Confessions of the Other Mother - novelonlinefull.com
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Now, living in New York City can have some disadvantages, especially when youare pregnant.
Sharon and I are very clean people, but there I was, really, really pregnant and sitting on the sofa when I felt something on my hand. I figured it was part of the newspaper, but when I looked down to brush it away, I saw a roach. A c.o.c.kroach! Gross! The floors are mopped every week. We dust. We donat have c.r.a.p lying around. We have a cleaning woman. The only thing I could blame the roach on is the fact that our building now has three restaurants in it. I called the superintendent with the news, and he said the exterminator would be coming soon.
I didnat want soon. I wanted now! Then Sharon found a roach on our desk, and that was the last straw for me, so I decided I was going to take immediate action and visit the exterminator store myself.
The exterminator store is quite attractive. It has a large bug on the outside, the kind that protestors use when they are demonstrating against their arata employers. Inside there is a counter, behind which is every kind of spray, gel, and trap to get rid of gross creatures, and several people sitting in cubicles taking extermination orders. They must do some incredible business.
A guy comes from the back and asks how he can help me. Heas got lots of tattoos, a baseball cap, and really bad teetha"just what youad expect of someone working in an exterminator store.
I said, aI have roaches. I donat know why. And Iave got to get rid of them.a Then I tell him my theory, how we hadnat seen a roach in years, and that I think itas the fault of the new sushi place that opened up downstairs.
He tells me yes, the new restaurant couldave disrupted their aharvests.a Harvests? Farmers and crops have harvests, not roaches! I inform Bugsy that I have a son and a baby on the way (which is quite obvious since Iam almost overdue), so I need something safe. He tells me Iave got to get the gel.
aThe gel is the safest, it has no odor, and itas safe for children and pets.a aIs it strong?a aYes, itas very strong. It should work. But . . .a aBut what?a aYouare going to have to leave the apartment for four hours.a What? Does he think I canat occupy myself for four hours outside the house?
I say, aOkay.a aWhen are you due?a he asks.
aWednesday.a A woman who works there asks me, aIs this your first?a aNope. I have a five-year-old at home.a aSo, which pregnancy was harder?a aOh, this one by far. The first one was an absolute breeze.a Bugsy hands me the gel. Itas got a really cute picture of a mother roach and a child roach or maybe a father roach and a child roach. Cute, even though I HATE ROACHES!
As Iam paying, Bugsy informs me, aNow, you canat touch the gel, so youare going to have to get your husband to put it down in all the crevices around the apartment, and where thereas food.a What?! I have to get married? I canat get rid of the roaches unless I have a husband? What am I going to do? Iam about to give birth, I have roaches in my home, and now I need to find a husband? My friend Lynne canat find a husband and sheas smart, funny, really attractive, and sheas not even pregnant.
Why donat I just put an ad in the paper: TWJL (tall white Jewish lesbian) looking for husband to kill roaches in apartment. Iam funny, intelligent. I love sports, music, kids. I donat want your money, and you can date whomever you want. No strings attached.
Wow, can you imagine my mother explaining that one?
aJudithas husband? Heas Jewish, very handy around the house, great with the kids, and loves her roommate, Sharon. So who am I to judge? Itas the twenty-first century. As long as I have grandchildren, I keep my mouth shut.a
Mommy Times Two.
A year ago my only experience of motherhood was of being aother mothera to our son, Lars, who is now one and a half years old. At that time, I was struggling with my own issues of infertility and did not know if I would ever be able to become pregnant myself, something that profoundly influenced my experience of being the non-birthmother. For me, other-motherhood was a mix of strong and wildly conflicting emotions: joy and grat.i.tude at being a parent, and grief and jealousy at not being athe first mother.a I was ashamed of my negative emotions and reluctant to discuss them with anyone, especially because I did not know anyone else who was in my situation. My thoughts on the topic are in the process of changing again, though, because I am now also the biological/birthmother of our daughter, Molly, who is six weeks old.
With Lars, I struggled from the beginning with what my role toward him would be. I very much wanted to be his mother, but I felt more like a traditional father. Some of the decisions that my partner, Eva, and I made about his early care reinforced this feeling. For instance, Eva took four months oae' to stay home with him, whereas I took oae' only three weeks. In addition, she breastfed him and I did not. In retrospect, I am not sure why we made decisions that conformed so closely to heteros.e.xual roles and served to increase my sense of distance from Lars. In truth, I donat think we even stopped to consider finding more flexible solutions. Fortunately, this time around, we are doing things diae'erently. I am staying home with Molly for three months and Eva is staying home for two months. Our hope is that this will enable us to more equally share in the mother role than we did with Lars in his early days.
