Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Equally Shared Parenting

Our friends, Marc and Amy, have a brand new book out:

Equally Shared Parenting: rewriting the rules for a new generation of parents. We got a sneak peak and it is amazing. It's written primarily for heterosexual couples, but Marc and Amy write a convincing welcome to gay and lesbian families, and also include a lesbian family among their examples throughout the book. That family happens to be us! We love how they treat our two-mom family as just one more example, and not some sort of extraordinary special case. While some of the material does focus on traditional gendered division of labor, it doesn't take much to extrapolate to other family arrangements. We think about this stuff all the time (and even talk to Marc and Amy about it frequently) and still came away from the book with smart new ways to look at how our family life and work is structured.

We've heard Marc say that it is important to them to create a family based on relationships rather than on roles. This is particularly appropriate for queer families because we don't fit into clear-cut roles. Instead of trying to squeeze our families into confining gender roles, the Vachons suggest we try to create balance for both parents in the spheres of childcare, career, housework, and personal time, so that both parents can live fulfilled lives, relationships can flourish, and the whole family can work as a team. I found the chapter on career and breadwinning particularly helpful, as this is a particularly hard place for Gail and I to find balance as individuals.

(Another plus -- this is the only parenting book we've found that doesn't talk down to dads, and assumes they are full and competent members of their families. I wish that wasn't such a rarity.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rest for parents

For about six years now, Lyn and I have observed Shabbat in some form. We don't work on Shabbat, we light candles and sing blessings in the evening, and we generally pray at our havurah on Saturday mornings. Since we began our Shabbat observance, it has changed and grown, generally moving toward increasing observance. It has provided a consistent pause in our daily lives and given us an amazing space to take a spiritual breath.

Or, rather, it used to.

Now that we are parents of young children, the main work of our lives is caring for the two of them. Every day we make Leigh's meals, get her to eat them, and clean up after her. Every day we make sure she gets dressed, help her go to the bathroom and remind her to wash her hands. Every day we brush her teeth. Every day we navigate the tricky psychological world of parenting a kid who doesn't stop and seems to have a relentless drive to uncover our weaknesses. And did I mention that we have a baby too?

None of this stops on Shabbat -- it doesn't even slow down. It's been three and a half years since I had a truly restful Shabbat. These days, Shabbat doesn't provide a pause or a change or something really special; it's simply another day as a parent, and one in which I don't allow my child to watch a movie.

I feel as though I have allowed the cultivation of my daughter's Shabbat observance to eclipse my own. I want to create a certain kind of Shabbat environment for her, but haven't stopped to consider that perhaps my own is more important. A little bit like how on an airplane you are supposed to put on your own air mask before attempting to put on your child's.

That's an interesting realization, but doesn't necessarily solve the problem. However, I have had a few thoughts on changes we can make.
  • Earlier this year, we started to pay for our havurah to have childcare on Shabbat mornings. This has opened up the possibility of actually getting to pray on Saturday mornings, rather than spending the morning either playing upstairs with Leigh or worrying that it is time for me to relieve Lyn who has been playing upstairs with Leigh. Having childcare allows me to relax and open myself up a little to some spiritual renewal.
  • Now we have unfortunately entered that time in a baby's life when we can't just let him nap in a carrier on the go -- we actually have to nap Ira in his crib at home during the day or we'll pay for it at night. That means someone needs to stay home with Ira. We've decided that for the time being, most Saturday's one of us will go to services and the other will stay at home. Being at home with just a baby for companionship can provide it's own kind of rest, especially when it is Shabbat and you don't have to keep up with work or household chores. So one of us gets to pray (with Leigh upstairs in childcare) and the other gets some contemplative time at home.
  • We've also decided to start trading off longer solitary afternoon breaks. This will also mean changing some aspects of our Shabbat practice, like our observances around spending money or writing. For instance, the next time we do this I may walk over to a coffee shop, buy a coffee, and do some reading or writing for a few hours.
I'm curious about how any of you find time and space for rest in your lives (whether it is connected with a religious observance or not). How do you recharge? How do you find time for quiet contemplation?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's a good thing big sister can't read

Early on in Ira's pregnancy, my older sister, who at the time had two and four year old boys (and now has added a third kid) gave us some good advice: "Be really careful of the books for older siblings. They are almost all extremely negative."

It turns out she was right. Leigh is so excited about being a big sister (and generally doing a fabulous job of it!) that she picks out any book from the library that has an older sibling (especially a sister) and a baby in it. Fortunately, she still hasn't figured out our propensity to change the words, so we can get away with liberal editing.

She picked out such a book last week, and when we sat down to read it, every single page was filled with how awful the big sister thought her new baby brother was and how mad she was at her parents (and now I've completely forgotten the title, and the book went back to the library, so I'll spare the author my wrath). Sure, there was a bit of a turn at the end where the sister decided maybe the baby was sort of OK, but 99.99% of the content was about how her brother's arrival ruined her life.

But as we're sitting there, and I'm trying to make up this or that nonsense story (it was truly unreadable), Leigh fortunately took over much of the reading. The book had absolutely beautiful pictures and she was exclaiming "Oh! Look how cute the baby is! He's yawning! That's a big sister just like me! She's going to take good care of the baby. She'll help put him for a nap and play with him and make him laugh..." She went on and on and every single word out of her mouth was about how great it is to be a big sister and how wonderful babies are. Now, you might say she was just buttering me up, but she could barely contain her excitement and was practically bubbling over with everything that's great about having a brother. I'm so glad that with my sister's warning, we mostly managed to avoid giving her a script ahead of time about how awful the baby was going to be.

There are a few other indications that she's pretty fond of our new family structure. The other day at dinner she said, out of nowhere, "It is really great to have a baby. Don't you like having a baby, Ima?" A few weeks ago, she was "reading" to me from a "letter" she "wrote" to me at daycare which said, "Dear Mama, I don't know if you are going to have another baby (author's note: unlikely), but if you do, Thank you."

I know we might be in the sweet spot right now. Ira isn't very mobile yet (he's a little mobile, but not fast!) so he can't take any of her things, but he's smiley and interactive, and clearly thinks she's the bee's knees. I know when he's a toddler it will be a whole new ballgame, but for now, we're grateful that Leigh has taken to big-sisterhood like a duck to water, at least for the first 6 1/2 months.

[PS: If you are looking for a good book for older siblings, we have two recommendations. Of course, neither of them is 100% perfect for queer families, but you can't have everything. The first is I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole. It's a simple book about having a new baby and is very positive. It also shows both mom and dad caring for children, which is a plus in my book. (The same author has written I'm a Big Brother which is likely similar.) The second book is Not Yet, Rose by Susanna Leonard Hill with illustrations by Nicole Rutten. This is a sweet story about a girl, Rose, anticipating the birth of a younger sibling. She eagerly anticipates the new baby, wondering whether she will have a brother or sister. She has a couple of fears, but they are introduced gently and Rose talks herself out of them. The end of the book when the baby comes is one of the sweeter moments I've seen in picture books about siblings. My only complaint is that the division of labor is overly gendered in this book, but otherwise it's a joy to read.]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Anti-NaNoBloMo: recovery roundup

** Now With Fixed Links **

As you can see, in celebration of NaNoBloMo in November, we made our fewest posts ever in a single month. In an attempt to get things going around here again, here are some posts we've enjoyed reading on our unplanned hiatus:

Two Hot Mamas >> thoughts on (possibly not) nursing
N writes about many thoughts in anticipation of feeding her soon-to-be-born baby. She writes things that often don't get said out loud, but I'm sure many women will recognize. She has a very nice bit in there about how decisions around feeding in a two-mom family can be a little more complicated than in a mom-dad family, and I think she's right.

Adjustment Disorder >> Who is a Rabbi?
SWMama writes about her take on a court decision in the UK regarding who is and isn't Jewish, and what that means to her and her daughter. I have had many of these thoughts and feelings, but have never managed to identify (let alone write) them quite so clearly.

Totally Smitten Mama >> My Leo
Lex writes about falling in love with the son her wife gave birth to, and the differences and similarities compared to her experiences with their first three boys. I love how she captures how beautiful and enriching this path to motherhood can be, even when you already have plenty of mothering experience under your belt.

It's not like a cat...>> Mommy on the Sidelines
JM wonders how life would be different if she wasn't the taskmaster around her house. She's dissatisfied with her current situation but not sure how to shift the division of labor to something more egalitarian (which would leave her more room for fun with her son).

