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.