Category: Two-Mom Family Issues

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.

Becoming the Nursing Mom: What It’s Like to Take Turns

When we decided to get me pregnant, I was pretty excited about taking my turn as the lactating mom. Uno and Jaybird had a long nursing relationship, which I always supported, but which I was jealous of, too. I don’t think I’m the first NGP to envy that insta-bond, or the way that it soothed Jaybird like nothing else could. (I did develop my own expertise around comforting him, which in retrospect, was really important for us.) At the same time, I can appreciate, and now more than ever, the hard work on Uno’s part. The lack of sleep, the inability to be gone overnight, the annoyance of pumping. It’s not like it’s all wine and roses on this side of things! That said, I have enjoyed it. It has been satisfying and rewarding to breastfeed. I’m no evangelist, but I’m grateful for the experience.

Ever since I went back to full-time work this summer, right around Starling’s first birthday, our nursing relationship has changed a lot. I expected it, of course, but I’ve been surprised about how emotional it makes me. I find I’m really reluctant to give it up.

Starling has been an avid nurser, and I’ve had great supply, thankfully. The early months were more painful; I used a nipple shield, and then had to wean him off of it, which was hard for both of us. We did it, though, and we haven’t looked back. While I was teaching part-time I pumped and had plenty of frozen milk for bottles.

I mean, the end is not exactly imminent. We still nurse 3-5 times in a 24-hour period, and he’s not so much into sleeping through the night. Usually I just nurse him once in the night, which honestly, I don’t mind. Uno and I discuss night weaning, but I don’t feel ready, mostly because I don’t see him during the day that much. I recognize the hypocrisy, here. When Jaybird was a nursing toddler, I sometimes struggled with the arrangement.

The thing is, I’m starting to see that I could drop nursing more, and Starling would be fine. I recently stopped pumping — I was pumping once / day, but only getting a couple of ounces, and it just seemed silly to keep going. My frozen milk stash is gone, but Starling doesn’t really need bottles now. My MIL sometimes gives him one if he’s fussy in the afternoon, and he takes cow’s milk with no problems. I like to nurse him to sleep, but I don’t HAVE to; last night I had a work dinner, and Uno put him to bed with a bottle. All was well.

So, am I the one that’s clinging on to this? My cousin has 18 month-old twins she was thrilled to wean recently; she actively distracted them during their habitual nursing times, and after a few weeks they forgot. She told me that story and I nearly wept. Then she teased me about wanting to keep nursing Starling by saying something about how I just wanted to be his favorite, and what, am I going to nurse him till he’s 10?

As I type that out, I realize just how snarky it was. Ugh.

It got to me, though. She’s sorta right. I love the fact that Starling makes a beeline for me when I get home, doing the milk sign. I like cuddling him in the rocking chair. I like that nursing him gives us a special bond. I have an awesome bond with Jaybird, but, as I’ve talked about here, the kid is a Mommy’s boy. (And here and lots of other posts to the point of boring you all, I’m sure.)

Now, that’s not just about nursing. I think it’s a certain alchemy between them, related partly to their temperaments and to her parenting style. She’s more responsive than I am, and more likely to give him what he’s asking for – I don’t mean that she spoils him, but she’s more actively tuned in. I admit it. She spends time playing Lego Star Wars with him. Gah, I try, but I get so bored. I’m more businesslike, often trying to get (too many) things done, keep us moving along. I’m trying to be more aware of that and make time for unstructured play. 

And, Uno says that my anxiety contributes to this dynamic. Better said, that I’m hyper-aware and sensitive about Jaybird’s preferences. There’s truth to this. She IS right, a lot.

What of Starling? He’s less strong with his preferences than Jaybird was. He has a tight bond with my MIL, who watches him 3 hours/day, as well as with his nanny, and with Uno. That’s as it should be. He reaches for them plenty, seeks comfort or play from them, too. But if I’m around, he definitely has an eye on me. There’s that feeling of being the center of his world. I like it. Oh, man. That sounds egotistical. I bet you, though, that a lot of parents would cop to enjoying that feeling, now and again. If I stop nursing, will that connection go away? Obviously not, but secretly, I harbor that fear.