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beginning of the End

Well, you knew we couldn't hold off forever, so, yes, we are back with another installment of our lactation-induction saga. You can read about our decision, how it's been working, and some pros and cons. Now I'm going to tell you about what is probably the beginning of the end.

Lately I've been very tired of the work it takes to keep up my supply. In an ideal world, I'm taking 2 domperidone pills 4 times a day and 3 fenugreek and 3 blessed thistle pills 3 times a day. Lately I'm lucky if I do half of that. I'm very tired of taking pills and have had an increasingly hard time making myself do it.

So I've decided to stop. I'll be tapering off all of the medication and herbs over the next couple of weeks. We're not sure if my supply will dwindle to nothing, or continue at roughly the same rate (these days probably about 6 ounces, though I've been as high as 10, or maybe 12 on a good day). Either way, I will continue to nurse Ira, probably almost as often as I do right now. I'll continue to take every other night with Ira, and, if necessary, I'll feed him a bottle of breastmilk at night.* I'll continue to nurse him from time-to-time during the day, even if at times it is just comfort nursing. Honestly, it is often largely comfort nursing now; for a daytime feed I usually nurse him and then either give him to Lyn for more milk or give him a bottle.

We are hoping that my cutting back won't put too much more pumping pressure on Lyn. She currently pumps once in the morning every night that I am on Ira-duty, once before bed on nights that I do the "dream feed" (and on those nights she has Ira-duty), and once at work on days her three office work days (pumping more times at work for Lyn seems to generate the same amount as just pumping once). I will continue to pump on mornings that I go to work (since I don't feed him overnight on those mornings). We currently have a large freezer stash and are hopeful that Lyn won't have to add more pumping (particularly more pumping at the office) to keep Ira in breastmilk.

I am glad that I induced lactation. It helped us share nighttime care more easily, reduced the feeding pressure on Lyn, and gave me a wonderful experience with my son. It also gave Lyn more opportunities for uninterrupted time with Leigh, which may have helped smooth her transition to big-sisterhood. But right now I feel like if my nursing becomes just a close and cosy pacifier, I really don't mind. It's served it's purpose and I can let the milk go if my supply doesn't stay up without the drugs.

* Nights are a sore subject around here right now. Ira's sleep has been going south and lately he wakes up around midnight and then every hour or two after that. We all need more sleep! We learned our lesson with our older daughter have a consultation with a sleep consultant scheduled for next week (with Leigh, they were far more helpful than a giant library full of contradictory "sleep books"). Hopefully we'll get some good ideas and there will be more restful nights in our future; right now it's an absolute lifeline to get a solid night of sleep every other night. (And note, we're not really interested in receiving sleep advice here on the blog -- though empathy is welcome!)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This job is impossible; how are you going to help?

Yesterday, I was in the drug store with both kids, buying Halloween candy and bottle nipples with a faster flow so I can feed Ira in under 45 minutes. We'd already had a lovely trip to the hardware store and the grocery story. The stroller was loaded with cider, a pumpkin, and the three bags of candy I was about to buy. Then the baby, who was riding on my back in an Ergo, really needed to fall asleep but couldn't quite do it on my back. So I put down the giant bags of halloween candy, took off my babywearing coat, took the baby out of the Ergo, strapped the baby into the stroller, and tried to figure out how to carry the halloween candy, push the stroller, and answer my daughters incessant "But why aren't we ever going to buy it?" questions.

The baby was on the verge of sleep and I was wandering around, exposing my three-year-old to more products we weren't going to purchase when I finally found the bottle nipple aisle. I set the giant bags of candy down again, parked the stroller right next to them, and walked eight feet or so down the aisle to the get the nipples. Nipples in hand, I came back to the stroller, but then had to deal with the Q-Tips my daughter had aquired. Back at the stroller again, I was ready to step two feet away to buy the stupid candy from the cashier. This series of obviously neglectful acts got the three cashiers up front freaked out, so the highlight of my shopping trip became getting told what a bad job I was doing as a parent by exposing my baby to all those potential kidnappers by stepping 8 feet away from his stroller.

You can imagine what that did to my mood for the day. Just in case you can't, it sent me into something of a tailspin of bad parenting. Back at home the stroller tipped over with the Ira in it (he was unharmed). Then everyone needed lunch at once so I had a screaming baby as I warmed a bottle and got something filling but non-nutritious ready for Leigh. Later I neglected a very fussy Ira so that I could have Leigh help me make dinner. I turned my back and my daughter was hitting my son over head with a toy. I got angry and frustrated while trying to put the baby to bed and was then mean to my Leigh. I left Leigh in rest time a little longer so I could watch "Supernanny" on Hulu. When Ira started crying in the bedroom I felt glad he was doing it in there and not out in my space.

Most every moment of the rest of the day reminded me that I can't do a really good job as a parent of two children, if "good job" means meeting their needs, having them both directly under my watchful gaze at all times, making sure they're moderately presentable and behave well (especially in public), protecting them from everything, keeping them happy, and helping them to develop -- all things expected of parents these days, every moment of every day. I guess I really couldn't do that with one child, but with two I'm totally out of my depth.

Having two kids isn't easy, and I'm still holding myself to the same standard of parenting I had when there was just one kid. Somehow I have to cut myself some slack without just deciding to throw in the towel (or to never go to a store again with two kids, which I was seriously considering yesterday). What I need is a community that gives me a hand, supports me as a parent, and provides extra sets of ears and eyes. I guess I should consider myself lucky, because I get that with my friends and in my neighborhood park. But in much of the rest of the world that extra set of ears and eyes seems to be concentrating on finding my flaws rather than helping watch over and care for my children.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Just me and baby

My Dad's mom passed away last week. It wasn't necessarily unexpected and she lived a long and good life, but it was somewhat sudden. Gail and I decided it was a good idea for me to fly out all the way to the other coast with Ira to be with my dad during this time, but that it wasn't possible for our whole family to make a sudden cross-country trip. So here I am, spending about 5 days with my parents and with extended family, some of whom I haven't seen in years. It has been a sad but also in some ways a happy time, sharing memories and reconnecting, and there's something beautiful about having a baby here when we are marking life's passing.

But that's not really what I came here to write about. We decided Ira would come with me primarily due to feeding since I'm his primary (but not his only) milk supplier, and so that Gail would have some hope of both working and successfully holding down the home front without going completely batty. So, here I am, spending one week as Ira's primary parent.

At home, neither of us is a "primary" parent to our kids. Or rather, maybe it's more accurate to say that we are both primary parents, and we endeavor to structure our priorities, life and time to make this a reality. There have been times when this has set us apart from our parenting peers (in both good and sometimes uncomfortable ways), far more often than being a two-mom family.

So this week, for pretty much the first time in the over three years that I've been a mom, I'm living a little bit like "everyone else." I'm making all parenting decisions regarding Ira's feeding/sleeping/bathing/etc. I'm changing pretty much every diaper and all feedings are coming directly from my body. I'm up every night for every waking and feeding. This is not to say I don't have help. There is plenty of family around, and my parents love nothing more than spending time with Ira. They've both spent plenty of time both playing with him and soothing him, but it is just that, it is only "help."

I'm actually really enjoying parts of this experience. Ira is proving to be adaptable and good natured in pretty extreme circumstances. He seemed to think that our nearly 12 hour stint in various airports and airplanes to get here was just one big chance for him to make new friends. As I whisked through the subway and airports, successfully managing gear and baby, I enjoyed feeling kind of like super-mom. I'm enjoying the simplicity of feeding him without ever needing to pump. I love that all the complements about what a beautiful and delightful baby he is are coming straight to me (who wouldn't love that?). I'm somewhat surprised to find that I'm understanding a little about why other moms might not want to really share parenting. At least when parenting one good-natured 4 1/2 month old, who also happens to be my second child so I'm not a giant bundle of nerves, it's kind of nice to be the only "Mommy."

But as much as I'm loving parts of this experience, mostly I'm missing home. I'm missing Leigh with a physical ache, and am worried that this trip will lead to a rocky transition home. I'm missing Gail, which feels a little like missing the other half of my brain. I'm really really missing that sleep I get every other night at home (which is probably dropping my brainpower by another half). I also know that soon, babies become toddlers, and that I (in particular) need a true teammate for that. I also know what it's like to be away from your baby, since I took a conference trip when Leigh was this age, and so I'm sad for Gail, knowing she is missing him deeply while I'm having this time with him.

