Kay Ostberg is reveling in the joy of watching her 5-month-old son, Kyle Ross Ostberg, crawl or stare, fascinated by his image in a mirror.

But Ostberg also has special fears, apprehensions that come from being a lesbian.

"I have to deal with what everybody else does: economics, spending enough time with the kid, bottle feeding versus nursing. Then there's, How am I going to deal with Father's Day? Or when he asks what is a lesbian.

"Being a parent is a big decision because you know your child will have to deal with his mom being a lesbian," said Ostberg, a lawyer who is deputy director of HALT, An Organization of Americans for Legal Reform. "No matter how far advanced our society is, it is still basically homophobic."

Gay parents face myriad issues that heterosexual parents will never have to consider. Still, a growing number of homosexuals are becoming parents, some raising children they've adopted or had in heterosexual relationships. Some gay men are choosing surrogate mothers to have their children, and more and more lesbians, like Ostberg, are choosing to have their own babies by artifical insemination.

While no one knows how many lesbian mothers are in the Washington area, Caroline Sparks, who heads the Whitman-Walker Clinic's Lesbian Services Steering Committee, said that each month, 20 to 40 women attend the workshops the clinic began last spring for lesbians who want to become mothers.

One lesbian mother said that the women in her District support group, which has met for more than eight years, have had children "by every possible way, through insemination by a known donor, or with an unknown donor, through sexual intercourse with a friend, or by adoption."

There have always been lesbian mothers, homosexuals say, but now more lesbians are in the open, "fighting for their rights . . . challenging policies that take children from them and pressuring government to change laws that deny them rights to be foster mothers," said Robert Bray, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Some states allow homosexuals to adopt children, and it's no longer a given that gay parents will lose custody cases. In a 1980

Massachusetts custody case, a judge allowed testimony showing that studies of 35 gay parents over 15 years found that children were not adversely affected.

In the past, lesbian parents generally lived in seclusion and kept their homosexuality secret. Today, there are organizations of lesbian parents that offer support for adults and a group of friends and activities such as bowling and ice skating for their children.

But most of the activities that bind this community of parents take place in private homes, where adults gather for everyday occurrences such as children's birthday parties. It is here, as well as in support groups, that they discuss survival techniques and exchange notes on such questions as what to expect when introducing oneself as the "mother" and "mom" of one's child.

Wendy Melechen, the lesbian mother of two children, said being open with people such as school administrators helps avoid awkward situations for her adoptive sons, 3 and 7.

"We're as open as possible so we can assess from the outside what kind of reaction we're going to get and how supportive the establishment will be," said Melechen.

"We generally start with the director or principal. We say we're a lesbian couple, raising our children together. We've only had professional and positive responses," Melechen said. "You would think, given the amount of homophobia, we would encounter it, but other people in our community say generally their experiences have been very positive, too," Melechen said.

Daniel Hollinger, director of the private school that Melechen's 3-year-old son attends, said everyone affiliated with the school has treated Melechen, her partner and their children as they would any other family.

"We haven't experienced any negative responses," said Hollinger. "Both of these parents are very actively involved in the school and in supporting their child."

Michael Levi and his wife are godparents to Melechen's oldest son and visit him at least once a week. "Basically, they seem to me like all the other families I know," Levi said of Melechen and her family. "There are two loving parents and two children. I probably am the man who {their oldest son} spends the most time with, but I don't know yet how he perceives me or how important it is to him that I'm a man.

"He enjoys some of the games I play with him that the women don't," said Levi. "He's got a momma and mommy, and though I can't keep straight which is which, he does."

Ostberg knows these are issues she'll face one day, and when she does, she'll have friends to help, people like Kristine Steinkoenig, a Baltimore lawyer who was her birthing coach.

"Kay is the epitome of good, Midwestern ideas and the Protestant work ethic. She loves home-cooked meals, family and Christmas," said Steinkoenig, who met Ostberg at law school.

"She'll be a good disciplinarian, value education, be active in the PTA. She's an activist and that kid is going to get political consciousness sitting at the dinner table."

For now, Ostberg wants to just enjoy the wonders that come with motherhood. "It's a marvel watching a baby grow!" she exclaimed. "The other day he started crawling! Every day it's something new."

As she laid Kyle in his cradle for an afternoon nap, Ostberg said, "I remember my father, who is dead, saying that since he had three daughters, there's no way the family name would be passed on. I think he would be very delighted to have this grandson."