When I mentioned awhile back that I was sending a care package to a soon-to-be non-gestational mom, a reader asked if I might share what I offered in that package. I wasn’t going to do it (simply because it felt personal), but then I realized that lots of us are NGPs, and that if I did I could solicit YOUR advice too! So if you’re a non-gestational parent, and you feel called, please comment here about what you most wish you’d have known when you first became an NGP. I think non-gestational parenthood is a profoundly sacred, stunning, largely undiscovered terrain, and I love welcoming people to it. Help me welcome this friend and other readers?
So here, with minor edits, is what I came up with.
9.9.14 (and 9.26.14 and 9.30.14, but who’s counting?)
As I write this (hahaha: as I started this. two weeks ago…), Bram is asleep in our bed and Lou is resting on my chest. The Bird is cutting his first two teeth, so he’s in a lot of pain and needs triple the usual snuggles (which, let’s face it, is already a lot). You are mere weeks (days? minutes?) from meeting your first son for the first time, so though these boys keep me crazy busy, you’ve been on my mind a lot lately.
I read once that 80% of American women bear and raise children. In that same study, I read that less than 2% of women adopt. I’m not sure we have statistics yet for women like us. Though it’s growing, I know it’s not a big number. I’ve come to love the intimacy I sense amongst the mothers in our small community. It makes me feel like we’re a tribe, and like our job (aside from caring for our children, of course) is to care for one another. When I think about what kind of caretaking might have been most meaningful to me when I was about to meet Bram for the first time, the word that most comes to mind is reassurance. So – though you are a different person with no doubt wildly different needs from me – I thought I’d pass a little of that along so you could carry it in your back pocket in case you ever find yourself in need.
First of all, gestationality aside: you’re about to be a parent! Oh my goodness, the great good fortune of that. Because beloved friend: being a parent is the best thing in the world. It is fierce and unmatched. You can call me anytime to tell me that Tata [Bram's nickname for her baby] is the smartest kid on the planet, or the most exhausting, or both of these things at once. Really: 2 in the morning, just pick up the phone. Even years and years from now. I want to hear all about it.
But that “years and years” part brings me to this, which is the most reassuring thing I’ve ever learned as an NGP, and which I wish I’d known all those years back: this is a marathon. It’s, like, a thousand marathons, one right after the other. It’s as far from a sprint as a grain of sand is from the entirety of enormous Russia. So everytime you panic about something you wish you could do more of, or a moment you don’t think you nailed, or a time when you have to leave for work and Tata and K are both in tears (sorry, K) and your heart is breaking because it’s way too much to balance, know this: that moment is just one grain of sand in all of Russia. Everything will come. I needed it All At Once at first, but now I know that it just comes. And it’s okay to let it.
And then there are those other parents: the ones whose uteruses and breasts are involved. People will say hurtful things that make you feel less important than K. Because he’ll (likely) be nursing, he’ll go through phases where he only wants her. Like J, you’ll sometimes think you’re missing it while you’re at work. But those moments will be so short. Because then there will be phases where he laughs with his belly the second you walk through the door and you’ll think the world could stop right then because you’ll never be any happier than in that one moment. I mean it: your heart will explode, but somehow, miraculously, you won’t die. And then he’ll start saying your name. And touching your face while looking into your eyes. And only wanting you to do bedtime or bathtime or boo-boos or that one particular book for the eighteenth time that night. And when he’s a toddler? Well, all of our kids only want to be with you then: you’re the toddler whisperer. I guess I just mean that when I look back, I remember the moments that hurt me. And I think J does too. But it goes on, day after day. It goes on and just when you start to feel like some piece of it is just how it is, it changes and the landscape blows you away. And the sweetness washes everything else away: exhaustion, insecurity, doubt. Gone with the feeling of two little arms wrapped around your neck or the sound of a giggle.
The absolute truth is: I used to worry that I wouldn’t have the bond J had with the boys because she carried and nursed them. Now that’s just funny. And I used to worry that they’d never love me the way I love them. And now that’s funny too but for a different reason: because they won’t. They couldn’t. It’s not their job. And that’s not because I didn’t carry them; it’s because their only job is to be loved this fiercely, with everything I’ve got so they can learn how to grow up and love with their whole hearts too. It’s the first kind of love I’ve ever felt that has nothing to do with balance or reciprocity. And the freedom in that is mountainous. It’s so big. Whatever J and I – whatever you and K – have to pour into our children: that’s what matters. The rest of it just unfolds. And even while you’re off helping others to heal and serving the world, you’ll be growing love for this little boy. He is so lucky to have you as his mother.
So a couple of small pieces of advice. Take what you want and leave the rest, of course:
- When he’s born, do lots of skin-to-skin. They’ll tell you that it’s gestational mothers who most benefit their kids; ignore them and take off your shirt. Feel his not-even-yet-washed skin against yours; you’ll never ever forget it. And then do it every day for weeks. When you get home. In the quiet. The second you walk in the door. The whole time K showers or makes dinner. For as long as you can. His soul will rush into yours.
- Make sure your doula knows that she’s there to support you too. Make sure you have advocates in that room. You’ll be too vulnerable to advocate for yourself the whole time, and it is your job to be strong for K, not for anyone else. Other than K, your only job is to meet your baby.
- Find a thing that’s just yours. A book. A baby carrier. A couple of songs. Rocking him to sleep at night. Whatever it is, hold on tight to it and don’t share. K will have nursing. Find your magic thing.
- Be vocal with friends and family. Be clear about what you want to go by with Tata, and speak up when people say something that excludes you or when you need alone time with him and everyone else needs to go away. Even with K: speak up. It was hard for me at first to be honest, and so my attempts were ungracious. But this is new territory for so many people, and they need help learning. Speak up for your own motherhood, and everyone else will follow suit.
Finally, the contents of the NGP Care Kit that I meant to include with this letter, but your lady is scaring me into thinking your kid is coming before a real package could get there, so these are now the things I recommend bringing to the hospital just for you:
- Ibuprofen (Because dude: if your wife has back labor you are going to ache for YEARS from giving her counterpressure. And because ain’t nobody there gonna wonder if you might be in pain.)
- Dried lavender satchel (Because you might need to step out of the room and breath in and find your center sometimes. And why not smell some lavender while you’re at it? I’m sending this at least in the hopes that it gets there on time.)
- Pen and notepad (Because there might be things you just don’t want to forget. And you might forget them because: dude. Meeting your KID.)
- Granola bars or the equivalent (Do. Eat. You’ll need your strength.)
- Lifesavers or the equivalent (Because one or both of you will need quick sugar.)
That’s it. You have everything else that you need. You are going to be amazing. Welcome to motherhood, my non-gestational sister. I was once told that the sweetest thing about NGPhood was that you got to choose to love your kids. I think that’s crap. I think the sweetest thing is discovering how wildly limitless your capacity to love is, that is has none of the cages they tell us it has, that there is no choice. That we, in the end, are just built of love.
Let me know how I can be here for you in the coming weeks and months and years.
With all of my heart,