Regardless of why it occurred, one of the most diacult aspects for me of mothering Lars has been that he is more attached to Eva. By the time 125.
he was about three months old, I began to notice that she could soothe him much more readily than I could. As he grew older, sometimes when I picked him up for a hug, he would start protesting and want to go back to Eva. When I was coming home from a long day of work and all I wanted was to snuggle with my adorable little son, this would break my heart! At times, it left me questioning my own skills as a parent. Even though I knew intellectually that it was normal and healthy for him to have a strong primary attachment to Eva, I felt like I must be doing something wrong because he preferred her. On occasion, I even felt like giving up and not trying so hard to connect with Lars because I constantly felt rejected by him.
One way that I discovered to cope with this was to take Lars out by myself on adventures, because then I was definitely the mother. This gave Eva a much-needed chance to sleep and have some free time, and it gave me and Lars a chance to bond. He would turn to me for comfort and hugs and to play games, and I loved introducing him to new experiencesa" from throwing sand at the beach to riding the steam train at the zoo. Now that Lars has gotten a little older, he has started to interact with me more, even when Eva is around. I play with him a little rougher than Eva does, which delights him. I dangle him by his ankles, swing him around in the air, and flop him down on the bed. He still turns to her most for comforting, but we joke that I am the aroughhouse mom.a I have to admit, though, that there is an upside to not being the primary parent. When Lars was an infant, Eva had the joy of their strong attachment but also the burden of that constant responsibility, whereas I had much more freedom and independence. I could easily be away from Lars for an entire day (or more importantly, night), but Eva could only spend a few hours away from him because she was breastfeeding. Also, as hard as it was to sometimes not be able to soothe Lars, there was a certain guilty relief in being able to turn him over to Eva when he was screaming inconsolably. We made a joke out of it, with me oae'ering him to her, saying, aI think heas hungry. Heas calling your name,a and her saying, aOh no, heas saying he wants to go play with you.a It helps to have a sense of humor when you are faced with a screaming baby!
One issue that has come up for us since the beginning is how to deal with the comments and inquiries of strangers. Nothing attracts attention like a baby. If I happened to be the one holding Lars, people would say things to me like, aDid you have him naturally? He looks just like you, doesnat he?a This posed a constant dilemma for me. Should I enter into the whole explanation that Lars is the biological/birthchild of my partner, and my adopted child? It was more than I wanted to go into with complete strangers. On the other hand, answering as if I were the biological/birthmother left me feeling like I was lying and hiding something I was ashamed of. To sidestep the issue, I mastered the art of appearing to answer questions by making unrelated comments: aHe was born at the hospital,a or aHis eyes are really blue.a As the children get older, I expect this issue will become even more complicated as we factor in wanting to teach the children to be proud of their family and to establish their own comfort level regarding people knowing they have two moms.
Now that I have a whole six weeks of experience of being both a biological mother and a nonbiological mother, I can say that I love both my children equally. But I think I had to work a little harder to develop my role and connectedness with Lars than I imagine I will have to with Molly. I hope that our increased flexibility in planning for Mollyas care during her infancy will ease this strain for Eva and Molly. As it is now, I feel like most mothers of two young children; I want to give each of them 100 percent of my time, love, and attention, which is impossible. Last night was a good example of this: Lars has been sleeping poorly because he is teething and adjusting to having a new baby sister, and Molly sleeps poorly because she is a newborn. Eva needed to get some sleep because she had an important day of work, so when Lars woke up screaming, I took him into bed with me and Molly. I cuddled up with him and curled my right arm around him to stroke his hair; meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, I stretched my left arm back around Molly so she could suck on my pinkie. Since there was no way I could sleep in that completely uncomfortable position, I took the time to meditate on how grateful I am to be the mother of two wonderful children.
Yours, Mine, and Ours.
Iad heard the story countless times: Before our child was born, our cat was like a baby to us. Now we sometimes donat even remember to feed him. At first it was rea.s.suringa"especially immediately following the birth of our daughter, when, high on Percocet and hormones, I regularly declared, aThat f.u.c.king cat is out of here!a But now everything has changed, and stories of postpartum kitty neglect/hatred evoke in me a wild maternal fear. The diae'erence between now and then is not that I have renewed love for the cat. Itas this: after three years spent raising, nurturing, and spoiling our daughter, my partner has announced that she, too, would like to have a birthchild, and Iave got it in my head that once she does, the daughter who sprang forth from my womb will recede in her heart, much like kitties do after a new babyas been born.
