Category: Non-Gestational Mom

When Is a Good Time to Mention That I Gave Birth to This Kid, But Not That One?

Let’s just say that I’m talking to someone I don’t know well, and the fact that I have a toddler comes up. This might be, say, when I’m talking to the only other nursing mom in the office, and we’re joking about the pumping room. Then, the conversation goes something like this:

“How old is your son?”

“He’s 16 months, and my older son is 5.”

“[Generic commentary about having kids. Sleep deprivation, childcare amiright!, aren’t they cute / don’t they make you crazy, haha.]”

At some point, we reach The Moment. Do I explain that I carried the younger one, and that my wife carried the older one? Does it matter? Probably not. But it can be awkward to NOT explain, especially if I’m going to see this person again. My supervisor, for example, recently said to me, “well, you’ve given birth twice, so you can handle anything.”

Which is a nice thing to say, but isn’t true…

…and I didn’t correct her, because the moment passed quickly. It’s bugging me, though.

It also comes up sometimes when someone mentions genetic resemblance. I don’t know. On the one hand, the world does not need to know. On the other hand, I know, my kids know, my wife knows, and it does affect our family dynamics – not negatively or positively, mind you, but it just IS. I’m reminded of writing this post, years ago, when Jaybird was little. I’m reminded of feeling like I was going “non-bio incognito” when I was out alone with Jaybird as a baby. I wonder, actually, sometimes, if Jaybird thinks about this when it’s just the two of us and someone refers to me as his “mom,” singular. He usually corrects people – “that’s my mama” – because of course, to him, that distinction is really important. Will it be later? I don’t know.

I mean, it’s not their business. I guess it’s most on my mind when I’m talking to other moms, like the other nursing mom at work, and I just know that she assumes that I nursed Jaybird too. It’s funny, for me. There’s the whole question of relating on a first-time-nursing-mom level, which I’d argue is different than relating to a second-time-nursing-mom.

Really, it’s not unlike the question of whether to come out when people assume that you have a husband. The answer to that is usually easier, for me. I try to say “WIFE” clearly at some point before things get awkward. But when it comes to the kiddos, it’s not so obvious.

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Mama Date

Jaybird and I need a date. Much of our time together lately is with the baby, which means I’m often distracted or having to nurse or needing J to stop pulling on his brother’s face. Other times he’s mainly attended to by others: my wife or my brother- and mother-in-law, both of whom live with us, as you may recall. End result, he and I don’t get much quality time. We used to go on adventures together, taking city buses to the downtown library or just goofing off in the grocery store, and I miss it. Also, I want to put some good stuff in the bank with him. He’s been testing and I can get snippy, especially in the evening. He blithely chooses both Uno and – a bit more painful for me – my brother in law over me. I get it. BIL is way more fun, and Uno is Mommy, his lifelong love. Both of them have more energy for him lately, but they’re also just on Jaybird-duty more. Anyway. I try to get in on bedtime stories, which is cozy and sweet even though he initially doesn’t want me to do it over Uno.

I guess I’m a lot more matter-of-fact about his preferences now, especially since I know that love and favoritism aren’t the same. We love each other madly. But he does have a favorite parent. It’s okay. He’s little, and it’s not uncommon even in hetero families (Google confirms). Still, it can sting. I know the best antidote is time together. We need play time, special time. If I let myself get hurt about his preferences, then I’m putting the burden of affirmation on him, a four year old… So I’m thinking a lot about being proactive. I’m going to fend off the ouch I feel when he says he wants someone else.

Typing on my phone, and must go now to pick him up. Perhaps we’ll go for burgers even though I do have Starling, who needs a nap. Or hmmm…ice cream later? A little bribe is ok, right? Er, not to be all Disneyland Dad about it.

Oh this parenting thing. Heart on the line, much of the time.

The Middle of the Wait

I don’t feel pregnant. Last month I was so convinced, so I’m taking the lack of signs as a good sign. Here we are a week past the IUI and I’m doing a pretty good job of distracting myself. This time I have done very little Googling. I am tracking my temp and still going to acupuncture, but I am (mostly) not thinking about it constantly.

Funny how stubborn hope is, though. It latches onto little things, like the acupuncturist saying that my pulse felt different, or Jaybird announcing that I have “a baby in there.” I’m trying not to talk about it around him, so that he doesn’t get confused, though this morning it did come up. He came into our bed and asked for “nana,” which he calls nursing. We’re a few months post-weaning and he still sometimes asks. “Can I check please, Mommy? Can I check on both sides?” He said today. It was unbearably sweet. Anyway, Uno said it’d be Mama who had the nana next time, which made him laugh and brought on the baby conversation. I do look forward to nursing, I’ll admit. Our son had such an intense, long-lived nursing bond with Uno that I have admired, envied, felt confounded by and celebrated by turns. At points, I wished so badly that I could offer him that singular comfort. At other times, I was grateful that I didn’t have a child attached to my breast at all times.

