One of the topics I’d like to blog about more regularly is my wife’s some-day-role as a mother who won’t be giving birth to her child. I might eventually be able to convince my wife to write about her thoughts and feelings here, but she’s not one of those people who finds it a fun pastime to write about her feelings. So for now, it’ll just be my one-sided feelings on the matter.
I have read blogs that share heart wrenching stories about the struggles of the “other” mother, feeling much as dads might feel – useless, inadequate, jealous of the baby’s time with the mother and the mother’s time with the baby… And as we research the legalities of our family planning as a same-sex couple, we find that challenges to my wife’s parental rights await us as soon as a baby is born, such as not being able to put my wife’s name on the birth certificate right away and needing to file for second parent adoption.
However, I have also read that these concerns often completely dissolve once the baby is born. That, just like with adoptive parents, genetic relation suddenly seems irrelevant, the love crosses all boundaries, and true parent roles quickly form and are naturally filled. I know that my wife will make a naturally amazing parent, and I believe that our family will feel comfortable and right and perfect for both of us when we get there. But in the meantime, when it is only human to have anxieties about such a huge life change, I want to make sure I am doing everything I can to make sure my wife doesn’t fear being an “other” who is just along for the ride.
One of the ways I plan to assuage some of the common concerns is to build specific rules about skin-to-skin contact (aka the Kangaroo Method) into the birth plan – I want my wife to get the first snuggle with our baby.
Skin-to-skin contact has a ton of benefits for the baby, including increased contentment, stabilization of body temperature, heart rate, and blood sugar, and it elicits pre-feeding behaviour (i.e., rooting and searching for the food source). Once thought to be an important practice for birth mother and baby, there is an increasing amount of literature now on “fathers” and baby engaging in skin-to-skin contact. And guess what – there is absolutely no difference for baby if they get their skin to skin from a birth mother or from someone else. In fact, the parent who is not recovering from birth or a c section can actually facilitate the baby’s pre-feeding behavior (apparently babies have been known to try to get milk from their fathers – they don’t discriminate when it comes to nipples!). And in addition to all of the calming benefits for the baby, skin-to-skin contact with the parent who did not give birth is just as powerful a bonding agent. Even if you are not the one who gave birth, holding your newborn against your chest, skin-to-skin, increases your oxytocin levels (the love hormone), and partners who engage in skin-to-skin with the baby in the first 24 hours report better bonding.
There is no reason why the parent who did the birthing needs to be the first one to hold the baby (besides the fact that they just worked their butt vagina off and may feel deserving). From the baby’s perspective, any parent with a warm chest will do just fine.
That is just one of the ways that I hope to make my wife feel like #1 mom when we have a baby. For those who have either been the non-birth mother or those who have worried about this for their partner, I’d love to hear other ways in which you kept your roles in pre-parenting equal when one mother gets to hog the pregnancy and/or the DNA.