Not only that, but this proud and devoted birthmama is fairly certain she could never love anyone more than she loves the little girl who burst from her own body all covered with dew, and looking so familiar, as if she had been there the entire forty years while this vessel thought she had been living without her. Also, though I never have adopted anything aside from dogs, cats, goldfish, and gerbils, I confess to thinking adoption-love is diae'erent from birth-love. If it werenat, why would my partner want to get pregnant in the first place? And letas not even mention the grandparents who, despite their eae'orts, can hardly conceal their preference for blood-related oae'spring.
Tinaas desire to become pregnant should come as no surprise. It was part of the deal, part of our lesbo family-plan, the gist of which was quite simple: I would get pregnant first, and an appropriate amount of time later, Tina would do the same, via the same donor. Our reasoning was half logic (I was older) and half emotion: I was more driven by the tick 129.
ing of both my biological clock and my motheras lifea"she was dying of cancera"to manage all of the paperwork and indignities that becoming a lesbian pregnant from anonymous donor sperm requires. Happily, readily, Tina supported me in my natal endeavors and postponed her own. In just a few years she, too, would have a birthchild, and we would be one big happy alternative family, united by love and some very expensive s.e.m.e.n.
Well, the time has come, and as selfish and screwed up as it sounds, Iam not feeling the bliss Iam scheduled for. Part of it is that Iam just plain tired. It took our daughter three years to sleep through the night, and now that she does I feel way too old to revisit the world of hourly feedings and ten p.o.o.ps a day. Yes, children are the most joyous of miracles available to us on our little planet of toxins and warmongers, but isnat sleeping nice too? Introduce another miracle to our household and a"whammo!a"this forty-something mom might not see another full nightas sleep until sheas fifty.
And what about the eae'ect Tinaas getting pregnant and having a baby will have on our daughter? Right now our child is the light of her life. Tina lives, breathes, and dreams her. Whatever diaculties may pa.s.s between us, and since becoming parents there have been many, our shared devotion to a small blue-eyed angel keeps us together. But what will happen when Tina experiences that mad, crazy, Darwinian, get-your-genes-intothe-next-generation sort of love for her birthchild, the kind that starts you thinking all you need in this world is your baby, everyone else can go to h.e.l.l, especially the kitty? Will she care less for us? And what will it mean to our daughter to see a new baby indulging in physical intimacies such as nursing with the mom with whom she cannot share such a bond? Will our happy lesbian family split down its lightly st.i.tched, domestic-partner seam: Mommy A and Baby A on one side, Mommy B and Baby B on the other?
Granted, the pending birth of any second child is potentially traumatic to parents and firstborn alike, regardless of the biological reversal. And yes, I myself am a firstborn possibly reliving some long-ago crisis of belonging, not to mention feeling a threat to the sense of belonging I have come to within my own relationship. When not projecting trauma onto our daughter, I reluctantly can admit to my own fears of loss and rejection. There is something sacred to the role of a birthmother in a family, something regal and divine. In the beginning, hormones and the stress of having managed pregnancy, labor, and childbirth aae'ord you practically anything. You can be moodya"teary one moment, b.i.t.c.hy the next. You can look tired and haggard for close to three years, or until your child sleeps through the night, whichever comes first. You can talk about your b.r.e.a.s.t.s in public and accidentally wet your pants while sneezing. Youare treated as the Olympian you are, a hero among mortals, because all women who have delivered life unto this earth are G.o.ddesses in their own right.
If youare a straight woman, or the designated child-bearer in a two-mom family, adding another child to the mix doesnat threaten to deprive you of your special status. Youare going to do it again, by golly! It can only seal the deal. But if you happen to be a lesbian partnered with a woman who also wishes to become a G.o.ddess, well, what then? Who brings the other a gla.s.s of water in bed? Who gets to complain about her bad back or newly acquired PMS? Who will pamper whom?
Of all the lesbian-parented families I know, twice as many consist of one birthmom as opposed to two. While I have no idea whether this reflects a general trend, it does seema"on the surfacea"simpler. Each childas relationship with his or her parents is biologically the same, as is each parentas relationship with her children. The natural feelings of inequity that plague every childa"especially siblingsa"donat play out in an environment of real disparity. It could even be argued that two women matched according to a traditional family paradigma"an adult who carries a child partnered with one who does nota"might be clearer in their roles with each other as well as with their children. Though in at least several of these families, the nonbiological mother had tried desperately to conceive, but was unable to do so. (Thank goodness for spare wombs.) So nothing is simple.
