss Harley Sin in some circles, works as a professional burlesque dancer and is used to being on stage half-naked in the middle of the night. Now she’s up at night for other reasons, because she replaced the feather boa with milk stains and sweatpants since she had her daughter Emmi in February 2021. She’s currently recovering from a pregnancy related pelvis injury, which forces her to ditch the stage for a little longer. Despite her horrendous birth experience where she felt violated, was denied pain relief and then swore she would never give birth to another child, she is now so far in her healing process that she’s considering having another one. Having another child is for her a very purposeful proceeding, because it involves a sperm bank and insemination. Hayley is married to german Katja Schönberg, stage technician at the Staatsoper (State Opera) and moved to Hamburg in 2016 to live with her wife.
What’s the process of having a child when being a lesbian couple and what considerations did you have?
The process is pretty simple to be honest, expensive but simple. First you figure out which one of you will carry the child – and then you figure out the process. You can go through a clinic or with a sperm bank. We choose to go through a clinic because it’s more legal and better for safety reasons, even though it’s more expensive it was the better option for us as a family. Some families like to ask a friend or find an online donor – this is sometimes risky, especially with the laws here in Germany, and also the fact that it’s not regulated or health safe. We choose European sperm bank and because I have no known fertility issues, other than we are a lesbian couple, I underwent IUI/insemination.
We had to go through numerous of cycles to get pregnant. Also physiological exams, health checks, ultrasounds, medication and clomid-injections to trigger ovulation. I did a year of tracking prior to our positive test to make sure I knew when I ovulated and knew my body well. We were lucky on IUI number 3.
Most important factor for us as a couple was that I would choose the sperm donor, as I would be the one carrying the child. My wife wanted me to feel secure and go with my gut instincts when choosing the perfect match for us. Second most important thing was that we were strong together. Fertility treatment isn’t easy, even if there’s no fertility issues there. The sheer cost of it all and all the work you have to put in is very draining, especially when the end result is more often a negative test than a positive.
Did you always know you wanted to become a mother?
No. Actually I never wanted children, neither did my wife. We didn’t even want to be married when we first met, but well, I guess love changed that.
It was the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my own body.
How was your pregnancy?
Pregnancy was great! I liked being pregnant. I enjoyed myself, didn’t think too much, didn’t deprived myself. If I wanted to eat something I would so I liked that aspect of it. It was the first time in my life I felt comfortable in my own body.
How did the birth go?
The birth was horrendous. I had the worst experience here in the hospital at Marienkrankenhaus. They coerced me into an induction for my suspected big baby who ended up being normal sized. I was denied pain relief and forced to labor alone – nobody came to help me or offer me any drugs. My wife wasn’t allowed to enter the delivery room until the very end because of the corona regulations and I felt helpless. They did a non consented episiotomy (where they cut me) and I felt everything. It was horrific and I said to myself “never again will I have babies or give birth”. But well, who knows. I already have the desire to be pregnant again and make the next birth better. I for sure won’t be going to the same hospital again!
What helped you heal your birth traumas and what thoughts do you have about giving birth again?
I read a lot of information online about birth rights and wrong. It helps hearing other women’s stories and talking about our birth experiences. That makes you recognize that a bad experience it’s sadly a common topic amongst many. Birth traumas is not usually discussed. People always imagine that the medical professionals are there to look after you during one of the most vulnerable times of our lives, but as I have witnessed myself, just like in nursing homes and schools around the world, abuse happens.
Medical neglect and violence amongst women giving birth from medical professionals is very much real. I see it happens a lot here in Hamburg, especially more so since the pandemic because of the lack of staff. This is a big problem.
What has helped me moving on is learning, observing and knowing what happened to me was wrong. I hope one day to train as a doula to support women throughout their birth and help people make informed choices for themselves instead of just putting all their trust into the medical system. I’m also in therapy and I am slowly trying to process what happened to me at the hospital here in Hamburg and hope that maybe my next birth will help me recover from that. I don’t think I will ever fully “ recover “. It changed my life.
I’ve gone from rhinestones, glitter , strip tease and feeling glamorous – to most days no make up, tracksuit on and hair in a ponytail.
Did your relationship to your profession/career change after you had Emmi?
Yes, because I haven’t been able to dance as much due to an injury in my pelvis throughout pregnancy. Right now I’m trying to fix it before I can fully return to stage. I hope to be able to be back on stage next year, but right now I teach occasionally workshops. I’m trying not to push it though. Emmi is only 6 months old and needs me more than I need the stage or dancing. It can wait until she’s older and I can leave her for longer periods of time. I’ve gone from rhinestones, glitter, strip tease and feeling glamorous – to most days no make up, tracksuit on and hair in a ponytail, so I would say my world has completely changed.
What would you tell pre-baby Hayley after what you know today?
I would tell her to chill out. Everything happens when it’s supposed to happen and all the tears were worth it. Also to not put so much pressure on your body to look and be a certain way, because one day it will grow a miracle and it needs to be looked after to do just that.
Text and photos by Kajsa Englesson