When I was struggling with Jaybird’s preference for Uno, it was painful. So I feel kind of like a jerk for being on this side of things. For enjoying it. Uno isn’t like me; she doesn’t mind. She takes both of their preferences as a matter of course, figuring that they’ll probably seek out bio-moms for comfort when they can, and that’s fine.

She’s unflappable, that wife of mine.

I better run. Point is: being the nursing mom comes with a lot of work, and also with a certain kind of privilege. I’m grappling with that reality. Like a lot of things about stepping into the bio-mom space.

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.

Whose Baby?

Tonight, Jaybird said to me: “when I was little, I was your baby, Mama.” Pause. “Actually, I was Mommy’s baby.” He was matter of fact. I acted nonchalant but I’m still so sensitive to those things. I feel like I have NGP antenna, alert to every nuance in his interactions with Uno and I. I explained that it was otherwise but felt at a loss for words, or rather for keeping his interest.

A bit later we were knocking around on his bed, him in his striped footie pajamas. He was busy selecting books for bedtime, inspecting his superhero stickers and climbing on us. I recounted what he’d said for Uno. She responded with this sweetly amazing series of questions. “Do you know who held you every day? Who slept with you every night? Who went to every doctor’s appointment with you? Who fed you?” Etc. Most answers were, of course, “Mommy and Mama!” Simple but compelling and moving. Reminded me, too.Indeed I have mothered that boy every day of his life, and that is a powerful thing.

Sometimes it can feel like Starling is “my” baby and Jaybird, hers — only in a practical sense — and he must be feeling that too. Not that it seems to bother him, per se. It worries me, sometimes, though. I don’t know. It’s just a kind of mother guilt, I suppose, strongest when I feel like I can’t pay him enough attention. The tectonic plates in our family have shifted and I’m still figuring out what it all means. I used to think of myself as a certain kind of parent in relation to Uno and that is different now, yet our personalities are obviously unchanged. So she’s still more of a worrier, I’m still more adventuresome, that kind of thing. It’s just that we’re both the “comfort” moms now, but for different kiddos. I think that’s what makes it feel like we each have our own kid to tend to. I know that will change, though, as Starling gets bigger and needs to nurse less. After all, I have done – and still do – lots of Jaybird-comforting (more, or mostly, when Uno is not around, though every once in a while he surprises me by requesting me when he’s mad / sad.)

More on this later! I have to pay the water bill and then sleep while Starling is still snoozing. After 3 a.m. or so, his (our) sleep gets dicey.

Call Me Mama

The other day, Jaybird said, “Me and [boy in his class] both have mommies. But he has a daddy, and I have a mama.” Very matter-of-fact, sweet and clear. He likes to say that his toys are “daddies” if they’re big — he clearly equates being a dad with physical size — and he seems fascinated and amused by the fact that his grandpa is Uno’s dad. “Daddies have beards!” he likes to point out, too. So, he thinks about dads, but he doesn’t exhibit any kind of angst about it. He’s never said anything about wishing he had a father. I feel peaceful about this state of affairs and, as always, very willing to talk to him about it. I have told him that he has a donor; we’ve enjoyed reading about how babies are made via this great, open-ended book. These conversations feel important and easy, at least for now. He takes it all in stride. I’m sure they will evolve and possibly get harder, but I trust us and I trust the groundwork that we’re laying.

In general, though, I’m weary of the barrage of heteronormative families in children’s books and media. His favorite cartoon, “Caillou,” is perfectly sweet and age-appropriate, but just packed with “daddy” stuff. Like so many queer parents, I wish I had more alternatives. We have curated a queer-family-friendly library, but it doesn’t feel like ENOUGH. I suppose it never will and we’ll just have to keep talking about it. 

But I digress. I have noticed that Jaybird clearly equates “mama” with the “dad” role in his life. He has identified that I, his mama, am the unusual part of his family equation. The parent that other kids don’t have. I suppose that moms are often called “mommies” in books and children’s shows. Also, he knows that he grew in Mommy’s belly and that he nursed with Mommy, and perhaps he’s concluded that the same is true for other kids with mommy / daddy families. That last bit seems like a leap to me, though. Would he really think along those lines? Curious. Also curious: I’m not “masculine” by any stretch of the word, nor do I share any external signifiers with the daddies with whom he’s familiar. 

