may it not, therefore, dry up and blow away

I am home now, in a quiet house where my boys are resting. They are sick today: fitful sleeping and too-fast fever breathing. I’m staying near to their warm bodies. We have candles lit for their healing; we have prayed. We will read today, and touch, and wait for health to come. This stillness is a gift. There is coffee and the house is clean.

In the last couple of weeks, we watched our girl-cat die. We spent days and nights with her as her body shut down. The boys held bowls of water to her mouth once she could no longer get up to drink. They laid a favorite blanket on the floor for her once she could no longer stay safely in the bed when, for brief stretches, we had to leave. They whispered into her fur and kissed her head and diminishing body. She slept so close to them until the very end. Nearness to us was her final comfort, and we gave it. I hope they remember this: the love they offered and accepted, how unafraid they were to face the truth of her leaving. I hope they carry it into the losses they will go on to meet.

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She died stretched out next to me, taking up more space in death than she ever had in life. J came over in the night to help me move her body into a box and prepare it for the boys to see. I was overwhelmed; coming was a kindness. Later my friend Matt helped me dig a hole three feet deep, stopping to cut thick tree roots and unearth rocks. Matt is no stranger to grave-digging – deeper graves, and for much heavier reasons – having offered what he could in the face of injustice, preparing space for death row inmates who would be lowered into Georgia red clay. This was not that. Not state-sanctioned evil. Not Georgia heat. Just a beloved nineteen-year-old cat who died in my bed. A small three-foot grave and two boys watching.

And then, of course, we taught my sons how to lower a body they love into the ground.

I already understood myself to have made promises to this house. It is a century old. I am its fifth owner. We belong to one another. But digging so deeply into the earth has changed my relationship to the land. Surrendering beloved flesh to it. Using sharp shovels to tear it apart. Small-boy-handfuls of dirt to put it back together again. The land is changed. My sons are changed. I am changed. It took thirty-eight years of living to lay down such roots. It took grief and the fragmentation of loss.

I am made weary by the events of this year. I am still stunned by all that has taken place. But I am sturdier than I knew. I think a lot now about women of the past. My mothers as far back as they go. All our mothers as far back. Brave. Resilient. I feel myself lengthen into their untold stories.

These words by Kathleen Norris have stayed with me.

The Plains are not forgiving. Anything that is shallow – the easy optimism of a homesteader; the false hope that denies geography, climate, history; the tree whose roots don’t reach ground water – will dry up and blow away.

I feel I was given a legacy of hope. That it was passed down in both blood and stories, despite or perhaps because of all the reasons that wouldn’t be true. And I’m thinking these days about the responsibility of passing down hope: of offering it while taking care that it isn’t shallow or light. I watched as these boys met with this close, intimate death. Watched their hands cradle her stiff body without fear. They kissed her goodbye again and again. They never looked away. They know she’s in the ground; they put her there. In that way, they have roots now too. This moment denied nothing that is. This moment was not shallow. May it not, therefore, dry up and blow away.

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A tiny epilogue: Days later, we dug once more to build a fire pit deep into this small bit of land. We used bricks that came from the house J and I brought these boys home to, our first home. Then my mom and cousin Linzie lovingly painted this mural on part of our fence: an offering, a gorgeous and powerful gift. Death and community and beauty and hope. Deep roots and blue poppies. Resilient mothers as far back as they go.

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.hello, september.

After a leisurely Labor Day weekend, we are now back to the academic year grind. This evening, R goes back into the classroom to teach for the first time since B was three months old. She’s feeling excited and jittery. I’m also back to my normal full-time schedule at work starting today. Bram will have a new schedule of in-home care with two lovely new sitters (his two sitters from last year both graduated from college and moved away). If all goes well, R will be walking in the boot within the next two weeks. We’ll also be twelve weeks along with Dragon by mid-September. Then, we’ll be taking our first overnight trip without Bram the third weekend of September. There’s a lot of fatigue in our family right now, but a lot of hope, too, for a cool and promising autumn.

So for all of you heading back to school (either as educators or by-proxy of your kids), “Break pencils!”

