I don’t want to sound too whiny about not “going first” as they say, because truly, Gail bearing our first child ended up being by far the best choice for our family, but not necessarily for the reason that prompted us to make that decision in the first place.
Our motivating decisions around “birthing order” were 100% age determined. Gail has 6 1/2 years on me, and the clock was ticking. I wasn’t yet out of my 20’s when we started planning in earnest, so I had a little more time.
Soon after we started down this road, I realized I hadn’t really understood what I’d signed on for. This was by no means the way I had ever expected to become a mother, and the feelings that I had during the pregnancy kind of blindsided me. It was way harder than I expected. I felt invisible and unnecessary. The constant comments by our SMBC lesbian friend who was pregnant at the same time that clearly implied I was peripheral, kind of a perk for Gail, but by no means an essential member of our family, really got under my skin (to be clear, I’m all for SMBC, and many of those comments were probably not ill intentioned, but they still stung). I had deep fears about how I would come to mother this child, how I would be seen by the world, how I would be seen by our families, how I would be seen by our child. Gail walked around to constant accolades and questions about due date (which of course, got annoying for her eventually), but when I told anyone I was “expecting”, the best I got were blank stares, confused congratulations, and a quick change of topic. I had to constantly remind people that, no, I couldn’t take on anymore projects because my BABY WAS DUE ANY DAY. They couldn’t quite process it. After all, wouldn’t Gail be taking care of the baby? Why couldn’t I take on just this one more thing? After all, I wasn’t pregnant. A close friend actually told me I shouldn’t take any leave, since wasn’t I more like a dad anyway? (to which I say, no, I’m not a dad, and also dads should also be supported to take leave). Ah, but there I go getting whiny again which was not my point.
Though actually, it kind of is my point. Gail is just a bit more likely than me to keep complicated feelings to herself (which is not to say she can’t “process” with the best of them, quality lesbian that she is). Alas, the same would never be said of me. Not in a million years. One of the things that we did right without knowing it was having me, the one who is more likely to speak up if something feels strange or unexpected, walk the road less traveled. Pregnancy and birth are really hard, but they are common. Most women become mothers that way, so there are stories, there is support. There really isn’t much out there for us non-bio-moms, and what is out there, isn’t too encouraging (thank god I found chicory during the pregnancy). We needed me to notice what was strange and complicated about this path, and to point out the ways that it our family isn’t like all of the others. Gail, bless her, totally met me on this. She didn’t take my worries and over-analysis as any kind of threat. She didn’t let my occasional black mood take away from the joy she experienced while pregnant (she sure was a sparkly and peppy pregnant lady, I tell you. She walked 3-4 miles in the pride parade, a couple days before Leigh was due, in the rain, smiling & laughing. Amazing.). Instead, Gail realized I was noticing real stuff, and jumped right in. As a result, by the time Leigh actually arrived, we had worked through a lot of our buried beliefs about motherhood, and decided they didn’t really reflect what our family was going to be. We anticipated some spots where we might hit rough patches, and had a lot of practice talking about how this was going. It ended up being so much smoother once Leigh arrived than either of us expected, precisely because we had worked through so much, and thought of a few good strategies ahead of time. That wouldn’t have happened so smoothly if I wasn’t so…well…let’s say vocal…and perceptive. (It’s kind of like how we don’t say that Leigh is “bossy,” instead, she has “leadership skills”)