The only model I have for families folded down the middle, each parent on one side with his or her biological kids, is The Brady Bunch. Perhaps it worked for them because they had a bridge, someone equally related to all members of the family. They had Alice, who, more significantly, also happened to do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
A rational person, maybe even Alice herself, might suggest that the shared experience of pregnancy and childbirth could bring Tina and me closer together. I might understand more of her experience and she mine. That same reasonable person probably would say that, with our daughter successfully past diapers, nursing, and interrupted sleep, I can aae'ord to oae'er Tina much the same support she oae'ered me when our daughter was a newborn. And surely itas wonderful for a child growing up in an alternative household to have a sibling, someone with whom to cringe at her mothersa matching tattoos and inability to accessorize. Thereas even the possibility I will find my heart opening to a dewy baby born from the woman who co-raises my own.
Certainly, if any family can manage this challenge of connection, itas a gay family. Even this gay family. In the twelve years that Tina and I have been together, we have had to a.s.sert and rea.s.sert our commitment to each other and the credibility of our family to doctors, employers, insurance agencies, preschools, and sixteen-year-olds who come to babysit. Despite it all, or perhaps because of it, we have sustained a relationship longer than some marriagesa"and without the privilegesa"and raised together a happy, healthy little girl. Whatas a little scrambling of DNA compared to the Religious Right?
When I think of it like that, when I picture the three of us against all odds at dinner together each night talking about the day, running through the gra.s.s in the park, or sitting side-by-side on a plane or at the movies, I think, of course, of course! Bring it on! Bring on more love. I can follow the lead of the two most important girls in my life: a partner who has gifted me with the emotional and physical support with which to raise a child, and a child so filled with the love of two moms that she loves babies almost as much as we love her. If they can do it, so can I. I can love a new being who might just become the other most-important-one to all three of us.
aLove is not marbles,a a good friend frequently reminds me. aThereas not a finite amount of it to go around.a Then maybe itas just that families are so precious and vulnerable. Additions to the fragile little pyramid of life you worked so hard to build threaten to topple it. There you are loving a small, dependent being so much, and in turn becoming increasingly dependent upon your partner to take care of you so that you can continue to love the small, dependent being, that any change packs the potential to crush it all like a mallet. And if you happen to be two moms, your pyramid already sways precariously enough in the open air of the twenty-first century, what with fanatics suggesting you shouldnat exista"to say nothing about nonpartisan fast-moving cars and West Nile Virus. For those of us who think way too much, itas almost impossible to bear. The only thing that makes it manageable is the small, dependent being and the partner who loves both you and her; therefore, she sure as heck should experience pregnancy and a birthbaby if she wants to.
What better way is there to simultaneously thumb your nose at the h.o.m.ophobes and thank your partner than to help raise the child who will spring forth from her womb and maybe one day change the world? So, okay, here I am. Iam on board. I will be there as scheduled to lose sleep and change diapers, despite the middle-age brain in my head that lives in perpetual freak-out. I will take my daughteras gift of unconditional love and spread it generously around. I will become a nonbiological G.o.ddess, grateful even that itas no longer my b.o.o.bs being sucked dry fifteen times a day.
I just canat promise Iall want to keep the cat.
Two bermoms Are Better Than One.
Recently I spent several consecutive days with my four-month-old son, Harry. It was the first time we had enjoyed this much time together. Most of his day-to-day care falls to my partner, Amy, his birthmother.
Amy and I own a small retail store together. When Harry was born, we planned for Amy to take an extended leave of absence so that she could be home with him full-time. For four months, I had been running the shop and spending evenings and weekends at home with Amy, Harry, and our daughter, Lillian, my birthchild, whom I stayed home with four and a half years ago. Then Amy wanted to go in to work a few half days, to make sure things werenat falling apart in her absence. With her at the shop and Lillian in school, Harry and I got our very first one-on-one time together. And it was dreamy.
We settled in to a little routine; Harry would eat (he is a good eater), p.o.o.p, play a little, sleep a little, swing a little, and then wead start the whole business all over again. Two days I took him into the town square near our home and we shopped, went to the bank, and had lunch at my favorite coae'ee shop. All the while, I proudly accepted compliments as to how cute and well tempered he is. A woman at the drugstore, after coaxing Harry into a laugh, commented that he looked just like me. I beamed, not bothering to tell her that we shared no blood relationship. Who needs to know?
