.you can call me pomo.

I’ve written on here before about the fact that TTC, pregnancy, and childbirth were strange bedfellows with my usual gender representation. I am a very masculine female. As such, there have been many aspects of pregnancy (and now breastfeeding) that were uncomfortable. My clothes had to adapt to my changing body (and male maternity clothes are pretty much out of the question, though if I had more time and energy, I think I could come up with a kick-ass line of androgynous maternity clothes!). Nearly all of the pregnancy and childbirth books that I read were geared toward a feminine heterosexual readership. The mere fact of my being pregnant made my social interactions with strangers very different from my usual way of walking through the world. And while I loved being pregnant with Bram, I am happy to get back into my usual mode of being. I’m back into almost all of my pre-pregnancy clothes (albeit, a bit more “snuggly”), and, with the exception of breastfeeding, I think that I am back to relating to the world in my particular way.

The world of parenting, though, has brought with it a slew of new gendered expectations to dismantle. Everyone assumes that because I gave birth to Bram, because I’m breastfeeding him, I must be his “mother.” And while, obviously, I am one of his mothers, I see R as his “mothering” figure. What I hate about this whole conversation, though, is how always already sexed it is. There is no existing way for me to talk about parenting Bram based on my particular strengths, weaknesses, and preferences as an individual without having that language tied to my sex and/or gender representation. For R, the parenting “shoe” fits better. She’s a feminine woman. She is every bit the traditional “maternal” figure. She is nurturing, empathetic, consummately patient, and highly attuned to Bram’s desires. She offers him routines and stability throughout each day (and I don’t think this is just because she’s home with him full-time). As he grows, I expect that she will be the parent more likely to offer reassurances for bumps and bruises, gentle discipline, and consistent boundaries.

The gendered binary that society has constructed around parenting roles would then thrust me into a father’s role, a “paternal” figure. But that’s not sufficient to describe what kind of parent I am to Bram (and our future children). It’s true that, right now, I’m the breadwinner, but that likely won’t be true even two years from now. It’s also true that I tend to be silly and fun, I like spontaneity with the baby, and I tend to get frustrated more quickly when I’m not able to “fix” the situation. I handle our finances, our car, and fixing things around the house. I will likely be the person to teach our kids how to handle these areas of their own lives. I love all of the aspects of parenting: stories, songs, snuggles, baby wearing, feeding, bathing, massage, yoga, etc., but I’m less likely than R to initiate and maintain rituals and routines over time. All of these components put me into the stereotypically “paternal” camp. But concomitant to all of this, I love to breastfeed this baby, and I will likely induce lactation in order to breastfeed future adopted babies. I love intimacy and vulnerability with my family. I want Bram to sleep in our bed once it’s safe (we don’t have an appropriate family bed right now). I offer him sweetness and kisses and soft voices. In these ways, I can be seen to also “mother” him. Bram doesn’t need a traditional mother and father. He needs two committed adults who love each other and brought him into the fold of our family because of that love. He needs to know that he’s safe, that he’s valued, and that he will always have a supportive place to turn throughout his life.

Before he was born, R and I assumed that we would go by “mama” and “mommy,” respectively. These are the terms that we each call our own mothers, so they felt the most natural to us. But now that he’s here and we’re doing this daily work, I feel drawn to a different term. I like the moniker “pomo” for myself. It feels like a hybridization of “papa” and “mom.” It’s also a nickname for postmodernism, whose relativism appeals to me in this regard. It’s a sweet little nickname. And since it’s only mine, it doesn’t come saddled with linguistic baggage that builds constraints and/or expectations into its usage.

I have some reservations in making this switch, though. I worry that, because I’m the more masculine parent, using a non-normative name will cause me to be perceived by others as a secondary parent to R’s “mama.” In some ways, I’m okay with this. I already have the biological connection, the breastfeeding relationship, and automatic legal rights. In this way, it makes all the sense in the world that we should find ways to promote R’s equality in the eyes of the world. I also worry that other parents, namely straight women, might perceive two mothers as being in competition with one another for primacy in the “mother” role. But it’s like comparing apples and asparagus. We are two very different people, occupying two unique and necessary roles, both in our marriage and our parenting. It’s why I hate it when people say “same-gender marriage” or ‘same-gender parenting.” My gender has nothing to do with my sex. Two people with the same genitalia are perfectly capable of possessing wildly diverse skill sets, interests, and desires. This variance is really important to the health and well-being of a child. It’s important to see different subject positions growing up. It’s also important to bear witness to how two different people work together to find balance and harmony. This is where the crux of the movement for the rights of gay parents should be focused. It’s not about two men, two women, or a man and a woman; it’s about two individual people working together as a team to foster the health and development of a child into a contented, capable adult.

I think we’re limiting the expertise of parents through the gendering of parental roles and terms. We’re making mothers and fathers feel like failures when they may offer their children the perfect manifestation of their particular talents. We carve out arbitrary lines whereby one parent can feel judgmental of (or encroached upon by) another parent. R and I are practicing attachment parenting, but I’ve been disappointed by the foundational heteronormativity of this parenting model. I was even more disappointed to learn about the overt homophobia of some of its main champions (namely, Dr. Sears and Jean Leidloff). AP makes the biological bond between mother and child so sacrosanct that the other parent is helpless to do anything but work to foster and emulate that bond. And while there are certain essential truths to most parenting relationships (heterosexuality usually begets a biological connection; breastfeeding usually happens with the gestational parent), these are the lines drawn by early parenting. Yet we see these roles manifest throughout the parent/child relationship long after weaning.