When I called home earlier today and got the machine that said "You've reached Gail, Lyn, Leigh and Ira" it almost made me cry. I love my family so much. I love our whole complete four-member family and am so glad that soon I'll be home, and we'll be all together again, even if that means Gail gets to take some credit for how fabulous Ira is, and that sometimes I have to pump.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Parenting Roundup

  • Bedtime Stumblings from Killing the Buddha Peter Berbergal writes about his brother's suicide, how he talks about it with his six-year-old son, and his own religious faith. It's a
    lovely look at those challenging bedtime conversations.
  • Must Hollywood dads be so clueless? from "Moms and dads alike, single and partnered -- not to mention their children -- deserve more than this myth that women instinctively know what they're doing with kids while men, left to their own devices, will neglect their young at all times except at playtime." Amen to that.
  • Census: Stay-at-home moms are not who you think from Penn State News Interesting article on stay-at-home moms (which makes me wish for a corresponding census study of stay-at-home dads). However, I take exception to some of the things they say. For instance, "though there's a perception that many well-educated, well-to-do moms are opting out of the work force to stay home with their kids, the census found that only 7.4 percent of stay-at-home moms had a master's or more advanced degree." This isn't the number that you need to make the argument they are trying to make. Only about 9.4 percent of people in the US have a masters degree or higher (and I don't have the figures for women of an age to have young children). Thus we should expect the percent of stay-at-home moms with higher degrees to be low. The percentage that we need is the percent of all women with masters degrees and higher that are stay-at-home moms, and then we need to compare that to the percent of women in the general population (or other restricted groups) that are stay at home moms. That would tell us something about whether there is an "opt-out revolution." OK, now I'll stop ranting about mathematics.
  • Daddy Dialectic: Does parenthood make men more conservative and women more liberal? Jeremy Adam Smith's take on a recent study showing that men and women move in opposite directions on the political spectrum once they become parents. He asks the question, "Does taking care of kids push men in a more liberal direction?"
  • rad dad -- a zine about parenting: Parenting Has Everything to Do With You Rad Dad writes about why you should read a parenting zine even if you aren't a parent and about the whole parenting zine scene. Makes me want a copy of Rad Dad 15, if only I'd get off my butt and get one!
  • A Somewhat Shallow Exploration of Gender Preference « Project Kjetil Bree writes about wanting a boy and having a girl.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Back to work--How we do it.

A few weeks ago, Lyn and I went back to work in a serious way. In August we both fiddled around with work, doing some and getting used to our schedules, but in September we started back in earnest. It's not easy. Everything that was hard about our lives pre-baby is now just a little bit harder.

We both work. Lyn has gone back to full-time work. I am almost full time (I am teaching one less course this semester than I normally would do). Yet one of us is home with the baby all of the time. How do we do that? Why do we do that?

How we do it

Before Ira's arrival, we each worked four days a week, fitting our full-time jobs into those four days and each staying home with Leigh one day a week, sometimes working nights or Sundays when deadlines loomed or finals struck. Leigh was in daycare three days a week. Now that we are back to work with Ira, Leigh is in daycare four days a week (and loving her new daycare, by the way). On Mondays and Fridays, I'm home with Ira alone, getting work done while he naps during the day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Lyn is home alone with Ira doing the same work & baby routine. We already knew combining work and baby would be feasible for us, because we did something similar when Leigh was a baby (combining work and a toddler? Not so much). On Wednesdays I am home with both kids and just trying to survive the day. That means I'm at work for two long days (8am to 7pm on Tuesday, 8am to 5:30 on Thursday). Lyn similarly works three fairly long days but is usually home by dinner time (about 6 or 6:30 in our house). Since we both have somewhat cyclical work (Gail's work turns over on a semester schedule, I have frequent grant and conference deadlines) there are times when one or the other of us is swamped, and needs to find more work hours, at night or on Sunday. It is nice to know that each of us is capable of stepping up the house and care duties when the other is doing more outside work, and to know that the tables will probably turn shortly.

I am currently doing more time at home than Lyn. When we were thinking through this scheme last year, this seemed like a good idea -- a way for me to get lots of time with Ira and to counteract the way that responsibility for baby-care can tip toward the parent that gave birth. But we've now realized that it also has the unfortunate side effect of giving me more experience handling both kids at once, which might leave Lyn feeling less confident as a parent of two. Lyn does get to have evening time on Tuesdays (and was the first parent to successfully navigate bedtime for two solo), but we have also made plans for her to take a weekend solo parenting while I go away for a weekend on my own, something I'm very very excited about.

Why we do it

We could put both Leigh and Ira in daycare full-time. But that's expensive, especially where we live, and would obliterate one of our take-home salaries completely. But more importantly, we both want to have a chance to experience and enjoy parenting during infancy and early childhood. On the other end of the spectrum, one of us could choose to stay home with both kids. Lyn did a couple of chunks of time as primarily a stay-at-home mom with Leigh (and I once did a month solo parenting, with Leigh in outside care only three days during that time), and we really didn't like what started to happen in our relationship during those times. When Lyn was at home full time with Leigh, she became the more experienced parent and more of the parenting fell to her even when I was home. We noticed that I was gradually gaining power in the relationship, in subtle but real ways. After all, I had work and that took precedence over things that Lyn might want or need to do, because I made money and Lyn did not. When I was parenting on my own for that month, it was challenging to find our way back to parenting as a team once Lyn was back. We decided after those brief experiments that we both wanted and needed to stay in the work force, but that we also wanted to prioritize time with kids and time as a family.

So here we are. Most days seem a little crazy. One parent gets up early (after a night "off" with no baby-feeding responsibilities) and gets into work for the day. The other parent gets up, perhaps a little later, feeds Ira, and gets Leigh to daycare. That parent then goes home and alternates caring for Ira and working. Any chores that need to be done are fit into times that Ira is awake so that precious nap times can be saved for working. At the end of the day, that parent heads back to daycare to pick up Leigh, and then back home to make dinner. A little later the out-of-the-house working parent for that day comes home and we all have dinner, kids bedtime, followed by a round of nightly chores, and any catch-up work if needed. During the week we feel stretched pretty thin. But on the weekends we take Shabbat for rest (NO computers!). Leigh goes to grandma's house on Saturday night (Thanks Grandma!), while Lyn and I have a "date" while the baby sleeps (usually including a movie and some wine, and a luxurious neglect of any looming chores). Every other Sunday morning someone goes grocery shopping and then we get ready to do it all over again. Hmm. Now that I put it that way, it doesn't seem quite so hard.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Babies and Strangers

When out and about now, I often carry Ira facing out (in a ring sling). I never really did that with Leigh. She was quite easily overstimulated, and really seemed to need the protection of being able to tuck her head up against us, so I almost always carried her tummy-to-tummy. In contrast, Ira is quite happy facing out or in, and since we're trying to gently push him into something like a nap schedule, carrying him facing out can be a good way to keep him happily awake when needed.

Over the last week or so, I've noticed that this means many more people talk to me about the baby, or make googley eyes at him, or smile in that way that only a baby can make you smile. At 3 1/2 months he often will give them a good smile back. At a coffeeshop I go to sometimes, dads in particular have started several conversations. One guy opened up about his 8-year-old who lives in another state. Another dad and I compared notes about pacifiers. Sometimes someone will even touch the baby (gasp!). Sometimes people give me advice I don't really want (often about how hot/cold he is or whether or not he's really OK in that carrier).

Over the years I've been privy several conversations among parents bemoaning the slew of unsolicited advice that comes your way once you're out and about with a baby, or the horrors of old ladies coming up and pinching your baby's cheeks, or annoyance at the rubberneckers always trying to get a peek in the stroller. While I sort of understand the annoyance, I actually love (most*) such interactions. I see them as the last shred of our instinct to communally care for our young. When strangers interact with Ira, I see a piece of what it means to be human. I feel a little less like I'm on a tiny island containing only my small family, and more like our baby is part of the whole world.

* I do have my limits, however. The random drunk guy yelling at me that my 6 week old was hungry as he cried while I tried to get set up to nurse in a crowded subway station really ticked me off.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Nursing Nag

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.