About a day or two into our love fest, I started aschnuzzlinga Harry, nibbling him on his face, neck, chin, and ears. Harry loved it and gave 135.
these big, wide, toothless grins. I suddenly realized that he was four months old and this was the first time I had really given him a proper schnuzzle. I felt a pang of guilt. I am sure I schnuzzled Lillian more during her first four months. Why had it taken me so long to schnuzzle Harry? The answer was obvious: for me to bond well with my children, I need hours of uninterrupted time alone with them. I needed to be solely responsible for Harryas comfort and not able to pa.s.s him oae' to Amy when he fussed. I needed to lie on the bed with him and stare at him and talk to him for long periods of time. I needed (and still need) to get to know him.
As I fall more and more in love with Harry, I realize that my love for Lillian was more instant or instinctual. aPure lovea sounds kind of corny, but it is a somewhat accurate description of my feelings for Lilly from the beginning.
Ready Or Not ...
Everyone knows the joke about lesbians bringing the moving van on their second date. Well, the punch line to that joke is that it can then take them a decade to start having kids. True to form, Amy and I moved in together after dating for only two months. We didnat begin discussing whether we wanted children for three years, and it took ten to start our family. I was sure I wanted to have children. Amy, to my surprise, was not.
Growing up one of seven kids to a mother who truly adored children, I never could imagine life without having a child. For this reason, when I first realized I was a lesbian (during my freshman year in college), I was convinced I never would have a happy relationship with a woman. Partly, my Christian upbringing caused me to believe I could not give in to the asina of being gay, and instead would have to live my life trying to overcome it. (Several years of prayer and a degree in theology helped me finally to believe that G.o.d created me gay, and that only a cruel G.o.d would do so and then expect me to live my life alone.) But that was only a piece of the struggle.
Because at the time the only lesbian couple I knew was closeted and childless, I also was under the a.s.sumption that that was what life with another woman would be likea"one that barred being open, let alone having a family. So much has changed in the twenty years since I was a college freshman! But back in 1984, I thought my best shot at being a happy and fulfilled adult was to be a single parent. I remember asking my oldest sister, a married mother of two, if she thought I could handle having a child on my own. Her response would horrify her now: aWell, it would be hard, but you could do it. And as long as youare not going to be, you know, a real family, you might as well adopt a child, instead of having one.a After Amy and I got together, I thanked G.o.d for her and for our open, happy life together. But it wasnat until we had spent seven years talking about having children, purchased a home, and attended a support group called Lesbians Considering Parenting that we decided we were ready to become parents. By this time, not only did Amy want children, she also wanted to carry a child.
Because Amy is nine months older, and since we were in our mid-thirties, the logical thing would have been for her to try to get pregnant before me. But I was determined to go first. On the one hand, I felt that because I had been sure, and in some ways ready, for longer and even had helped Amy get used to the idea of being a mother and becoming pregnant, I deserved to go first. It sounds selfish, but I felt I had earned the privilege. However, the bigger reasona"I finally confesseda"was that I wanted to be taken care of; I wanted to be pampered. Within our relationship I sometimes feel I do more of the caretaking; in reality I am probably just a control freak. Still, I knew that the first pregnancy would get lots of attention, while the second would have to share the limelight with the day-to-day life of the older child. Lucky for me, Amy agreed.
As predicted, I loved the pampering and attention I got while pregnant. Later, when infant Lilly garnered oohs and aahs, as her biological mother I could bask in that glow as well. Now, with Harry, Amy is getting that well-earned attention. Some people remember to count me in too, but it is almost an afterthought. Theyall say, aOh, and congratulations to you too!a and then seem proud of themselves for having acknowledged my role. I donat blame most people for having to think twice about me as the second mom, because I find myself struggling to get used to the idea as well. Why should acquaintances and strangers be more comfortable with it than I am?
After delivering Lilly, I cradled her in my arms and spoke softly to her for the very first time. Harry was born via cesarean section. My initial response to holding him was a desire to show him to Amy, who had a curtain separating her from her incision and therefore from her newborn son. I wanted them to be together immediately to establish that all-important biological mother/child bond. From that moment on, deferring to Amy as the birthmother has come more naturally to me than taking care of Harry myself. I sometimes have to make a conscious eae'ort to remember to ask Amy, aDo you want me to hold Harry?a In part this is because I want Amy to know the unique challenges and joys that come from being bermother to a child, just as I was to Lilly, being the one person/thing the baby truly relies on.