And I leave you with the ridiculous cuteness that is this kid. Seriously, how did we get so lucky?

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welcoming newness

I wanted a new blog theme because – though there’s been so much sadness, and there ain’t nothing new about that – this is also a time of newness and possibility.

  • This is my second week at home with Bram when I’m not also writing, and the difference is profound. Even with this tiny bit of space, I can see that writing my dissertation and being home with B was overwhelmingly intense. Trying to fit all the research and drafting I could into the two or three or four hours Bram was with sitters. Revising from the bedroom over the sound of dancing or kitchen play in the living room. Sending B off for bedtime rituals with J only to settle down for more work, night after night (which feels achingly impossible after being on with a baby ALL. DAY.). Wearing him through ALL of his naps so he’d sleep longer, and precariously balancing the computer on my knees, which got harder and harder to do as he grew. [Though full disclosure: I’m still wearing him through naps. Only right now, I’m doing it for the snuggles. So it’s selfish.] The hardest thing of all was the feeling I could never shake that I should be doing something else. I never worked when B was awake and I was on alone with him, but I always sensed that I needed to be working, so I always felt a low grade sort of panic. Now the days stretch out before us, and they are exhausting, but they don’t scare me the same way because for the moment, my only job is mom. [This is not strictly true. I need to read my dissertation and plan my defense opening statements and do some formatting, but I’m ignoring all of that, and with an impressive degree of success.] And though I worried about what it would be like to only have this one hat on for awhile (the summer), I am finding that I love it. I feel a new freedom to just be with him. We’ll see how it feels after my defense, when the summer really just stretches out before us, but right now: I am aware of and grateful for the privilege of this tiny moment. Because it will likely never come again, not with B or with our other children. I’ll hopefully be on the tenure track. It won’t be the same. I now know that I could be a stay-at-home-parent for the duration if things were different, but I’m also okay working. I ADORE teaching, and I ADORE being at home with my kid. And I am so deeply lucky to feel fulfilled by both of these things. I hope to find a balance once I’m working full-time, and I do think that, R-1 universities aside, the professoriate lends itself to some balance. What I most hope is that J will get to do some of this with our next child (or children): that I’ll be able to carry us for awhile to give her a little space at home. It is hard, hard, hard work (as so many of you know), and I am dog tired by the day’s end. But compared to the weight of writing WHILE giving my son everything I have, this singular focus feels blissful.
  • Oh, and this: I cannot thank you all enough for your communal, resounding GET A NEW CAT message. Y’all are just absurdly kind, and you get us, and we are so lucky. So I think we’re going to get a cat! I mean, that many of you can’t be wrong! :) Our vet feels strongly that N will do better with a kitten than an older cat. And he feels even more strongly that a kitten will do better with Bram because s/he will have just always grown up with an annoying being chasing her/him around, unlike an older cat who might resent the hell out of young children. So we’re leaning in that direction, though there’s a nine-month-old boy cat we’re also drawn to… Anyway, more on this soon. We might have happy news to post in the near future.
  • And HUGELY: our dear friends A & C brought their second daughter into the world this week. Little Zora joins big sister Thea, and she is sweet sweet sweet. Thea asked to be with me during/after the labor (heart-melting, by the way), but she was sleeping through the whole thing, so they called me when C was pushing, and I walked in to the darling cries of born.seconds.earlier Z. I kept thinking of that Ani song when she says, “I was there to hear your bell the first time it rang, and the beauty was the beauty of everything.” It was painful because, you know, I want to do that (give birth to a baby who cries after), but it was beautiful. I brought Thea (who is three) home with me for the day so her mamas and new sister could sleep, and when we got here at 7:30, B was still resting. (Miraculously. Likely because he couldn’t sleep for awhile after I left at 4.) Since Thea was a little sleepy, I put her in bed with him. When he woke a few minutes later and rolled over to smooch me (like he does), he found her in my place! J said it was the sweet-sweetest thing. Anyway, welcome baby Zora. You are no end loved.

So, newness!

But there’s also other stuff.

