Mothers. You can’t live with ’em. You can’t live without ’em. Literally.
My relationship with my mother is chronically dysfunctional. I could hop a flight to another continent, apply for and obtain residency, find a house there, find a job there, have three kids there, adopt a puppy there, and my mother would not notice. My mother pays little to no interest in the day-to-day comings and goings of her runaway daughter’s existence. Typically, we go three or four months at a time without communicating.
PartnerA’s relationship with her mother, too, is rather strange. PartnerA’s mother, in stark contrast to mine, fantasizes about living happily ever after with her darling-sweetie favorite-child — and in PartnerA’s mother’s dreamland, neither of their spouses are present to intrude upon their exclusive relationship. Years ago, PartnerA’s mother chose the fertility clinic that she and PartnerA would visit when she felt that the time was right for grandchildren. Ew. Also, hello? Hi, yeah, remember me? Your daughter’s partner of eleven years? I was thinking, if it isn’t too much of an imposition, that I would maybe possibly like to be present at the moment of conception too?
So here we are on week six, day six, the twenty-fourth of March. I’m not especially comfortable with the fact that as many as nine people in our ‘real life’ already know about the embryo (including six friends, PartnerA’s aunt, our GP, and my therapist), yet PartnerA yearns to call her parents right now and shriek repeatedly, “I’M PREGNANT!!!” PartnerA wants to tell everyone now; I want to wait until the requisite 12 weeks (or maybe even 16 weeks) to disclose. After all, I argue, miscarriage rates in the first trimester are astronomical. Miscarriages are statistically probable. Anything could happen at this point and imagine how awkward it will be to have to retract the announcement.That sound logical argument gets me nowhere. PartnerA doesn’t care about sound logical arguments. I’d be happy to withhold the news from my family until our kid hits the first grade. In opposition, PartnerA wants her parents present from seven-week-old embryo onward.
Where’s the middle ground here?
That was exactly the question that I posed to my therapist recently.
The trouble is, there aren’t actually real rules about pregnancy announcements. Typically one waits at least 12 weeks to tell the world, but some people wait five months or more while others share the news, particularly with family, particularly with mothers, pre-conception. There is no right and there is no wrong. There is only PartnerA and me and our polar opposite difference of opinion on the subject.
What will happen if PartnerA tells her parents now? What am I afraid of?
I am afraid that PartnerA’s mother will do what she has always done to PartnerA’s and my relationship and plant herself firmly between us. She will insist that PartnerA leave me (she has done this in past), declare that we were doomed anyway (she has done this too), and proceed in PartnerA’s presence to insinuate all of the things that PartnerA and I have done and will do wrong:
– when, where, and how we conceived
– who we used as a donor
– every moment of the pregnancy thusfar (what are you eating? how are you exercising? how much sleep are you getting? what chores are you doing? what multivitamins are you on? is Sea supporting you? I’ll bet that she’s not supporting you. I know that she’s not supporting you. Oh well, darling, marriages don’t last forever. That’s just the way it goes. Now come and live with Mother. Mother will always support you!)
– every moment of the pregnancy that is yet to be
– the birth plan and the birth
– the newborn days
– the eighteen plus years after
PartnerA and I are doing everything wrong because we are children (she calls us that) and we are too young, too naive, and too childlike to understand anything. PartnerA’s mother treats us like children. Never mind just calling us children, she does not respect our (effectively) marriage and has no qualms about declaring that. Over the last six months or so especially, she’s told PartnerA repeatedly in as many words that my genetic material is not good enough for her (grand)children and so, should PartnerA choose to have a family with me, PartnerA is not to consider for a moment that I be genetically related to her baby. Moreover, she says, PartnerA’s baby must not under any circumstances share my last name.
Do you know how that makes me feel? I’m sure you can appreciate that basically, it makes me feel like less than dirt. Like I might as well move into the basement and give PartnerA a rent check each month, because that’s how her mother sees me. I feel like PartnerA’s mother believes and has absolutely no hesitation about announcing that PartnerA’s baby is PartnerA’s baby first, and PartnerA’s baby is her grandchild second, and PartnerA’s baby is not my baby at all in any manner, shape, or form because ha, ha ha, ha ha ha, there is no genetic or surname relation. I am deeply frightened that she will one day tell our child this, too.