In our case, it happens that we each are bermoms to our biological children. With Lilly I made all the decisions; with Harry it is Amy who is in charge. From the time Harry was three and a half months old, I wanted to give him solid food. He seemed ready for ita"watching my food as I ate, seemingly hungry all the time. But Amy wanted to wait. So we waited. I wouldnat dare try solids on the sly. I respect Amyas territory, as she did mine when it came to making decisions for baby Lilly. (However, now that Lilly is older, it is less obvious that I am the one in charge. Amy and I together are making many of the decisions about Lillyas upbringing.) Generally speaking, Amy and I share some sense that the biological mom has earned the right to be in charge by virtue of carrying the baby for nine months and going through childbirth.
In the family that Amy and I have created together, it seems appropriate that we each have the opportunity/responsibility of being bermom with our birthchild. Thatas not to say we each will always be closer to, or prefer, our biological child. As with all parents, we each have a diae'erent relationship with each of our children, and those diae'erences will change over time.
Two Kinds of Mommying.
Many factors in our lives allow for my feelings to be diae'erent regarding my two children. Primary among them are the time factora"I donat spend nearly the amount of time with Harry as I did with Lillya"and the fact that I am not nursing Harry.
When all else failed, I could always comfort Lilly with breastfeeding. I actually do very well with Harry when it is just the two of us, but I find it frustrating to try and comfort him when Amy is around because I a.s.sume that what he wants is to nurse. I find myself pa.s.sing him oae' quickly if he fusses because I cannot comfort him in the way I used to comfort Lil. I feel like some dads that I have seen who sort of throw up their hands as if to say, aWell, you are all he wants anyway.a And I have caught myself on several occasions cradling Harry in the nursing positiona"a hard habit for me to breaka"which obviously sends him the wrong message and further frustrates him.
Much of the aggravation a.s.sociated with this dynamic is not between Harry and me, but between me and Amy. Rather than hand him over, she would like me to try more distraction techniques. Sheall turn on the hair dryer, an electric toothbrush, or the stove fan to soothe him, or hang diae'erent mobiles in various locations throughout the house, and she looks to me to be equally innovative. At times, I think Amy feels that I just want Harry to go to sleep so that I can get something done. That is sometimes true, but I felt that way with Lillian as well. The diae'erence now is that I am supposed to be athe doera of the family, the one who gets other things done so that Amy can be at home to take care of Harry. I am supposed to bring home the bacon, a traditional concept that sounds silly to me, because we are an aalternative familya and together run our business and contribute equally to the financial upkeep of our household.
The real issue seems to be not that one child is biologically related to me while the other is not, but that as a person I am a little all or nothing.
When I stayed home with Lilly, that was all I wanted to do. I really didnat like going into the shop. Now that it is my turn to work and let Amy stay home, it is harder for me to switch gears and be home with Harrya" or at least it was until those consecutive days with him started settling me again into domestic life. After that, I joked with Amy that we could swap places and she could run the shop again. Adjusting to having both worlds part-time, to not being all or nothing, will enable me to really love this new chapter of parenting.
Separating from Lilly made me very nervous. When Amy took her somewhere in the car I would worry about them getting into an accident and then I would call Amy on her cell phone to be rea.s.sured (ironically, increasing the chances of them actually having an accident). The first time our highly recommended babysitter took Lilly out for a walk in the stroller, I called Amy in a panic, saying, aShe is going to bring her back, right? She isnat going to steal Lilly?a I knew it was crazy to think that way, but I needed Amy to rea.s.sure me.
I experience absolutely no panic when I am away from Harry. So far he has only been babysat by family, so I am not sure how I would feel leaving him with a highly regarded stranger, but I think I would be fine. Amy is the one now who calls to make sure he is okay when she is away. She tells me to drive carefully each time I go oae' with the kids.
Being bermother to Lil was the most challenging job Iave ever had. It was both physically and emotionally taxing and caused my priorities to change in subtle ways; sitting down to dinner as a family was much more important to me than ever before. More dramatically, a few of my siblings said they felt that I was no longer athere for thema as I had been prior to having Lilly. It was true. My biggest priority was Lilly. I had to take care of her, save money for her future, take only those trips that made sense to take with a baby, and go to sleep when she did, thereby making impossible the late-evening phone calls my siblings and I had previously enjoyed.
Amyas relationships with her family did not change that significantly when Lilly was born. However, now that she is bermother to Harry, these connections are shifting. She has said that her relationship with her mother is diae'erent now that she is a biological mother. Having carried a child and given birth were rites of pa.s.sage that have earned Amy a kind of respect from her mother and sisters that she previously missed. This respect causes them to take a step back and see her as a real mothera"and, secondarily, see us as a real family. Because Amy no longer is the aseconda mom to a child, but the mom to their grandchild, we are somehow more of a family in their eyes. It is as if they better understand now that Amyas first responsibility is to her children, her new family, not just to her extended family.