  • I went to the dentist yesterday because I have stress fractures in a filling (so, pain), and the hygienist asked (when looking at my medical records) if my son inherited my clotting disorder. I told her that he didn’t because my wife carried him. When I mentioned later that I’m at home with him full time, she said, “Oh, so he’s practically yours then.” So, yeah. That happened. He’s practically mine.
  • In terms of wanting to give birth to a healthy baby, I’ve been letting myself fantasize about a number of things this week, and it needs to stop. When I lay down at night, or when B is napping, or when I’m washing dishes, I find myself imagining calling my dad, and hearing him answer, hearing him call me sweetheart or tell me to have a good good day. I imagine him at my graduation. I imagine seeing him proud of me, with tears in his eyes. I fantasize about being huge and pregnant and feeling the baby move inside of me. And about pushing, which is what I most wanted to do, most of all, like desperately. Desperately. I fantasize that Hades will run into the room, meowing his disgruntled old-man meow. That he’ll push his head into my mouth for kisses. I’m not sure how to stop letting these fictions in. It feels impossible to me that these things can’t happen. And I feel so peaceful and happy when I’m playing them out in my head like a movie. Maybe writing this down will help.
  • Also, probably because of all the loss, I’ve been (and J has been too) obsessed lately with B’s health. Like, checking his breathing every ten minutes at night like you do with a newborn. And asking our NP to run a CBC on him. (Which she gladly obliged, and everything looks great. And by the way: Bram LOVED having his blood drawn, the weird child. He sat on my lap, and they prepped me for how to keep him steady, but he watched the whole time and never even flinched. And then he wanted to go to one of the techs after!) We’ve always been worriers on this front, but the last couple of weeks have been newly bad. So, trust. Something else to work on. And thank the gods because I was bored. ;)
  • One good thing, though, is that other than the wanting to be pregnant, and to give birth to a big, breathing baby, I’m not all that sad about the fact that I probably won’t try to carry again. When I got pregnant this time,the emotions were just different than before. And I was deeply sad to be losing my NGP identity. I LOVE this role. I feel like an ambassador for NGP-hood. I think about the misunderstanding out there, about how many people believe that the only way to truly be a parent is to have a child who carries your DNA, and I think: I can help undermine that. I think that at this point, adoption would be even more profound for me than carrying to term, because then J and I would SHARE the NGP role. That sounds just mindblowingly great, doesn’t it? But of course, that requires being chosen by another birth mother. So we shall see. It could happen, right? Anyway, the peace I feel in this regard is surely nice.
  • Okay, that’s all. Thanks for letting me ramble. I’m glad it’s finally spring. I’m sure I join most of you in welcoming the sunshine.

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facts & feelings

A friend told me this week that feelings aren’t facts. Oh, the great great freedom of those words. I started breathing more deeply the moment my mind grasped them.

It’s a Sunday, early evening, and I should be making dinner, but the boy is cutting a molar and a cuspid, which means he’s in agony, which means he’s taking a desperately-needed-late-nap on my chest. Here, then, are the scattered facts and feelings of my today.

