The count is on at my house and we are forty-five days from lift-off. In a matter of weeks we will be a family of four. It’s exciting and overwhelming and scary all at once. In addition to adding a bedroom at the eleventh hour and wondering if Yogi has any idea what he’s talking about when he points to my wife’s belly and proclaims “Baby!”, I’m gearing up for my second round of infancy as the “Other Mother”. In my family, I don’t do the childbearing.
There are a number of labels available for women in my situation, from non-gestational parent to non-bio Mom, but Other Mother is my personal favorite. It sidesteps all of the “non’s” and plays with the oh-so-gay idea of otherness. It works for me. In my twenty months of Other Mother experience, infancy has been the hardest and since it’s coming around again I’m thinking it’s time for a pep talk. Hopefully some of you could use one too.
It’s All OK.
The first few months of your baby’s life will be filled with challenges. Of course there will be moments of pure joy, but a lot of it will be hard. If you are the Other Mother you will have none of the hormonal buffering (think oxytocin) that your partner seems bathed in. Unless your family makes the decision to have both parents breastfeeding or chooses to go with formula from the outset, you will also not have the one thing that your infants’ life revolves around, milk. These factors make it easy to feel secondary during those early days.
Remind yourself that everything in your world is in flux and it may take time to find a niche within your new family. That’s ok. Saying that it’s ok does not mean that it’s easy. Change is notoriously difficult and you must allow yourself the space to feel whatever it is you feel. No judgement, no guilt. You are navigating one of life’s most challenging transitions and as the Other Mother you certainly don’t have a map. The jealousy and separateness I felt in Yogi’s early days were impossible for me to talk about, but I found that getting it out on paper (which I promptly threw in the trash) helped me to release it. Whether it’s talking with your partner or singing at the top of your voice or scribbling madly while the rest of your family naps, get it out and then let it go.
Your emotions, particularly in times of great stress, are not who you are. Feeling jealous of the bond your new baby and your partner share or feeling angry that the baby will. not. stop. crying. or wishing that someone would just shoot you with some kind of sleeping pill/tranquilizer gun hybrid does not make you a crazy person or a terrible mother. Whatever it is that you are feeling, both the good and the bad, make you only human. A real person finding your way in the real world, just like everyone else. So, feel what you feel and keep moving forward. Remind yourself as much as possible that it is all ok. You can and will do this.
Make it Yours.
If you, like me, are an Other Mother who will not be breastfeeding it is essential that you create a ritual with your child that is yours alone. What that ritual is is entirely up to you and your family. It might be an early morning walk or an afternoon visit to the coffee shop. Whatever it is, make it something that you will look forward to each day. Sharing bath time can be lovely, but it’s generally not a daily routine until the baby is a bit older. For this reason, during infancy a daily activity that you can do on your own is preferable. I’m not suggesting that you should never invite your partner along with you during these moments, but that you view them as your special time with your child. What you do with that time is up to you and only you.
I was surprised to find that establishing a relationship with my son was something that took time. The immediate attachment that my wife felt was something that I expected and did not experience. When whatever magic I had imagined didn’t immediately poof into being, I was disappointed and I blamed myself. I wasted time and energy by resisting life as it was. I wish that I had been more gentle with myself, I wish that I had whispered “It’s all OK.” in my own ear.
Happily, I get another chance to do just that and while I’m at it, I’m whispering it to you too.
Alison Armstrong* is a Southern, Stay-at-home-Mom getting used to life outside of academia and raising a child, Yogi*, with her wife, Parker*. You can follow her family’s adventures at her blog, Love Invents Us.
*Names have been changed in order to honor a flair for the dramatic and to play nice with the family.