I have another reading coming up this week – last one for the foreseeable future – and I’m working on a little piece about being a non-bio mom. It’s fun and hard, mainly because there’s just so much material and I don’t have an organizing principle for any of it yet. We’ll see. It’s an event featuring queer writers. I’m pretty sure that my fellow readers are all younger and more political than me, and I’m looking forward to bringing my own voice into the mix in all its banal, family-oriented, quasi-suburban glory. Well, just kidding about the banal (I hope!)

Working on this, I’m struck by how different it is to be entering bio-mom territory. The hope, the anticipation, is similar, but there is an intensity that wasn’t there before. I’m a little bit afraid of the difference, because I don’t want there to be something about this experience that dilutes what I have with my son. I’m a little afraid even to write about it, because I don’t want to privilege biology in a way that used to hurt me terribly as an NGP.

Of course, differences don’t have to be threatening. They can be empowering. They can be instructive.

In With The New

So much to say, so little time, so I’m just going to go for a little bullet recap. And hope that I’m more articulate later.

Jaybird

  • Is in preschool! After some separation anxiety, he has taken to it like a champ. He constantly recites the names of his friends there and has magically acquired the ability to pick up after himself. I love his snazzy trick for putting on his backpack by flipping it over his head. Kid is charming and quite independent. I’m always trying to sneak in cuddles and kisses, but he likes to tell me he’s too busy.
  • Is not really potty-trained, but we’re trying. He’s in undies almost always (or naked, his preferred outfit) and some days are fantastically dry, others full of accidents. At least it’s summer and he’s usually game to pee on a tree.
  • Has two speeds: fast and crash. Last month he had to get stitches after jumping on the bed went awry. And then he fell off the step a week later and busted it open AGAIN. His moms are quite nervous now about tumbles.
  • Is almost weaned. Uno has no more milk as of recently. He still likes to check daily. “Mommy, I’m just going to check,” he’ll say. He still wants it to go to sleep and to wake up, even without the milk itself, and Uno is patiently letting him slowly adjust to not having it. It’s resulted in a spike of Mommy clinginess. We’re both tired of hearing “Mommy Mommy Mommy” all the time. I’m mostly, pretty much, not taking it personally, but I’ll admit I look forward to the day when he requests me for something. Uno says that he does sometimes when I’m not around and I believe her. But I think I might need video.
  • No longer naps. He’s done. It has freed up our evenings, given that he sleeps about 7:30 – 7:30 each night, and it has cured him of night wakings. Oh, lord, how I love it. Sometimes we feel guilty, though, when he gets fussy and droopy around 4 or 5 pm and we keep him awake (knowing he could probably use a nap). Also, evenings are a little rushed: dinner-bath-bed has to happen in short order.

Moms

  • We are two working women, now! Being financially solvent is definitely a relief. Uno’s job is emotionally draining, and sometimes we discuss her looking for a new one. Being a counselor for traumatized kids / families – you can imagine that some days are hard and hard to leave at work.
  • My job, on the other hand, requires almost no emotional investment. It’s a) low stress and b) full of twentysomethings who prefer pinging me via chat rather than talking to me even when we are TWO DESKS AWAY from each other (but are clever, fun and make me laugh). I still look around on occasion and can’t believe this is my life. It’s so different than adjuncting. I can’t even begin. There is a margarita machine in the break room. There is a break room. There is a 401K. It’s pretty soulless, though. I mean, it is. I am not using my powers for good. (It’s ad copy, did I say that?)
  • We continue to help take care of Uno’s grandmother, who has Alzheimer’s. It is a lot of work, but very necessary. Uno has her power of attorney and is the one shouldering most of the planning, calling, finances, legal issues and so on. I worry about her and compassion fatigue, given this and her job.
  • That said, our summer has been full of good friends and beach time, berry picking and visiting. We have been careful with our time, trying to do things that nurture our family, and I’m proud of us for that.
  • Our garden is thriving like never before, just chock full of zucchini and tomatoes and beans and flowers, and it feels like a lovely corollary to our lives.
  • Oh, and I AM GETTING AN ESSAY PUBLISHED IN SALON. It’s a short memoir piece. I can’t believe it, am pretty excited, pretty nervous, grateful, in shock. I’ve had other publications but never so public, so visible.
  • Finally, baby #2 is still very much on our minds, but we put the process on hold until next month or September. I found out that I can have 16 – yes, 16 – weeks of paid leave, but I have to be at this job a calendar year before I qualify. Hence the waiting. It was hard to wait after just one try, but after the first cycle came and went I realized I was relieved, too. Juggling the new job and new childcare configurations and everything else is a balancing act, one that we’re getting better at, but I think TTC would have tipped the scales too much this particular month and last. I’m hopeful that when we start again, my body and I will be more relaxed.

