Honey don’t you want to do it yourself? It‘s such a beautiful thing, a real gift that only women can experience.
It’s going to be you this time, right?
Oh, Parker again?
Well – - – - (eyes downcast) good for you!
These are the things people (my Mother in the first example) say when they find out that my wife is carrying our baby. Again. With the exception of Mom who is usually willing to be a tad more meddlesome than a casual acquaintance, what is not said in these exchanges is more interesting than what is.
I began wondering about all of the unspoken assumptions that lay beneath the words a few weeks ago after a brief conversation in a parking lot. As part of the traditional “check in” that marks the opening of committee meetings at our Unitarian church, I had shared that we would be having another baby in the spring. The group was congratulatory with lots of smiles and meaningful hand squeezing, but the hoopla died down fairly quickly as there was of course work to be done.
Once the meeting was over, I was making my way toward my car when I heard my name being called. A woman whom I knew only as the mother of two teenaged children was rushing over, hands outstretched and smile wide on her face.
I’m so happy for you both, but especially for you! It’s wonderful that you’ll be able to have a baby as well, just wonderful.
Well thank you, but actually, I’m not carrying the baby. Parker is pregnant.
There was a pause and a break in eye contact here that was surprisingly uncomfortable. I hadn’t said something unsettling like “The scan was inconclusive, but we’re sure the baby is just fine.“ , but I was beginning to feel like I had. Suddenly, seeming to regain herself she grasped my hands in hers and said:
How fortunate that she can do that.
It wasn’t the words, but the atta-girl smile that accompanied this statement that brought it all into focus. Watching this woman make her exit, I got it.
She assumed that I couldn’t have a baby.
This kind of surprised pause and apparent discomfort has become part of the experience of sharing the news of this new baby. Aside from close friends who have been along for the ride on these family structure decisions, the world seems surprised (affronted?) with the idea that only one uterus is being put to use in this family. Clearly I am making my own assumptions as I haven’t (yet!) actually inquired about the source of this awkwardness, but I’ve gotten this reaction enough to have some confidence in its’ origins. So, what’s going on here? Am I violating the rules of womanhood? Again? As I’ve played with these reactions over the last few weeks I’ve started to really wonder about a few things.
Is it impossible to imagine that a woman who was once a girl with a handful of baby names picked out before her 13th birthday wouldn’t also have that feeling (whatever it is, as I’ve said I don’t have it) that makes it imperative to carry those babies within her own body?
Is that feeling so much a part of our conception (no pun intended) of what it means to be female that the only way to understand a woman who does not bear her own children is to imagine that it is her body that is failing to cooperate with this primal imperative?
Do women who adopt their children encounter these same assumptions?
Does the fact that I don’t have that feeling mean that I am less suited to be a Mother than women who do?
These questions interest me. I don’t know why I don’t have this feeling, I just know that I don’t have it. Lucky for me, my wife does. Does this make her a real woman and me something else entirely? Of course it doesn‘t. There are as many ways to be a woman as there are women in this world . It doesn’t make me less female or less their Mother or less of anything at all.
It makes me, me.
It also makes me an essential part of the family that Parker and I are creating. It makes her Yogi’s Mommy and me his Mama. Together we loved that little boy into this world and in May we’ll do the same with another one. How very fortunate that we can do that. How very fortunate indeed.