Sleep, Sleep, and Less Sleep.
Itas also nice to be more relaxed with baby number two. At least I feel more relaxed. Amy, I think, is more anxious than she was our first time around. I was, in many ways, a lunatic with Lillian. In the beginning, she was a terrible nighttime sleeper and an equally dreadful napper. Often I fell asleep nursing her in our overstuae'ed rocking chair, and then tried to get comfortable with her lying on top of me rather than rise and risk waking her. As she got bigger her weight would make my ribs feel like they were caving in. I now feel like I contributed to her being a bad sleeper by not letting her fuss a little. It was physically uncomfortable for me to let her cry. In fact, once when she was just weeks old, in response to hearing her start to cry, I ran up the stairs so fast I slipped and sprained my ankle. It took two six-week sessions of physical therapy just to get it back into okay shape!
It wasnat that surprising to me that I got up at all hours with Lilly. I had always been a light sleeper and the need to nurse only increased that tendency. But Amy has always been a heavy sleeper. She did get up to a.s.sist me in the very beginning, for maybe the first two weeks. I say that generously, because she was so groggy she wasnat much help at all. Because she went back to work after two weeks and her sleep was more of a necessity than my own, she soon stopped pretending to rise to the occasion, pardon the pun. We joked that when Amy had her baby, I would be the one to get up at night, and I really believed that would be the case. But now Amy is the one getting up two or three times with Harry, while I have become a much heavier sleeper. This despite Amy turning the lights on low and getting up to nurse Harrya"the worldas loudest nursera"a few times a night.
Because Lillian did not become a good sleeper until she was about fifteen months old, and only achieved that success after a painfula"for all of usa"round of heart-wrenching sleep-training, I swore we would do it diae'erently when we had a second child, that I would let him or her fuss more and get used to self-comforting. But, while I am willing to let Harry fuss a bit before picking him up, that is not what is comfortable for Amy. It is harder for her to let him cry, knowing that she could so easily soothe him.
Because each of our children was their biological motheras first birthchild, in some ways it seems like both Lilly and Harry are firstborns. Each have marked for Amy and me so many new experiences: first pregnancy, first childbirth, first nursing, first time staying at home with a child nearly full-time. In this way, even though Harry is Amyas second child, she treats him much like a firstborn. If I had given birth to Harry I believe I still would be okay letting him fuss longer, because I have a stronger memory of what it was like to be up with Lillian every two hours for over a year. Because Amy did not live through that period in the same way, she doesnat have the resolve I might if I were nursing Harry. I can only tell her my opinion. It is up to her to decide how she wants to handle his sleep routine, since she is the one up with him at night. For me, knowing that Amy is aon,a and is taking care of Harry (better than I can for now) allows me to sleep through all the commotion.
Two Firstborn Children and Their Moms.
Our treatment of our children as two firstborns is even more evident to me when I notice the diae'erence between how Amy and I react to Lillianas treatment of Harry. I generally feel that Lilly is good with the baby, but as with most older siblings who themselves are still very young, sometimes she hugs Harry too much or too hard. This makes Amy very nervous each time Lilly hovers over Harry. She is worried that Lilly will hurt him, and she doesnat like to leave them alone together. While I would not tolerate another child handling Harry the way Lilly does, and while I wouldnat let her squeeze another baby the way she does Harry, I find I am less worried about Harry than Amy is. On the one hand, I intrinsically trust Lilly, and on the other I want to let them negotiate their sibling relationship on their own. I prefer to let Harry squeal and then say to Lilly, aSee, he doesnat like that,a rather than try to convince her of Harryas response before she acts.
Amy is the opposite. She relates to Lilly like a mother bear to her cub, putting up with a little nonsense and then urgently intervening. We have talked about how Amy needs to be firm but not reactive with Lilly, and now we have a system in which Lilly is warned that her behavior is approaching inappropriate by counting aloud for her. Lilly takes full liberty of this, testing Amya"more frequently than mea"to see how far she can pester Harry before Amy will lose it. In this way, Lilly is negotiating her way in our new family dynamic, trying to figure out how her relationships with both of us have changed.
We are all trying to figure it out, and as wonderful as it is, it is diacult for us all to have someone new to love. The interactions in our household sometimes remind me of high school chemistry, when we would mix diae'erent chemicals together and all would be fine until the teacher said, aNow add this.a Steam would suddenly rise and liquids would come bubbling up over the edge of the beaker. Harry is like the new chemical introduced into our family experimenta"and our various emotions do bubble over at times.
