When I was pregnant with my first biological child, I was already a mother to a beloved stepson.

As so many of us know, a pregnant woman faces a daily onslaught of comments and questions, ranging anywhere from sweet and congratulatory, to strange, dumb-founding, and at times, even rude. It is bewildering how many comments about weight, appearance, clothing, and projections about life-after-baby are lobbed at the soon-to-be-momma, without solicitation or even reason. Often, total strangers offer advice or anecdotes, clichés, and collective truisms, (or request to touch the belly–aack!) all in some (hopefully) well-meaning attempt to connect with the expecting mother. And I think we all understand and allow it to some extent… It is a magical, exciting time, and everyone reacts and wants to participate in his or her own way.

When I was pregnant with my first biological child, I was already a mother to a beloved stepson. He happily came into my life as a 3-year-old, and I have cherished every single moment with him. I did not give birth to his younger brother until he had already completed kindergarten. My husband and I both viewed the birth as the welcoming of our second child. Our first son was very much a part of the preparation, excitement, and celebration!

Throughout my pregnancy, of course, I received the usual bits of advice and stories from friends and strangers alike, but I was struck by how many people felt the need to comment on the “difference” they perceived between my first son and his brother-to-be. At first, I could not even fathom what they were talking about… The conversation usually went something like this:

“So this is your first?”

ME:  “No, my husband and I have a son in kindergarten.”

“Oh, well the second pregnancy is always easier.”

ME:  “Actually, this is my first birth… my first child is my stepson.”

“Ooooh, well this will be MUCH different… You won’t believe how much closer you will feel to THIS child. It’s so much (insert breathtakingly presumptuous descriptor here—“better, different, sweeter, deeper, more meaningful, etc.”) when the baby is ACTUALLY YOURS.”

ME:  (Stunned silence.)

The first time someone said this to me, I considered slapping her. Of course, that was just a gut reaction because I felt like she had slapped me by saying it. Instead, I quickly crafted a response about how love knows no such boundaries or definitions, and that my second child would be loved no more or less than his older brother.  

This was obviously a condescending and unkind comment directed at me, but what bothered me more was how it completely dismissed, undermined, and negated any experience of motherhood or parenthood that does not fit into a very limited and “traditional” definition. My heart ached and was righteously indignant for the countless numbers of men and women lovingly, selflessly raising children that they did not physically birth or sire.

I could not believe how many people not only so profoundly misunderstood the nature of love, but also felt that they had the right to say something so presumptuous and hurtful to me about my family and my experience.   

I wish I could say I only heard this one time, but it was expressed to me again and again, from women and men of all ages and walks of life. I could not believe how many people not only so profoundly misunderstood the nature of love but also felt they had the right to say something so presumptuous and hurtful to me about my family and my experience. Needless to say, I became quite skilled at how to respond… and I always talked about the boundless, eternal and transformative nature of love. I ultimately learned to feel sorry for these individuals, who had clearly not yet experienced love like that.

Just for the record, I would like to report to anyone still wondering (the “haters,” if you will), that while physically giving birth was indeed an amazing experience, it in no way diminished my love for my stepson. Nor did it propel my second son to some elevated seat of preference or privilege in my heart or home. Love doesn’t work that way. In fact, giving birth only deepened my love for my stepson. The profound experience made me cherish him and our family all the more.

Truly opening your heart and home to a child, regardless of their birth story, expands you and your capacity for love in such a way that discussions of a “love hierarchy” are rendered foolish and sad. Love never limits or attempts to define.  

So I am pleased to report… the “haters” were wrong… LOVE is indeed LOVE… and your child is “actually yours,” through LOVE.

 

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