Parenting Blog Roundup

  • Double X: Why won't feminists admit the pleasure of infants? This article by Katie Roiphe touched off many discussions, including the comments on the original post, a follow up post on double X, a great response over at Shapely Prose, a response to the response from Blue Milk, and many more discussions on other blogs. Personally, I've fallen in love with a couple of babies, and it is great. But of course life goes on, those babies grow up to be toddlers, kids, and eventually adults, and no parents can indulge in the newborn crush phase forever. And in many families there's more than one parent, and I don't hear that parent getting to be a part of this newborn lovefest. What I'd really love to hear is dads writing essays about how society seems to completely ignore their overwhelming love for their children. Loving children isn't a feminist issue, it's a human issue.
  • Two Women Blogging: Eve and Her Two Mothers I found this post by Jay moving because she's trying to deal honestly with the difficulties of interacting with her daughter's birth mother. It made me think about our own family choices and how Leigh and Ira have a donor and donor siblings that may someday be important to them. That fact makes me uncomfortable, and has at times felt threatening to my family. For me, it helps to remember that while they aren't people I consider to be part of my family, my children may feel differently. I really appreciated getting to see how another family, constituted differently, deals with this issue.
  • Free Range Kids: Dear Abby -- Again with the Abductors? Lenore weighs in on Dear Abby's fear-mongering and the fact that are kids really aren't in much danger from random abductions and molestation by strangers. It's nice to be reminded once in a while to be a little less afraid.
  • Adjustment [and] Disorder: In Which I Add My Two (Make that Ten) Cents to The Bad Mother Dialogue…Here's an great post by SWMama about "The Bad Mother." In it, she discusses the way that confessing "I'm such a bad mother because...." actually "only serves to continue the already damaging trend of mothers judging, criticizing, and putting down other mothers."
  • Damn Straight. Those of us that parent queerspawn would probably do well to learn what they think when they grow up. This blog isn't very frequently updated, but I enjoy reading what Abigail had to say and checking out her links.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

When your toddler prefers one parent

Last week, Gail and I got some time to spend just with Leigh. Grandma (Gail's mom) spent a few hours with Ira while we both took Leigh downtown for a carousel ride and lunch. We had a wonderful time, just the three of us like old times, and noticed two things.
  1. Wow is it ever easier to go out with one kid than with two!
  2. In all of the late-pregnancy-early-infant chaos, Leigh has developed a bit of a preference for Gail.
Like all parents, we've been down this road before. At 6 months Leigh developed a strong preference for me and would cry if I was in the room and not holding her. During early toddlerhood she favored Gail, often in inconvenient ways, like insisting that only Ima could put her shoes on or take her to the potty or push the stroller name it. This latest preference isn't on the scale of either of those previous times. It's not taking the form of outright rejection of me, but rather as a kind of warmth between Gail and Leigh, which in and of itself is absolutely delightful.

During our trip downtown, Leigh wanted to hold Gail's hand a lot. She preferred that Gail to ride the carousel with her, but didn't object when I rode with her on the second ride. But being out without the baby, and seeing the strength of their relationship right now made me realize that I have some work to do. I wrote before about how late pregnancy, particularly with all of the health concerns and my lack of sleep, was hard on my relationship with Leigh. Things have gotten better between us since Ira was born. Truly, even with the newborn sleep hit, I am in a much better place now and have many more resources for her. Since things have been better, I thought we were back to our old form, but now I realize we aren't quite there.

What do you do when a child who prefers one parent to the other? Anything? The usual advice given by many is is that you just need to ride it out, wait for long enough, and the "preference" will fade or tip the other way. But both of these previous times that Leigh developed a strong preference, we didn't find that was the case. We waited. And we waited. And the constant squabbles with Leigh over who was going to do what really started to take a toll. We felt like our only choices were
  1. to let her choose completely who did what, but then one of us felt completely run ragged (especially during her toddler Ima-kick), or
  2. to insist that she could not control everything, sometimes requiring she accept care from the non-preferred parent, leading to a giant tantrum which then led back to letting her control everything.
It wasn't pleasant for anyone, so we decided that the conventional wait-it-out advice was not for our family.

For the 6 month separation anxiety, we were already planning for Gail to spend more time with Leigh that semester, and that naturally helped to smooth things out. The toddler preference was a bigger fish to fry. Our friends Marc and Amy have written about this, about how in their family, they work hard not to let toddler whims govern their parenting. Inspired by them, after waiting-it-out failed, and we felt our whole family spinning into frustration and disarray, we drew some parental limits. We decided to work on the morning routine first, and trade off who would get Leigh dressed. Come hell or high water, when it was my day to dress her, she would either let me put her clothes on, or she would not get dressed, and she couldn't do any fun stuff until she was dressed. We explained to her that in our family, both Mama and Ima take care of her, because we both love her a lot, and because if one of us does everything that person gets tired and crabby. We told her clearly about the new morning routine, and she understood. She already understood something similar because we have always traded off bedtimes.

But my first morning to get her dressed, it was meltdown city. She was screaming and crying for "IMA IMA IMA!!!". We had decided that in this case, I would take a break so I could keep an even keel, so I headed to the porch for my own parental time out. As Leigh continued to wail and gnash her teeth, at first Gail ignored her, but then as the demands escalated, she explained to Leigh, again, that Mama was going to put on her clothes. Another uptick in the screaming, and Gail said that she was not going to dress her, flat out. Finally Leigh got it. Once she knew this was truly not negotiable, she came out to the porch, and handed me her shirt. I got her dressed. We had a recovery snuggle.

And that was it. One awful morning and we had broken out of the vicious cycle that was leaving our whole family miserable. Since then, we have talked a lot with her about how Mama and Ima both take care of her.

Our current situation is nothing like her previous demands. It's not really problematic that she and Gail are close right now, because she is much more flexible than she was at one and a half, and accepts care from me just fine. I certainly don't feel threatened that she and Gail are close right now, and I'm tremendously grateful she had such a strong relationship with Gail to rely on when I was less available to her. But neither Gail nor I want this to become the "new normal." So to this end, for the last week or two, I've been taking care to take time just with Leigh. We've had some pool trips and some park trips, just the two of us. And you know? I think that's all it took. She's been coming to me for snuggles spontaneously and just yesterday said to me that she thought I should spend the day with her (it was Gail's day home, so I told her I'd spend time with her on Thursday, and that seemed fine with her). She's sometimes been asking to pull her chair next to mine at dinner, once even explaining that "Today, I want to sit close to Mama. Ima, I'll sit close to you at breakfast, OK?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nursing Update: hitting my stride

It was recently brought to our attention that everyone gets to hear all about my nursing, but Lyn is a nursing parent, too, and some of you might want to know what is going on with her. She promises a thoughtful post soon, but until then, I'll just give you a few more gory details about re-lactating (see here or here for some back story).

About a week ago I got so frustrated on a day home using the supplemental nurser that I was just ready to give the whole thing up. So, I'm not using the supplemental nurser any more, and without that frustration, nursing has settled into more of a rhythm.

Every other night, I am on Ira duty. I don't do any pumping or nursing after 3pm so that I'll have enough milk for the night. After Lyn does a dream-feed at around 10pm, I do the rest of the night. Ira is usually getting up at around midnight or 1am, then again around 3 or 4, and then at around 5-6am, after which we are both laying around in some kind of groggy state slipping in and out of sleep for an hour or two. That's actually one of the nicest parts of the day. I have enough milk for him that I don't have to break out a bottle, although I know he gets less milk during a night with me than he does on a night with Lyn. He seems to adjust fine.

In the morning, sometimes Lyn will feed him and sometimes he's not interested in more food before his nap. If it's a day that I'm home alone with him (like today), I'll then give him his next two feedings out of a bottle. Today I nursed him for the third feeding and then topped him off just a little with a bottle. The supplemental nurser was just creating too much frustration for me to handle, and this new system is working out fine.

On nights like tonight that Lyn is going to be nursing him, I'll do the dream feed at around 10pm. I haven't nursed him since maybe 2pm, so I should have enough milk.

On days that I'm not alone with him, we try to work in one or two feedings for me and I might pump 1-2 times. I've gotten really tired of pumping, so I'm very lazy about it these days. I still take domperidone and fenugreek four times a day but I've cut out other herbs.

My supply probably supports about three real feedings a day and I am lucky to be able to do many of those feedings with an actual baby versus putting milk in bottles. As I write this, I haven't pumped in about 36 hours. I will pump several times tomorrow since it is a work day for me. I worry that my supply is going down right now, but so far I can still do those night feedings and that's worth it. I also have been enjoying giving Ira bottles. That wasn't an experience I got to have with Leigh, and it is very nice, in a different way from nursing. Oddly enough, I think I pay a little closer attention to him when I'm giving him a bottle. He seems to prefer to be held a little ways out from my body when taking the bottle, and that gives me a chance to look at his face while he eats and catch some sweet milky smiles. I had to stop looking at him earlier today, in fact, because I was distracting him from the feeding!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parenting Roundup

  • Fatherhood Friday post: A different kind of delivery « Jesus has Two Daddies. I'm on a quest to read more dad blogs, and I recently stumbled across this great blog and the post about their new son Elijah and the amazing foster family that had been caring for him.

