There’s a lot for new parents to get their heads around when having their first child, but for one same-sex couple, one question came up over and over again. Here, a slightly sleep-deprived new mum tells us how she handled intrusive questions when her wife was pregnant.
My wife and I have been together for eight years. We met through online dating and she was an hour and a half late to our first date. Now here we are eight years later with our two-week-old baby boy next to our bed.
I’m sure you have plenty of questions about our family, usually starting with the word ‘how?’ and that is completely normal. Both my wife and I are happy to talk about our story in case it helps other couples trying to conceive and to help make the topic less taboo. That said, we did find it strange that one question kept coming up time and time again: “How did you choose who would have the baby?”
Out of all the ‘how’ questions I honestly never expected this one to be the most popular. I guess I find it strange that anyone would assume that I want to be pregnant.
The most out-of-the-blue incident of this recurring question came when we least expected it.
It was a rainy and we were standing at a car dealership forecourt just outside of Wigan. About three questions into inquiring about what we were looking for in a Skoda, the salesman asked me, “How did you choose who would have the baby?”
I was bent over the steering wheel checking the mileage when he said it and when he did I sat up straight and blinked at him for a moment. He was looking straight at me. He wasn’t asking my wife why she had chosen to be pregnant, he was asking me why I had chosen not to be. I told Ben (I think his name was Ben) that “I just didn’t fancy it” to which he scoffed and replied “fair enough,” though still looking a little perplexed.
Some months before my wife was due, my brother in law asked me the question while cuddling his newborn son. I didn’t mind so much because he’s family (not a car salesman). I answered him with a question of my own: after watching what your wife had been through recently, would you have chosen to do it himself instead?
His reaction was to look at the floor. I think he had a flashback of the past few months, then he looked back at me, laughed and shook his head.
Most recently, an old colleague of mine asked me the question on a socially distanced walk, but in fairness he apologised first by saying “sorry if this is too personal.” It was a caveat I appreciated because of course it is personal. It doesn’t mean it isn’t up for discussion, it just means you judge the moment before asking – like not asking if anyone’s up for McDonalds during a funeral. Some questions just require good timing.
Here’s the truth of the matter – people assume it was a difficult decision but it simply wasn’t. The conversation was so insignificant that my memory of it is hazy. I think someone asked us at a house party about seven years ago and I said that I wanted kids but I didn’t want to be pregnant. My wife says this was the first time she’d heard me say it and wasn’t surprised or dismayed.
The next time we spoke about it was in bed one morning as we agreed on reasons why she was the better candidate for the job and from then on the decision was made. Having watched her go through it the past nine months, I know we made the right decision. Pregnant women glow and are an undeniable symbol of strength and power but also their feet swell and their backs ache. To me it’s like running 10 marathons: it’s a cool achievement but not a personal ambition of mine.
I don’t think people acknowledge how difficult the whole process of pregnancy is. My wife completed an Ironman three years ago, she was more than excited by the challenge of bearing a child whereas I simply wasn’t. I was lucky that I could choose not to put my body through it.
Being asked that question over and over really gave me a massive amount of empathy for the women who can’t answer it as nonchalantly as me. I kept thinking “What if I had a condition which meant I couldn’t carry a baby?” Or what if I’d been trying for years and was in turmoil? How would I feel about that being prodded about it by strangers then.
Now that my baby boy is here, I have also taken the time to process what it took to get him out. My wife was admitted to hospital suddenly at 38 weeks after a combination of conditions suddenly pushed her into a high risk birth. She was devastated to miss out on a natural birth and wrestled with the decisions of induction and C-section, neither of which she wanted. She was given several pages of statistics to digest about the risks to her and the baby and even had to sign a consent form to allow surgeons to do the necessary work in order to get him out.
Of course I was there to support her the whole way through but it wasn’t happening to my body. It was tough and at one point I thought something was going very seriously wrong. However, when we heard our baby boy scream his way into the world, tears rolled freely down our faces. All I remember saying over and over again to my wife was: ‘‘That’s our baby, you did that!” all the while gripping her clammy hand.
In the two days following the birth we received amazing care from the hardworking midwives. One in particular took a shining to us as she had been caring for my wife since her admission to hospital (a week before the baby came). One night she came in to take some observations and glancing over me cradling my boy she whispered “You’re next then.”
Main image: Getty. Family photo courtesy of Olivia Jones.