1. Miller, Lisa A. CNM, JD
  2. Founder

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"The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the same roof." - [forms light horizontal]Richard Bach


"Traveling in the company of those we love is home in motion." - [forms light horizontal]Leigh Hunt


The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines family as "a group of people who are related to each other"1 and although not specified, most people would think of being related as the connection by blood or marriage. But recent events and some thoughtful moments have led me to conclude that Richard Bach and Leigh Hunt (both quoted at the beginning) do a better job describing the essence of family than the online dictionary. And, as a perinatal nurse, I think it is extremely important that we be open to the wide variety of families we may encounter in practice. To this end, I would like to share with you 2 personal stories that illuminate the meaning of family in my life.


The first is the story of my granddaughter, Ellie, who is not my granddaughter through blood or marriage but is my darling granddaughter nonetheless. Ellie's mom, Tina, is the daughter of one of my best friends, Donna, and our friendship started when I was in the eighth grade. But Donna died suddenly when Tina was a senior in high school, and I made a promise to be Tina's "fake" mom through her college years and as long as she needed me. I was a pretty strict fake mom, and we need not discuss the mandatory grade point average I set for Tina's college years, or the nickname "The Godmother" that made her then future husband tremble when he was first introduced. I was thrilled to attend Tina's wedding and even more excited when she told me she was pregnant. All these things filled me with love and a sense of connection, but it was in the hospital after Ellie was born and I was holding her and telling her I was her "great auntie Lisa" that I had my epiphany. Tina looked up from her hospital bed and said "but don't you want to be called Grandma?" with such emotion in her voice that I was startled. I said, "but what will the rest of the family think?" And Tina, without missing a beat, said "But you are family." At that moment Grandma Lisa was born and I knew that Tina was right, we were truly family. Ellie is now 19 months old and brings me more joy than I ever thought possible, and every time I look at her I see my dear friend Donna and remember our wonderful friendship.


The second story of family is more recent and involves a group now known as the Hawaii 13. There are a number of us who have been friends for many years, all stemming from our work with or relationship to a professional education company. A few weeks ago, I joined 10 other people in Hawaii to celebrate the marriage of 2 of these friends, Eva and Dawn. Although Eva and Dawn have been together for a number of years, they live in a state that does not have marriage equality. Deciding to take advantage of Hawaii's laws, Eva and Dawn were married in a ceremony that was simply the most beautiful and moving wedding I have ever attended. The wedding was part of a weeklong trip that was filled with love, kindness, and fellowship. Every single person who attended had a role to play, and there was not a dry eye when the vows were said. Over the days we all spent together the sense of family was ever present, and we all agreed that we would henceforth be known as the Hawaii 13, a group of individuals from all over the United States brought together by the love reflected in Dawn and Eva's marriage.


In addition to my family mentioned earlier, I have been Auntie Lisa to a number of children, some related by blood, some not. I would not hesitate to come to their aid and they are all welcome in my life and my home. I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful I feel when a friend's son asks me for my famous "confetti rice" or "cheesy spaghetti." And nothing beats having him and his siblings ask for seconds. These moments are treasures for me, as I get to exercise my "mom" muscles that would otherwise go unused. Do I miss having my own children? Not when I have these wonderful opportunities to love and be loved by those that are family to me.


As a nurse and nurse-midwife, I have certainly seen a wide variety of families over the years, and I wish I could say that I have always been open to the idea of family as those we are connected to spiritually and emotionally rather than by blood or marriage. But the truth is that I have not always been able to see family in the way I do now, and certainly not with the depth of feeling that I have now. I do not wish to diminish the importance of my relationships with my sister, my brother, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but my family is so much larger than those related to me by blood or marriage, and I am so much more because of these other relationships. Working in perinatal care provides us with daily opportunities to see family in so many ways, and I know many of you have stories to share about your unique family, I hope you will think about sharing them with your community. Let's all be champions in expanding the definition of family and help others see that when people are connected in love they are family. I will close by saying that I look forward to the day when no one needs to leave his/her home state to make marriage a reality--though Hawaii is a great place for a wedding!


-Lisa A. Miller, CNM, JD




Perinatal Risk Management and Education Services


Portland, Oregon




1. Merriam-Webster Online. Accessed February 20, 2014. [Context Link]