From the editors: Jennifer DiGrazia describes how her perspective on motherhood shifts when she meets her partner Jamie, who is already a mom.
Despite being a “girly-girl,” I didn’t really want children. My dad had two more children with my step-mom when I was a teen, and I knew that they altered life. I have memories of family vacations in a mini-van packed to the rims with the six of us, our luggage and baby paraphernalia. The Huggies smooshed up against the back window were the ultimate embarrassment, and I hated the space taken up by strollers and car-seats and the stench of spilt formula. I liked my half-siblings, but I quickly learned that kids required enormous amounts of work. They totally messed up life with their constant needs.
When I was in my late twenties, finishing up my Ph.D. and starting my first real job, I married Jamie, my partner; she shared custody of her son with her ex-partner. I first met Jacob when he was 5. He had sparkling blue eyes, liked to brush my hair, and sat on my kitchen counter to get away from Scully, my 75-pound lab mix. He was easy to love.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, being married to someone with a child was lonely. Jamie and Jacob “got” each other. We might be at a crowded park, and they would meet one another’s eyes. Jamie would tell me it was time to go. She just knew what he needed. Observing them made me nostalgic for something—a connection, a sense of belonging—that I had missed. In my early thirties, I began to look longingly at women who were breastfeeding, bundles nestled into their chests, the abandon with which their babies collapsed into their bodies.
I tried to fight this urge. I was busy starting a new career. I thought I should feel grateful that I had never gotten pregnant during my tumultuous teens and twenties. Besides, many friends and family members didn’t exactly embrace my growing desire to have a child, and they were quick to remind me of how much I had—my partner, my pets, my step-son, a steady job in an uncertain economy. I also have major depression, which was finally controlled with with a balance of drugs, exercise and diet. I knew all the arguments against having a child–overpopulation, the need for baby supplies and sitters, the hormonal imbalance.
But, something had shifted dramatically in my own emotional landscape. Part of the attraction of being pregnant was that I couldn’t come first. Previous exposure to my half-siblings and Jacob became reasons for wanting kids. I knew, better than most, that a baby would have to come first.
There was precedent. Jamie’s partner had birthed Jacob. When we finally agreed that we would try to get pregnant, Jamie knew how to fill out the forms and pick the “criteria” for a donor at the cryobank. I didn’t care how we chose, so we matched some of Jamie’s characteristics: white, Jewish, and educated, with the pool of donors. The website also gave the donors’ reasons for participating at the cryobank–some even sent a note to the prospective couple. We read those narratives avidly, narrowed our options to three. The first was no longer available, so we went with the second.
We got pregnant at home on the second try. I was thirty four, and I had an easy pregnancy, and nine months later, after a difficult birth, our son, Jordan, was born.
Jordan breastfed until he was over two, and I enjoyed the pressure of his sucking mouth and warm body against my breast. I felt anchored. My world became really small, focused on deciphering the mysteries behind his rich brown eyes and reveling in his curiosity about the world. He said “Mama” when he was really young. However, he rarely slept, never crawled, and at 5 months old, when he didn’t gain the requisite weight, he was given a failure to thrive diagnosis, the first of many diagnoses.
Everyone wants to know how lesbians get pregnant and these stories are interesting, important, and complicated, but of course, they don’t end there. When conception is complicated it’s easy to get caught up and lose sight of what is infinitely more important: babies become people, and sometimes they become people who don’t conform to or fit neurological, social or educational developmental expectations.
Jordan is now 8 years old, and he has a dual diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is the most precious–and complicated–person in my life.
Jordan is an enigma—a wonderful, difficult enigma. When he is melting down because he can’t have computer time and he can’t regulate his emotions, when he is spewing invectives at me or anyone who challenges him, or when the special needs bus comes to collect him each morning at 7:00, Jamie will sometimes tease me, “You spawned that!” He is incredibly perceptive, asking, in almost the same breath, details about the Greek god Poseidon when we read the latest Rick Riordan novel, and, “Does everyone have something like I do?”
Parenting Jordan leaves me feeling not only needed but overextended. We endlessly consider medications, doctors and diagnoses. We read articles, consult experts and work to manage his behavior–while trying to maintain a semblance of childhood for him and life for ourselves.
Despite the exhaustion, I love being one of Jordan’s parents. I love the sparkle in his brown eyes, the mischief in his giggle, the softness of his wavy brown hair, his boundless curiosity on good days. As we continuously help him negotiate his way in a world intolerant of mental illness and anything that challenges the norm, I see him in increasingly complex ways. Even taking into account our time at the hospitals, our experiences in schools, the continuous monitoring he requires, when I hear my friends and colleagues describe their own parenting trials, I realize that our struggles are the struggles of all parents who want to raise good people–just amplified. Daily, he reminds me what I had hoped to learn: it isn’t really about me. I am so grateful for that.
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