My wife, Sam, outshines me in the gift-giving department, so since we found out I was pregnant last March, I've been thinking about what to get her for our first Mother's Day. IVF was expensive, so jewelry is out, and our son is too young to con into some easy finger-painting or macaroni art. There's one gift I have in mind, though, and I'm not quite sure how to give it to her: I want Sam to know that although I gave birth to our son and he shares my biology, we are both his mums.
Of course, she already knows this. But since we announced the pregnancy, I've been treated as the mother, while in Sam's own words, she's been treated "like the sidekick."
Last May, we surprised my own mum with a Mother's Day visit. Sam had crawled back into bed with me that morning and gifted me some first-trimester essentials: special teas and candy, belly butter, and an aromatherapy mask. I didn't get her anything. My sister was 23 weeks pregnant; I was ten. At dinner, we raised our glasses for a toast, and my parents looked at me, my sister, and our sister-in-law—a mother of two—and wished us a very special Mother's Day.
"And Sam," I added, glancing at my wife with an awkward smile. "Of course," they said, realizing their slip-up. "Wishing a happy Mother's Day to all our mums and mums-to-be."
This wasn't a deliberate omission, and no one intended for the mounting excitement around my pregnancy to exclude her, but as the one with the growing belly, it was I who looked the part and therefore I who garnered all the attention.
"We will have to make Mother's Day twice as special in our house," I told Sam as she laid her hand on my still-flat stomach later that night. In years past, Sam tried to make it down to Florida every May to visit her mum; when she couldn't, she'd send elaborate floral bouquets. After her mum died six years ago, Sam wearily came along on whatever my family had planned, or we'd visit her mum in the mausoleum. I hoped that once our own baby was born, Mother's Day would regain its luster for her and become a joyful holiday that we could share together.
We were the only same-sex couple in our birthing class a few months before our baby arrived, and the instructor called us over at the end. "You know," she told Sam, "it's possible for you to take hormones and lactate if you want to breastfeed." I tried not to laugh. I'd been telling Sam that for months, but as a joke. Two hormonal women plus a newborn baby? No thanks.
Our instructor, however, was genuinely excited at the possibility. "Just because you're not carrying doesn't mean you can't breastfeed your baby," she said.
It's easy to resort to parental stereotypes when expecting a baby as a same-sex couple—to picture a dad coaching tee-ball while dispensing life advice through baseball metaphors, to imagine mum bathing and diapering, breastfeeding and singing lullabies. But our roles were already going to be muddled; I'm the only baseball fan in our house, and Sam says I have no arm. Both of us are tone deaf, but I alone would breastfeed.
Sam had all the right maternal instincts. She'd nested, organizing the nursery and researching everything from car seats to swaddles to baby shampoo, while I baked banana bread and requested trips to the diner for chocolate-chip pancakes. She had made a birthing playlist and washed and folded baby clothes for weeks leading up to my due date, occasionally holding up something particularly adorable: baby jeans with suspenders, a teeny-tiny pair of Converse sneakers. She may not have been waddling around with swelling breasts, but she was preparing us both for motherhood, reading books about what to expect and shouting out the highlights. She was also taking care of me, and like any good mum, she didn't mind that it was sometimes a thankless job.
Friends and family all asked the same question as my midsection grew bigger: "What do you think you're having?" I always shrugged. "It's a boy," Sam said from the beginning, "I know it." We planned it out so that when the baby was born, Sam would be the one to tell me the gender. "I will," she said. "But it's a boy."
Sam assisted the nurses holding up my legs during delivery, guiding my hand to the tiny swath of hair on the baby's head as I pushed. She locked eyes with him as his head emerged, and soon told me she'd been right all along. His name is Quinn. "He looked right at me," Sam later told me. "I didn't realize his eyes would be open, but he looked right at me."
On our first day as a family, I watched Quinn sleep on Sam's chest. We stared at our baby boy. We kissed his eyelids. We slept and welcomed visitors, who asked Sam how she knew he was a boy. She shrugged, like I had when I was pregnant. "I just knew."
After living inside of me, Quinn already knew me in a sense, but he knew her too, I believed, by her voice. "You've probably talked to him more than I have these past 40 weeks," I told Sam as she whispered "I love you" in his ear nonstop. As the breastfeeding mum, I quickly became Quinn's source of comfort, but now 5-months-old, he has a new habit too. If I'm nursing him and Sam speaks, he pauses and turns his face to find her, sometimes covering both of us in breast milk.
Strangers occasionally ask which of us is the mum. "We both are," we say, to smiles and polite surprise. As Quinn grows up, he'll learn how best to answer this question, and understand that Mother's Day means double duty, gender roles can be abstract, and that "mum" has many definitions.
We have no real plans for Mother's Day this year, so we'll have to be spontaneous. Sam admits to feeling conflicted about it. Now that she's a mum, she misses her own more than ever. "I know I should be excited," she says, "but I also feel sad." I tell her it's OK, that we can do anything she wants. Quinn and I will take care of her, just like she take cares of us. Her gift, meanwhile, is still in the works. Nothing fancy, just a few of her favorite things from a grateful wife and a baby who turns at the sound of her voice, and whose face lights up when she enters the room: our son, who saw her first.