Each month, Gwendolyn answers your questions on LGBTQ parenting. Write to her with your question here.
We have come down a long road to get pregnant and build our family. Now that we’re here, we have to deal with all of the real-life stressors that pregnancy brings with it – the household being turned upside down, chores being shifted, and a lack of intimacy or sex.
Do you know of any support groups for non-pregnant partners? My wife is only in her first trimester and it is challenging our relationship greatly.
I need help to make it through,
Congratulations to you and your wife as you begin the wonderful adventure of queer parenting! You have asked such an important question; much attention is paid to the needs of the pregnant partner (PP), but the non- pregnant partner’s (NPP) needs receive less attention. Obviously, it is very important to support and care for PPs but NPPs will be better able to support and care for their PP and, quite soon, parent an infant, if they feel that their needs are acknowledged and addressed also. Support for NPPs can come from a variety of sources.
The availability of support groups is limited by geographical location. My sources tell me that Maia Midwifery & Fertility Services LLC, which serves the San Francisco Bay Area, occasionally offer such a support group. They also include support and affirmation of the non-biological parent as part of their three-day Childbirth Education for LGBTQ Families intensive class. In the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, Pregnancy Arts includes typical mental, emotional, and relationship changes, communication issues, nurturing pregnant women, and issues for non-PPs – fostering meaningful participation and awareness of personal needs – in their one-night, Pregnancy Wisdom 101 course. Pregnancy Arts also offers intervention counseling for parents who find that pregnancy or postpartum issues are stressing their relationship. A Google search of your area may locate a practice in your area that provides such services.
On-line resources can also be useful. It is easy to start a listserve on Queernet. If one starts one’s own listserve, it can be focused exactly as one wants, either broadly or narrowly. Or, one can utilize one of the existing listserves on QueerNet: Prospective Queer Parents email list, Lesbian Moms email list, Lesbian Moms at Home email list, GLBT Parents email list, or Queer Parents email list. Check www.queerparents.org for available listserves and subscription information. I can personally recommend the Lesbian Moms List, which is open to any queer-identified, mom-identified person. I have been a member since 1993 and I know that there are many Moms who have been the NPP and some who have been the PP as well and, thus, have a great deal of insight to share.
A dependable friend can be a support and sounding board. Simply having someone to whom one can unburden oneself can relieve some of relationship stress but I highly recommend that NPPs use a dependable friend to rehearse discussions with their PPs on potentially highly-charged issues. One can start by phrasing things with one’s own emotional issues primary and then the dependable friend can help figure out how to present the issue to the PP. Although having experienced pregnancy can provide a dependable friend with some additional insight, it is more important that the friend is a good communicator and can be trusted to keep the NPP’s concerns confidential.
It is also wise to schedule time for one’s own pursuits – walking, hanging out with friends, shopping, exercising, sports, reading a book in a coffee shop. If the PP does not wish to be alone at the times the NPP wants to pursue solo activities, arrange to have a supportive friend or relative visit. Down time can be amazingly rejuvenating. NPP should not wait until their stress level is so high that the relationship is compromised. Plan ahead for time alone.
It is difficult to know how pregnancy will affect an individual or a relationship. Since pregnancy affects different people differently, it is hard to make broad statements about how individuals may react but there are a few common themes. Some people have a terrible experience of being violently nauseated. Commonly, referred to as “morning sickness,” I know people who say it would be better described as “all day sickness.” Severe nausea can become a serious health problem but even if “all day or morning or evening sickness” falls short of an actual health problem, it is extremely unpleasant for everyone and can impose serious limits on a family’s activities.
Many people talk about being much more emotionally volatile – crying frequently is often reported. This can be trying both for the weepy pregnant person and the partner. Remember, the weeper cannot help it. Such is the nature of some people’s physiological response to unfamiliar amounts of hormones coursing through their bodies. While it can be unnerving to encounter wholly uncharacteristic behavior in one’s partner, be reassured that it is temporary.
