I was talking with a good friend about her upcoming baby, and she asked me for the dirt on what it was like last time when Gail was nursing and I wasn’t. The short answer is that it was way better than I expected it to be. The combination of reading Rachel Pepper’s book about lesbian pregnancy, which more or less makes it sound like if a non-bio-mom touches the baby, the baby will starve to death (only slight overstatement), too much Dr. Sears, and a few essays in the Other Mother Anthology by Harlyn Aizley had me convinced that I was (a) completely unnecessary and (b) would have to wait at least 2 (or 3 or 4 or …) years until my child was done nursing before she would even bother to look at me. Yeah, I might have blown it a little out of proportion, but it’s hard to know that ahead of time. And since then, I’ve met plenty of families (straight and queer) in which (a) and (b) are pretty much true for non-nursing parents, so I don’t think I was completely making it up.
We already know that in terms of those particular worries, things turned out fine. But the conversation got me thinking about the ways in which things weren’t fine. My friend and I were talking about the particular pressures on queer families, and how we seem to feel this collective pressure to “be perfect.” I certainly did. I felt like I needed to do absolutely everything “the right” way in order to prove I wasn’t messing up our kid, since, somewhere in there, a part of me believed I probably shouldn’t have a kid at all. Pressure like that is never good, and for me, it manifested as an intense desire for Leigh to NEVER EVER EVER have even one teeny tiny drop of formula. I had completely internalized the idea that if nursing “failed,” it would probably be my fault for not being “supportive” enough. After all, I did have mixed feelings about not personally nursing our hopefully breastfed baby, and surely, it would be my mixed feelings that led to “failure,” maybe because I would do something awful like pressure Gail to pumps so I could give a bottle (this specific dire scenario is warned against very strongly in Pepper’s book…those pesky non-bio-moms — always trying to take care of the baby!).
So that put me in a position where (a) our baby had to have all-breastmilk-all-the-time so that I would have proof we were “doing it right,” and so I wouldn’t be blamed for feeding “wrong” (possibly mostly blamed by me, but still, we all know there’s plenty of judgment to go around on the infant feeding front) and (b) I wasn’t making any milk. While not quite a recipe for disaster, it is close, and this confluence of factors is a lot of why I pressured Gail way too much. about feeding. Not at first. At first I was the picture of the “supportive” partner. No. The problem started when she went back to work, and I turned into the pumping nag. I was home with Leigh, and thus very aware of our milk stash. My constant worry about how much milk we had made for way too many conversations about how much milk was in the fridge, how much milk was in the freezer, how many times Gail pumped, how many times she planned to pump the next day, whether or not she was drinking enough water, whether or not it was time for her to take fenugreek again, rinse and repeat. We were never even close to being out of milk. We kept a steady freezer stash (not the mountain we generate now, but enough) and Gail did a wonderful job finding time to pump at work. But I still worried about it. All the time. Because we had to do it right. I put way too much pumping pressure on Gail.
I am very sincerely sorry for this, and I’ve told her, and she accepted my apology. But I’m a little sad that it took me until now to realize how not nice that was, and to genuinely apologize.