Author: 

Chris Wilson

Published Date: 

4 Oct 2013 - 12:00

Canberra Capitals coach Carrie Graf, with partner Camille Chicheportische and baby twins Bentley (in blue ) and Charli (in red)
Carrie Graf opens up on her sexuality and being a new mother to twins

Three days before her father's death in November last year, Carrie Graf stood beside his hospital bed with her partner Camille Chicheportiche and whispered a secret only they knew.

The couple of seven years were going to be mums, still too early to know they'd be having twins.

"He could only just speak,'' Graf wept, recalling the final moments with her father Richard, who fought non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma for 28 years.

"He was so happy for us and he said we'd make great parents.

"When I told him it was a secret, he said 'mum's the word ... now tell your mother'. That was something special they could share in his last few days.''

Graf's motive for this story was not about speaking publicly for the first time of her sexuality, something she has never felt compelled to explain, except for a personal letter she penned to her parents when she was just 21.

For Graf, now 46 and a new mother-of-two, this is about telling her story of family. It's also about challenging the evolving definition of family.

Graf and Chicheportiche sit on the back deck of their newly purchased Ainslie home, each simultaneously nursing and feeding their 15-week-old babies from bottles.

Both appear equally smitten as parents, engaging in baby talk with Charli – or 'Chu-chu' – and Bentley – or 'Boo-Bob'.

They discuss wanting to be completely open in communication with their children, including giving them the choice of one day contacting the international male donor who helped give them life by in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

There are only tears when Graf talks of her father, including the moment she turned to Chicheportiche at his funeral to predict they would be having twins – a boy and a girl.

The premonition came true on June 21, a 2.8kg girl Charli born just two minutes ahead of her little 2.7kg brother, Bentley.

"All the sleeplessness you take in your stride, look at them, they're just gorgeous,'' Graf says.

"Canberra's accepting of a lot of things, there's an openness about difference. There's all sorts of different families. There's wonderful families that have adopted kids from foreign countries and a lot of gay parents ... this is our family and for us it's completely normal.''

Graf and Chicheportiche, 38, were introduced by mutual friends seven years ago during a Sydney summer.

They wear rings, exchanged as a commitment to each other, but have no immediate plans for marriage.

The ACT government has introduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly to permit same-sex marriage, which is expected to be passed this month. Even then, it potentially faces Commonwealth opposition from Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

"I never thought I wouldn't have kids, but then I got to an age where it wasn't going to happen for me," Graf says.

"When we met, it was meant to be.

"We have our family, our relationship isn't defined by being married or not.

"But we have talked about it one day, how it would be great for the kids to be there, to be involved in the ceremony and old enough to understand it.

"We feel married, we're committed to each other. We've also got straight friends that are lifelong partners, have kids, and won't ever get married. But we do feel it's about standard equality.''

Graf says she's never felt pressured about her sexuality, given she's always been supported by those most important to her.

Last month four generations of Graf's family shared her home, including her mother Di. Her grandmother, the matriarch known as Dabby, cradled her great-grandson, laughing how she hadn't been so close to a man in years.

"She makes jokes like 'the stork brought these did they?'," Graf says laughing.

"She's 96, she's been through wars and seen it all, she doesn't have a problem ... That speaks volumes. If my 96-year-old grandmother is proud of her great-grandchildren, that says it all for me.''

It's a quirk that Graf and Chicheportiche have kept the petrie dish as a souvenir of conception.

The pair chose IVF, via an international donor. Although they keep his identity confidential, the couple felt it was important to pick a donor happy to reveal his identity to their children – if and when they ever choose to seek it.

"We want to be open and honest with our kids and they'll know who the donor is and they can pursue that when they're old enough if they want to,'' Chicheportiche says.

Chicheportiche, on maternity leave from the Australian Federal Police, carried the children. They were given only a 5 per cent chance of twins.

"It's a physical investment on your body, an emotional investment you're putting your heart-and-soul into then the financial investment really," Chicheportiche says of the IVF process.

"At the ultra-sound [the physician] was saying 'here's the poppet, that little jellybean, and here's the heartbeat'. I thought it was all finished, then she said 'and here's poppet number two."

Graf says, "It's like you've got a tatts lotto ticket, you think you might have won but you're not sure and you've got to keep ringing up to check''.

The children bear both parent's names, Chicheportiche as the middle name and Graf the surname.

"We couldn't really go with a hyphenated name, can you imagine writing Chicheportiche-Graf on the back of their sports jersey,'' Graf says.

Sport, not sexuality, is what has defined Graf's public persona.

She grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Ferntree Gully, dreaming of playing AFL for Richmond.

She started playing in the Women's National Basketball League for the Nunawading Spectres from 15, but has become even more prominent as a coach, the most successful the WNBL has ever had.

Graf was coach of the Australian Opals, standing down after last year's London Olympics to devote more time to her family.

Personal privacy is the major reason Graf has never talked publicly about her sexuality, but she also had concern about stereotyping women's sport.

Graf was bemused by international media attention earlier this year when NBA veteran basketballer Jason Collins became the first active player in the major American sports to declare openly he was gay.

"It's like assuming all men that dance are gay, that all women who play elite sport are gay - it's ridiculous,'' Graf says.

''If that was the truth, would it matter anyway? It is frustrating because it's unfair.

''Sport is a great leveller – men play it, women play it, gay people play it, straight people play it, young and old.

"There's a whole lot of gay people in the arts, in politics, the defence forces and in, God forbid, men's sports too, the last bastion of masculinity.''

Graf recalls writing a letter to her parents and brothers when she was 21, still not sure about her own sexuality. She left a copy in their bedrooms, then left for a night on the town.

The next morning she awoke to her father sitting at the foot of her bed.

"Darl, I don't really understand and we don't want your life to be harder," she recalls of the conversation, "but we love you and support you." Her mum simply gave her a loving hug.

Years later, sick with cancer again, Richard Graf wrote his daughter a letter in return.

"It said whoever your partner is, they're a part of our family and I can't imagine how hard it was to go through that alone.''

Graf says she never has.

''If Cam and I can be half the parents my mum and dad were to me, I'll be so proud. I hope Charli and Bentley will be proud too.''

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