  • The problem with equal parenting « blue milk. Blue Milk contemplates going back to work while her partner stays at home. It would represent a role-reversal for them, and she discusses the good and the bad behind this reversal.

  • Flying Pumps « oneofhismoms. Oneofhismoms writes about how nursing has changed since she stopped pumping. Things got a lot easier, but there's a bit of the bittersweet in there too.

  • Book Review « Equally Shared Parenting. Review of the book Couples, Gender, and Power, including some discussion of how gender norms impact our relationship in unexpected ways and "the myth of equality" -- how many couples have relationships which are equal in name only. Queer couples I think tend to have more equal relationships than most hetero couples, but gender norms (and parenting norms) can still mess with us in ways that we can't even see.

  • Family Week 2009: Coming Home « Green Dads. Brian speaks eloquently about the importance of family week to his family and all GLBT families. We've been to family week once and hope to go again regularly. (If only P-town weren't so expensive!)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Flying Solo

Lyn and I are both back at work part time this month and as a result I recently began spending significant amounts of daytime alone with Ira and a smaller amount of time alone with both kids. Even though I have been spending lots of time with Ira, the time alone still felt like a shift.

It's different to parent without a safety net. I realized how much I rely on Lyn to have the backup baby cure-all: nursing breasts that are always full. If I'm trying to nurse him but he's fussy, or I give him a bottle and he's fussy, or he's just fussy for an unknown reason, Lyn has previously always been there to take over and fix everything. But last week I had to do everything on my own with no "real mom" to take over if I stumbled. That was less challenging than I feared and more rewarding than I hoped.

For those of you who are curious, on a day alone with Ira I feed him about every two to three hours, usually right after he wakes up from a nap. I try to feed him with the supplemental nurser if we are at home. I can now put the supplementer on pretty fast and it keeps Ira from getting frustrated when I don't have enough milk to satisfy him. If we go out, I will usually give him a bottle or occasionally I will nurse him without using the supplementer. That usually doesn't work out as well as I might hope -- if I want to be able to feed him well without using the supplementer I generally need to have gone at least 4-6 hours without pumping or nursing and that's not usually possible on a day home alone.

Last Friday I went out with Ira to finally pick up his birth certificate from city hall and to run a few other errands. It was interesting to be out alone with him -- I found myself frustrated that I didn't look radical at all. I realized that being out with him alone I looked like any other mother, but I wanted to stand out. I really wanted people to be able to see that I was doing something outside of the norm, parenting with another woman, parenting a baby I had not given birth to. I didn't want everyone to assume that my experience as a mother was ordinary. But I guess, when I think about it, no one has an ordinary experience of motherhood (or fatherhood) -- it feels extraordinary to all of us.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On having a son

Before Leigh was born, we were so convinced we were having a boy, that I was sure I got it wrong when I told Gail that Leigh was a "she" at the birth. I had to ask for another peek.

I think the main reason we were so "sure" was that we were trying to get ourselves used to the idea that we might be parenting a boy. Neither Gail nor I have any brothers. Gail is an only child. I'm the middle of three girls. For goodness sake we're lesbians. We were understandably intimidated at the prospect of a son.

While we would have been thrilled with a baby boy, it is also true that Leigh being born a girl felt a bit like a reprieve.

We knew that Ira was going to be a boy before he arrived. When we found out, my mind raced to all sorts of things. I immediately thought about real-estate since our two-bedroom condo now can't last us forever (though room sharing will work fine for quite a while). I cringed at the thought of organizing a bris 8 days after birth. I wondered how many of Leigh's clothes I'd really be willing to put on a boy, despite my ostensibly progressive ways.

A few weeks ago, Gail and I got some precious time just with Leigh (thanks Grandma!), and walked to a nearby square. A young man with a guitar, and coloring like Ira's, was there playing sweet songs. We sat for a long time on a nearby bench and listened. Leigh snuggled with both of us, asked lots of questions, danced, and delivered our tip to the jar. I found myself tearing up to think that someday our baby could be a young man like this young man. Maybe he'll play guitar for tips in the square. Or maybe he'll be like the tough-looking teenager on the train, who looked far too cool to care about a little kid, but then proceeded to play a game with Leigh, were he moved his baseball cap from his knee, to his foot, to his head and back to his knee. He had her in fits of giggles.

It's not that we haven't seen plenty of young male musicians on the streets around here before now. And it's not that I don't have plenty of positive interactions with men day-to-day (I work in a male dominated field, and my colleagues are great). It's that now when I see these young men, I realize that someday the world of young men will have something to do with me. Until Ira was born, that was pretty much never going to be the case.

For now at least, instead of feeling intimidating, this feels like Ira is opening a door to a new world for us.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Inducing Lactation: Pros and Cons

The lactation project has been going well. I spend every other night in the bedroom with Ira, while Lyn gets a good night's sleep in the living room. Most of the nights I am able to feed Ira all night without even using the supplemental nurser or a bottle. On the nights I'm going to be feeding him I don't pump or nurse him at all after 3pm so that I am full enough by night time to go the whole night. I worry a little that this will have a negative impact on my supply, but so far the situation is sustainable. We're also actively looking for more opportunities for me to nurse Ira during the day.

Things are going so well, in fact, that we've started calling the project a success. It's great that we're feeling so good about it, but we've paradoxically also been wondering if it is worth it at all. Let me sketch out the reasons to induce lactation and the reasons not to and you can decide for yourself.

Why Induce?

The three biggest benefits of induction are more time with the baby, more decision making responsibility over the baby, and more milk in the freezer.
  • More time with the baby. As soon as I started nursing I began to spend more time with Ira and less time with the pump. However, note that I could have found ways to spend more time with the baby even if I wasn't lactating. Lyn and I might have agreed to do a certain number of bottles each day, I could have worn Ira more, or I could have prioritized spending every possible moment with our son. The real benefit of induction is that this additional time was simply built in. My nursing also frees up time for Lyn to spend with our toddler which has helped strengthen their relationship after the stresses of pregnancy and new-babyhood.
  • More decision-making responsibility for the baby. In my mind, this is really the biggest benefit. I realized around the time I started nursing that I was deferring to Lyn around every aspect of feeding. I counted on Lyn to keep track his feeding needs, and everything else in a young baby's life revolves around the food. When I got involved, it was often because Lyn asked me to do something rather than because I decided something needed to be done. Even as I started to nurse, I treated her as the gatekeeper of Ira's needs. Now that I am nursing Ira -- particularly now that I feed him all night long half of the time -- I feel that I know what is going on with him, and Lyn often also looks to me for guidance. This started happening the morning after my first night feeding him, but it has since spread to a more equal sharing of daytime responsibilities as well. This was a benefit of the induction, but it could be replicated by couples who were committed to sharing nighttime care. However, needing to give bottles creates its own problems, and it would not necessarily be easy.
  • More milk in the freezer. More milk in the freezer means never having to worry about giving the baby a bottle. We always have an oversupply of frozen milk since between Lyn and I we put about 10-15oz a day into the freezer (and at this point have never had to defrost milk to give a bottle). This makes going back to work easier. It would be an incredible help if we had any supply problems. We are also getting to donate some of our excess milk, which just makes us feel good.

Why Not Induce?

