Posted by: chicagoshells | March 28, 2013

Grappling with Grappling

Trouble and I had an interesting conversation last night. Not a fight, really, but I guess a disagreement of sorts. Ironically, it started with a compliment. I’m a member of an online group of non-gestational LGBT parents. It’s generally a fantastic group of people, very thoughtful and articularte and supportive. For the most part we just talk about parenting and show off cute pics of our nuggets, but it’s also a safe place for gripes like “My MIL referred to me as my child’s ‘adoptive’ mother” or “A friend is hosting a shower for us but asked me if I wanted to serve as co-host for my pregnant partner!” and so on. Very occasionally, someone has a gripe about their partner that they need to talk about…there’s one member whose partner changed her mind last-minute and won’t agree to let her second-parent adopt their child. Yesterday, someone’s partner said that she “forgot (the non-bio mom) was their child’s mother, too.” When these kind of things are shared, I thank my lucky stars that my amazing wife has never said or done anything like this. Anyway, yesterday I shared that latest story with Trouble, and told her how much I appreciated her constant acknowledgement and support of me as Mulberry’s parent.

I’ve shared anecdotes and the resulting gratitude with Trouble before, and it’s always been a quick discussion that ends with both of us being grateful for each other, our supportive families, the community we live in, etc. This time, it didn’t go quite that way. Trouble suggested that perhaps, like I and my fellow group members have our non-gestational parents support group, maybe that woman’s partner would benefit from some sort of “biological lesbian mom’s only” group. And it left a really bad taste in my mouth. I likened it to people arguing for a “white support group” or “straight support group” as something that is just not needed. NOT that there isn’t a need for a lesbian mom support group…there is, most definitely. But I couldn’t see a need for one that is “biological moms only” for the same reasons that a “whites only” support group seems ridiculous to me. There are a zillion places on the internet or “IRL” where biological mothers can get support, commiserate on everything they go through physically and emotionally, complain about their partners (male or female). On the flip side, I maintain that being a non-gestational mother is a very unique parenting role, something that is different from being a father, an adoptive parent, a step-parent, or anthing else, and we badly need a group of people who understand what it’s like to live this role.

As Trouble and I went back and forth, it came out that she “grappled” a bit, in the days just after Mulberry’s birth, with our new shared role, and the transition from our having different roles (pregnant partner and supporting partner) to our having the same role (new mom). She said she didn’t tell me about her grappling at the time because she knew it was hormonal, she knew she would quickly get over it, and she knew it would probably hurt me for no reason. She’s right about that last one. I would have been hurt, and scared. And even now, when she assures me that I am Mulberry’s mom as much as she is, that she’s not jealous or resentful (and those aren’t even the words she would have used just after he was born), I do find myself a little hurt, and, well…grappling, with the knowledge that she was grappling. Of course she has the right, having just pushed a child out of her body, to feel some twinges about the fact that she now has to share the title of “mother” of that child wth someone else. And yes, perhaps she might even have benefited from a group of biological lesbian moms to share those twinges with. Now, rationally, I can grasp what she was saying. It’s valid. But I still don’t feel good about it. I don’t feel good about it for the same reasons that I unquestionably believe that non-gestational parents’ group is sorely needed. Because there will always be people who think, even subconsciously, that somehow my role is “less” than Trouble’s in Mulberry’s life, because I didn’t grow him inside my body. And knowing that even Trouble grappled with those thoughts just makes me….well, grapple. With what they “mean.” With whether there’s any part of her that does believe she is unquestionably more important. Whether there’s a part of me that wonders the same thing. Whether there is ever a way to not wonder.



  1. I find the comment about transitioning from different roles to same/similar ones especially interesting. I’d never thought about it like that before. Might be worth adding to the discussion!

  2. Sugar showed me that shitshow of a thread as entertainment for my ride home from the hospital yesterday. Some fancy kinds of crazy on there.

    I really liked what Natan had to say, and I feel some kinship with Trouble on this one. Being a new parent is hard, and being a nursing parent is different from not (I mean this both in the sense of my role and Sugar’s being different early on and my role now being different from my role pre-weaning). My whole experience of mothering for the first several months, between nursing and hormones and physical recovery from birth (very slow for me), was just very much more bodily than I had counted on. Meanwhile, it really is true that there seems to be a kind of societal rah-rah for that kind of thing that is unavailable to gestational parents in two mom families. Our friends were not going to discount Sugar’s role as a mother, and that did feel sometimes to me as if the very difficult things I was doing (not that she wasn’t! I just mean mine as particular ones here) were invisible in a way that they didn’t seem to be for my straight mom peers.

    Sugar and I had an interesting conversation about this, but I think it was much less fraught than it might have been had we talked about it 18 months ago. So much about both of our experiences of parenting has shifted so many times since those early days. Yours will, too, I’m sure. I don’t mean to say that there’s something wrong now or that there was for us, but having observed those shifts gives me a different perspective that I had once.

