How do I help others see my partner as an equitable and true parent?
January 22, 2013 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I am currently 21 weeks pregnant and my wife is not getting the attention, congratulations or support I get from others. How can I help others see her as a parent now and when the baby comes?

We've have been together for 10 years and have had a truly wonderful equitable relationship where we work hard to balance our home and personal obligations plus our professional careers, and since becoming pregnant that has not been different. We see this moment as me taking some physical/emotional responsibilities/unknowns and her taking on some other emotional/practical responsibilities/unknowns. This is a gross simplification of course - my point is, we consciously make an effort to be supportive of each other.

While each of us represents 50% of the parenting equation, this is not how the world sees HER. She’s a mom to be, and I expect people should act towards her no different from how they act towards me. I have asked friends who are fathers about how they were treated and perceived while their partners/wives were pregnant and many indicated a feeling of being “lesser than”. Some indicated that feeling/treatment carrying over beyond pregnancy and really framing what the fatherhood meant for them.

I try to do things to make this journey special for her — I leave her cards and notes asking how she’s doing/thanking her, talking about her/our child, when we are together in the doctor’s office I refer to her as mama (which is what she wants to be called) and talk about her/our baby in those terms. I ask her to sing and tell stories to the baby in the belly to have it get used to her voice as much as mine. Ultimately, I feel like that is not enough because it’s just me and nobody else, and her experience of this pregnancy (and upcoming motherhood) could be much better. I love my wife dearly and want her to be deliriously happy all the time; right now I’m just trying to make it suck less. I feel helpless.

Please note anything you might have done as a mother/father to include your partner/spouse, and what your impression was about how they were treated during pregnancy and childhood. Thanks in advance!
posted by livlab to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You can't change other people's perceptions of your wife, or anybody else for that matter. Right now, you're the one who's going through the physical transformations of pregnancy, so it's going to be more obvious for you.

I think things will seem more equitable when the baby is here.
posted by xingcat at 7:10 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, honestly, you're very sweet to think of her but you're carrying the physical burden so people will be more solicitous and concerned at you. I'm not discounting bigotry, but know that a lot of the focus is on you because during pregnancy it's not 50/50.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:11 PM on January 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

Presumably you will have a baby shower. Let your wife be the primary present opener.
posted by phunniemee at 7:12 PM on January 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

The baby will grow up strong and happy in a loving home, you can have a parallel baby shower theme on this aspect of why you are seeking to find a way to publically honor her as well.
posted by infini at 7:15 PM on January 22, 2013

My impression was that yes, as the gestator in the relationship I got the lion's share of attention but since my husband is loud and out there in every area to include his incipient parenthood, people got swept into his enthusiasm. So, there's that. It was over two decades ago so specifics are a bit murky.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:22 PM on January 22, 2013

Hi, so my partner and I have children and she is the one who was pregnant. Everything you are describing fits exactly how I felt about how the world viewed my role. Hell, even my own mother had trouble seeing these future kids as "mine" or me as their mamma. The thing that meant the most to me though, was what my partner thought and how she treated me. The bad news is, it was actually worse right after the kids were born. She was breastfeeding and the babies just naturally bonded with her first. We were both sleep deprived and she was recovering from c-section, as well as some minor complications. So there was a couple weeks/months where it was pretty bad and I basically felt like hired help. But, here is the good news: all of that passed and my partner and I have never had any difficulty between us about who is the mom. We know we both are. And before too long, the babies bonded very strongly with me...and as life has gone on, I am treated as just as much of a mom as she is. And look, we live in a very conservative place. All my co-workers, all our neighbors, all our friends view us as equal parents. At least, if they dont, they have the good manners not to act like it. And my mom, she loves these grandbabies and treats them just the same as my brothers kids. If your wife or you ever want to chat, feel free to send me an email.
posted by orangemacky at 7:32 PM on January 22, 2013 [18 favorites]

I think specialization could help. My husband did all of the research/registering for baby stuff. If people asked me my opinion on X gadget or Y color or organic Z, I passed them off to him. Specialization is individual, so maybe look for your wife's natural gifts. My husband's expertise was in shopping, music mixes, schedule stuff (like doctor's appointments) and research. If we had done a nursery, he would have designed and decorated it. Having specialties means that she gets to have her own conversation topics with people that relate to the baby, rather than sort of getting looped in to what people are already talking to you about.
posted by xo at 7:33 PM on January 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that parenthood is equitable, however pregnancy isn't really. Growing a baby is really hard work and it's something that people see and recognise (ie a baby bump) so I think it's normal that society mainly focusses on the pregnant person during this stage.