The main reasons you should not induce lactation are the excessive work involved, the potential for conflict in your family, the potential for feeling like a failure, and reduction in time available to bond as a family.
  • Excessive work involved. How much work is it to induce lactation? Depending on the protocol, you'll be taking birth control pills for perhaps five months before the baby's birth. Then you'll be taking 6-8 pills four times a day and pumping at least five times a day for several weeks before the birth. That might seem like hard work, but it's nothing compared to doing all of that and taking care of a new baby, a recovering bio-mom, and an older child. The nights that I feed Ira represent half a year of work and probably around 60+ hours of accumulated pumping. There are far more efficient uses of all of that parenting energy, like trying to keep a toddler fed and clothed.
  • Potential for family conflict. Navigating a second nursing relationship in your family is like trying to cross a landmine field. You never know when you are going to accidentally cause a major crisis. The bio-mom might get jealous -- after all, she is giving up something to allow the non-bio-mom to nurse. The non-bio-mom might get frustrated that she's not getting enough time to nurse. For a while at least, every nursing session by the nonbiomom will be a negotiation, and your family might not be prepared to handle that much negotiation. You've also got two nursing relationships to juggle, not just one, and remember that any nursing relationship means frustration for the baby and the mom as it gets started. And then there's the sticky issue of what happens if your baby likes to nurse with one of you more than the other. If the bio-mom had mixed feelings about her partner lactating, she may unintentionally sabotage the project. And I'm sure there's more potential conflict that I haven't thought of but might accidentally step into.
  • Potential to feel like a failure. If you try to induce lactation, you might fail. You might never get more than an ounce from a pumping, or you might never be able to handle a feeding without a supplemental nurser. You should think before you induce about what your goals are and what you'll do if you can't meet them. I would suggest pumping for several weeks before the baby's arrival so that you can get a good idea of whether or not you are going to be successful before a new baby throws your house into chaos. If you aren't pumping a decent amount of milk (perhaps 1.5-2oz a session) by the time the baby arrives, put down the pump and decide that comfort nursing is a great alternative (it is!). But even if you are successful, you will probably always be the lesser of two nursers. You'll have less milk and you'll nurse less often. I tend to feel pretty good about what I pump, but the other day I went head to head with Lyn (not on purpose, we just both ended up pumping at the same time). She got three times the milk that I did in half the time and she had just fed the baby. It can be hard not to feel inferior. Sometimes I have to feed him and then hand him over to her for more, I have to feed him and then do a bottle, or I have to feed him using a supplemental nurser. The potential to feel inferior is a real risk. I'm not usually bothered, but this is in large part due to the fact that I have already nursed one baby and I feel confident in my abilities as a mother. I think this could be much harder for a first-time mother to deal with.
  • Reduction in time to bond. This is really just a corrollary of the first point. Inducing lactation is hard work and it will take you away from your family. Time with the pump is not time with the baby. I spent hours during Ira's first few weeks pumping when I could have been holding him. And I still pump. Earlier today I was pumping while he was sitting in a chair looking at me. It makes a person feel a bit stupid. Then he started fussing so Lyn scooped him up and tied him on in the Ellaroo since I was busy pumping. That could have been me holding him or tying him on.
I know a lot of people have been reading our blog and wondering if they should induce lactation themselves. I'm glad that we did it, but if we had another baby, I doubt that either of us would do it again. It's been interesting and has had benefits, but inducing has risks and costs as well. If you are sure that you want to induce, think through those risks and costs before you start. Or decide that the costs are too great and spend some time thinking of all of the other ways that you can bond with your new baby and become a parent.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Parenting Roundup

Here are some of the interesting things we've read about parenting recently.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Payoff

We've written a lot about Gail's adventures in re-lactating for Ira, and at our last check-in, it still wasn't clear we were going to get a big payoff from all of that work (piles of herbs and pills, way too much quality time with that pump). At this point, it's still not clear we'll get a huge benefit, but we are starting to see some real perks for both of us.

The most obvious payoff is that (starting a week ago) we are now able to trade complete nights of caring for Ira, who nurses 2-4 times per night. As you'll recall, better sharing of nighttime care was one of Gail's primary motivations, and was something we struggled with when Leigh was a baby. While it would have been possible to trade whole nights by pumping ahead and/or supplementing a bit with formula (and we'd recommend doing so to families that contain more than one parent once supply is established), it does make things nicer that Gail can simply nurse Ira instead of fussing with bottles. Of the three nights that she has done so far, on two of them she had enough milk on her own to keep him happy. On one night, she did need to use a few extra ounces to supplement, and it was kind of a pain, but they did fine. On that night, I heard Ira getting fussy from my perch on the living room futon, reminded myself that Gail had plenty of milk in there (she had set up the supplemental nurser with some extra milk in a cooler at the beginning of the night for just such an eventuality), and relished my chance to just go back to sleep. On the two other nights, I didn't hear a peep.

Logistically, on my "off" nights, (i.e. the nights I sleep!), it seems to work well for me to pump before I go to bed and once in the early morning. That generates enough milk to cover his feedings (I'm still trying not to lose supply even though Ira didn't actually need my milk for those feedings), keep me comfortable, and not interrupt my sleep too much. I set up the pump right by the futon and pump with the lights out in order to stay sleepy. It is way faster and easier than doing a whole feeding for a baby this age, and I don't have to do that whole wondering "does that grunt mean he's hungry?" routine that totally kills my sleep even if Ira is sleeping fine. The pump doesn't really grunt at all.

One of the most wonderful things about this set up is that we can both look forward to both kinds of nights. It is very sweet and cuddly to do night feedings for a young baby. Ira is generally pretty calm and feeds well at night (his daytime feedings are often a bit fussier). He is super cute and snuggly, and I love staring at him in the half light of early morning. I get to love it even more since I know that even though I'm tired after being up every couple hours, I'll get a solid 8-9 hours the next night. After three full nights of sleep (alternating with baby nights of half-sleep), I feel like I'm already starting to pay off some of that sleep debt. I'm nicer. I'm a better parent to Leigh. I might even start to regrow some brain cells. I also love it that Gail is getting those same sleepy snuggles, as well as the rest that she needs.

I craved more of those nighttime snuggles with Leigh, and they were hard for Gail to share for a variety of reasons. Now that I'm on this side, I feel similar pressures. When Gail suggested that it might be time to trade whole nights with Ira instead of having her do one feeding, I balked. My stated reason was that it seemed too hard and like the pumping would be too demanding. But there was also a piece of me that didn't want to give up control. It was only a momentary hesitation before I agreed, but it was definitely there. But now that we're making trading nights work, it feels fabulous. Yes, we could have done it with bottles, but I'm not sure we would have. I think it would have been harder for me to get over my initial hesitation, and Gail wouldn't have had quite as much power to lobby to take on more than just one night feeding.

So, Gail, thanks for all your hard work, thanks for the sleep, and thanks for taking such great care of our son.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Parenting Roundup

One of the reasons that we started this blog is that, when I was pregnant with Leigh, Lyn could find very few resources to help her learn how to be a mom. We thought that our posts could provide a voice that might help other parents looking to swim in uncharted waters. There are lots of other folks swimming in those waters, both queer and straight, and here are several posts we've found lately that hit home:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dad talk

Last week we finally got the question.

"Ima, do you have a dad?" Leigh asked.

"Yes, your Grandpa F_______ is my dad," I answered.

"Mama, do you have a dad?"

"Yes, your Grandpa C_______ is my dad," she answers as I began thinking fast in preparation for the next question.

"Do I have a dad?"

Ouch. I knew it had to happen some day, but was very afraid of saying the wrong thing. "No, sweetie. You have two moms, but you don't have a dad."

That was it for that day. She thought for a little while about it and then wanted to talk about other things.

Today, we had part two. Leigh was talking on the "phone" (her hand, I think) as we were all walking to a restaurant to have breakfast. "Hello, Dad?" she said into the phone. I gave Lyn a meaningful nudge.

"Who are you talking to on the phone?"


"Oh, whose dad?"

"Mama's dad." This then led to a round of phone calls that started "Hello, Ima's Dad" and "Hello, Mama's dad."

Then she gets down to it: "But which one is my dad?"

At this point we stepped over to a conveniently placed bench to talk.

Then I said something like the following (only less eloquently), and hoped it was the right amount for a three-year-old: "Honey, you have two moms and you don't have a dad, but you do have grandfathers. Lots of people have a dad, but some don't. It's kind of like how you have a brother, but Mama doesn't have a brother and Ima doesn't have a brother. Some people have brothers and some don't. It's the same with dads. Some people have a dad and some don't."

She seemed to understand and wasn't upset about not having a dad (at least, not that she showed us), but we're waiting for the next conversation to see where she goes with it.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Non-Bio Mom Manifesto

In our meltdown last week, generously fueled by hormones and sleep deprivation, Gail said something that really hit home. As she wrote, she said that she is finding it hard that as an NGP, she has to choose to parent Ira. Her care for him isn't forced by the only truly essential need he has right now: his need to eat. Yes, she is nursing him, but she doesn't have to, since he could be getting plenty from me.

There are things about Gail's personality that make this particularly hard for her. She loves getting things done, checking things off lists, and moving forward in ways she can measure. Spending time with a little baby does not produce such tangible accomplishments. There's also an overwhelming amount of non-baby work that just needs to get done, and until the last couple weeks, I wasn't physically able to contribute much.

