Friday, December 12, 2008

The disappearing switcheroo

Gail and I often think about the different dynamics of TTC #1 vs. TTC #2. I wrote before about how somehow TTC this time had much more of a taint of selfishness, that somehow, when it is perfectly clear that I can fully love and parent a child whom I didn't birth, and yet feel dead set to carry our second come hell or high water, it lays bare the fact that the reasons I want this are kind of selfish. I suppose selfish is harsh, but as Gail says slightly more diplomatically, they are at least very personal, and are kind of self-centered. But here's the thing, Gail's desire for pregnancy was ALSO selfish, or personal, or kind of self-centered, but we didn't know it back then because we were both so excited to become parents together. It was the act of "switching up" for number 2 that exposed this, and I don't think we would have noticed if Gail had carried again. In that case, it would have just been more of the same, and if anything, she would have gotten extra points for being self-sacrificing and willing to put her body through the work of carrying again.

When I read all the stories of lesbian two-mom families, families that take so much work and love to build, I can't help but notice patterns that I'm not sure that we as a community really notice as a whole. One that I've noticed is that in families that may originally plan to "take turns," a planned second pregnancy often fails to materialize, or does, but it's a repeat for the mom who already gave birth. There are so many possible reasons for this, not least of which is the extreme cost, in money, time, emotional energy, and hard work it takes for us to get pregnant. But there are other factors, too, and they are impossible to see when making those early decisions about who will "go first."

In our case, Gail, who was just as insistent on a second kid as me, definitely started dragging her feet on TTC #2 after Leigh was born. We had originally thought to try for something like two-year spacing (as if you have very much control over such things) and she quickly started lobbying that we wait longer. There were all sorts of issues. Money, job and school transitions, the stress of TTC, and sure those were all factors, but the nasty jealous part of me was still thinking, "Sure, you can wait. You already gave birth; for all you care we could never have another." During the conversations over those months I demanded all different kinds of proof that she was on board for number two, some of them perhaps unreasonable, but I think my fear that she might bail on our plan was actually NOT unreasonable. It definitely happens. We had a different set of motivations, and mine were much stronger, whereas heading into number one, we were both 100% on the same boat.

Now it turned out that my body decided for us that we needed to wait. And to Gail's credit, she was the one who fussed at me to start charting when Leigh was only about six months old. I thought snarky things like, " don't even want another one anyway, why should I wake up every day to take my damn temperature?" and really, that response was just masking my own desire not to face up to how bad my cycles really were. Once I charted for a while, and faced facts, it was important to me to give acupuncture a real chance before heading in for drugs; I was now on Gail's preferred schedule, but for my own reasons.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but maybe I'm saying that in a family where both moms plan to give birth, the one who goes first really does have a lot of power over how things progress (and this is assuming the best of legal circumstances). By the time you get to planning for number two, the mom who carried number one has proven fertility. At every slight bump in the TTC road, you both wonder, would this be easier if we just went back to the way we did it before? You also already have a child, a child whose needs you must prioritize. Money is tighter and you know how much childcare costs. Maybe you would have gone all the way to IVF in a heartbeat the first time, but the second time it seems too drastic, and too expensive considering you already have a child to support. And there are the donor issues that come up so often when trying for another kid. If you only have x vials, are you willing to risk them on unproven fertility? Will you move back to your original set-up if you run out, to ensure that your kids will have some genetic link? There's also the inevitable discomfort with taking on a new role, even if not for parenting, certainly during pregnancy. If things are working like they are, and you've finally negotiated your respective places in your family, perhaps in deference to or defiance of biology, it can be hard to face the prospect of finding your way down a new parenting path.

I know every family faces this stuff differently, and that only a small subset of two-mom families even contain two women that both want to give birth, and also manage to avoid the fertility nightmares that can make such a plan impossible. But I think the fact remains (albeit based unscientifically on broad generalizations from our own experience and meta-analysis of way too much blog reading), that once one mom has birthed a first child, she's probably more likely to birth a second, even if that wasn't originally in the plans. We felt many of these pressures, and we really had all of the cards stacked in our favor. I guess I may really mean stacked in my favor, since I'm writing about my own chances to achieve this pregnancy I wanted so much. I had ample donor supply, a relatively idyllic legal situation, enough money to keep trying, and a partner who shared my commitment to having another kid and wasn't chomping at the bit to get pregnant again herself. And even with all of that, we could have easily ended up with Gail pregnant again, despite our intentions at the outset. I am grateful that we got here....and will be even more grateful when I stop puking in the morning. (hello Universe! I'm pushing 15 weeks! Isn't this supposed to stop?)


nutella said...