  • We have an astonishingly great community. I’ll write it again because it is breathtakingly true: we have an astonishingly great community. There is no such thing as deserving the profoundly generous and loving and empathic and compassionate and ever-present friends and family we’re surrounded with. We don’t deserve you all, which means that having you all is just a matter of grace. Grace. Not God’s grace, but humanity’s grace. We are surrounded by it.
  • I am overwhelmed, crushed, by the simple narrative being constructed around the Tsarnaev brothers right now. We are so quick to condemn violence without struggling to understand our own complicity in it. Our willingness to model it in ways small and big. How is it possible that expressing compassion for a no-doubt terrified teenager (a child) can be read as negating the suffering that teenager likely inflicted? I am heartbroken by this tragedy, but I am even more heartbroken by our quick, unconsidered, vengeance-driven reaction to it. People suffer. Even people who inflict suffering suffer. I don’t know how to express what I’m saying. There’s complexity, and I shudder for our fate when I sense that it is being ignored. Yogi’s mama wrote a little about this this week, as did Anna. If I felt more whole, I’d try to contribute something meaningful. As it stands, all I can do is worry, and mourn, and wish. If my writing this makes you angry, please know that I mean no harm, and please let it go. I don’t even know how to process anger right now. I can’t meet it with anything but confusion.
  • Nemesis is lonely without her brother. We are lonely without her brother. Saul (who is no longer Saul) is now five months old. He’s been gone for four months. His birth mother refuses to send us a photo. Since he left, we’ve lost my dad, and Love Child, and our puppy cat. We are not in the weeds of despondence, as we’ve been before. Instead, we’re heavy but moving. Walking with grief in a new way that feels permanent (though thankfully I see through that word). I found a list I made in 2009, shortly before our wedding. On it, I name loss as my biggest fear. It was relatively unknown to me then. It is no longer my biggest fear. It is like a friend I didn’t meant to befriend. I’m not even sure how I’d answer that question now.
  • Anyway, we are lonely, and I keep having the impulse to bring home a kitten. Or a cat. Another being. A being who is unlikely to be taken from us. A being who is likely to stay awhile. Who will make Bram smile. Who will warm our hearts. Who will in no way replace E, or Sauly, or Love Child. Who could never replace Hades, king of the cottage frontier, cat-king of my heart. But who could be a home for some of the love we have that needs a home. I sense, though, that we’d be judged. That it is too soon. That there are appropriate ways of responding to loss and that we haven’t been appropriate. I’m not explaining this well. I just want more beings to love. Right now, I might adopt a flea circus if I felt that one needed me. Perhaps that is the argument for waiting.
  • We went to a SHARE meeting together last week: our first together since B was born. I’m always struck by the gentleness in those rooms. People are fragile. There are spaces where that is just recognized.
  • I found teaching! Okay, that’s overstating it. I found two sections for the fall. Media and the Sexes. With that phone call, the absence of students in my life this year came flooding in. Students! Yes! I am more fully me when I am teaching. When I am learning from students. When we are of one another in the way that the classroom makes possible. I sigh with relief from this news, not just because we (desperately) need the money, but because I desperately need that purpose again. The exchange of ideas. The intellectual intimacy. The community. The presence it demands of me. Yes. Teaching. What relief.
  • My defense is set for May 10th. PhDs: How did you celebrate? We have to celebrate. If we insist (as we do) on mourning the losses, we must celebrate the victories. We have earned this. As a family. So how did you let in the joy.relief.pride of being done?
  • We are interring my dad’s ashes on Wednesday. We will try to make a day of it: eat good food, take Bram to the zoo. A day that is not born solely of sadness.
  • Tomorrow, Bram and I will celebrate Earth Day at a bird sanctuary. I never really understood birds before. Lately, I get tears in my eyes watching them fly.
  • Here are my true, true loves. There’s no such thing as deserving this life. That I am living it is merely a matter of human grace. Kindness. The kindness others have bestowed on me.

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baby, fellowship, food, & photos

the baby: Is either sick with his first minor cold or teething really early. To wit: he’s stuffy, but no fever. He wants to suck on everything, and even to chew a little. He’s drooling like a mastiff puppy. He can’t get comfortable enough to sleep very long. He only wants to nurse, to be worn, and to listen to Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans. The child will listen to anything (seriously, he was jamming out to some polka on Prairie Home Companion yesterday), but he has his preferences. Lots of strings. Big orchestral numbers delight him. And Sufjan Stevens seems to be his first favorite musician. He also adores a board book we have full of Matisse paintings (which is making me notice Matisse in a new way – how incredible is that? my son is teaching me about art!) and Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham. Red seems to be a favorite color: when he sees it (especially on book pages) he just kicks and grins, grins and kicks (which is how he responds to almost every book page, but he does so with more vigor if there’s red on it). He lights up around his little baby mirror: he loves that little baby, whether or not he knows it’s him. He’s started to like zerberts, but only very gentle ones, and only if after you’ve given him one, you look up at him and laugh. Then he’ll laugh too. And he started rolling over last week. It is the cute cute cutest thing to watch his face when he realizes he’s suddenly on his back.