Now that she has noticed this struggle, she is consciously making sure to reach out to Ira. It's amazing what a difference a little insight, time and effort can make. Just a couple days ago she was moderately annoyed with me for not gazing at him quite lovingly enough, convinced I was not truly appreciating his beauty, while she was in what looked to me an awful lot like a new-parent-oxytocin-fueled love-fest.

Folks who know me know that I can get rather up in arms when advocating for non-bio-moms. I'm particularly bothered by an underlying assumption, even within the lesbian community, that a non-bio-mom is secondary, a nice perk, sure, but not an essential member of her family. This message comes through strongly in the small amount of writing on two-mom families, as I've complained about before. It comes through in one-on-one conversations with parents in two-mom families, especially in the deeper fears and hopes we sometimes have the courage to tell each other. If, as a lesbian community, we can't figure out that a family can contain two moms (as opposed to a mom and a back-up mom), then we should not be surprised when the straight world has trouble understanding us.

One of the ways I see this assumption reflected in our conversations is the insistence, usually expressed as reassurance to a non-bio-mom who voices any anxiety or struggle with her place in her family, that she is "different than the bio-mom, but that doesn't mean she is less important." This "Different but Equal" refrain really drives me crazy, especially when I look around at our families. Most non-bio-moms do take on a different role than the bio-mom, but you'd be hard pressed to call it equal in many cases. More non-bio-moms are primarily breadwinners, which, while certainly valuable to support the family, does usually result in less direct contact with their children. More non-bio-moms lose custody in case of separation or divorce. I am not saying this about all two-mom families; there are certainly families where non-bio-moms do plenty of parenting, even so-called primary parenting. But I'd venture that on average, non-bio-moms have less contact with their children than bio-moms. If time represents relationship (and I'd argue that it does to a first approximation), non-bio-moms are not on equal footing, even if you ignore the legal strikes against them (or rather, against us).

Even though I really hate the "Different but Equal" refrain, I'd be hard-pressed to say that my relationship with Leigh wasn't different than Gail's, at least during early infancy. So even though I get annoyed by such statements, I also sort of agree. But if I truly believe I do have a different and equal relationship to Leigh, even though she didn't grow inside me, even though I didn't nurse and nourish her as a baby, and even though she does not look a bit like me, there must be something else that I offered her. What is it? What is the "something extra" that I gave to her, that she wouldn't have gotten in a family with only Gail as her parent?

This has been eating at me for years. Sure, I can see my influence in her mannerisms, the clarity with which she expresses herself, her bull-in-a-china-shop quality, her overt enthusiasm, and her love of connecting with all kinds of people. But none of that seems quite like the answer. The other night, though, I realized Gail had finally figured it out. What I offered to her, that only I could offer her, was my choice. I chose to parent her, and chose to love her deeply, despite a multitude of pressures that said either that I shouldn't love her, or that I was unnecessary. Some of those pressures said explicitly that I'd damage her by my mere presence (those coming from, say, the religious right). Some of those pressures were more subtle, like the ones that said it wasn't important for me to take leave to spend time with my new infant, or the ones that said if I pushed too hard to feed her or spend too much time with her, I'd take away from her all-important "primary" bond to Gail, resulting in some sort of vague but longstanding psychological damage. It is precisely the central challenge of being a non-bio-mom, the need to choose to parent your child, that makes the bond special. To spin something precious out of what looks and feels like nothing at the outset -- no pregnancy, no genetic link, no nursing link, no overt need on the part of your child -- is truly a gift to your whole family, and it is a gift that only you can give them.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Choosing to parent

Last week, Lyn and I had a crisis of sorts. Really, it was just a late-night breakdown in which we grappled with the difficulties facing us as we deal with having a new baby. My big revelation came when we were talking about the long list of things I have on my plate and Lyn told me that she wanted me to put baby Ira at the top of the list. I realized that instead of being at the top, he was probably fourth, after taking care of Leigh, taking care of Lyn, and taking care of the house. Not good.

So I decided to put Ira first instead of fourth. But I also realized why and how he had dropped so far down on the list. Back when Leigh was a newborn and I was the gestational parent, I didn't have a choice. When Leigh was little, I got enough time during nursing (which Leigh wanted to do 24 hours a day) to solidify my bond with her. I never had to choose to spend time with her. In fact, it was best for our family if I left much of the non-nursing time available for Lyn to wear her and snuggle with her so that she could develop a bond.

As an non-gestational parent, I'm required to do exactly the opposite. I must choose to spend time with Ira in order to bond with him. This isn't actually something I'm good with. Time with a baby is too unproductive for my tastes. I'd rather be making some sort of progress around the house or feel useful to the family in some other way. Time with a baby is just time sitting around being useless. I felt this same way when Leigh was a little baby, but I didn't have a choice then. I had to be with her, and thus I came to love being with her. I am having trouble choosing to spend time with Ira.

This week has been much better. I've decided to put him first and it's making a difference. When he fusses, I go to him instead of assuming that Lyn will take care of him.  Once he's happy, I take time just to hold him, or sometimes feed him.  I'm hanging out with him more and falling in love with him more. As a result, I'm less available for our daughter Leigh, but Lyn is more available, which is helping their relationship, which did take a bit of a hit during late pregnancy and the first weeks of Ira's life.  A lot of the pressures that we anticipated dividing our family are very real. Being an NGP is harder than I expected, even with all of my advanced preparation. But this week I feel like I'm starting to hit my stride.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Nighttime Parenting

I have now been doing one feeding a day for Ira for a little over a week. Some of the feedings have been a little challenging, but overall the project is going well. I have a much better understanding on my son's feeding patterns. I am sometimes deciding when he is hungry and when he is done, and that makes me a more competent and confident parent.

I also get to spend a little more time with Ira. Since I'm doing one feeding a day there is a time built in every day just for me and Ira. I spend other time with him during the day, but it is good to have this guaranteed time. It's also good to have some time that I can just focus on Ira and not have my attention pulled by other things at the same time. And as Lyn mentioned in her post, she is able to get a little more sleep (which was one of my primary motivations for this project).

During one early morning feeding a few days ago, I realized that I could have let Lyn participate in the nighttime feedings more during our last go-round. Feeding a baby a bottle is a more of a hassle than nursing, but it's not that much more of a hassle, and it's considerably less hassle than strapping on a supplemental nurser (which I'm no longer having to do at night). It's also considerably less hassle than pumping five times a day and taking medications and herbs four times a day (note to self: you forgot to take not one, but two, doses today!).

What I'm saying is that last time I could have asked more of Lyn in terms of nighttime care; she did do some, but I could have moved over and shared more of the struggles with her. We shared in Leigh's care at night much less than either of us would have liked, and I thought the reason was that it would just have been more trouble than it was worth for Lyn to do lots of bottles at night. Instead it turns out that the reason for our nighttime inequity was not biology as I had assumed. It was my inability (or unwillingness) to think flexibly and creatively and to share some of the really tough work with Lyn.

Now you might be asking yourself why on earth I would be unwilling to share the really tough work. After all, Lyn was Leigh's primary caregiver for a number of months while I worked full time. I was obviously willing to share the mothering spotlight. Maybe in part that's why I was so hesitant to share the hard and lonely work of nighttime parenting. Perhaps doing that work was a way to prove to myself that I really was the mother and not just one of a pair. I think it was my way of hanging on to primacy. I thought that I was willing to share mothering, and in most ways I did. But maybe I was hanging onto my superior position as bio-mom without even realizing it.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Do they ever talk about anything else?

Yes, this is yet another post about sharing nursing of Ira. I swear we think about more than nursing around here, with all two brain cells that we possess between us in our current sleep deprived state, but since we haven't found anyone who has documented this particular process (two-mom family, one mom birthing, other mom re-lactates, both moms nurse one baby), we're trying to put our limited blogging energies towards this topic.

Here's the update: Ira will be 5 weeks old tomorrow, and Gail has been doing one feeding a day for a little over a week. Initially things did not go particularly smoothly because Ira was pretty miffed that her supply is not overflowing. We added a supplemental nurser (with a little of Gail's own expressed milk). That made for a few smooth feedings, and got her good stimulation to promote her supply. Two nights ago, we shifted to Gail taking the early morning nighttime feeding (between 4 and 5am) and found out that if she skips her 1am pumping, she actually has enough for a feeding on her own, is still only getting up one time, and I get a longer stretch of morning sleep. To make up for missing that feeding, I'm pumping directly after Ira's 1-2 am feeding, and directly after the 7-8 am feeding, which more than makes up for it. I'd probably be fine just pumping after the 1am, but I'm still kind of paranoid about losing supply.