Some Boys Have Mamas

Jaybird and I were reading “Where The Wild Things Are” the other night, which is a new favorite of his. He loves to yell “rawr!” when the wild things first appear. I turned the page to the one where Max sets sail on his boat, and Jaybird stopped me.

“Where’s his mommy and dad?” He asked.

“Do you think he has a mommy and a dad?” I said.

“Yeah.”

“He could have a mommy and a mama,” I said.

Jaybird laughed. Laughed! “Noooo.”

I did a little of my usual “people have lots of different kinds of families” shtick, and he listened, and then he said:

“Some boys have dadas.”

“Yep,” I said.

“And some boys have mamas,” he said, patting me.

It amused me that he had so deftly concluded that I would be the “dad” in the parental equation. I also thought, wow, maybe this is the moment where he says something like “Why don’t I have a dad?” Or, “most other kids have dads,” so I was getting ready to tell him about the nice man who helped us make him but is not his dad (which I have mentioned before, but he’s never seemed to care), when he sat up a little straighter on my lap. Then he shouted cheerfully,

“I don’t have a tail!”

“Nope,” I said, “you don’t.”

“AND I don’t have trees in my room.”

I have to admit I was feeling pretty relieved at this point. “Wouldn’t it be fun if you did?” I said. And we kept reading about Max and his adventures.

My Body, Our Baby: How Strange It Is To Switch Roles

Things are moving right into TTC land, in that we have an initial appointment at Big Fertility Clinic on Tuesday. Sadly, Uno is likely not able to shuffle her schedule to make it with me, so I may go it alone – which feels weird. She’s sad about it, but the practical side of us knows that much work shuffling may be in our future, and she’d rather cancel appointments and things when we’re in IUI territory. My sweet Uno, by the way, has such a emotionally demanding, intensive job working with kids, and I never talk about it here, but seriously. Props to her.

So here I am, getting ready to fill out paperwork. It’s so strange to have the spotlight shining on my body this time. All these health history questions, scrutiny of my cycles, anticipating the drawing of blood and the inserting of instruments: surreal. I can’t help but feel like an impostor. Am I really the one doing this? I’m so used to it being Uno. I worried with her, was riveted by her basal body temperature, cried with each negative pregnancy test, paced the hallway while she got the HSG, tucked vials of sperm into my armpit to keep them warm, held her hand through the “dildo cam” ultrasounds. Oh, yes, I was in it. But it wasn’t my body. And at the end of the day, or the appointment, I could go get a drink or a latte, oblivious to my own body’s rhythms and twinges.

When she got pregnant, I was often relieved that it wasn’t me going through the nausea, the discomfort. I also relished being able to feed her protein shakes and to curve along her spine with my hands on her growing belly. I remember so well that astonishing sensation of Jaybird rolling beneath her skin. I honestly didn’t think much about what it’d be like for me to experience it in my own body. I took so much pleasure in being there beside her.

But I did feel left out by the medical system and the culture at large. I mean, I did. The pregnancy books were so alienating. The forms all said “mother” and “father.” Every checkup, ultrasound, and birth class I’d be anxious beforehand, and have to steel myself in case I was treated oddly. I was often ignored by medical staff. Fellow pregnant couples in waiting rooms thought I was the sister, the friend. The language and culture around natural birth, nursing, and attachment parenting, much as I agreed with it – embraced it! – was hard to navigate sometimes. I don’t quite know how to articulate it. I guess I’d say it’s all so biomom-baby centered that I felt left out of the equation. And kind of jerky for thinking that, because that focus is for a good reason, right? Women have had to endure so many asinine, patriarchal attitudes about birth and parenting. I was confused by own confusion, by my upset feelings. For the first time in my life I thought: “it’d be so much easier if I were a man.”

So, yep. It was during the pregnancy and lead-up to the birth that I felt most anxiety about my role. Not a dad. Not a mom. Wait, no! Yes, a mom! At its most basic, that’s what I struggled with. I wanted so badly to just be there for Uno, to be a complete fortress of strength and loving support, and I got frustrated with myself for the anxieties I hadn’t seen coming.

All of this floats through my mind as I check boxes about my cycles and my family health history. The receptionist, on the phone, gave me instructions about how to fill this all out. She told me, “There’s a form for your partner — I mean, I know it’s weird, it says father, but just ignore that. So, she could fill it out. It’s protocol. But actually, it doesn’t matter.”