the fellowship: I got it (one of the three I applied for)! I got a full year of dissertation funding through my university. This means that as soon as I’m done teaching this class (in five weeks), I can focus exclusively (work-wise) on my dissertation for ONE WHOLE YEAR. No teaching for a full year. I still can’t believe it. The freedom this gives me to spend lots and lots of time with this baby is indescribably great. It’s just a dream. And the time to immerse myself in my project is thrilling. I need to finish by May of next year. The next twelve months will be full of hard work, but it’s work I WANT to do. I can’t tell you what a privilege this is. I really am over the moon with gratitude, relief, and excitement.

the food: So the story here is that J has had to give up dairy, gluten, and soy to get this boy’s rash to go away. This has meant some changes in the way I cook/we eat, but we’ve used the opportunity to make a shift we’ve been heading towards for years. I have been dogmatically vegetarian for a long time. For my first five years, I felt righteous in the knowledge that I ate (lived) ethically because I didn’t eat animals. A few years ago, I started to think about non-food products – soap, shampoo, make-up – and we began to eliminate things that were tested on animals from our household. What good is not eating meat if you buy from a company that, for example, coats a rat’s eyes in mascara? Isn’t that even more cruel? Then I started to avoid factory-farmed dairy. Especially as we neared the TTC period of our lives (and began to think about breastfeeding), I stopped feeling comfortable buying diary that came from animals that were kept for years on end in tiny box stalls being milked by machines all day, This is worse, I would argue, than eating meat because at least beef cattle have a shorter period of suffering. I still believe in all of this. To my knowledge, we buy no (or very few) animal-tested products. But here’s the piece I didn’t get until now. Not eating meat for so long led me to incorporate more and more fake meat products into my diet. Tofu. Tofurkey. Tempeh. Veggie burgers. And when I started thinking about THESE products, I felt troubled. We’d done so much work to eliminate anything but whole, real foods from our diets – to learn how to cook using single ingredients – but fake meat products are full of ingredients I can barely pronounce. And their status as vegan doesn’t tell us anything about the ethicality of manufacturing them. Because they’re mass produced, I can only assume they’re made in assembly line conditions, by factory workers. How well are those factory workers compensated? I don’t know. How far must the products be shipped to reach my supermarket shelf (i.e. what’s their carbon footprint)? No idea. What’s in them, really; I mean, what ARE all those ingredients? I don’t have any idea. This is something J and I have been discussing a lot lately. She’s been eating fewer and fewer of these products and more and more local, ethically-farmed meat for the last year or so. And now I’m finally on board. So here’s what we’re doing. We’ve stopped shopping at the huge regional-chain grocery in town and joined the co-op. If we can’t find it there, it probably isn’t something we need to eat. And for the record: so far it hasn’t cost us any more money to stock up there than it did at the chain. We’ve started to buy local meat that we can trace back to a farm here in town. We could go visit this summer if we wanted to. There’s very little packaging on our groceries now, which means we’re cutting down on the waste products we produce. I still eat a very small hunk of local, ethical (the cows are pasture-raised and hand-milked only twice a day) cheese each week, which feels like such a delicious treat now that it’s rationed. I’ll still eat gluten if we go out, but at home, I’m cooking with lots of brown and wild rice instead. And it’s delicious. I no longer believe that vegetarianism is the feather in the crown of ethical living. I think it’s too tempting to conclude that you’re being conscientious just because you don’t eat meat. I know I felt that way for a long, long time. Now I’m trying to understand the full effects of what I purchase. What I put in my body. Even if animals don’t die to make a particular food, are they mistreated? If so, I shouldn’t eat it. How are the humans who are a part of making a product treated? If I don’t know they’re treated well, I probably shouldn’t eat it. Who’s ultimately profiting off of my food choices? If it’s a farmer, great. If it’s a corporation getting rich off of genetic modifications, I’m not interested. Or at least not regularly so. Because that’s the other piece here: letting go of all-things-dogmatic. Because anytime we think dogmatically, we think un-critically, right? I mean, that’s sort of the point of dogma. This is true of religions, and it’s also true of political stances and movements like vegetarianism. But what I want to teach our son is to make decisions thoughtfully, not based on black and white conclusions he’s drawn up ahead of time. If I’m out celebrating, and I want to eat dessert but it’s been made with conventional butter, I want to do it anyway, and I want to do it guiltlessly. Then I want to come home and eat only local/ethical dairy for awhile. I want to support my community’s farmers most of the time. I want to impact animals and workers alike as positively as I can manage while still staying joyful and unobsessed. So that’s how we’re approaching this new no-soy, no-dairy, and no-gluten diet. And on that note, if anyone has recipes that might work, I’d love them! I’ve almost never cooked meat in my whole life, so this is all new to me. So far, I’m mostly eating chicken and wild caught fish. Tell me what to do!