I think what you are doing is wonderful though and I'm sure she appreciates it.

When I got engaged to my late husband my work mates were so supportive and showered me with attention. I knew that he wouldn't say anything to his own workplace so I emailed them with the good news and they made a fuss over him. I don't know if you could do that, but a morning tea or lunch to celebrate with just her could really make her feel special.
posted by Youremyworld at 7:35 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

The person with a constantly growing organism depleting her body of resources is the one who gets the extra attention, care and snacks. Once the baby is born it will be more even, but right now the fair/obvious thing is for you to get the spotlight,, since you're the one going through all of the (visible, physical) changes- you're a lot more involved in the process right now.
posted by windykites at 8:04 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

My workplace always throws baby showers for all parents-to-be. The partner is invited but doesn't always attend. It's during work hours, usually lunch. If your wife's workplace does things like this, maybe ask a coworker she's particularly close to organize one for her.

I think, though, that while her experience of your pregnancy is going to obviously and fundamentally be different than your experience, she may not actually be feeling as left out as you fear. Or she might be, but feels more OK about it than you do. It sounds like you are involving her as much as you physically can, and I'm sure she appreciates it intensely.

The divergence of experience can be a scary thing for couples to navigate--as it is with illness, or war, or fame. I wonder if that's what you're really worried about, that the world's insufficient recognition of your wife as a mom-to-be confirms the scary fact that you two are going through very different things right now. Just remember that pregnancy is a long game and you each have your positions. In the end, there will be a little human you both love more than anything in the world, and it'll be worth it.

Have you talked to her about it? I would start there. It might allay a lot of fears, or at least help identify what the issues actually are.

Good luck. I bet you guys will be fine. You've got a big heart. Lucky wife, lucky baby.
posted by elizeh at 8:17 PM on January 22, 2013

I don't know that there is much you can do during the pregnancy. She is in the supporting role at this point.

But, once the child is born there are certainly things you can do, and one thing in particular. If at all possible, your wife should take some time off from work when you go back to work so she can have a solid eight to twelve weeks as the primary caregiver of the child.

I did this with our first child, and it permanently changed my relationship to him and my relationship to parenting. Instead of being someone who could help out the primary parent, I was the primary parent. I knew (and know) when diapers needed to be changed, how to get a kid through several hours of eating, napping, pooping, inside, outside, and all the rest.

I don't know if your life arrangement or finances will allow it, but if it's possible you should do this. I recommend it to all the new dads I run into, and giving what you're describing with your wife I think it would be at least as valuable, if not more so.

Good luck and congratulations to both of you!
posted by alms at 8:22 PM on January 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is probably the most common question in two-mom pregnancies. Can you reach out and find some support and role models in your local queer parents group and/or online? For example, living in MD, you're close to some of the events of the excellent Philly Family Pride (such as their Camping With Pride events, which are often in DE or otherwise south of Philly), and I'm sure they could help point you to more resources more local to you.

The other posters are right: it is simply a different and more visible experience to be a birth mom. But I think everything you're doing right now sounds excellent.

After the baby comes: if you each look like you could be the genetic mom, you will constantly be asked "Who's mommy?" and have the chance to reply "We both are" (only the isolated jerk here and there will keep pushing with "No, who's the actual mother?" to which, of course, "We both are" is still the answer, repeated as many times as is necessary :)).
posted by kalapierson at 9:06 PM on January 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

I empathize. I also want to second orangemacky that if you are planning to breastfeed, this situation can get more complex because of the way that babies tend to prefer their dairy parent. One thing I can suggest to help pre-empt that is for your partner to breastfeed as well with a supplementer. Hearing that your wife is planning to co-nurse your baby, or seeing her do so after the kid arrives, can help others to see her as a physical co-mom. Just an idea.
posted by DrMew at 10:37 PM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think just making it suck less is an excellent goal. Don't be discouraged if she's not perfectly happy.