Thank you for your insight on this. For us, the plan has always been for 1 kid only. And Strawberry had no desire to be pregnant and give birth. In the beginning of our TTC journey we disussed how far we'd go with me and the possibility of her trying if we needed too. Now that I'm pregnant I can say with confidence that even if we wanted another kid I would not go through it again with my body.
I see the same patterns that you do on blogs and more often it is the same mom giving brith for kid #2. Hard to say if that's due to a change in plans or not, but it is interesting to note.

N said...

I've known from the start (and it has really come home to me lately) that my wanting to carry a pregnancy to term is definitely selfish.

As you and I have discussed, the bloodlines aren't what matters to me. And (as I'm not sure I mentioned) for a wide portion of my (idyllic, save-the-world) teenagerhood, I was planning on adopting all my children (and lo, there would be MANY).

But it keeps coming back to the fact that I want to experience this, I want to... I don't know. Prove it to myself?

We've gone to the foster intro classes, we are happy and prepared to do foster adopt to form our family, instead of or in addition to any birth children we may end up with. But I just can't get past my want to do this first (first for a variety of reasons, but I'll shut up before this gets even longer).

Gail said...

I just want to reiterate what Lyn said. I think both of us have two motivations for having children: first, a desire to have a kid and, second, a desire to be pregnant and give birth. When I got pregnant with Leigh we thought these two desires were one-and-the-same, but when Lyn started TTC, we realized that they weren't.

I really DID drag my feet when she was getting started. Mostly this manifested in my disengagement from the process. I do want a second child, but the desire isn't as intense as it was for the first, and I think part of the reason is that I have already met most of my goals -- I have a kid and I got to be pregnant. So what's the rush?

Now, I find it interesting that I think I would have dragged my feet if I were parenting in a relationship in which I had the only womb. I loved pregnancy, but I have no desire to do it again (like nutella). If I had to get pregnant in order to have a second kid, I think that I would do it, but not enthusiastically. I think there is some aspect of proving it to myself, like N says, or of really feeling like a woman. That grates against my feminist sensibilities, but I can't help but admit that feeling is there.

tbean said...

I always find these topics really interesting to think about an discuss. In our family, who carries baby 2 is up for discussion, with my wife getting rights of first refusal. But, we've been trying to get my body pregnant for 13 months. And I can see how every twist, turn, and complication makes the decision about carrying the second all the more fraught.

Lex said...

We had loose plans for my wife to get pregnant the second time. Then our first pregnancy ended up being twins. So, already, the loose plans were changing. By the end of the pregnancy, I felt sure that I wanted to be pregnant again someday (not a huge surprise since I always wanted at least 4 kids). My wife wasn't sure that she wanted more than 2 kids. After our twins were born, she said that she was clear that she never wanted to get pregnant. I had a rough pregnancy/birth/post-partum, so I can understand why it didn't look all that desirable. Still, I encouraged her to reconsider, and it wasn't until our twins were about 2 that I gave up on that and started lobbying for a second pregnancy for myself. Our twins were born by scheduled c-section, and I really wanted a chance to labor and birth naturally. We toyed with the idea of using my wife's eggs in my uterus (I felt weird about bringing more of my genetic offspring onto the planet, and we were both curious about what a baby made from my wife's genes would look/be like), but ultimately decided that it was too expensive and that the risk of multiples was too high (we wanted just ONE more baby, lol).

After our third baby was born, I felt clear that I never wanted to experience pregnancy again (and we sold the rest of our stash of sperm, a lesbian vasectomy of sorts!), but I also knew that I wanted another baby. I had given up on the idea of my wife getting pregnant, so I was encouraging her to let us look into adoption. And she surprised me 18 months after our third baby was born by saying that she had decided she wanted to get pregnant herself after all.

So I wouldn't say that I felt any less eager or excited about this third pregnancy (and fourth baby) despite having my own desire to be pregnant already totally satiated. And I'd be thrilled if she decided to go through it all a second time, but I don't think that's terribly likely.

Lo said...

I love how thoughtful you are about every step of the process.

Anonymous said...

As always L and G, thanks for your wisdom and insight.

Hope you get past the puking very soon!