I’m curious about whether our new little Starling will come to this same conclusion. I will still be “mama” in our family. I am always and forever Jaybird’s mama, his only mama, and so I will be for this new baby. To define motherhood for myself, to figure it out and stake my claim in it, has meant embracing my “mama-ness.” Being a mama feels like a special thing. I am both my son’s mother and his mama, somebody who didn’t birth or nurse him but is equally compelled to love and fight for him. 

I suppose the idea of “mama” will change for all of us, even as I retain the title. It’s so hard to imagine, right now, what that will be like. We only have five-ish more months.

!

 

 

My Brother, The Priest

I’m so mad.

Ooooh, I am SO MAD, and I just have to get it out before I respond to this email that incited my ire. I’m hoping that I can take the high road, more or less, but I’m not in the mood.

I have a younger brother who’s in the second year of the seminary, on his way to becoming a Catholic priest. He’s chosen a particularly conservative branch of a conservative (albeit mainstream) order. I love him, but he is, unfortunately, an arrogant jerk much of the time. He’s only 26, but he believes he’s identified the One True Path and the rest of us – e.g. the non-conservative Catholic world – just don’t get it.

I have tried. He’s told me he wants us to remain close. Yesterday was his birthday, so I wrote him a kind and loving email. I also told him the news about the baby, because I’m going to see him over Xmas and wanted him to know. His response was a mix of religious-speak about how joyful his new life makes him, a statement of surprise about the pregnancy, and then this: “While I can’t agree with how you’ve decided to make a child, that won’t stop me from loving you both.”

Now, on the surface, perhaps rather innocuous. But it took my breath away. That’s how angry I felt. I think it’s a combination of things: he’s my little brother, so the arrogance is hard to take. I reached out lovingly, and he responded with this crap. I bite my tongue, so why can’t he bite his?

He’s six years younger than me. I took care of him a lot, growing up. I remember his birth vividly. As a little girl, I loved taking naps with his tiny infant self. When he split his lip falling off his bike, I carried him to my grandma’s with his blood all over my shirt; I was so worried. For much of my life, he was a goofy, gangly kid who laughed too loudly and loved board games. He was always serious about school and a little intense, especially into adolescence. Whatever he did, he did wholeheartedly: captain of the swim team, straight A’s, first kid from our school to attend an Ivy League university. That attitude also applied to his faith. We were raised Catholic, but he became some kind of super-Catholic, reactionary and judgmental even of my mother. She failed him by marrying a non-Catholic…long story.

I’ve always felt that he sought my approval. This was true in such bizarre ways. He called me while he was in college to tell me all about an essay he was writing. He was proud of his argument. The subject? How same-sex marriage was not a human right. (He wanted me to READ IT). He gave me a book called “Loving the Homosexuals as Jesus Would.” (He wanted me to READ IT). He’s told me many times that he doesn’t “agree with” or “approve of” my “choices” but that he still loves me. Or some variation on that theme.

And you know what? I’m tired of it.

Two years ago, when he decided to go to the seminary, he came home for the summer. I invited him over to spend some time with him. He, Jaybird and I went to the bakery and the park and it was all fine and good. Until Jaybird went down for his nap, at which point I pulled out Boggle – my brother and I love word games – and he told me had to “talk to me.” He proceeded to tell me how he needs to state his beliefs and not be silenced. How he has to be respected for his faith. And he doesn’t agree with me, he doesn’t see my family as valid, and on and on. Oh, but he wants us to stay close! He loves me!

He had similar conversations with my mom and sister. My feisty, volatile sister is no longer speaking to him. I have tried to maintain a relationship mostly for my mom’s sake, because she so desperately wants us all to get along. My sister is boycotting our family Xmas gathering because she doesn’t want to see him. I’m not, and now I sort of wish I were. Instead, I’m going to write him back and be very clear: this is not ok. If you want a relationship, you do not get to make any statements of judgement about my life or my family.

There is so much I want to say. Here’s a sampling.

-If you’re going to minister to people, you’re going to have to learn humility and compassion.

-“Judge not, lest ye be judged.”

