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NATIONAL PARENTS' DAY FORUM: Pregnant in a recession

July 27, 2009 posted by Deborah Siegel*

Last weekend, my partner Marco and I took a childbirth class at the Manhattan hospital where I’ll be giving birth this fall.  I found it very moving that of this random gathering of six couples, two of them were gay.  Many of us were over 35 to boot, and we had all walked complex paths in order to be in that room.

As someone in the process of creating a new family, I think a lot about its definition these days.  To me, family is wherever there is love, and the desire to hold and nurture another soul.   To me, it’s as simple as that.

I became pregnant in the middle of the recession, just as my partner lost his job.  There is no “proper” time, or place, to start a family (in the “having children” sense of the term).  Family has a timeline all its own.  The recession simply makes it all the more imperative to expand our circles, and our definitions, of support.

I’ve been writing a bit about this at Recessionwire.com.  Here is a post from back in May , about the day Marco and I learned we had been blessed with twins.

“Snake eyes!” said the doctor, rubbing the ultrasound wand back and forth and rotating the monitor so that both my husband Marco and I could see. I had no idea what he meant, but apparently Marco got it right away.

“Holy shit!” said my mild-mannered husband, whose freedom to accompany me to all the appointments was the upside of his having been canned earlier this year.

“What!” I asked, feeling left out and propping my head up to get a better view.

“Twins,” the doctor translated. “There are two of them in there.”

If Marco’s response was the grounded one, mine was whimsical. I burst into peels of hysterical, uncontrollable, womb-rocking laughter.

Snake eyes, I learned later, is what you say when you’re playing craps and you roll two ones. The pair of pips resembles a pair of eyes, and snakes signal treachery and betrayal. When you roll snake eyes, the lowest possible roll, the implication is that you might lose. But in this case, we had won.

To us, “snake eyes” was the best possible outcome in a game of fertility roulette that had been going on now for over a year. I could hardly believe our bounty. Coming to parenthood later in life, it’s unlikely we’ll have the oomph to do this again. I’m the co-editor of a book called Only Child; I’d always fantasized about twins. They’ll never be lonely…! They’ll have each other…! But wait…where will they sleep?

After the initial chortles of glee, I sobered up. Marco is unemployed at 47. I’m 40 years old. We live in 650 square feet. And we are having twins. Soon. Time to lower the price on our apartment—which we had already put on the market in the hope that our family would one day expand. Time to start swimming to get in shape. Time to start worrying, for real now, about that practical of all practicalities: money, and particularly, money for childcare, because I’m intent on continuing my writing career. If ever there was a time for leaping and hoping the bridge will appear, I think you could say we’re there. Right up against the edge of the cliff. Or rather, more accurately, mid-air.

And yet. Beneath thick layers of anxiety, I find that I’m a very pregnant optimist. With my man unemployed and me acting as primary breadwinner for the moment, what an interesting experiment this could be for our gender relations, thought the feminist in me. The “logical” thing might be for Marco to join the newly expanding ranks of Stay-at-Home-Dads, and for me continue to work fulltime. I am, after all, beginning to write a book about a new generation of men, plus I’m equipped to bring in the dough.

But here’s the thing: feminist or not, I don’t want to miss out on the babies. Unexpectedly strong mommy impulse trumps Vulcan logic. And Marco’s not ready to miss out on his career. He wants to keep being a creative, whether outside or inside the home, something I entirely understand. After two or three decades of “becoming,” neither one of us wants to let our professional faculties go dormant. What a Solomon-like decision that would be.

I do still have optimism, however, about enacting gender revolution in our own backyard. Barring the SAHD/breadwinning wife equation, Marco’s unemployed status is prompting us to ponder with conscious intention a new configuration of work and parenting tailored to our modern lives. Like Marc and Amy Vachon, the bloggers behind Equally Shared Parenting, I aspire to join the legions of parents our age (and, ahem, far younger) who are ushering in “[t]he purposeful practice of two parents in an intact home sharing equally in the domains of childraising, housework, breadwinning, and recreation time.” That’s their official definition of “equally shared parenting” anyway. It’s “half the work, and all the fun” boast Marc and Amy. I mean, who wouldn’t want that, right?

I have no idea how we’ll achieve this worthy goal. I have no idea when our apartment will sell, or when Marco will find steady work, or how we’ll afford that night nurse that friends who have had twins tell me we just can’t live without. But I do know this:

When I think about the way dice have rolled, I feel nothing but lucky. We are not rich. Having two babies at once may be one of the least practical things one could do in the midst of a horrible recession. But we love each other. And we already love those space-alien-like beings swishing around on the screen, who still have more than five months to go. What in life isn’t a gamble these days. Let the chips fall where they may. We have a fortune inside.

We’re still trying to figure out how to make it all work, but like families across history, and across this country right now, I have faith that we will.  Here’s hoping President Obama’s healthcare package will allow all the nation’s uninsured families to make it, too.

*Deborah Siegel is the author of Sisterhood, Interrupted: From Radical Women to Grrls Gone Wild and creator of the group blog Girl w/Pen. The post featured in the forum is part of a regular column, Love in the Time of Layoff, over at Recession Wire.

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