Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's all my fault: sleep and guilt

I don't do sleep deprivation.

Or rather, when circumstances demand it, the result isn't pretty.

Lack of sleep brings out all the worst aspects of my personality. I think this is true for everyone, but I learned long ago that life is so much better, both for me and for those around me, if I get rest. In the best of circumstances, I have a self-critical nature, but I can usually keep it somewhat in check and use that criticism to improve how I do things, especially with Gail, an optimist who nonetheless sees the value in my pessimism, by my side. Without sleep I become viciously critical and judgmental, mostly of myself, but since any parenting actions and decisions around here are made with Gail, she also bears that burden. When I'm rested, I'm a reasonably patient and steady parent. Without rest, I'm impatient, grumpy, and easily knocked off course by the inevitable curve balls. When I'm rested, I'm usually smart enough to make good daily progress on my (non-family) work. When I'm chronically exhausted, work progress is minimal and slow. My mind feels about as nimble as cold oatmeal. Then that vicious judgmental woman who has come to inhabit my body jumps in and makes everything worse.

Coming home from a less than stellar work day yesterday, as I thought about my smiley, laid back, crawling, adorable baby, knowing that I was already exhausted and was going to be up with him at least four times overnight, feeling no hope that anything will get better anytime soon, I was in tears. I was that woman crying on the subway. I'm at the end of my rope, and I've been here for a while.

Lack of sleep doesn't bring out the best in Gail either. When things are hard, she tends to prefer a head down, ignore-the-problem-until-it-goes-away sort of approach. This doesn't sit will with my the-end-is-nigh-and-it's-all-my-fault approach. This plagued us back when we were TTC. We know it's a pattern. As soon as one of us sees it we can usually start being nicer (me) and actually listening (Gail). But it still stinks. When we're in good form, we work seamlessly as a team. It's harder when we have to try, especially when there's so little energy available for trying.

Ira will be 8 months old tomorrow. He's still up many many times a night. Many of you saw our semi-desperate sleep post a couple months ago. But this isn't supposed to be yet another post about how bad things are, or what we've tried, where you then tell me what worked for your kid, or say sleep sucked for you too and that you didn't get any rest until your kid was five (and, wow, people, that is not a very encouraging thing to say. If that's what you're thinking, either keep it to yourself, or lie). And since it's not that kind of post, I'm not even going to tell you what we've tried, or what we're planning to try.

In one of the many difficult conversations we've had about this, Gail said something along the lines of "It's like you think this is all our fault, that we're messing up our kid, and that if we could just do it right, he would magically sleep."

She's right. That is what I'm thinking, at least at times like when I was crying on the train. Except, actually, I think that I'm ruining him and this is all my fault. If only I was capable of co-sleeping and/or sleeping while nursing this wouldn't even be a problem. If only I was capable of being up every night with him (instead of every other night since Gail is on duty for half of the nights) so that the response when he cries could be perfectly consistent, and so he'd always get milk with the right magical hormones at the right time. If only my milk supply hadn't tanked just when he was getting the hang of doing a nice long nighttime stretch. And, just for fun, I'll beat myself up some more for even whining about this at all when there are women out there who have to do this every single night, and when Gail is just as exhausted as I am (though she fakes it with more skill). Sometimes I throw in that I couldn't sleep at all during the pregnancy (due to intense morning sickness, then itching due to liver problems) and that must have caused me to grow a sleepless baby, so that's my fault too, and I should have tried harder.

It is this kind of pressure and guilt that made Gail resist sharing nighttime parenting. It's this pressure that Ayelet Waldman wrote about in her eponymous essay in Bad Mother -- while we decree that fathers are good fathers if they are sincerely trying, we believe that mothers are good mothers only when we achieve perfection. I sincerely wish that I could accept myself as a parent of a child who is not a good sleeper (and I'm begging the universe to let me edit this later to add "...until the night before his 8-month birthday"). But that's not going to happen, at least not until I get some more sleep.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Second-Parent Adoption

On Wednesday, I officially adopted Ira. Since we live in Massachusetts and are married, I have actually been a legal parent to Ira since his birth. We opted to go through a second-parent adoption process in order to provide me with legal protections outside of the state of Massachusetts. Because many states (as well as the federal government) do not recognize our marriage, they also may not recognize my legal claim to Ira in the absence of an adoption. This adoption protects me in case Lyn and I should ever break up. Without the adoption in hand, Lyn could choose to move to another state and fairly easily shut me out of Ira's life. Three years ago, Lyn similarly adopted Leigh. (Actually, as an interested aside, in reality we both adopted Ira on Wednesday -- that's how it works any time you do a step-parent or second-parent adoption. Of course that is really a legal fiction and we all know that I was the only parent whose status was really in question.)

Not all lesbian couples in Massachusetts do a second parent adoption. We know couples who have opted against it because of the substantial expense, deciding to rely on their status as a married couple for protection. We know of one couple who did the adoption but were very angry that they had to. Lyn and I haven't ever felt angry about jumping through the legal hoops (although I wouldn't mind it if the lawyer gave us back that fat stack of cash). So I wanted to say something about why we have chosen this route.

It comes down to something the judge said just before she signed our papers. "This adoption is a permanent decree. When this paper is signed and registered with the court it is permanent and irrevocable." Those words struck me very deeply, and I turned them over and over in my head for the rest of the day. At the end of the day I found that the word "irrevocable" had really impacted Lyn as well. It is the revocability of the relationship between a child and his non-biological mother that gets at the heart of the difficulty in establishing and maintaining a lesbian-headed family with two moms.

Without legal protections, a bio-mom can revoke the parenthood of a non-bio-mom any time she chooses. Non-biological mothers in most states don't have legal protections which leads to mothers losing their children and children losing their mothers. If I knew that Lyn could take Ira away from me it would change our whole relationship. It would change my relationship with Ira, setting up Lyn as the mediator of our relationship, even if neither of us intended that to be the case. That's what makes that word, irrevocable, mean so much. It normalizes my relationship with both Lyn and Ira. It means that my community cares enough about my family to invest each of our relationships with Ira with equal importance.

Too often, we don't take lesbian parenting relationships seriously enough. In most places lesbians are not allowed to marry; our relationships are not taken seriously by the larger community. In our hearts, too many of us believe that our relationships really are second rate and that the bio-mom is really is the "real" mom. I feel so blessed that the state has imbued my marriage with legal backing and my parenthood with serious and irrevocable status. It makes my marriage and my family stronger.