Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Do those hormones really make you hog the baby?

I have been thinking some about what oneofhismoms wrote about having more empathy for how hard it is to really back off and let one's partner get the time they really need to parent, now that she's been on both sides of the bio-vs-non-bio-mom fence. She writes:
"There are so many things about being a gestational mom that I overlooked before. Being the one who did not give birth was mostly awesome (and not in a valley girl way, in a full-of-awe way) but also difficult emotionally. Being the one who gave birth was difficult mostly physically. But because it is also hormonal and at least for the first year or so, so tied to my mammary glands, it was also emotional in a way over which I feel I have no control. Now I understand how hard it is to give your partner the time and space she needs with the baby. I do it. But I also see why some women have a hard time with it."
This word from the frontlines, from someone in shoes nearly identical to mine (even down to spacing of the kids, and the near-religious advocacy for non-bio-moms everywhere), has me wondering how I will feel about "sharing" this baby come birth time. I have long said that even though it was sort of an accident, given our personalities, it is a really good thing that Gail carried first, placing me on the less traveled parental path. Gail is generally less territorial than I am, and this really helped her to be comfortable supporting my relationship with Leigh early on, and I was also so strongly motivated to jump in and build that relationship right away, perhaps more motivated than Gail would have been since she's a little more "go-with-the-flow." But here we are, just a couple months from welcoming this next baby, and it is still true that I'm more territorial than Gail. So I find myself wondering, which will carry more weight, my enthusiasm for Gail to connect with our new baby, as informed by my experience the last time, or a possible (probable?) hormone driven possessiveness that leads me to be reluctant to share the parenting time and mothering turf?

I've heard of other families who alternated uteri, where the second time through the pregnant mom felt a little harangued by all of the pregnancy advice. In our family, I fear it is Gail who is harangued. I'm so damn proud of everything that we figured out the first time about how to get an NGP on solid footing ASAP, that I have to remind myself to back off, and that Gail will find her own relationship with this kiddo, and she may not find it by the same path that I did.

Gail and I really like the book Kidding Ourselves: Breadwinning, Babies and Bargaining Power by Rhona Mahoney. It's about straight families, and written mostly to straight women (and is, unfortunately, unnecessarily harsh on guys), but she gets a lot of stuff right about the unspoken bartering and bargaining that happens around parenthood, often even before there is a kid in the picture. One thing she writes about is how having some sort of "commitment mechanism" can help to make sure you don't slip into a place as a family you'd rather not be. In her book, this would be about making sure all parenting doesn't fall solely to mom in a straight family, but I think it applies here too. Lord knows I've spouted off about "selfish GPs" (of all stripes) not letting their partners actually, say, parent their kids, that I'd damn well better be willing to put my money where my mouth is this go round, and there you have it, a bit of a commitment mechanism to make sure I don't hog the baby too much. We've also structured our parenting time to make sure Gail has substantial uninterrupted time with the new kid (3 days home for her, 2 days home for me once we start work in the Fall, both of us home for the summer), so that's another commitment mechanism. But I also get that I've never had this particular experience before, and I need to be willing to be surprised by it, and not interpret any pang of territorial feelings on my part as some sort of failure. I'd be curious to hear any experiences along these lines from readers who've been down similar paths, from either side.


giggleblue said...

perhaps i'm a weird case, but when TL comes home, i'm ready to hand off the baby. i'll admit in the beginning i was extra careful to make sure that i wasn't acting too possessive. i followed the "if it's not going to harm the baby then don't worry about it" mantra.

and interestingly enough, my stint in the hospital gave TL and the baby some time to bond solo style, complete with her being able to give the baby bottles.

i think if it's something you are aware of possibly happening, well then i don't think it will. if you were floating along and the thought of hogging the baby never crossed your mind, then i think there would be a problem. but with anything else, if you are aware that it could possibly might happen, i think you prepare yourself a bit better.

honestly, sometimes i see myself as the opposite and feel a bit guilty for wanting to slip out to walgreens for 30 minutes to walk the aisles and sort through discounted easter candy to see if anything good is left. like perhaps i'm not bonding with the baby properly, or should be more attached.

i don't know, but for right now, this is working and i feel like everyone is content in how it is.

Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to see how your second babe affects your parenting roles and relationships. Even though all our parenting is still in theory, I do think a lot about these dynamics and how we're going to parent.

Lyn said...

I'll report back once we have the babe in arms. When we were talking about this again last night, I realized that these "commitment mechanisms" might make it so I really can let myself feel some things I might have pushed down otherwise. Our family is solid enough that I think both Gail and I might be able to explore some of the early differences a bit more without worrying we're undermining our family structure.

And Giggle--Little A will surely survive your trip to the candy aisle completely unscathed, and you will likely feel better for the break. But you already know that, really.

oneofhismoms said...

Aw shucks. Now I have to post again.

Lex said...

I think what you said in your comment: "Our family is solid enough that I think both Gail and I might be able to explore some of the early differences a bit more without worrying we're undermining our family structure.", is totally right on.

We lucked out the first time around in that we had TWO babies at once. So there was never any question of who would wear the baby when walking down the street or who would sleep snuggling the baby at night or any worries about "baby hogging" since there were two babies and thus, "one for each of us" (which, actually was a phrase that drove us CRAZY at the time, we'd always correct people and say, "no, TWO for BOTH of us"). I was more envious of dw's job of playing with happy babies than she was of my job as 24/7 nursing bar. I'd nurse one baby, hand the happy guy off to her, and she'd pass me a fussy babe for his turn at my breasts. If there was any struggle at all in our negotiations of "who's doing what with the babies" it was about who needed a break MORE in any given moment.

When I took a second turn at being the gestational parent a few years later, I was so eager to get a chance to mother the baby in a way I felt I hadn't been able to with the twins. I wanted to wear him all the time and meet his every need right away and absolutely didn't want to be separated from him at all. These feelings were exacerbated by the fact that he was in and out of the hospital for his first month with some scary breathing issues, so I was rather worried about him. Dw, having been a NGP for nearly four years at that point, felt confident enough in her role as our third baby's mother, that she was completely fine with letting me listen to those baby-hogging hormones. I still strapped the baby on her back while she did dishes every night, but for the most part I DID indeed hog the baby for his first few months of life. I did all of the nighttime parenting, all of the diapering, all of the feeding and bathing. Dw did say that she felt less bonded to him than she had to our twins at the same age. But when our third son was 4 months old, he started insisting on being in dw's arms whenever she was around, and my days as a baby hogger came to an end. I think things would have played out very differently if we had only had one baby the first time around, but the strength of the family structure did indeed allow us to not worry about making sure we were doing things "equally" when it came to baby #3. And the experience of just getting to listen to my instincts was very healing for me.

I am a little concerned about how things will go for us with baby #4. I don't think it will be as easy for me to let dw take charge in the way I did with our first singleton. And I also don't know that she would WANT to take charge the way I did. But I'm hoping to be able to allow her that space to really follow her gut about things like who's wearing the baby and all that. I'm planning to be the main diaper changer (dw hates changing diapers), and to take the baby for walks so dw can nap everyday, but I'm anticipating that the babe will spend most of his time in dw's arms/at her breasts, and I think that knowing my time with him will come later will make that feel okay to me. Having older sons who obviously see us both as completely equal mothers does help me feel secure as I anticipate my new role with our new baby.