Telling Our Reproductive Stories

I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of sharing our reproductive stories. By reproductive stories I mean how we decided to have children, how we did or did not get pregnant, how our babies came into the world, and how all of that impacts the kind of parents we are.

As queer parents we had to do a lot of planning. I often say to my wife that if everyone had the choice to plan their children as much as we did, the world would be a much better place.  We are lucky enough to have a known donor and were able to do everything at home (more on the joys of having a known donor in a later post). Ari is a true Turkey Baster baby (well…plastic medicine syringe). We then labored and birthed at home with two midwives and a close friend (who also married us) as our doula. We were so lucky to be able to make the choices we made and have them supported.

Now, enter the rest of the world. What do people know about how queer people, specifically two women, have babies? A movie or two? The L Word? There are not a lot of stories out there like ours, or with people like us at all. So what does this lead to? Two major assumptions:

One (most common): Where did we adopt her?

Two (less common): What medical facility did we use to inseminate?

I do not judge people who do either of those things, adopt, use the medical system to get pregnant, etc. However, I have a problem with the assumption that either of those things are our experience.  I realized lately that straight couples can sometimes have a similar experience. Folks assume that they a) gave birth to their babies, and b) that it was an easy process. I recently had an experience where a woman with twins asked me how my wife and I “got” Ari. I started off being pretty defensive and (I’ll admit) braggy about our process. A little while later she said that she had asked because her twins were adopted. I realized that by not talking about our reproductive stories, we isolate ourselves. She was asking not to be aggressive or making assumptions about me, but because she was hoping to find someone with a common experience. And because I assumed that she was being insensitive, I lost the opportunity to find commonality in the fact that we both share “alternative” reproductive stories.

So my new goal is to tell my story truthfully and often and trusting peoples best intentions.

What is your reproductive story?

Dream Feeding-My Favorite Feedings

Sorry it has been a million years. Between the holidays and the baby crawling and cruising, blogging has taken a WAY backseat. But here we go.

So my friend, over at frecklesinthefog turned me on to the idea of Dream Feeding way back in September. This is the idea that if the baby goes to bed at 8, she will be up at 12 to eat. And if I don’t go to bed till 10-10:30, this can be difficult. So why not feed her in her sleep when I go to bed at 10pm? The theory is that she will then sleep till maybe 1 or 2am. I haven’t done that this often, since she often wakes up once before we go to bed to eat. But lately she has been sleeping solidly when she goes down around 8. So I’ve begun Dream Feeding her. I’m not sure it works in terms of sleeping longer, but it has become one of my favorite feedings of the day. Here is why. I rarely get to watch her sleep now since she is sensitive to light as she is first falling asleep (either at night or for naps). So with the Dream Feeding, we have a little light on and I can watch her sleeping. She is so peaceful and beautiful, it is truly magically. Secondly, not only do I get to watch her sleeping, I get to watch her nursing. The way she puts her little hand on my breast and snuggles up to me is just precious. I also relish this time as my wife often falls asleep next to us and so I get to look at both of my loves so sweet and peaceful. I am starting to look forward to these feedings, both for the extended sleep, and the ability to see and appreciate my bonding with the baby.

I nurse our daughter down to sleep. For naps, for bedtime, that is the way it is. I have stopped worrying about this and have accepted that it is what is normal for us and that is totally fine. It can be inconvenient if I need to be away, but babies are not meant to be convenient. I recently came across this quote in the Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.

“You may hear the advice that letting you baby fall asleep at the breast creates a ‘bad habit’ because it sets up ‘undesirable sleep associations’ that require you to be there for every nap and bedtime. That’s just not true. The natural design is that babies, nurse, and often they fall asleep at the breast. You don’t ‘teach’ them this, and it’s not a bad habit. It’s just normal” (page 231).

So, that being said, much of our nursing ends up being in the dark as I am trying to get her to go to sleep. Recently I have been offering the breast more during the day (with the fantasy that she will sleep more at night) and to sooth any fussing. This means we have also been doing more “conversational nursing.” This is my other favorite kind of feeding. This is when we talk and play and bond and nurse all at the same time. This can involve her playing with my necklace or my mouth. It often involves me smiling at her playfulness and her stopping nursing for a second to smile up at me. She will often make happy moaning eating noises. These are often short, but wonderful little moments of reconnecting throughout her very busy and social day.

I wanted to share these nursing experiences because I believe these are the kinds of behaviors that mothers often don’t discuss with each other, especially as our babies get older and society believes they should be sleeping through the night and eating mainly solid food. These two nursing experiences are good reminders of the way in which breastfeeding is more than nutrition, it is an important way of connecting.

Nudes and Breastfeeding

So naked women are exciting, yes?

Today we went to the Museum of Fine Arts. I was excited to see the exhibit “Degas and the Nude,” not because I particularly love Degas, but because I am always interested to see whats going on at the MFA and, as a Gender and Women’s studies minor (go Obbie GAWS!) am interested in exploring the idea of the naked female body as an object. I was curious to see if the exhibit would engage in the complexity (or straightforward misogyny) of men painting random female bodies for the viewer. There were some interesting pieces of women in brothels, but all the text predominately talked about the different techniques Degas used, not the subject matter. I left feeling a little blah, that I don’t like Degas very much, and that there wasn’t anything particularly evocative about the exhibit. To be fair, the babe cried a lot and so we were somewhat distracted. It was also pretty crowded, which always turns me off.