Despite the volatility, one thing on which Amy and I agree completely is how much Harry and Lilly love each other. Harry just started laughing in the last few weeks, and nothing makes him laugh more than Lillian and her antics. Lilly wonat even be trying to make him laugh or smile (like I do) but he will see or hear her laugh and then burst out laughing himself. Lilly adores him and constantly wants to show him oae' to other people. She always wants him to accompany whichever of us is picking her up from preschool. It seems like a miracle to me that I have this happy, loving little family to call my own. I cannot express how blessed I feel.
I have heard of mothers going through a sad period before a second child is born, focusing on the first childas loss of his or her only-child status as the recipient of the parentsa undivided attention and love. I felt none of this when we were preparing for Harryas arrival. Perhaps I was less concerned for Lillyas sense of importance in my life because I knew, in the beginning, I wouldnat have to sacrifice anything for the pregnancy. Since I did not change physically during Amyas pregnancy and my activities were not restricted, I could do all the same things with Lilly, such as pick her up; she suae'ered few jealousy issues as a result. And after Harry was born, it wasnat me who was nursing and therefore less available to Lilly.
On the other hand, Amy and Lillyas relationship has been altered. While always wonderful, it also has been diae'erent from Lillyas and mine. Lilly calls Amy aMommya and me aMama.a They are very close. But when Lilly is hurt, itas me she wants to comfort her. When we put her to bed at night, I almost always have to do the final goodnight routine. There was a time when Amy and I alternated the goodnight ritual, but that stopped when Amy became pregnant. Prior to Harryas birth, I think Lilly sensed in small ways that Amy was becoming less available to her. And now that Harry demands so much from Amy, it is harder for her and Lilly to find their special time together.
Parenting: Writing Our Own Script.
While Amy and I complement each other well as parents and enjoy a happy parenting relationship, at times I have yearned for role models in societya"or in my personal experiencea"to inform me how to be the asecond moma that I want to be: a mother who is a full and complete loving mother to a child who is not her birthchild, while that childas birth-mother is part of the family. I have found myself looking for cues while watching the dads I know, the ones who have really great relationships with their kids, or thinking of my own dad. Then I realize my best role model is right here at home: Amy. She is a wonderful mother to Lillian and has been from day one. She has never tried to usurp my role as the one Lilly runs to when hurt, and is solidly there for Lillian whenever Lilly needs or wants her. That is the kind of mom I want to be to Harry. I am so grateful for his life for many reasons, foremost among them the new ways he is teaching me to parent.
That Amy and I each gave birth made us feel more like a legitimate family to our respective parents. Having children was like stepping into their world and their experience; it was a choice that made sense to our mothers.
I realized after having Lilly that even though my mother had been supportive of me for many years, much of my prior life had not made sense to her; she could not identify with it. (Why was I a lesbian? Why did I choose to live in a city? Why did I get a degree in theology if I was-nat going to be a minister?) But having a baby, she understood. It was something that made sense to both our moms. And it gave each of them a role in our lives that they were comfortable with: grandmother.
I loved this new kind of respect when I first realized we had earned it from my parents and Amyas. But it was bittersweet when my mother became terminally ill. I wanted to spend all my time with her in Idaho, taking care of her. But she kept saying, aNo, you belong with your family nowa"you canat just stop your life and come home to take care of me.a In the wake of her death, my life cannot stop now either. At times I am overwhelmed with sadness over losing my mother, but then I realize I am a mother. With two children depending on me, I cannot dwell on my sadness in the way that I am tempted to. I must be present, both physically and emotionally, to care for my children, most particularly because my own mother would have insisted on it. She was very no-nonsense about such things, an approach to mothering that has served me well. And I aspire to parent my children in her spirit.
At a recent family reunion with Amyas extended family I overheard Amy and a cousin talking about how they had always looked up to their parents and aunts and uncles as the people who aran thingsa in the family. But that recently they had realized that we were now those peoplea"the adultsa"the ones running the show. I sat wondering if that was really truea"were we the adults now? Did we really run things? It surprises me that we are now looked up to not only by our children but also our parents. We are the ones to make the decisions in many cases for both generations.
For me it was never a given that I would be in this adult role. I donat think I fully felt adult until I had a child. But here I am. And it is good, and hard, and scary, and real. Mothering challenges me to grow in ways no other role ever has. It brings more struggles and more joy than anything else I can imagine. I pray that I will do it well, or at least okay, and I am thankful to be doing it not just with a partner, but with another mother.