What is challenging so far:
  1. Getting started nursing is challenging for many (I'd venture most) new mom & baby pairs. In this case, we're going through that difficulty twice, and the contrast between our bodies adds complication. Ira has to learn to deal with my fast let-down and medium-large supply, as well as Gail's slower let-down and less generous supply. That's a lot of extra complexity.
  2. Gail's feeding with the supplemental nurser are definitely much more cumbersome than bottle feedings would be, so for daytime feedings when Ira seems to need the SNS for now, there is absolutely no "convenience" payoff to Gail for nursing.
  3. There are a lot of logistics to work out in terms of how to time who feeds and pumps when. It's hard to think through everything, and for now, while Gail is trying to increase her supply, and I'm trying not to lose mine, there is a LOT of pumping going on in our house. Previously this was all falling to Gail and now I get to share the joy (actually, I think pumping is fun in a weird way, except for washing pump parts. Our hope is that ultimately we can cut back on this, once we see how much Ira needs from each of us.
  4. Related to point three, the complicated logistics can make it hard to feel like we've really hit a rhythm. Ira and I were just barely getting into the swing of things before we threw this in, which can make it hard to know when he's full, when he's hungry, and how long it will be until he's hungry again, but we probably would have been adding bottles in at this point anyway, which can cause the same problems.
  5. Related to points 3 & 4, changing up the rhythm and adding pumping feeds my worry about supply, especially with Ira doing a typical 4-6 week baby uptick in fussiness. It's pretty clear both from his weight gain and from what I get while pumping that there are no problems on this front, but that doesn't keep me from worrying some.
Indications there may be light at the end of the tunnel:
  1. The challenging emotions that I was having about Gail nursing were blessedly brief. Now that we're started, I only feel happy when they have a good feeding, and glad to help troubleshoot.
  2. Building in even just one feeding a day for Gail has automatically helped my interactions with Leigh. In the last week I've made breakfast with her (pleasantly) twice, just like old times, while Gail was busy feeding Ira.
  3. Once we figured out that Gail has enough milk to feed Ira without the SNS in the early morning, we both felt fabulous the next day. Gail felt great because she'd finally had a really satisfying feeding. I felt great because I got a slightly longer chunk of sleep. That was the first glimmer of a real payoff for all of this work (though the point would be very well made that the sleep payoff could have come just as easily with a bottle).
At this point it really isn't at all clear that this will give a payoff commensurate with the amount of effort we (and particularly Gail) have put in. On a daily basis, Gail is still pumping a ton, and enduring sometimes very fussy feedings (though at this point, so am I a fair portion of the time). If things don't smooth out once we're back at work, and she's getting long stretches (three solo days a week), and it's still this much work, we may let it go. But for now, we're still on the bandwagon and it looks like there is at least a little hope we may get some of the benefits for our family that we were hoping for (faster bonding for Gail and Ira, more uncomplicated one-on-one time for me and Leigh, better sharing of nighttime parenting...and most importantly, a damned impressive party trick. You have to admit it is pretty cool to both be out and about and both be able to nurse, which we did at a parent group last week).

One final note, it would be very hard to be in Gail's shoes if you had never nursed before. Even highly successful induction likely doesn't result in full supply, and several of these early feedings have been extremely frustrating. If it were also a first experience nursing, all while your partner has copious milk, and while trying to get up an running as a parent for the first time, I could imagine it not going well at all, and possibly doing more harm than good. Our experience has made me not regret at all that I did not induce lactation for Leigh. Given all of the other stuff I was working out about being a non-bio-mom, it would have been really hard, especially given my personality, and likely for not much payoff in terms of bonding, since we bonded so well anyway. I feel like our original lesson still stands: Nursing is great for bonding, but primarily because it guarantees time with your baby. Ultimately, time is what is important.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sharing Lactation, Part II

After Ira's birth, I was in rough shape. While Gail and I were admiring our brand new son, our doctor was assessing the damage. After several minutes, she said to me very gently that she was going to need to stitch me up in the operating room, under spinal anesthesia, "It will be about 20 minutes," she said "You enjoy your baby right now." It was actually a total of about 45 minutes before they rolled me out. I snuggled him close, we sang him a song, I was in awe that this whole baby had grown in my body and actually made it out, but he wasn't really interested in nursing.

When Gail picked Ira up before they took me out of the room, I said to her "Hold him. You nurse him if he wants to."

I know separations like that after birth can be really hard for lots of women. As I was laying there in the OR, I remember noticing that I really felt OK. I was so relieved that Ira was with his mom. I knew Gail was snuggling him, and it turned out that as she held him, he perked up, and started to nurse.

Since that first session, I've been nursing Ira. Even though Gail has milk since she has induced lactation, we wanted to make sure that my supply was well established before introducing a new variable, sort of like how you wait a few weeks to introduce a bottle. Now, at 3 1/2 weeks, that time has come, and today or tomorrow, Gail will nurse Ira, starting with one feeding a day.

Those first few days, when nursing was really hard (it went OK, but it was painful, and Ira was sluggish about learning to latch) and I was so exhausted, I sometimes wanted to just hand him over and say "You do it. You already know how." But we knew I needed to stick with it, and now Ira and I have worked things out. We've had some minor problems with over-supply but those are balancing out, too. He's growing wonderfully. I feel so proud that my body made this beautiful baby, and that now I am sustaining him.

On the eve of Gail's nursing debut, I find myself a bit reluctant to share.

There are lots of reasons that I will share anyway, not least of which is that I'm the one who nagged Gail until she agreed to induce lactation, and my reasons for wanting her to do so still stand. I also know that even though I find it satisfying to be Ira's sole source of nutrition, at some point, not too long from now, it will also be a burden. Even though I'm sticking with our plan, and am mostly happy to do so, my slight reluctance is interesting, and I want to know where it is coming from.

I'm reminded of a conversation I had with another mom back when Leigh was a baby. She was saying how her husband was taking to parenthood more slowly than she had hoped, that he didn't seem interested in the baby. I asked if he got any time with the baby, maybe even time alone, and she said that no, that it was too hard for her to leave the baby with anyone else (even the father), and that she cried if anyone else ever fed the baby. I confess that though I said supportive things, what I thought was that she needed to suck it up and hand over the kid, at least every now and then, if she had any real desire for her husband to parent their child. Three years later, it appears I'm experiencing some version of that same reluctance. Oh, I'm more than happy for Gail to trot off to the park alone with Ira after he's fed and show him off to the neighbors. I have zero qualms about her providing lots of his care once we're back at work. I don't think I'd be feeling this way if we were planning standard bottle feeding of my milk (like we did for Leigh). But nursing? It stings a bit. Now, I don't think I'll cry when she feeds him, but I'm not at all sure, so I guess I need to apologize to the universe now for some of the mean things I thought about that other mom.

There's also some piece of my reluctance that has to do with how much darn attention Gail gets for inducing lactation. When people find out that we're doing this, conversation always gets sucked into a giant lactation vortex, from which no other conversation topic can escape. Yes, it is super-interesting, but I sometimes think snarky things like "But wait! I grew the kid! And she only makes 10 ounces a day! I make like 3 million!"

Along similar lines, I find I'm having some non-bio-mom insecurity. She's getting all of these kudos for being the most deluxe NGP ever, and I find myself craving more credit for the work I did the last time. It's like I was some sort of first run model of a non-bio-mom, that still needed some bugs worked out, and all that work I did to connect with Leigh and parent her without the benefit of a nursing relationship, still comes up short. I already grappled with feeling like I came up short next to Gail when we just had Leigh, but now I'm wondering if I come up short as a non-bio-mom, too.

But at the same time I'm feeling these not-so-nice things, I'm also feeling thrilled that Gail is now voicing a real desire to nurse Ira. Back when I was pestering her to seriously consider it, her reasons for doing so were primarily logistical, and also probably to get me to shut up about it. She was reluctant to nurse again, partially because of the complications she had while nursing Leigh, and also because we both understand that nursing does not make a mother. But now that our son is here, she really wants to nurse him for him, not for some ideal of sharing care or doing nights "better" than we did last time. I love that. It makes me truly happy that she's excited about this.

I also have been thinking back to those moments right after Ira was born, when I got to know that he was close and secure with his other mom, and I didn't have to panic that we were separated or that he hadn't nursed during the 45 minutes I was with him before being rolled away to the OR. That was such a gift. Just like right after he was born, I won't always be able to be with Ira. I feel better knowing that when I'm not there, his other mom is providing for him.

(See also Sharing Lactation, Part I)