-Pope Francis recently said, “who I am to judge?” Do you think Pope Francis said to those Muslim inmates: “I don’t agree with your lifestyle, but I’ll wash your feet anyway?”

-That isn’t a statement of love. Love doesn’t have qualifications.

-You’re alienating your entire family.

-I don’t agree with you, either, but I don’t say that to you.

-I’m not seeking your approval. You are not my spiritual leader.

-I don’t want you around my children.

-I live with so much integrity. I pour my love and energy into my family, including my extended family, while you live in an ivory tower studying church doctrine. Who is living the more Christian life?

I could go on. The thing is: I don’t actually want to unleash vitriol on him (well, maybe part of me does). I would like to be the bigger person. Nor do I want to engage in a theological debate, because he’ll just take refuge in dogma. But I want him to understand that he can’t adopt this holier-than-thou attitude with impunity. There are consequences.

It’s hard. I also think it pushes my buttons because of my role in the family. I’m the oldest and a girl; I was to help my mom, smooth things over, be good. I’m still, often, a peacemaker in my family, a go-between. I got mad and fought with my siblings as a child, yes, but most of the time and most of all I was the Good Girl. I’m suppose that I’m just weary of that.

Heartbeat and When to Tell

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh: that’s what Starling’s strong little heart sounds like. We heard it yesterday at 10 weeks, 3 days. Just…

…so amazing. I teared up. I keep replaying the sound in my mind. It was so fast and sturdy, like galloping hooves. The midwife thought it was between 160-170. That’s our fierce babe! It was such a relief to hear that sound, that utterly perfect beating heart. We had our consult with the midwives yesterday, at a local birth center, and we loved it, as I thought we would. They’re walking distance from our house! They’re a well-established practice, and just exactly what I was hoping for: smart, caring, personalized, woman-centered, non-hospital, savvy and balanced. We asked about hospital transfers (who they work with, when they go, etc), billing, that kind of thing, and it’s all good. It’s a sweet, cozy place that feels like walking into someone’s living room. Also, they’ve got tons of toys for Jaybird to occupy himself with. As long this pregnancy stays in the low-risk category – knock on wood – I’m more than happy to go this route.

At the end of our chat, I said it still wasn’t quite feeling real, and she offered to listen for the heartbeat. “It’s still early, so we might not hear it,” she cautioned me, but we went for it anyway. And after some static and a bit of searching, there it was! She pressed gently on my belly beforehand and said, “oh, yep, there it is,” and that alone was so reassuring.

The midwife said that if I want to, I can feel confident now telling people, as the risk of miscarriage is so low after hearing the heartbeat at this point. I have a one-on-one with my boss tomorrow (standard thing) and am considering telling her. Not sure! I’m not worried about it, though a little nervous, mostly about the attention. She’s gay, too, which helps. I don’t imagine that co-workers will ask a lot of questions but I’m sure they’ll be curious. Hey, that was yet another great thing about the midwifery group — so queer-friendly! Oh, Texas, I don’t miss you (well, I miss some of your food). The midwife I talked to knew all about fertility treatment lingo, for starters. And just being there as a couple felt so comfortable, natural, from the front desk on. The staff at our birth center in Houston was very welcoming, but we were definitely the only lesbian couple ever to have graced their premises and we did feel it sometimes. I probably felt it more, worrying about being seen as the sister or friend, etc.

Uno did comment that it’s strange for her, this time, as regards when and how to notify people. She doesn’t have to, in the physical sense, so it feels really different for her. I remember that feeling. I was adjuncting at the time and just didn’t mention the pregnancy to my students. Strange, in retrospect, I guess, but I didn’t want to have to out myself to them.

Back to yesterday. I took the day off and Uno played hooky for the afternoon. With Jaybird in school, we had a little date afterwards — got (decaf) lattes and went glasses shopping for me. Then we picked him up together and made sweet potato and black bean enchiladas, did kid yoga, cleaned up without feeling stressed about it. Uno usually doesn’t get home ’til about 6:30, so it was pure bliss to have her with us all evening. Two adults! The difference! The evening hours – from 4, when I pick him up, to 8:30, his bedtime – can be rushed. Especially if I’m cooking, which I often am. So, anyway, perfect day.