the photos:

B visits mommy at work (and is smitten):

Bram and mama greet spring:

See those active arms? That’s our boy. His legs usually move that fast too! Gods help us when he’s a toddler:

This face:

at 39 weeks

  • I don’t go to bed without finishing every last dish in the sink. “If this is it, I’ll want to shower,” I think. “Shower, and add things to the bag, and be with J. I won’t want to do dishes.”
  • I watch J’s face a lot. When her body tenses up with the frequency of Braxton Hicks. With the new intensity of pressure. With a baby who’s fully engaged and ready. I watch her breathing.
  • I spend hours with our cats, wanting them to know how loved they are. Setting the intention to include them. These beings who got me through the whole of my 20s and into my 30s. These soul animals who I love, I suspect, more than I’ll ever love an animal again.
  • I am careful with friend time, not knowing how this time will change. Not knowing when I might be undistractedly attentive again.
  • I worry. That he won’t come for weeks. That he’ll come today. That seeing J in pain will break my heart. That the same people who have excluded me during this pregnancy will exclude me once he’s here. Talk through me. Ignore my new mamahood.
  • I take lots of photos of J’s belly. I realize how deeply I’ve come to love this atypical roundness in my wife’s body. That I’ll miss it.
  • I feel sad that I can’t breastfeed. I mourn that.
  • I let myself attach to this new class of students, which I didn’t think I would. I feel vulnerable with them. I feel that we’re sharing something indescribably sweet.
  •  I drink even more water and take lots of Vitamin C. I want to be strong.
  • I try to picture his face. His eyes. His mouth. I love him fiercely. I sing to him nightly.
  • I pace in and out of his nursery, resisting the urge to wash his things again. His linens. Resisting the urge to keep up the frantic pace of nesting that dominated the past month.
  • I watch as the world interacts with J, congratulating her when they see the belly. I think, “how presumptuous.” I think, “Oh, God, women who are placing their babies in other families must face this.” I think, “Why don’t you see me? I’m full term too.”
  • I cook. I bake. I crave heartiness: kale pesto and squash pudding and sweet potato hash. Foods of the season, his season, E’s season.
  • I think about the day of her arrival (January 19th). I wonder if he’ll come on her day, something shared between siblings who will never share anything.
  • I feel gratitude for our midwife. Our midwife who has been like a gift; I can’t even tell you. We showed up in her exam room all those months back, bundles of fear and anxiety. A thousand questions a visit. Vibrating with longing and fear of longing. She met every question. Just, met them. Honestly. Patiently. As if there were nothing wrong with us. As if we made sense. She made us feel safe, almost unbroken, strong enough to do this.
  • I fret about silly things. Will the clothes we want to take be clean (I do laundry daily). Will I have time to wash my hair. Have I put the sweater-cover-thing on the carseat correctly (it’s cold out there).
  • I wait. Like every parent before me, I wait.

contact

Last night was the second meeting of our natural child birth class (which will meet eight times). So far, I think we’re both learning a great deal. The facilitator is deeply knowledgeable, sweet, and compassionate. Though she doesn’t always use inclusive language, I usually feel included. The other couples are all heterosexual, but they’re also all interesting and open. It’s sometimes painful (as discussing the details of childbirth sometimes triggers flashbacks to the trauma of birthing Emmett), but overall I’ve enjoyed it tremendously, and I’m glad we signed up. I think it will help prepare us for Rabbit’s entrance into the world (whether or not that birth looks the way we’d like it to).

