Category: Switching Roles

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.