What I did become aware of was how many children were at the exhibit. Some 5-6 year old children, but also many children in their early teens, of all genders. Now, I look forward to when I can bring our baby to a museum and engage with her about all that she sees, whether it is complicated, oppressive, or otherwise. And I want to raise her in a household where being naked is normal and there is no shame around it. However, I realize this is not the world in which many children are raised and I’m guessing that many of these parents would not allow their children to see nudity in another context.

Which lead me to thinking about breastfeeding in public (to be fair, most things lead to that topic for me these days). The most awkwardness I have ever encountered around breastfeeding has been around families who have teen/preteen children, where the parents feel uncomfortable having their children see a woman breastfeeding. It’s interesting to think about how these paintings are actually quite erotic, but because they are “art” they are seen as acceptable. But when I breastfeed, a totally non-sexual act, it makes people uncomfortable because I am a real person in a public space (is that why they are uncomfortable?).

However, there is something intimate about feeding my child. And as I write this, I realize that I am perhaps supporting that idea that sexuality should remain hidden and that the only reason it is okay that I breastfeed in public is because it is non-sexual. Hmmm. I guess I just wish that women’s bodies and sexualities were allowed to be in the open in a way that isn’t objectifying. So while I shouldn’t have to hide when I need to feed my child, people shouldn’t have to hide and shame their sexuality either.

Check.

-Rachel

One of Degas’ more interesting nudes. I love the hair.

Surrounding her with queerness

So yesterday I spent the day with three wonderful moms and their adorable children, who are all close in age to my babe. They also all happen to have husbands. We talk about a range of things, mainly our babies, but also our partners and the larger world. We have shared values and they are fun. Also, their babies are super cute. So it left me wondering, given all that, why do I also need to find queer families and have my babe around queer people?

There is the obvious one, that I want her to see other families that look like hers, so that she isn’t surrounded by families that only have a mom and a dad. I want her to see families of all varieties (single parent families, multiple co-parent families), but it is also important for her to see herself reflected back and have friends who have two moms. But it is more than that. I’m not sure what it is, but it has to do with bringing my whole self into any given space. Yes, I talk about my wife in a similar way to how they talk about their partners, but being queer (for me) is about much more than the fact that my partner is a woman. It is about culture, politics, and, frankly, a certain degree of fabulousness. I think there is a way in which I share more of myself with people who have that commonality with me. There is an understood shared language and an understood world view. (Not with all gays everywhere, but with my chosen queer community here.)

We are still working to find other families that look like ours. What has been, honestly, surprising and so wonderful is the way in which our queer friends from before the baby are so excited about her and supportive of our new lives as parents. I was worried that part of why we were going to need to find other queer families is because no one would want to hang out with us old fuddy duddys anymore. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It is partially that our particular queer friends are particularly obsessed with babies (you know who are you are). But I also get a sense of shared ownership, collective responsibility, and hope. We are, as a community, constantly struggling and working towards making a better future. We are often overwhelmed and saddened by oppression and the power of a system that continues to perpetuate violence against us and other oppressed communities. I think my daughter reminds people why we are fighting and struggling. I think she offers some hope. I think my queer community feels invested in raising her in a way that is both free of as much oppression as possible as well as helping to provide her with the tools to be a bad ass fighter. I think she also offers the world’s best smile at the end of a long day.

-Rachel

Participating in Occupy Boston

So as I said I would do all week I went down to Occupy Boston today. My intent was to listen to a lecture, but that is not what happened. I met a friend down there and tried to listen, but since its been almost a month since I had been there I was so overwhelmed and interested in how much had changed that we decided to walk around instead. The baby was snug in her ergo and enjoying looking around, it was a beautiful sunny day, and while I still find the site inspiring, I was also a little unsettled. Not by anything I saw, I still find the occupation to be amazing, but by my role, or lack there of gave me pause. This was an issue the other two times I went. Both times I just walked around. The big question, the thing that I find upsetting is how do I participate? Is just going, adding my body to the camp for an hour in the middle of the day, is that enough? Because of the baby I can’t participate in the general assembly (7pm?!?! way to close to bedtime), I don’t feel safe bringing her to a large march where things could easily get out of hand. I am often left feeling like I’m missing out on the movement of my generation because of the baby. I find the space so inspiring, that folks who are living in the encampment as creating a version of what they want the world to look like, that decisions are made by consensus, that some conversations about privilege, power, and oppressions are happening, and happening with folks who perhaps have not yet considered them. I am also aware of all the challenges and problematic elements of the space, but none of them would cause me not to participate. I am struck by the irony of the fact that a movement like this, long term social change/social justice, is precisely for future generations, for my daughter, and yet, what role can I play with a 6 month old?

Then I remember that if the movement really is about long term social change, than being at the encampment, going to marches, while exciting, are not all that needs to occur. I remember that there are many ways I can make this change occur. One is how we decide to raise our daughter, not just making sure we are aware of not limiting her options, but also making sure that she truly understands the reality of the world around her, her role, and how to truly treat other human beings.

It means at Halloween, I don’t want her to walk around with a UNICEF collection box, thinking that is the way to solve problems. I want her to understand why there is poverty and how we benefit from the systems that create that poverty. I want us all, as a family, as a community, to think about change that doesn’t just involve feeding people, but involves changing the system so that people aren’t hungry in the first place. I know that all these lessons have to come at different times developmentally, but I think there is a way to have that broader understanding in mind, when doing the little things. I’m just not sure how to do that yet.

Thank god her biggest problem right now is getting everything in her mouth. We will deal with the bigger things when the time comes.

-Rachel

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