Saturday, December 12, 2015

The second time around (long)

Far and wide, our friends all across the globe know our family is expecting a new addition. We've never been shy about our intentions to both carry at least one pregnancy - if anything, we have shouted it from the rooftops and always been open to talking with people about our family's differences.

Now that I really am pregnant with Little Brother, it's been an eye-opening experience in a myriad of ways. It's been touching for so many of our loved ones to excitedly ask me/us about how it is this time around with our role-reversal. Truly, it means a lot to have people ask and check in and I'm sure that sometimes our ability to swap pregnancies is fascinating. I'm glad people want to know how it's been different and how it's been the same, and that they're comfortable enough with me and my family to know it's okay to ask.

Before this pregnancy, I spent some time considering what those similarities and differences might be. I even started framing responses in my mind, mostly about how all pregnancies are different, even for one woman experiencing several subsequent pregnancies. In thinking about my answers and framing them before I knew what they were, I found another deep pocket of my own arrogance. Don't worry, they're plentiful, so even if I deplete this one, there are undoubtedly always more.

I am 30 weeks pregnant. 75% done. A little over two months to go. In the last 26 weeks (you know, the ones where I have been actually aware that I'm pregnant), I have learned some things. And here is where I admit some painful truths to you all: This pregnancy has been both harder and easier at times than I anticipated. It's been more rewarding and less rewarding than I'd hoped for. It's strained some relationships I didn't think would even be affected. It has been a mental, emotional, and physical challenge. And last... being the currently-pregnant partner to a previously-pregnant partner isn't always what I dreamed it would be.

Some of the more negative aspects I mention are the difficult truths for me, because as some of you know, I've been the most excited person around to get to experience pregnancy for nearly as long as I've been an adult. I've waited and waited my turn, ever since T and I were married in 2008 and I was stoked about having kids since well before that. Obviously, the two things (pregnancy and having kids) are not mutually exclusive, but it was always our plan so in this circumstance, they're connected. I have felt humbled and honored and happy and heartbroken, sometimes all in the same day, during this pregnancy. When I contemplated this glorious pregnant time in my life (before I was actually doing any gestating), I thought I'd be that exhaustingly happy, glowing pregnant woman who loved every moment. Observing myself as I've progressed through each trimester has been a disappointment at times. I have been hard on myself to buck up, not complain, and be grateful, because I found that the difficult parts of pregnancy aren't always something I can power through with sheer will.

It sometimes meant days on end of vomiting and feeling generally shitty while my wonderfully creative 3 year old begged me to play with her and having to tell her no. For awhile, it meant that my wife carried a much heavier load and even while knowing she was at the end of her rope, still telling her that her thoughtful idea of home-fried chicken nuggets was making me feel incredibly sick and to please stop. It's been months of inactivity on the online certification program I'm working even harder now to complete. It's been letting go of any idyllic time or energy to direct towards art projects, holiday-themed crafting with my kid, decorating my house, or even keeping up with housework.

But it's also been unfathomably magical. There is a whole new human growing within me. His genetics are shaped by a combination of my own and the man who also shaped half of E's genetics. This new person will share features and traits with my biological family, specifically my mother, who knows so little and has so few people who share any biological ties to her. I've gotten to feel this person's very first movements, be the very first voice he ever heard, and give him the first taste of what love is. These things have no equal. There is no trade in the universe that would cause me to do things differently if I could.

Perhaps thinking that I'm also giving him a thorough insight into human nature will make me feel less guilty about the challenges. After all, I'm showing him that although my love for him is perfect, I am not and never will be.

Now, think about all the things I've just told you, and try to cram them within an "alternative" framework of a family where both parents can and have experienced a pregnancy. Often, I find the assumption (even within myself and T) is that my pregnancy can only be easier/better due to having a partner who knows what I'm going through. I understand that is only logical.

In truth, even partners with shared events still cannot know the exact minutiae of the other's experience. How silly and naive it feels in hindsight, to have anticipated that T would know exactly what I am going through. After all, shared experiences are not exact duplicates of one another, they merely have certain pieces or parts that overlap. Also, T and I have very different body chemistries, different hormone reactions, different thought processes, and very different emotional responses to stimuli.

Yet again, we have found another area where communication of expectations is key. Mostly we discovered it after weeks of little offenses, disappointments, and internalized resentment. Ahh, the triad of all good marriages, right?

When T was pregnant, I couldn't get enough of her belly. The rest of her was cute as always, but the belly was new and exciting. I studied it day after day. I likely annoyed the crap out of her by touching her all the time, asking what the Cupcake was doing, what she felt like, and touching her some more. I was fixated on the pregnancy; on our baby that I was at significant risk of feeling left out of helping grow. Of course I wanted T to feel supported, but I also selfishly needed to be intimately involved and "in the know". I see now that these are issues of my own insecurities. But when I became pregnant, I suddenly expected T to behave exactly as I had behaved during her pregnancy. When she didn't, I mistook it as lack of interest. I kept thinking, "I thought we both wanted another baby, I thought you would be into my pregnancy and being involved, but you're not. Maybe you're drawing away from us; do you not want this child? Do you care at all?" This was incredibly insensitive and self-centered of me to ever think of T. I just had no perspective, no ability to get away and see that she was behaving as she needed to behave for herself and doing the best she could to support not only me, but our daughter through a rough patch. T doesn't have the same insecurities I do. She was never the one attached to The Idea of pregnancy and birth like I was - she carried E and birthed her because that's how we decided to grow our family, and she did an amazing job. But I'd always loved and fantasized about The Idea of pregnancy and birth. It's important to me in a different way. She feels connected enough to this baby through me and through E; she isn't threatened by the fact that she isn't carrying this child within her. So although T does love on my belly and enjoys feeling our son swim around, she doesn't NEED those things deep in her soul to love Little Brother. And that's a different kind of magic.

I've yet again come to the conclusion that we're not so different from other couples, or other families. Just two different people coming together to provide complementary traits for one another. Two people combining their lives in love. Two people not above arguments and miscommunication. Two personalities, two sets of needs. Two people trying their best to support one another through this crazy, often unexpected thing we call Life.

"So A, is it easier/better going through a pregnancy with a wife who's been pregnant herself?"
I really don't know. I've never been through a pregnancy with a husband, and I've never been through a pregnancy with a wife who hasn't been through a pregnancy, so I honestly cannot say. I think the only safe thing to say is that everyone is different and there is no way for one person to experience both. And even if there was, the fact still remains that not all pregnancies are the same within the same woman.

I'm thankful for the knowledge of and experience with pregnancy that T brings to the table. Sometimes I wish she knew less or were slightly more sympathetic, but it's exactly because of those reasons paired with her innate knowledge of me that cause her to push me to be my best self. She knows when I could do better and she knows when I'm really at the end of my rope. This is her responsibility in our relationship - to know me, to love me, to ground me in truth and logic and real life. I need those things.

She still helps me daily to be my own best self, or at least the best version I can muster at that point in time. In knowing and accepting these truths, I know that this experience is meant for me. Just like she's meant for me.

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