Part of the Bay Area News Group

THE Other Mother

By Jackie Burrell
Thursday, March 6th, 2008 at 7:59 am in Family Outings, Parenting Issues.

Laura Fitch and Jaime Jenett (Bay Area News Group) Pregnancy is a roller coaster, whether it’s you who’s expecting or your wife whose belly is blooming. But when you’re the “other mother,” the life partner of the pregnant woman, you’re in largely uncharted waters. In yesterday’s Times and Trib, we took a look at some of those women and the challenges they face. Many women are “concerned about feeling disconnected,” says Jaime Jenett, a health program coordinator for John Muir Women’s Health Center in Walnut Creek. The biggest fear? “That no one would recognize them,” says Jenett. “They’d be invisible. I had the same fears.”

So when Jenett’s partner Laura Fitch (pictured left and due in just a few weeks) got pregnant, Jenett began looking for a support group of other “Other Mothers.” And not finding one, Jenett did what comes naturally. She started one. Eighteen women showed up the first week at Berkeley’s Crepevine cafe.

Some had newborns, others were anticipating the birth of their first child. And at first, everyone had similar concerns.

Whether or not a soon-to-be expectant couple realizes it, says Kristin Kali, a midwife with Maia Midwifery, an Orinda preconception and birthing support organization with an international reputation (founder Stephanie Brill wrote the book on lesbian conception and birth), they’re about to wade into a sea of emotionally weighty issues surrounding conception, delivery and child-rearing. Whose sperm? Who gets pregnant first? And what about the biological bond, the legalities, logistics and roles?

Jenett found that some of the most supportive, helpful advice came from women who had been through the experience, women whose partners had recently given birth. Soon, they told her, you will be an integral part of that baby’s life, but at first, you have to “put your ego on hold. The first six weeks are about that really intense biological connection. That’s my biggest anxiety. Where do I fit?”

The biological anxiety is one shared by many heterosexual fathers whose wives have undergone artificial insemination. “When it’s a known donor, there are a lot of intricacies,” says Kali. “To the nonbiological parent, it can feel a little like competition. The birth mother’s excited. The nonbiological’s not so sure. There’s no place in our culture for affirming a parent who doesn’t have a biological connection.”

Among Kali’s tips:
Think through your level of “outness” well before a hospital delivery. Some women find themselves feeling very inhibited just at the moment they should be lavishing love and support on their laboring partner. It’s helpful to talk through the possibility with your doula, doctor or other support person ahead of time.
Build a supportive community among other moms, and other families in the gay and lesbian communities.
And if you are a friend of the new family, share some of your excitement with the “other mother” as well as the new mom. Dads expect the focus to be on their wives, says Kali, but for a woman already grappling with her role in this new family, it can be particularly difficult, so share the TLC.

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