Sunday, January 11, 2009

A family divided

Even before Lyn became pregnant, we were concerned about the impact that a new child, genetically and physically connected to Lyn, would have on the unity of our entire family. In switching to another birth mother, would we run the risk of splitting our family in two, each of us having our "own" child? Physically, would we look like two families, one dark and one fair (Lyn is secretly hoping for a red-haired baby that tans easily)? We worried a little, and we thought of strategies to combat the problem, realizing that we needed to pay attention to the links that could be in danger of weakening -- the link between Lyn and Leigh, the link between me and the new baby, and the link between the two of us as we respond to the demands of a larger family.

Then we had dinner with our friends Marc and Amy and we realized that this is not a problem just for lesbian families! Marc and Amy told us about heterosexual families they knew that felt like two families for sometime after the birth of their second child. After the birth of a new baby, the birth mother is in need of rest and recovery and time with the new baby to establish nursing. As a result, NGPs, whether they are fathers or mothers, end up spending more time with the older child.

In some ways, this can be a positive development. The stress and additional time demands of a new baby can lead a father (or other NGP) to become more involved with the care of an older child and thus more involved in family life. It can lead families to become more equally sharing and lead to increased bonding between fathers and older children, but can also stress the relationship between parents, and delay bonding between a father and the new baby.

It was nice to realize this is not simply of problem resulting from our ususual family structure, although in our family we run the additional risk of reinforcing genetic/biological divisions. So we have tried to think of ways to ease the transition from a family of three to a family of four, to make space for a new baby without causing fracture.
  • Take time together as a family after the birth of a second child. We will have an embarrassment of riches here, as we'll both be taking two months at home.
  • "Switching" children whenever possible. The constraints of nursing give a birth mother plenty of time with a new baby and an NGP plenty of time with an older child. Whenever the baby is not nursing, we'll be looking for opportunities for me to hold the baby (and change it) and Lyn to focus only on Leigh.
  • Play to your strengths as parents. Post-birth Lyn will be needing to focus on physical recovery, so during my time with Leigh I will work on getting her plenty of active play and outdoor time. Lyn and Leigh can then enjoy quieter indoor play together.
  • Getting alone time and social reinforcement for NGP and new baby. We always advocate having the NGP get as much alone time with a new baby as possible. Once nursing is well established, it is particularly important for the NGP to get out in public with the baby. After about three or four weeks, I will likely be going on short outings with the new baby that will last through one feeding. This will give me a change to get out in public, get reinforcement and support as a new parent, and get used to doing solo care. In other words, I'll be developing a relationship with the new baby independent of Lyn's influence, and being in public gives an opportunity to have that relationship reinforced by the outside world. This will also be time for Lyn to focus exclusively on Leigh, with no distractions.
  • Look for opportunities to create solid threesomes. There are four ways to create a threesome in a new family of four: parents + new baby, parents + older child, two children and parent #1, two children and parent #2. We'll still have Leigh in childcare part-time during our two months of leave together, so we'll automatically get plenty of quality time as a couple with a new baby. We'll be looking to grandparents and friends to help us get quality time with Leigh alone, possibly by calling on willing grandparents. We'll also be looking for opportunities to get Leigh involved with her younger sibling. For instance, we'd love to have Lyn read a book to Leigh while nursing the new baby, or have Leigh help me change the baby.
  • Prioritizing the older child. When all four of us are at home together, we'll be looking for opportunities to prioritize Leigh's needs and to do the things that she wants to do so that she feels fully included in our new family. Once we feel like we have our "sea legs," we hope to have summer fun as a family, going to hear music, swim at the pool, go to the park, and do other things that Leigh loves to do.
  • Taking time as a couple. Ha! Dream on! We hope that if we don't allow our worlds to diverge too much, then we will wake up one day and find the chaotic newborn time is over and that we still connect as a couple. As I write these words, we are taking the last adults-only 3-day vacation that we'll have for several years. But we have faith that a time to ourselves will come again.
Most important to us is avoiding the creation of a rift in our family that will require repair work later. We want to create within ourselves the mindset of a whole family together and to do what we can during those crazed and dazed newborn months to hold onto that picture and work toward bringing it into reality.


Anonymous said...

Great post. Glad we have your footsteps to follow in when/if we go for #4!

Sounds like you're giving it all the thought I'd expect you to, in hopes of starting out as well-bonded as possible. Still, I can't help thinking of all the families that have a "mommy's girl/daddy's girl division (or all the other possible gender permutations) w/ older kids, just based on emerging personalities. So cut yourselves some slack and remember that each kid has her own contributions to bring to the family, regardless of how well you set it up. :-)

That said, the planning you're doing now does will help w/ some of the division of labor stuff that causes such headaches during any major family re-org!

Anonymous said...

as the NGP in my family, i especially echo the one about going out with the new baby as soon as possible. it may be especially challenging for you, since you gave birth to leigh, to get used to all this. but you sound really well prepared.

i will never forget the first time i took nate out in the sling, he was 10 days old and he'd barely been out of the house yet. we got so much attention and i was proud as a peacock. i had practice not responding to "he's so cute" with "thankyouididn'tgivebirthtohim" but being perceived not as the ngp, not as the non bio mom, just as a mom, is really important.

you seem to inspire long comments!

Anonymous said...

thanks again for all of your thoughtful insight! we're getting ready to navigate all of this in the next few weeks and everything you mentioned was floating around in my mind. we too will have 2 months together (i will likely continue seeing some clients occasionally) but for the most part we'll be off with the new baby together and our 3 year old old will be in school 2 mornings/week. It will be interesting, that's for sure!

Anonymous said...

Great ideas! Love them all. You will circumvent the two family divide, I'm confident of that. And the two nursing moms plan that happens a few months in will be your secret weapon if a divide starts.