Anonymous said...

this is another post that totally resonates with me! i carried our first and my wife is currently pregnant with our 2nd. i think i dragged my feet a bit on the 2nd too. i started getting anxious about the thoughts of sleepless nights, etc. (again) but this time with a demanding 3 year old. i wasn't sure how good we could be to the new baby or the baby we already have and love so much. i'm thrilled that i got over it and that we are getting really close to welcoming our new baby girl into our family but i'm still pretty anxious.

i was far more casual about this quest for # 2. i definitely felt fairly detached. i think it's hard to be as engaged when it's not your body. i believe i would have felt fairly detached even if it had been my body. we were so focused on having a baby the first time and had our dream come true. #2 is certainly as important but won't define us the way the first did. with the first, we became moms. i don't know if i'm making any sense but i hope that i'm not coming across as someone who isn't grateful for what's coming because i couldn't be more excited to meet my baby girl in 2 short months...

Anonymous said...

[Yet again, I had to keep saving this one as new until I could think of something to add to the discussion. You always cover everything so thoroughly!]

Our plan was for M to carry our first, which she did easily, and for me to carry our second about three years later. Kiddo is now 4 1/2, and I've been working towards the next child for two years (with my first ever positive HPT just eight days ago).

Our journey has included lots of conflict. After Kiddo was born, M decided that she didn't want a second child. I was furious.

I have struggled with feelings of selfishness throughout the process. After all, does my desire to carry a child suggest that I don't fully appreciate my relationship with Kiddo? Since my TTC process (and the money/time/energy it requires) directly impact Kiddo, should I give up more easily than we would have when we were TTC #1? If the process stretches on too long, should I just cede the pregnancy role to M again? (As it stands, our kids will have a yawning age gap of 5+ years. Blurgh.)

I've noticed many instances of the first birthmom carrying the second child as well, and always feel a twinge of sadness for the non-bio mom. In a way, having two uteruses to choose from can mean that the bearer of the less-cooperative uterus has to cede her own desire for pregnancy for the good of the family. Ouch. (Even with her ambivalence about having another child, M has shared this gem a few times, "Well, if I were to carry the second child, at least we'd know we weren't wasting sperm." Niiiiiiice.)

Two-mom family building is such an amazing thing. When it works really well, as in your case, it's a thing to behold. When it's a little clunkier, as in my case, well... yikes.

It will be interesting to see how all of our kids respond to the intentions (and mechanics) behind their conception. Our families have been created with so much deliberation and forethought. I hope they feel very loved and secure in their family structure.

Anonymous said...

Once again, a fascinating post. We've always pictured each of us being pregnant once, Fern going first because she's a few years older and ending up with our version of a perfect family. But I can feel myself wavering on that plan just a little. I get angry in Fern's defense when someone (usually my mom) suggests that we move onto my body. If we did that we could technically go back to her after I give birth (assuming I could get pregnant) but it just feels like we wouldn't - I think it would mean an end to her chances of getting pregnant. She would be older and I think we'd be haunted by our many failed attempts with her. So I'm really protective of Fern and want to make sure we try as much as she's up for with her.

But lately I'm also wondering more and more about my own fertility and ability to get pregnant. I'm wondering if we're doing the right thing. These are hard questions.

Alayna said...

Our plan was also always to have each of us carry one kid, which, in and of itself, sets us apart from most of the lesbian families we know. We're part of a local group of same-sex parent families and know exactly one other family that had each partner carry one kid. For the rest, the original gestational mom carried their other kid(s) if they had more than one.

As the gestational parent of kid #1, the experience of my wife's pregnancy was really eye-opening. We had focused intently on trying to have us both experience the pregnancy the first time around, and we certainly noticed and tried to deal with the continual slights to my wife as our son grew inside me and then was born...but being the one in the non-gestational parent role for kid #2 really brought it home in a new way.

One thing I realized early on in my pregnancy was that I didn't care about being pregnant nearly as much as I cared about having a child. That was helpful to remember during my wife's pregnancy - that feeling left out sometimes was a small price to pay for having another child!

Interestingly, we both had the experience of feeling a little bit detached from our second child before she was born, simply because we had a walking, talking kid already in our lives and he seemed much more real in some ways than the baby we hadn't yet met.

I don't know what I'm trying to say exactly - it's not that we didn't have some snags along the way - but we agreed early on that our relationship was our first priority and tried to keep that in mind as we started down the TTC path each time. So far we've navigated the experience of each of us being a gestational and non-gestational parent in a way that's been satisfying for both of us.

And, I hope you start feeling better soon!