There’s a lot of work to do here. I know that I’m barely scratching the surface in this post. The work of writing about this is important, but the work of finding a way to live my life as an expression of these thoughts is more important. I want to be the very best “pomo” that I can be to Bram, to be the best spouse that I can be to R, and to be a strong, autonomous, androgynous woman to boot. I’ll keep pushing my tie out of the way of my breast pump at work. I won’t be afraid to go to Bram each time he cries. I’ll revel in nursing him in the middle of the night, knowing that this early time is fleeting. And I’ll look forward to the many adventures we’ll have together as a team, as a family. It’s a blessing (albeit often in disguise) to be this conscientious, this intentional, in building our lives. It’s an awesome journey.

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16 thoughts on “.you can call me pomo.

  1. Pomo! I love it! It’s sweet and everything you are. I heartily support this new venture. I get what you mean about the gender normativity in parenting and how that is “sacrosanct” in AP. As someone who doesn’t want to be boxed into traditional gender norms in (future) parenting, I really appreciate your post here. It really is about being a team and creating a loving relationship for a family.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing! Also, don’t know if I commented before or just thought it in my head, but your post on struggles you had in your past were very impactful to me. Thank you both for being so honest and vulnerable and allowing us to learn from your stories.

  3. I love Pomo! As a longtime lurker, I’m de-lurking to say “thanks” for this post. I am married to my self-identified butch wubby (wife + hubby), and though our TTC process has been postponed, my parnter will be the one carrying our kids. Gender politics + babies can be such a clusterfuck, but I hope you know how much your words give strength and clarity to the less articulate (i.e. me)

  4. My partner goes by “momo.” Mommy just wasn’t cutting it for her, in relation to her gender identity and such. A more non-traditional moniker works so much better for her, and for us as a family.

    And I’m struggling with the same issues re: the attachment parenting club. The reverence for the biological/gestational and all of the heteronormativity that falls in line with that leaves me feeling alienated and frustrated with the moms in the mommy groups I attend. Not sure what to do about that…

    I hope “pomo” works for you and your family!

  5. I too celebrate female masculinity and have had to deal with the mental disconnect of seeing my body change after bearing a child with my partner. Neither of us are especially feminine, but both of us are “maternal” in the sense that we care for and about our son. We have similar expectations in how we want to parent, and a pretty good idea when one needs to step in to diffuse or redirect the other. I think that if you can create that partnership with your wife, then who does what doesn’t matter.

    We go by mom, moms, mama, mommy k and mommy J. I think it is much more confusing for us, then it has ever been for our son. He will turn 12 in just a couple of days and I can tell you that everytime in the past twelve years he said any of those words, he knew exactly who he wanted, it was his parents who were confused. He uses mommy k and mommy j to differentiate for US. Not for him.

    We did parenting based on the movie Instinct, with Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins tells his daughter at the end of the movie that when gorillas have their babies, they put them on their backs and take them everywhere. Hopkins then tells his daughter that if he had his life to do over again, that he would take her everywhere. That was our model. We have taken our son everywhere. We have only left him in the care of godparents, not babysitters. He roomed in with us until he was almost four. He has known and been shown that he is a full-fledged member of our family, with voting rights and a voice in the decisions we make. I know he is fully committed and attached to both of us, and understands what our strengths are (I do reading and writing – his other mom does math. I cook. She does laundry. We all put aside our need for a clean house to spend time outside with each other. No one has chores, but we all help with cleaning.) We didn’t read any books, we listened to our instincts. We also knew that there were things that occurred when we were children that we wanted to avoid with our son. And, with the exception of a few one-offs (one time events) we have managed to attain our goal.

    I guess my suggestion is listen to yourself and your partner and your son. Trust that your heart is where it needs to be and that love is too be shared, not divided. In the end, the only thing that will matter is your son will know that there are two people in the world who would die to protect him, who see to his needs and who love him unconditionally. Really, what else matters?

  6. Thanks for this. I love “pomo”! One of the things that I love about being in a queer couple is that we get to decide how to divide up the responsibilities of daily living without worrying as much about whether we are conforming to or rebelling against gendered roles. I know straight couples who do negotiate about this stuff, but it seems like it takes a bit more work for them. And many folks, as you describe, are boxed in by the assumptions about what their job as a “mother” or a “father” should (and should not) include.
    However, having more fluid gender roles leads to the some of the frustrations you describe, especially when it comes to people’s perceptions of us as parents. For what it’s worth, I have experienced less of this than I expected. Maybe it’s because my partner and I are both very active, engaged parents, or maybe it’s because we both present as fairly feminine these days, but I haven’t had anyone ask who the “real mom” is or otherwise try to fit us in gendered boxes.
    I guess, in the end it seems more important to me that your name and role feel right for you and for your family than that they make it easier for outsiders to understand you.
    Also, I would love to see your line of androgynous maternity clothes!