But last night’s material included a long discussion about the importance of skin-to-skin contact, and it solidified some concerns I’ve been having about this culture’s treatment of non-gestational parents. I’ve said here before that J being pregnant has made me feel newly sympathetic to dads. Newly offended on their behalf. Newly connected to them. This is a concrete example of what I mean.

I should say first of all that I LOVE the attention skin-to-skin contact (or Kangaroo Care) has gotten of late. Birth has been far too (forcibly) medicalized for far too long in this country, and it’s thrilling to see us return to (and lend credence to through research) some common sense notions, such as the idea that babies are advantaged by proximity to their parents right after birth. This is a lovely thing if parents are able to do it.* We know now that skin-to-skin contact helps babies regulate heart rates and breathing. We know that it reduces respiratory distress. We know that it helps to facilitate both breastfeeding and bonding. This is all good stuff. I can’t remember my own experience of being born (as I was, you know, just born), but I can imagine that entering the world is some tough, scary business. How lovely to think about dimming the lights. About slowing down the frenetic pace of post-birth processes (like the vitamin K shot, and weighing in, and cleaning up). And I cannot imagine a more joyful sight in all of the world than this little boy in J’s arms. The two of them touching. Her holding to her chest what for months she will have held within her body. I get emotional every time I imagine that moment, and I’m so grateful to be surrounded by medical professionals who advocate for and support it.

The problem is that (so far anyway) I’ve never heard anyone talk about the importance of skin-to-skin contact with non-gestational parents (not of their own will, anyway; only when I’ve advocated for it). Indeed (and I hope that all of you have evidence that I’m wrong on this), I fear that very few people in the childbirth community are advocating for non-gestational parents (most of whom, of course, are dads) at all. And because the.birthing.of.babies is treated with a mysterious sort of reverence (a fierce insider/outsider dichotomy wherein if you haven’t done it, you’re always already less than someone who has), dads seem to feel silenced. If they have an opinion about how they’d like to experience meeting their children, they don’t say so. They don’t seem to think it’s their right.

Even in this open, loving, progressive birth class, the handout we were given about this moment says that moms should focus exclusively on bonding with their babies – that no one should “disturb” them during this critical time (even their partners or co-parents) – but that dads should spend these early moments advocating for moms. Making sure the cord pulses for long enough. Making sure the birth plan is followed. Not bonding, but doing the WORK that the moment requires. Staying busy. Providing for their family as (of course) dads have been expected to do for…well…always (at least in the U.S.)? Nowhere on this otherwise extremely helpful handout does it even mention that, perhaps, non-gestation parents might also want to take a moment to gaze at their new baby. To touch him or her. To kiss him. To connect as a new family. A whole family. The message here is clear: dads are extraneous, or, if they are useful, it is only for their ability to make sure that mom and baby are well.

And what’s worse: NGPs are told that they’re at risk of being an impediment to this intimate moment. When I asked our facilitator about non-gestational skin-to-skin contact, she said that that’s fine, but not until baby and mom get a good latch, and that can take hours. And she warned me not to break a latch just to get to hold our son. This was a hurtful moment. I would NEVER break my son’s first latch with his mom’s breast. Nor, I suspect, would any of the dads in this class. Our presence in that room makes apparent our deep desire to help, in any way we can, as our partners labor to bring our children into the world. We feel helpless. We feel left out, but we’re mostly okay with that. But warning me that it would hurt my child if I separated him from his mom (who he needs, this warning makes clear, much more than he needs me) is a way of letting me know my place as an outsider.

What worries me is that I’m the only one in the class so far who has mentioned that there is (for all two-parent families) a third person in the situation. That it’s actually GOOD for NGPs to think about bonding. That we, too, have waited and waited to meet our little one. That our lives have utterly changed in that moment. That, lacking the benefit of carrying, the benefit of breastfeeding, we might need advocacy in those critical first moments too. That those moments of bonding between NGP and child might be important to consider alongside such physiological concerns as heart rate and temperature.

