Friday, August 11, 2006

First Born, Third Child

The difference between being a new parent and a, well, for the lack of a better word, used parent, can be determined by this quick little quiz: you’re unpacking the car and the baby seat is between you and a bag of groceries. Do you, A, go all the way around to the other side of the car to get the bag of groceries, or do you B, take the bag out over the baby and think to yourself, this isn’t such a great idea. Everyone who answered B is, without a doubt, a used parent. The first one wears you down, the second smoothes off any remaining edges, and by the time number three enters the family, forget about it. You’re definitely used.

We had our third child this past spring. People ask me how it is to be up all night again. I smile graciously, but the truth is, I’m not. Not because the baby isn’t crying, but while the baby is crying, I’m sleeping. Young newborn has to work on getting up to a certain volume before this mother hears. I remember when our first child came home. Every peep, sigh, and rustle had me wide awake, checking on him. I was a wreck. By the time the second one came home, I remember thinking what a good sleeper he was. The truth was, I was a good sleeper. When he was hungry, really hungry, he would cry and one of us would eventually hear him. The latest addition started sleeping through the night faster than all the rest. Third baby syndrome. It’s lucky we hear him in the middle of the day, let alone at night. Poor baby. Doesn’t seem fair in some ways, especially since he is technically a first born, a position deserving far more immediate attention. While I gave birth to the first two babies, he came out of my partner’s body, giving him the unlikely distinction of being the first born, third child.

It is curious to think about, this last little baby (regardless of my partner’s insistence that one more would be hardly noticeable, and what the hell, why not) suffering from first time pregnancy jitters inutero, and yet having used parents upon entering the world. My partner knew how to be a mother, but found herself full of all the first time fears of being pregnant, regardless of my attempts to describe and explain every twitch and change. I believe some of my own pregnancy anxieties can be seen in our oldest's need for order, and hysteria over changed routines. Studies have been done to determine birth orders effect on personality traits, the first born often being the most successful, head strong and confident, the youngest being the most flexible and the middle one- squeezed from both sides- lucky if they grow up to know how to tie their shoes. But what about my youngest son, for whom there are no studies, no vast amounts of literature, to describe his world. He is the third son of two moms. Will he have the seriousness of a first born or the freedom of the third? A mixture of both?

I suppose it doesn’t matter- he will be what he will be regardless of my worrying. But he will be unusual not only in his community, having two moms for parents, but in his own family, having a different biological mother than his brothers. I’d like to think it won’t matter, but as a child I can remember being teased by my brother and sister that I was ‘natural born,’ when in fact, we were all three adopted. I would cry, insisting I was exactly like them, brought home at three weeks old, with no biological ties to our parents. I know we wouldn’t allow that kind of teasing in our family, but it wasn’t as if my mother did. Part of being a used parent is accepting what I can and can’t do for my children. Sibling torture is one thing I know I have only a small amount of control over.

First born, third child. For all of my concern, he may have the best of all worlds- confident, creative, flexible and successful. His brothers may envy the long, dark eyelashes he inherited from his mother (or at least the attention they bring), or perhaps the focus will be on their shared biological father. They may all be so overwhelmed by the difference in their family from the outside world, biology will be an ignored nuance. I wish there were more children like him, grown up and able to reflect on their experience to support his reality. We know no one else with the same family configuration. At least as an adoptee, I had a whole world of people who struggled and celebrated lives like my own. My youngest is a pioneer in terms of a two birth mother family, with several siblings. I can almost be convinced to have one more child, to give him more familiarity in his life, end his uniqueness.

Almost, but let’s face it, adding one more child isn’t something to be taken lightly. Just like there will be times when one kid gets more ice cream in his bowl, or a better present from Grandma, things will never be even for the three of them. Try as I may to be fair, I’m not. Isolation and identity questions may always plague my kids. They are growing up in the mainstream culture with a decidedly non-mainstream family portrait. For me, being adopted has been both wonderful and difficult. I can only hope his experience is lined with as many supportive people as mine was.

All I really can know, despite the grocery bags carefully lifted over him, is how loved and cherished he is.


Post a Comment

<< Home