The authenticity of BOTH mothers

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.

2 thoughts on “The authenticity of BOTH mothers

  1. I struggled a lot initially with the idea of my wife carrying and be not having any biological ties to my kids. But honestly, once that baby starts growing and you are doing all the pregnancy stuff (feeling kicks and hiccups, ultrasounds, etc) it started to feel less like my wife’s pregnancy and more like OUR pregnancy. She was really good about including me in everything too. Like, she would only schedule appointments on my days off or when I worked late. All those worries we had, didn’t exist when I saw my sons. Callie had a c-section, and our boys were premie and ended up in the nicu for the first 36 hours, bu the SECOND they brought them into the room, I was the first one to hold them, their tiny little bodies (both of them) on my bare chest, and I have to say, it was totally and completely and utterly amazing. Being the non-belly mama feels NOTHING like i thought it would. It feels like I gave birth to them, like they were with me the whole time. It’s weird to put words to it actually. I have no doubt that the case will be the same with your wife.

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  2. I never cared that much about not having a biological relationship to our child, but I did have a hard time with the idea of not being pregnant. But it really does feel like our pregnancy now. I did heaps of research about fertility monitoring prior to conception, and then continued to do much more reading about pregnancy than my wife did. This really helped me feel involved, and knowing a lot about fetal development made it feel more real that we were actually growing a baby. From very early in the second trimester, if I put the side of my face on my wife’s belly, I could feel movement; since then, I’ve been talking to the baby daily and feeling her move, which is amazing. If I miss a day, I feel less connected to the pregnancy.

    I also have taken on most of the baby-preparing tasks, like figuring out what we need, hunting down second-hand stuff, and shopping for clothes. If I were pregnant, I would still probably be doing most of these things because I’m the one who likes researching and planning. In quite a few ways, it seems like my wife carrying has actually made things more equitable than they might otherwise be.

    My wife keeps me in the loop with the pregnancy, telling me everything she’s feeling, which is great. She also encourages me to participate in appointments and ask questions of our midwife, and other practitioners that we’ve seen. We’re both working on correcting people when they make insensitive comments that imply that the baby is hers and not both of ours; that’s an uphill battle, not so much because people are jerks but because some people just don’t get it, or don’t have the right words.

    The legal stuff scared the crap out of me before conceiving, as we used a known donor as well. I noticed that you’re in Ontario; if you happen to be within commuting distance of Toronto, the 519 centre’s Dykes Planning Tykes course is amazing, and provided us with a lot of practical and legal information (though we’d already done a ton of research, it was still invaluable), as well as providing real advice from queer parents. Anyhow, once we conceived, I became much less worried about the legal stuff, because the baby feels so much like ours. I won’t elaborate here on what our plans are in terms of birth registration and second-parent adoption, but I no longer feel that my parental role is tied to my legal standing – a radical shift from how I felt pre-conception.

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