  7. I feel that *every* couple, regardless of gender, identity, or orientation, needs to have a conversation about their family roles. I’m grateful to be married to someone who does not insist that I fulfill heteronormative roles, and embraces the ways in which he subverts heterosexual male stereotypes, as well. I hope to pass on our individuated identities to our someday-children, as I know both you and R already have been to Bram.

  8. I’m wondering how this will play out in my family, too–in our case the gendered expectations are all mixed up. I wear dresses and bake cakes and carry the babies and renovate the house and handle the finances and am much more likely to be the silly, roughhousing parent. My wife wears pants and sweater vests and takes care of the cars and will certainly be who the kids run to when they need quiet comforting and gentleness. Pomo is a great name–I think we’ll figure these things out as we go…

  9. wow. this is one of your best posts yet. powerful. you just lifted a veil i didn’t know was there. this writing you’re doing is impactful and important. i know your focus is on helping same sex couples, but hetero couples could really benefit from this too (if they’re smart enough to realize it!). one of the biggest ways that bob and i get tripped up is on the attachments that we have to labels. some of these are archetypal and take *a lot* of work to get past. brava/o to you for having the courage to hold a light to these things and for giving others permission to do the same. :)

  10. Welcome Pomo. Love this post, and yes, we got fed up enough with the AP messages around the primacy of the biological bond that we flat out refuse to claim the title.

  11. I’ve had this post bookmarked all week, wanting to leave a well thought out comment on it. My mind and body are exhausted right now though and I don’t think I can succently get across what I’d like to express so I will just say thank you for this thoughtful post. Bram is lucky to have both of you as parents and you are lucky to have each other. It’s a lovely dynamic you seem to have. Congratulations on choosing a name that suits you. I have an acquaintance who chose the name Maddy (as a hybrid of mommy and daddy). It’s relatively new ground we’re treading on here.

  12. I just love the genuineness and honesty of your blog and these posts. So many others would benefit from even a small amount of the authenticity you show here. I hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way, but I came from a very small world and am grateful for the ways in which you both help engender awareness, understanding, and appreciation. You always give me a lot to think about.

    I can see what you mean about the attachment parenting community. In some ways, I think it relates to R’s recent post about food choices. I think a lot of people buy into it dogmatically and adopt the label, but don’t really examine or question it fully (and I think this is true of most parenting approaches). Then, they feel like failures when they don’t live up to every tenet of it.

  13. Sometimes you make such eloquent posts that it takes me a while to process them and come to my own thoughts. You have had a few posts recently that have made me really think and examine myself more closely – this was one of them. So, I’d like to comment on this one and hope you read it. I feel like I am a combination of both you and R. I am the more masculine one, in terms of societies role for men. I am the paternal one, in the sense that I will not be carrying our child – and yet in terms of fathers, I am not one of those either. I do not fit into that sub category. So I am stuck in a grey place. So while I identify personally as more masculine, I do have a strong female biological urge to carry and nurture a baby inside me, as R did/does, so I am torn between these two roles.

    Just yesterday I was reading on the different chemicals and hormones that are released by the brain during birth and immediately after. In moms Oxytocin is produced during labour – this helps recognize smell, and helps the mother forget the pain of labour. Its a feel good chemical – but it is the other hormones released during birth that cause this sudden increase in oxytocin – I will not have this surge as I will not be giving birth. Opiods and Prolactin are also released to help with bonding/relaxation and stimulation of milk for the mother – none of which I will experience. It is the act of birth that causes this surge – again I am not giving birth.

    For dads – the main chemical released is vasopressin, which causes the dad to temper his aggression, and develops a need to protect the mother and baby. It creates a bond to the family. However, it is usually a male based hormone – so as a biological woman I will not feel this either.

    I will get an increase of oxytocin and some opiods – but neither of these are shown to help develop a bond with the baby. There is no science that a female partner will become chemically bonded to her baby – it seems its more choice. And I am not afraid of that choice, I know what my choice will be – but again it makes me feel like an other – neither male nor female.

    I have been reading this blog, and you J have completely caught my interest. You have embraced your identity so strongly, and completely that it inspires me. All my life I have been trying so hard to find out who I am. Mistaken for a boy/man, sleeping around to prove my feminity, forcing myself into skirts to appear a girl, joining all the sports to prove I was strong. I lost myself in trying to hard. Slowly, I am coming to embrace the fact that I am more masculine – and thats not a bad thing. And it doesnt even need pointing out – male or female, boy or girl – why does it matter what gender role we identify with more? It shouldn’t, and yet it does.

    But for now, I want to thank you J, for inspiring me to see that a woman can be so much more than either feminine or masculine, that it shouldn’t matter, that you can be beautiful without being a cover model. You, J, are truly beautiful inside and out.

    (I apologize for the scattered nature of this reply)

    • Wow. Thanks for such a thoughtful comment. I’m so glad that any of what I write can be helpful to others, as I mostly write for my own insight/catharsis. Seriously, though, what a nice comment to get. Thanks!

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