This survey at Lesbian Family (which more people should answer!) got me thinking back to how things have changed since Leigh was born (though my comment has yet to clear moderation). Thinking about advice I would give looking back before Leigh was born reminded me that Gail and I wanted to each take time to write advice to each other, as we turn the tables on the pregnancy this time around. If I manage to get pregnant, Gail will not be in exactly the same position that I was in, not least because she is already a mother, and because we know we actually can pull of this parenting thing (so far). But she will need to find a way to build a relationship with our second child (knock wood), without the social sanction of a biological bond, without an automatic nursing relationship, and with a completely different experience of pregnancy, birth and life with a newborn.
The advice I gave to myself over at Lesbian Family was not to be afraid, in particular about (not) nursing. From the reading that we did before and during pregnancy (the Rachel Pepper Lesbian Pregnancy Book, Harlyn Aizley’s other mother anthology, a bit of Sears and Weissbluth before we decided never again to read books that tell you how to parent), I came away with the distinct impression that I would be secondary and unimportant, completely peripheral in our new family. The “boppies” essay in the Aizley anthology kept me awake for weeks. (Seriously? We could have a three year old that will want nothing to to do with me because I didn’t nurse her?). Rachel Pepper’s and Dr. Sear’s dire warnings about non-bio-moms and dads messing up the all-important nursing relationship pretty much had me believing that the right way to support my wife was NEVER TO TOUCH THE BABY. I should just do all the dishes and laundry, go back to work, and maybe I could parent the kid when she was bigger. Sure, I’m exaggerating a bit, but not much. Rachel Pepper doesn’t even use the word “mother” to describe lesbian non-bio-moms in her book. Seriously. Go back and look. The word she uses most often is “partner,” which does not define a parental relationship. You can be a “dyke daddy” if you don’t give birth, but never a “mother.” And yes, I do have a bit of an ax to grind here. I’m sure you can’t tell.
I’m so glad we didn’t listen. I’m grateful that both Gail and I realized we needed to prioritize my relationship with our daughter right from the beginning, and that we have truly learned to share parenting and share mothering. Thank g-d my fears proved to be unfounded, at least for us, in large part thanks to Gail. In another family, they might not have been too far off base.
Now, Gail, I will get to my advice instead of only bitterly ripping apart pillars of the queer parenting advice literature. I hope and believe that you will not begin our parenting of number 2 (knock wood) from a place of fear, both because we’ve done this once already, and because you believe in my relationship with Leigh. That said, my advice to you is to put in the time to build a relationship. Fear is part of what motivated me to reach out to Leigh, and you may not have that motivation. Do it anyway. I know you like toddlers better, but for our family to settle in to a larger form (g-d willing), you’ll need to get in there. Know that I will absolutely prioritize your relationship with a new baby that I birth, but you will need to jump in and do the real work of building the relationship. I know that you can and you will, and that we’ll find even more interesting things to figure out in the process.