Another relatively common experience is that one has less sexual desire while pregnant, which can be stressful for the non-PP who may feel a heightened need for the connection and bonding sexual intimacy provides during the period when the family and thus, the relationship, are changing structure. Sometimes, communicating that the PP is still attractive and desirable and, being willing to try new activities and positions helps increase the PP’s level of desire but not always. On the other hand, sometimes people find that pregnancy increases sexual desire.
The salient factor is that all of this is temporary; the NPP’s mantra can be “This too shall pass.” While emotional volatility and lack of desire may continue into the postpartum period, eventually emotion will stabilize and desire return. For NPPs, keeping this in mind while finding support and making time for solo pursuits can make all the difference in managing the changes and stressors of a partner’s pregnancy.
While NPPs are not doing the heavy lifting of actually incubating the upcoming bundle of joy, they are facing the changes of impending parenthood, while caring for and supporting their PP, and often not being acknowledged or being explicitly validated as a parent-to-be. A major addition to the stress of being the NPP in a queer couple is not being acknowledged as a parent-to-be. In day-to-day situations, as the PP’s imminent parenthood becomes more visible, perfect strangers will want to discuss the momentous change with the PP and will often treat the NPP as though they are completely uninvolved. It rarely feels comfortable to say, ‘Hey, over here! Yoo-hoo! I’m the other parent!” At work — even if one is out about one’s queer partnership — sharing the joyous news that one’s family is about to expand can be awkward, especially if co-workers refer to “your partner’s baby.”
Even people who consider themselves well-versed in queer issues may fall into the “biology defines family” assumptions. A friend described an experience with a two-mom family and their adopted three-year-old old daughter. At a funky play-place with a bunch of toddlers, a very hip-looking young dad sized up the family of three and began chatting with one of the moms. “Which one of you is the birth mom?,” he asked. His attitude suggested that he considered his question so very hip and au courant but it felt overly familiar and as though he was asking, “Which of you is the real mom?” The mom replied, “We don’t take genetics all that seriously in my family.” An excellent response, unfortunately, what queer parents often encounter and what can be very painful to the non-biological parent, is that much of our society does take genetics excessively seriously, considering it to be the very definition of “family.”
Such invalidation can also come from within the family. The parents of the non-PP, may not feel as though the upcoming infant is actually their grandchild. Conversely, the parents of the PP may refuse to acknowledge the NPP as an equal parent of their grandchild. As if pregnancy and new parenthood are not stressful enough, queer couples must struggle through the morass of bias and rejection, sometimes from their nearest and dearest, as well as society at large and that struggle cuts more deeply for the NPP than for the PP, whose claim to parenthood is rarely, if ever, challenged.
So, I want to be sure to give an extra shout-out to NPPs and non-biological parents of all types –you do all the giving-110% work of parenting and then are often dismissed as not-parents. That has to suck and we salute you who are on the most precarious frontlines of queer parenting. We applaud your patience and your courage and your willingness not to spit in the faces of rude strangers because it would be a bad model for the little ones. Hang in there!
Write to Gwendolyn with your questions on LGBT parenting at firstname.lastname@example.org. Gwendolyn reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity.
Gwendolyn Alden Dean is a bisexual advocate/advisor/activist/educator/scholar for and of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer communities and people. While studying LGBT theories and issues at Emory University, she romped and pranced and changed the world with the Lesbian Avengers-Atlanta and Queer Nation, and then served as the Director of the LGBT Resource Center at Cornell University for ten years. Now studying psychology and counseling, the next chapter of her career will focus on counseling LGBT and questioning people and families. Gwendolyn is the extremely blessed parent of a wonderful child, recently graduated from college, and has taught kindergarten through twelfth grade, as well as college-level courses. She has also been privileged to participate in a fabulous online community of Mom-identified queer folks since 1993. All wisdom present in her columns can be attributed to them. All mistakes and exceedingly ridiculous thoughts belong solely to her.