Well, fair enough, it “doesn’t matter” in a biological sense, but I still wanted to yell: it DOES TOO! She MATTERS! F*!@ you!

The strength of my reaction surprised me. It has also surprised me to feel at once relieved to be in this “simpler” role — by that I mean, the culturally / medically sanctioned and understood role of gestational mother — and to also feel some loss of my “other mother” status. I have staked out this territory. I have worked hard to occupy my own parental space, to be confident in my mothering and navigate these new waters within our families. On top of that, I feel a little guilty. Like it’s unfair that I get to be in this easier role, this time around. I don’t know how to explain that, either, but it’s there.

I know it’s not really EASIER, of course. The physical demands of a new little creature growing in and feeding off of you, those are no joke.

I tell myself to take a breath. To embrace our decision. I wouldn’t want to take it back, after all. I am surprisingly (there’s that word again) eager to experience this in my body, more so than I would have thought previously. I am excited to go through this with Uno again and to see her hold that new baby with her great tenderness, whenever he/she decides to come. I am happy that I can take her advice about birth and nursing. We’re lucky bastards, I know, to have the option of sharing this role. Perhaps some of the guilt is about that.

As Uno would say, I think I need a session. Thank god for this space. Here I go, back to my fertility clinic PDF forms. First up: my name on the blank line where it says “patient.”

Parenting A Nursing Toddler When You Aren’t The One With The Milk

Jaybird still nurses a lot. There you have it. We have turned into an extended nursing family. He shows no signs of self-weaning, and in fact, would probably nurse all day and night if he could. He can’t, as Uno is at work 35 hours/week and we put the kibosh on night nursing, but we’re otherwise flexible. Uno follows the “never offer, never refuse” La Leche League mantra, more or less. Jaybird calls it “nana” – sounds like “nuh-nuh.” When Uno comes home he shouts “Mommy! Nana!” with the world’s biggest grin on his face. He loves his nana with a passion.

There are difficulties. He squirms, he pinches her, he wants it instead of solid food, he wants it at five a.m., he doesn’t do bedtime without it. But they have a strong, sweet nursing relationship overall, which has been empowering for Uno and healthy for him. We’re happy to have such an attached boy. I enjoy resting my head on Uno’s shoulder while Jaybird nurses in her arms; he’s cuddly and relaxed and she is too. It’s a great soothing technique for our wild child. It’s a source of humor: his antics as he nurses, his fascination with all boobs – mine included. If he gets a little nervous when we’re out and about, he has been known to shoot his arm down into my cleavage faster than you can say “stop, we’re in public.”

In theory and mostly in practice, I’m all for it. But I will admit: sometimes I wish he would wean. And then I feel guilty and think, “it’s not my decision.” During these periods of sleep regression, I wonder, would he sleep better if he weaned? ‘Cause I would give my right arm, foot, and appendix if he would.

Also: Would we be able to leave him overnight with the grandparents once in a while? Would his preference for / clinginess with Uno abate? When he’s tired or cranky, he definitely wants Uno if he can have her. He sometimes pushes me and says “no Mama,” and screams bloody murder when it’s me taking over for bath time. I get mopey about this. You know: “What am I, chopped liver?”

At the same time, I admire all the work Uno has put into nursing. She’s dealt with all the infant feeding, occasional bouts of mastitis, you name it. I can go out at bedtime, while she can’t.

I read about toddler nursing a lot: attachment parenting message boards, Kelly Mom, La Leche League, etc. The whole conversation seems to be about the nursing mom / child dyad, a problem I have with attachment parenting literature in general. The most we NGPs get (and mostly we’re called “Dad” or “Daddy” in these references) is a bone about how great it is that we can develop our own soothing techniques. Well, yes, okay. But we are deeply affected by the intensity of the nursing bond, too. It affects our sleep, our time with our spouse(s), our relationship with our children.

Anyway, Uno and I do talk about this quite a bit, but it’s not always easy. It seems like sacred territory. I feel guilty (see above) if I get frustrated about it, or snippy, or what have you. Navigating the weaning question is tricky. She wishes she had more extended nursing examples. We will both miss the sweetness of seeing our boy nurse. We both also wonder: is it time?

Speaking of alternative soothing techniques, my boy is waking up from his nap. He will be cranky and wish Mommy were here. Fortunately, I’ve invented a substitute we’ve dubbed “yo yo cozies.” I wrap him in a blanket and feed him yogurt and cuddle him on the porch while we watch the traffic. It’s our special thing. It’s not “nana,” but it will do in a pinch. Actually, as I type that, I must add: it’s one of my favorite moments of the day. He is so affectionate with me during yo yo cozies that I can kind of, sort of imagine what it’s like to hold a fussy child to my breast and feel him relax against me.