On Gail’s post a while back about what we call ourselves as parents (and in what contexts), Chris, whose partner is perhaps soon trying to conceive another child for their family, asked
“I am very worried I will not (love) this child as much as mine. I worry I won’t treat them equally. Hetero women have said it’s normal to wonder if you can love another child as much as your current, but I dont think it’s the same because she is the gestational mom to all of the children. Are there any differences in how you feel about your gestational kids and your partner’s gestational children?”
My knee jerk response to questions like this is “Of course I love them the same. How on earth could you ask such a thing?” I feel a little defensive, probably like lots of us do when faced with any question about the form of our families, the strength of our bonds and our love.
But our families beg these questions. A lot of us get angry when they come from outside, say a random parent at the park asking “Who’s the real mom?” It’s easy to pretend that the uncertainty comes from somewhere else, from people who “don’t understand,” from the constant questions about how our kids came to our families. But why do those questions sometimes sting? For me, at least part of the reason, is that I do sometimes wonder myself. These questions are part of who we are as a family. They are a challange. And in answering them, sometimes we find our strength.
But my knee jerk reaction isn’t completely defensiveness, and for that matter, Chris is a lesbian mom, she’s not asking from “outside.” In our day to day interactions, it’s clear my bonds with both of my kids are strong, as are Gail’s. I can’t think of any instances in our everyday life when my relationship to my kids is even slightly called into question, and Gail’s, so some of my first answer of “of course we’re good” is that most of the time, we just are.
But when I set down both that hint of defensiveness, and the hum-drum monotony of day-to-day life with my kids, where of course I care for them and love them, and of course they love me (and they same goes for Gail), when I think and feel a little harder, there are some situations, still, where I notice, where I feel like the distinction in genetic relationship, in who birthed who, still shapes the relationships. What I notice is that, with Leigh in particular, who Gail birthed, I feel it most during the very good times or the very bad times.
The inevitable moments of rejection hurt a little extra, and the times she or I get really angry, when my parenting isn’t up to snuff, I’m a little harder on myself. I wonder if this is a sign of weakness, if there is a crack in what we’ve built, precisely because I have a touch of lingering worry about the relationship. In those moments, I think “Am I doing it right? Am I a good enough mom to her? Maybe I need to do better. We have to get this right!”
But the flip side is that the sweet moments are a little bit sweeter. When she’s desperate to learn to sew “just like Mama,” and we’re huddled together over the sewing machine as she runs the pedal and holds the fabric on her first few tentative seams, when she insists on playing the same musical instrument I did (not that I play much anymore, but she’s easily impressed), when she spontaneously snuggles up and says how much she loves me and how much she loves our family, it feels extra good, because I know she and I built it from scratch (really our whole family built it), that together we make the good stuff really good.
And what about with Ira? Does our genetic link shape our relationship? Here too, I feel it sometimes, but it’s still subtle and in different places. I feel it in a bit of the extra weight of taking “credit,” of feeling a bit more responsible for who he is, especially at such a young age. At two, Ira is a stunning boy (if I can say so myself). He has a brilliant smile, and long curly blond hair. He tells adorable jokes and when he smiles at you, you feel it all over. When I look at him, and see parts of who I was as a kid (or hear the stories from my parents and family), I do feel an extra zap of goodness. I like getting to take a little bit of credit for parts of him that are so lovely. But when we worry about him? Both with the inevitable toddler struggles, and places where we might have slightly deeper worries? It cuts a little extra. If Ira has a problem, is it more my fault?
So much of this feels like things we’re not supposed to say. But when we started writing here, it wasn’t to talk about how our two-mom family is “just like all the other families.” Sure, sometimes we are, but in a lot of ways, we aren’t. So, yes, Chris, there are some differences in my relationships to my kids. Some of those differences are not just due to them being different people who came into my life at different times. Some of them really are shaped by the difference in my genetic and gestational relationship with them, even today. And that’s just part of the fabric of our family, something we need to be able to talk about and see, that we need to acknowledge in order to make sure we stay connected and strong as a family.
[After writing all of this in response to Chris, I now see that I have also written part of an answer to Josh and Gretchen’s Question of a couple weeks ago over at “Regular Midwesterners.” They ask: “We often hear gay families say they’re “just like” other families. Is this true for you? How? And how are you not just like straight families?” Josh, a gay adoptive dad, answers here, and Gretchen, a lesbian bio-mom of two, answers here. Looks like this might be a nice series to keep track of.]