How do you feel about the pregnancy? You might have your own feelings of being challenged to deal with.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:21 PM on January 22, 2013

Your question is unclear.

How has your wife been left out, specifically?
posted by jbenben at 11:22 PM on January 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is what happens in ANY pregnancy, in both same-sex AND opposite-sex partnerships. While both partners are equally parents-to-be, only one of those partners is risking their physical well-being, and therefore that is the partner who, reasonably enough, gets more attention. You can't force people to change their views, especially in a case like this, where one partner clearly has more at risk than the other. It's not that anyone considers the other partner some sort of 'lesser' or 'second-class' parent, it's purely a case of a pregnant person getting more consideration due to that pregnancy and the physical toll it can take on her body.
posted by easily confused at 2:46 AM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would go one step further and suggest that you need and deserve the consideration that you are receiving. when I was pregnant, I thought it was no big deal. It was and I was needlessly hard on myself. Furthermore, it took me a long time to realize the toll that it took on me. In fact, your wife DOES have an easier deal, and you deserve the consideration and kindnesses you are receiving.
posted by zia at 7:08 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I read a good memoir by a writer who was in your wife's situation---She Looks Just Like You by Amie Klempnauer Miller. It might be a useful read, just to know how another couple managed.

As others have already testified, this is an issue many two-mum couples identify. Society's vision of "mum" is "gives birth" and society's vision of "partner who isn't giving birth" is "dad" not "mum". Klempnauer Miller's book does a pretty good job of unpacking this, as I recall.

I think the idea of your wife taking parental leave and being primary caregiver at some point in your baby's early life is an awesome one, if it's feasible. That alone might help people grasp her identity as a mother, not just as a mother's wife.

Best of luck with your new baby! Thanks for making new people!
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:41 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can only make suggestions from my personal experience, but I do have a suggestion for after the baby is born (which you can prepare for now). I have 2 babies and my oldest son did not nurse well until he was four or five months old. Instead of giving up on nursing I pumped exclusively for several months until we got the hang of things. This meant I bought an expensive electric breast pump and woke up twice during the night to pump milk in order to keep my supply up, even if the baby was sleeping, as well as pumping multiple times during the day. This is a LOT of work because keeping an infant fed is constant work even without the extra labor of pumping to supply milk instead of formula, or instead of just nursing the baby. BUT - it definitely made a difference in the baby's relationship with Dad. Dad was much more confident taking care of baby #1 because he could feed him. Baby #2 was much better at nursing so we didn't bottle feed him until. Went back to work. He still doesn't like bottles at 7 months.

This was a long digression but the moral of the story is, having a way to feed the baby will make it much easier for your wife to bond with and take care of him, and there are various ways to make that happen, but if giving the baby exclusively breastmilk is important to you, you really do want to plan around tis ahead of time - get the pump, get some hands free pumping bras, and read on how to do it successfully.
posted by bq at 8:04 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on your growing family!!!

I have been thinking about your question all day. There are a lot of great responses above.

You haven't written too much about how your partner is feeling except for the sentence:

I love my wife dearly and want her to be deliriously happy all the time; right now I’m just trying to make it suck less. I feel helpless.

So I guess she is going through a tough time and I wonder though if you can not fix this for her? I think it may be more helpful if you focus on acknowledging what she is feeling (perhaps you are already doing this - if so, I am sorry) and less time trying to make her feel differently. There is a danger that she may then not only feel badly as described in your question, but also feel pressure from you to feel differently and then also feel badly that she is disappointing you.

Additionally, I think that the long wait until your first baby is born is a time when many parents want to do the very very best that they can for the new baby. Still, there isn't all that much to do aside from waiting. You two will have to find the best way to fill that time.

Last, I think that, especially if you are nursing, you may learn better and more quickly to read your new baby's signs and you may need to be very close for the next nursing. Even if that is the case, please leave your wife alone with your baby between nursing now and then as early as possible.
posted by jazh at 11:56 AM on January 23, 2013

« Older Online degree for Child Development / Education?   |   Do people actually live in basements? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.