That the relationship between NGP and child is actually as important as that between GP and child; thus the benefit of bonding should be shared.

This exclusionary tendency makes me intensely sad. Lots and lots of children have absent fathers (dads who leave, dads who stay but don’t participate actively in child-rearing). We fault them (hello: the phrase “deadbeat dad”), but we forcibly create distance that must be (for some fathers, at least) incredibly difficult to overcome. We act as if mothers are naturally closer to their children than fathers, but, even in our most thoughtful spaces, we cultivate that as a reality. We make it so, and then we criticize it.

And it doesn’t need to be that way. When I asked about this at our first Meet the Midwives meeting, most of the midwives at our clinic (ours wasn’t there) said skin-to-skin contact needed to be with the bio-mom, that all of those regulatory benefits work much much better with her. That I shouldn’t even think of holding our son until an hour after he’s born. “Okay, an hour,” I thought. I cried. I adjusted. I can do an hour. Our facilitator last night said the same thing – J’s body will be much better for Rabbit than mine – only she said I shouldn’t even think about it until two hours, and then only if he’s already nursed. But here’s the thing: the research I’ve done indicates that dads (there’s no research on non-bio mamas) can give their babies almost as much benefit. Really: as much benefit in almost every way. That NGPs can facilitate temperature and heart beat regulation. That NGPs can even facilitate breastfeeding.**

Yet our plan to do an hour of skin-to-skin contact with J (longer, obviously, if at the hour point Rabbit is nursing), followed by an hour of skin-to-skin contact with me, has most often been met with warnings and hesitation.*** “Sure,” most professionals seem to say. “You can do that. But later. But don’t be selfish. Don’t put your needs out there too much. This isn’t about you.”

But isn’t it? Rabbit has two parents. Isn’t it in his lifelong best interest to have connected with both of us in these early hours? I think that – in our well-needed realization that babies don’t benefit from being whisked away and cleaned up immediately – we’ve gotten a bit of tunnel vision. We see birth moms now, and we see babies, but we’re blind to NGPs. And I resent that, not just for me, but for dads. None of the fathers-to-be said anything during the class (or when I asked about this issue and mentioned my concerns). But after class, one of the dads came up to me and said that he’d never thought of any of this before. When the facilitator said that two+ hours of skin-to-skin (exclusively with birth moms) was best for our babies, he was upset. He’d been assuming he’d hold their baby right away, and having this dismissed as unhealthy for his baby (with no acknowledgment that he might want to share in the experience, that his baby might benefit from his presence) was jarring. I’m sure he wasn’t alone. But neither he nor the other dads stopped and asked the question. I think this is because they’re told they are outsiders to this experience. That their job is to support, not just during labor (when supporting is obviously all they can do), but after, as well.

It doesn’t need to be this way. It’s great that we’re beginning to understand the importance of so many of the systems we disrupted when we started over-medicalizing birth. But there must be ways of doing that without telling NGPs that their role at birth is akin to that of any other birth partner: someone who’s there to support a mom through labor, but whose child isn’t being born. Because if we have studies suggesting that skin-to-skin contact is a powerful tool for one parent, shouldn’t we talk about using it for two?

* Of course, these early moments are a luxury altogether. If we’re blessed with adopted children, we won’t have them at all, and we’ll have to mourn that (for ourselves and for our children, who would no doubt have benefited from this early intimacy). Just as I’m already planning for ways to bond in lieu of breastfeeding, we’ll have to be creative to overcome the loss of this time. And we’ll do that with gratitude and joy. So though I know this post is shortsightedly birth-centric, it’s where we are now. And it’s how lots and lots of parents become parents, so it feels important to talk about.

** If you’re interested in the research I found on this, please let me know!

*** Our midwife has never offered these warnings. In fact, she brought this up a few appointments back, saying basically: “You two do whatever you want. He’s your child. You’ll make the right choices for him.” We super love her.