Although PartnerA and I are a united front with a carefully constructed evasion technique for this line of conversation with PartnerA’s mother, and I appreciate PartnerA’s support in this regard, what I find maddening is that an evasion technique is even required. What right does her mother have to order around my partner about how we are to begin and develop our family? On what planet is it appropriate to tell your adult child over and over and over again that you have long-since predetermined the logistics of your grandchildren and although PartnerA is obviously too young, naive, and childlike to understand anything at all, just do what Mother says because Mother Knows Best. Let’s be honest here — Is this baby PartnerA’s and mine, or is it PartnerA’s and Mother’s?
What am I afraid of?
The love that I feel for PartnerA right now, the adoration, the trust, the awe at her courage, the respect for her maturity, the appreciation for her unwavering inclusion (to the extent that a non-gestational parent can be included), and the simple giddiness that swells in my chest and bursts forth in quiet, goofy grinning when I am alone and imagining our future and our family — it’s ours. It’s ours because we planned this together, through all of the the trials and tribulations, through all of the excitement and disagreements, we took those steps — sometimes hesitant, sometimes striding — together. Right now, only we know that that embryo is seven weeks old, and we have chosen to share that news with our most treasured friends who love and support us for who we are together and who we will be together and what we hope to create and nurture together. The whole of it emanates joy. This is our joy. This is our moment.
This is probably crazy, I admitted to my therapist, but I feel something toward that embryo. Hope. Optimism. Connection. I feel connected to it. Is that crazy?
My therapist smiled and shook her head. It’s not crazy at all.
I am afraid that the instant PartnerA’s mother learns of the embryo, the joy will be overpowered by negativity, criticism, and disregard for the boundaries one typically respects to maintain at least an illusion of common human decency.
I want our joy, our moment, and our secret to be ours just a bit longer. I want this experience to be PartnerA’s and mine right now, before her mother becomes involved and makes it her mission to berate me and dismiss me and exclude me. Before her mother becomes involved and wages a full-out war against PartnerA’s and my relationship. Before I have to avert my focus from excitement toward battling back, toward saving my dwindling self-esteem, toward maintaining a base level of stability in my marriage. I want this private, powerful connection between us to last for just a little while more.
Does PartnerA know any of this? my therapist wondered.
Have you told her? My therapist questioned.
No. I suppose that I probably should.
Telling PartnerA’s parents or not telling PartnerA’s parents has nothing to do with first trimester statistical probability, I realized in that very instant sitting in my therapist’s office. My therapist had asked me what I was afraid of, and I had answered candidly, honestly, from my heart. I leaned back somewhat stunned. All of these weeks I had been arguing miscarriage rates when what I had really meant to say all along was “I love you”. That revelation was profound.
Lightbulb: If I told PartnerA how I felt in feelings rather than suppressing the confusion of emotions beneath a protective wall of logic, PartnerA would understand. We might still have different opinions about the timing of the announcement, but if I told PartnerA how I felt in feelings, she could better appreciate my perspective. I find understanding and especially expressing emotions extremely challenging, but I have to try. I have to try.
Compromise: When PartnerA and I have agreed to make the announcement, even if it is sooner than I would have preferred, we should make the announcement together. After all, this is not PartnerA’s announcement to her mother. This is our announcement to our family. Bask in the excitement together. (My therapist even suggested that I might actually be the one to say the words ‘We’re due in November’ or ‘We’re expecting a baby’) By sharing the news jointly, we are not only reaffirming our commitment to and respect for each other, but we are also effectively presenting a united front to PartnerA’s mother. This isn’t to say that PartnerA’s mother won’t test the strength of our relationship for minute fissures that she might determinedly crack wider — she is notorious for doing so — but it is to say that presenting a united front to PartnerA’s mother from the earliest moment possible sets a powerful precedent. PartnerA and I are in this together. This embryo is ours. And we are a family.
And I am not a bad person. And I will not be a bad mother. I am just as deserving as anyone else of love. Right? I am just as deserving as anyone else of a family. Right? I am just as deserving as anyone else of a future…
“Thank you,” I said to my therapist at the end of the hour, overwhelmed by gratitude. “Today felt really productive.” Indeed, I left my therapist’s office that evening feeling cautiously optimistic and uncharacteristically, but firmly, confident too.
(That night, what PartnerA and I agreed to — civilly, I might add — is that the excitement would continue to be just ours for a little while more. The Heartbeat Ultrasound Appointment was scheduled on March 22nd and PartnerA’s next conversation with her mother is scheduled on March 24th. We’ll share our news with her mother on March 24th. We agreed: We’ll share our news on March 24th.)