Six years ago, I was the biological, full time, mother of all of my children. Today, I am part time mother to the boys who are biologically connected to me, and a full time mom to the son who doesn’t share any of my genes. It took until somewhere between 1-2 yrs ago for me to stop feeling a constant unease and anxiousness during the days the older boys were not home with me. I still sit for a moment every time I hear a siren, and listen to make sure my phone doesn’t ring, so I suppose that means a little bit of that anxiety still sits with me. And, there is no way for me to explain the guilt I feel over O’s being able to live here full time, and his brothers only being here part time. This last week, A saw a picture of his moms and his baby brother at the Goat Farm (what we call a local farm that happens to have goats you feed, and such). When he saw the picture, he asked what it was (though he knew), and when I told him, he shared his disappointment in not having been there. I hate that! Yes, they are at their dad’s house when they aren’t here, and having their dad remain a part of their life is not up for debate. Now that I’ve addressed that, it still fucking sucks that my children can not be with me all of the time, and that they have to feel excluded from this family in any way.
I do think it is strange that life has worked out to where the children I carried are the ones I am only responsible for part of the time, that the baby who I have zero biological ties to is the only one I planned with my partner to have. I have never been attached to biology and how it affects a parent’s connection to their child. I have never felt like less of a mom to O because I didn’t conceive him with my body. I have, however, felt less of a mom because of what I haven’t been able to offer him, due to not having carried him.
Anyone who kind of knows me is familiar with the difficulties I had with not being able to breast feed my child. Those individuals who do not have a personal attachment to the topic of breastfeeding have typically understood the complexity of struggles around this. Others, who have their own sensitivities around the issue, take longer to come around to understanding me, if they ever do–my wife included.
To truly express my emotions around this topic would require continued conversation at a level of openness that is difficult to come by. Breastfeeding, when you have a baby, is a huge part of the parental responsibility. Because I know my body is capable of doing this, because it is how I nurtured my two oldest boys, because the only parenting role I previously had experience in–and has been part of developing my identity as a mother–is the role of a mother in a heterosexual relationship, and because I would never choose–if it were only my wishes that mattered–to have the other person I’m parenting with carry my baby, not being able to breastfeed has been one big nasty mess in this gig of raising baby O.
I won’t go into each of those issues now, but they’re there, and they are big. When O turned a year old is when my wife and I were forced to look at the role of breastfeeding in our parenting O, and how it had been managed wrong, which led to a disconnect between O and me and was causing much animosity on both ends of our (C’s and my) relationship. I started to address the fact that I was being excluded from a very significant part of raising my child. O took a bottle for a minute, and that was the only time I was able to contribute to providing food for my babe that first year. I should point out that he did not start eating solids (despite our constant offering) until after he turned a year, so that was not an alternative option. One of the most significant factors in the first year is providing food and comfort. O used breastfeeding for both of these, so that left me completely out of the picture. He would actually cry if he had to go to me, because I couldn’t give him what he needed.
My wife was not willing to see my side in this, at first. One of the times I tried to address the issue she said she couldn’t help but think it would be different if we were in a hetero relationship. Um, of course it would be different–either I would have been the only mom, or she would have. There wouldn’t even be a discussion of who would carry the babe, or who would breastfeed, because there would only be one person in the relationship who might physiologically be capable of these things. Yes, there are many moms who struggle with not being able to breastfeed their babies, despite wanting to so badly be able to, for reasons that are different than mine, or dealing with this struggle in circumstances that are different than mine. I am not unaware of this, and I have great compassion for each one of those heartaches. No scenario should be any more valid than another–.
When it came out that my wife had been seeing the whole pregnancy, breastfeeding, and all that is attached to being the carrying parent, as “her turn” in this role, and therefore I should step aside and not interfere, is when we were forced to really address this issue. I never stepped into this decision with the idea that I was to have less of a parenting role because I had already experienced raising babies before. I would never choose to have a baby without intending on participating in all parts of their care, as equally as possible, with their other parent. The realization that that is what her take on all of this was…there is no way to describe how crushing that was.
We worked past it. My wife saw how I had been dismissed, and we both wish we could have a do-over, so badly. Because she was holding on to some kind of resentment at me wanting to have an equal role, when I’d already experienced what it was like to birth/carry/nourish my babe, we never figured out how to raise a breastfed baby in a way that allowed us to both participate in his care. As well, it was kind of understood that it was ok for me to be the “back-up” parent because I had already had my turn as the “main parent”. She feels terrible for this, and as much as I hate knowing these were the unspoken expectations of our parenting O, I am impressed that we have the kind of relationship that was able to recognize it.
The whole “turns” thing pops up in my head every once in a while, and makes me sad and a little angry. Even though we’re beyond it, it happened, and it dictated how my mothering O went that first year. I do not hold all of the blame with my wife. I didn’t take the initiative to prevent all of that from happening. I knew something needed to be done to learn a new way of fully mothering my baby when I was raising him with another mom. I knew that wasn’t happening, but I didn’t insist on fixing it, because it exhausted me trying to get my wife to understand. I was lazy, and I should have taken responsibility for insuring an equal mom-status with my youngest son.
Since our big parenting role revelation, my wife and I have developed a new intimacy. Our relationship is at a place of deeper understanding and full of more empathy. Things are not perfect. We are not flawless. Just last night we had a barrier in communication that led to some serious hurt feelings and frustrations before getting to the understanding part. Because of the bigger challenges in our relationship, I believe we break through the barriers faster.There is sadness that I have not figured out how to fully shake away, but the joy and content I feel in this partnership overrides this the majority of the time. I have never learned so much about myself as a mom, or a co-parent, than I have in these last few years of trying to conceive and raising a baby with my super awesome wife.