    This comment is a mess, and I wish we could talk about it in person 🙂

    • Thanks for taking the time to write such a thoughtful comment. You make some excellent points…
      First, I think if Trouble and I had had this discussion a year from now, or even a couple months from now, it would have felt very different. Mulberry is 3 months old…Trouble is still figuring out how to be a working mom, still nursing as well as pumping, still newly post-partum in some ways. And I’m functioning as a stay-at-home-mom, so my entire identity is very much that of “mother” right now, so I’m extra sensitive to any slight assertion that I’m somehow “less than” (not that that’s what Trouble was intentionally implying). So we’re still very deep in infancy, which, as you well know, isn’t necessarily the best time for emotional discussions.
      Also, while I maintain that there is a huge amount of support out there for gestational mothers in general (often to the unfortunate exclusion of partners, male or female), it’s true that in the community I (like you?) am fortunate enough to live in, most people bend over so far backwards to make it clear they accept and support us both as Mulberry’s mothers that perhaps Trouble’s unique (and HUGE) contributions don’t get as much attention as they certainly deserve.
      All worth thinking about.
      And yes, talking in person would be amazing. Someday, perhaps!

      • I am so hoping we can see you on a layover or something this summer. I desperately wanted to see you at Christmas time, but Graham had croup, which seemed like the worst new baby present EVER. Xoxo.

  3. Good stuff! While you’re right, there is a huge amount of support out there for birthing moms, it doesn’t always take on the tone that one might hope in this context. I noticed during my stint there, both as an NGP and a GP in the “new parent (i.e. mom) group” circuit, that conversation rarely focused on ways to include/support a birthing mom in taking a bit of a step back so her co-parent could step up, which is kind of what you are talking about here. We don’t see it as clearly, because they do have a somewhat alternate socially sanctioned role, but (perfectly regular straight) dads who want to really share parenting (either on the same level as the mom, or perhaps wanting to stay home) face a similar uphill battle as some non-bio-moms and queer NGPs, and their (perfectly regular straight) partners describe exactly the struggles that trouble described — that it’s hard to cede some of the control/time/power on the parenting front. I think it was for this reason some of our longest-term close parenting friends have been (cis) mom/dad families that conscientiously shared parenting. Those were the families that seemed to really get what we were trying to do, whereas a queer family might or might not be navigating that same dynamic. Similarly, if I’m understanding your situation correctly, Trouble might find some connection with straight families in which the dad stays home, not because *you* are like a dad, but rather because they are also navigating somewhat similar territory themselves. Not identical, but maybe folks who “grappled” in similar ways (and for the record, even with the resulting squabble, I think it’s kind of awesome she told you. I see that as evidence she’s putting her money where her mouth is — that she trusts your relationship and your place in the family enough to know that you can handle knowing about some of the hard stuff in her shoes).

    • Thanks for the response. I think you’re right about Trouble perhaps finding some connection with working moms with SAH husbands. Tangential, but your blog has actually given me a great deal of insight into why I bristle so much at being thought of as or compared to “the dad.” It’s not simply that I identify strongly as female….I mean, I do, but that’s only part of it. I think the bigger issue is that dads in general are seen in our society as the “lesser” parent, so I was subconsciously associating being more “dad-like” with the “lesser” part. It gives me a great deal of sympathy for the men you describe, who desire to share parenting equally and aren’t given the encouragement and support they deserve. Hopefully the next time I start to bristle at the “dad” thing, I can turn it into a discussion about the larger issue rather than just trying to prove my “mom-ness.”

  4. I often wonder if Andrea will feel the same way after Ziggy is born. The sharing of a role and the seeing me as “less than” though never in so many words. The thread on the facebook group really got me thinking as to the need for a support group for NGP’s. There is no where else we could turn to voice these concerns except to a group of people who truly understand what it’s like to be there, to be experiencing it.

    I know for me, Andrea keeps telling me I will be just as much Ziggy’s mom, but with my returning to work only a month later, and her nursing plus being the GP it just seems natural that she would see herself as ‘mother’ and me as ‘other’. What worries me more, however, is that I will see myself as ‘other’ as well.

    I think its amazing that you and Trouble are able to talk freely and openly about these things, and yet know when to censor yourselves due to hormones or what not. You guys must have a very strong, very stable relationship.

    • Thanks for the relationship compliment. We try 🙂
      About the nursing thing…while I completely agree that “breast is best,” know there are other options for you to feel equally involved in that part of the bonding. We started our little guy on bottles of pumped milk when he was just 2 weeks old. Not every baby will take right to the bottle, but it’s worth the try. I also let him comfort nurse. Again, that’s not for everyone, but the combination of being able to offer him both nourishment and comfort really helped my early feelings of being superfluous to the “magic boobs.”

  5. Funny, I get jealous of that NGP thread, since I don’t get to join and can’t see what y’all are saying over there unless my wife feels like sharing (usually, she doesn’t). On the other hand, I’m glad it exists–I think that it’s a unique role, and you all should have a place to have those kinds of conversations without the gestational parents jumping in all the time, especially when this many hormones are involved. There is, of course, a queer parent (mostly mom) facebook group that either or both of you could join, if you are so inclined. If you ask about it on the NGP group someone will direct you to the general one, I’m sure.

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