Most of you know, either from reading previous posts or because you actually know me, that days before I found myself pregnant I also found myself single. Then not single. Then single again. The last eight months have put my baby’s father and I through our paces and then some. (And then some more.) We’ve done everything from fight to kiss and make up, to ignore each other, to show each other tremendous compassion and support. Through all the muck and mire we’ve managed to find some sort of stride that works for us and now that our son is here we’re walking straighter and taller together than we ever thought we would. The boundaries are tricky and the emotions… well… tricky doesn’t begin to explain it. I’ve dug deeper and listened more than ever trying to navigate this situation. I often forget how much ground we’ve covered, but crossing paths with a couple of mamas in similar situations has helped remind me just how far we’ve come since I first wrote about our situation.
2. In this kind of a situation there is ample opportunity for fighting, crying, shaking your fists at the universe and thinking you’d rather be doing it alone so you didn’t have to deal with the other person. Before the frustration escalates to that point, somebody call a time out. You can’t clear a path for it to be all about your baby if you don’t take care of your own emotional needs first. Take some space to process your emotions separate from the other party. I needed time to grieve the loss of our relationship and grieve the loss of the possibility of a “traditional family.” (For the record, my family is as nontraditional as they come, so that need caught me way off guard.) I needed to digest my anger toward him and his new girlfriend, and hopefully reach a point where I’d be able to let it go. (I have, for the most part, though it took the entire nine months to get here.) Remember, anger and sadness are vital transitional emotions, but allowing them to wash over you and do their work is a little like relaxing during a contraction. It’s hard and it goes against most everything your brain tells you to do in that moment, but the more you relax the more effective the process and the sooner you’ll arrive at the rewarding end.
3. Before you get into the first of the many nitty-gritty conversations you’ll have with one another, brush up on your communication skills. Even if the other person tries to steer the discussion in a negative direction you have the power to stay calm and redirect it back to neutral ground. Set guidelines for yourself and implement them in both your internal monologue/dialogue and, eventually, in conversations with the other parent. Don’t yell, don’t throw ultimatums at each other, don’t make threats, don’t use your baby as leverage against one another. Don’t use language that victimizes you or places blame. Read Nonviolent Communication or Deepak Chopra’s Magical Beginnings, Enchanted Lives, which has a great chapter on communication that follows Nonviolent’s rules but is specific to pregnancy and childbirth. The kind of communication you need to have with one another needs to be humble, honest, and clear.
4. Decide what your basic needs from one another as co-parents (not significant others) are & live up to your end of the bargain. We discovered that becoming parents meant totally different things for us as individuals. My road to parenthood started oh, say, about nine months before his did, and his now included a new girlfriend who had no idea what she was in for. However, being parents meant very similar things to us. Eventually I accepted that we were going to take very different roads but trusted that we would still arrive in the same place in the end. That being said, one of my immediate needs was to feel that I (& the baby-to-be) were important to him, like he was genuinely invested in being a supportive co-parent now, not just when the baby was here. He wanted that too, but our versions of expressing that sentiment were pretty disparate at times. We figured out a few small ways he could show me those things without me forcing the issue. We decided on our own terms of financial support and living arrangements for the first year, agreed that he’d come to every doctor’s appointment, and – in the interest of bonding – that he and I would meet at the lake every Monday for a walk. As far as interaction, it was less than I wanted at first but after a month or so I began to adjust. I found myself handling emotional quandaries on my own that I would have “soggied” his shoulder with (and stressed our relationship with) otherwise. Limiting our access to one another gave us more independence, helped simplify the boundaries of our new relationship, and made it more meaningful when we opted to spend time together outside of our scheduled times.
Holding my son, loving him the way I do, and seeing that his dad loves him the way he does… it changed everything. It raised the bar in a way that I couldn’t over these last nine months. Feelings of selfishness have dissolved away and now, because we cleared a path, life is all about our baby. I know, we’re only two weeks in. A lot could change over the course of this little guy’s life and we will surely struggle from time to time. I can’t help but feel calm and optimistic, though, because my family is starting off on the right foot. We love each other for the roles we play in one another’s lives and in our son’s life, and we don’t take the reverence and respect that deserves lightly. We’ve come a long way in nine short months, but believe me, I know… we’re barely getting started.