I didn't always think I wanted children. I remember being in my 20s, having never held an infant, knowing - knowing - parenthood wasn't for me. And then I met my soon-to-be wife. Sandra had two sisters, both with the coolest kids ever. I loved seeing them grow, turning into these cool and unique people. And suddenly, I couldn't imagine life as just the two of us.
We started trying for a family in 2007, when I had turned 30. We quickly decided that I would carry the baby. Sandra wasn't interested at all. And I was adopted at birth, and wanted to see what it felt like to know someone who looked liked me. Aside from the challenge of being a same-sex couple, I also had PCOS and highly irregular cycles. We started at a fertility clinic in Calgary where we lived at the time. I wish it had been a better experience. On top of spending about a year trying to ovulate, and 2 failed IUI cycles, we also dealt with a lot of ignorance and prejudice. The nurses and doctors couldn't seem to remember the two of us were together, and that there was no 'husband' involved. And our neighbours regularly hurled homophobic slurs at us, and beer bottles into our back yard. We weren't comfortable bringing a child into that kind of life.
When we decided to relocate to Toronto, we put our family plans on hold to allow us to settle in to our new jobs and life. We found that Toronto was a lot more welcoming on every level. In 2013, we started fertility treatments again, this time at a great clinic who could remember we were gay, and who treated us like real people. We had the option to try IUI again, but it had been so hard to go through all that daily monitoring just to find out I wasn't ready to ovulate. We opted to go straight to IVF and started an egg retrieval cycle in the summer of 2013. We transferred one embryo the day of the MLB All Star Game that July, and it worked! 10 months later, we welcomed Carly Catherine into the world.
In the winter of 2018, just before my 41st birthday, we decided to do an embryo transfer, feeling like we'd either try to expand our family now, or close that door. Again, it worked! Pregnancy this time was intensely complicated, however. I started having seizures at 22 weeks and had to be followed by a high-risk OB, a neurologist, and several other specialists. Despite those challenges, we met a healthy and content Connor James on July 21.
WPC: What have been your biggest challenges since becoming a parent?
Amy: The single largest challenge I've faced so far was the transition from one child to two. I've always been very close with Carly, and suddenly needing to cut down the time with her to take care of Connor kicked off a grief and guilt cycle for me a few days after his birth. I missed her so intensely it hurt, and on top of that, I felt like a terrible parent for both children. When Carly was born, I could devote every moment to her, and I loved that. I could hold her for every nap, and snuggle her at night. She filled my soul in ways I would have never predicted. Also, since I'd been off of work for several months, I'd been picking her up after school and kept her home over the summer. We'd spent so much time together and had so much fun!
But when Connor came, I had to put him down in the middle of a feed. I had to set him in the crib or the bouncer while I made a snack for Carly. It felt terrible, and it made it harder for me to really bond in the early days. And on top of that, Carly was so sad at her tired moments, and would complain that I never got to play with her any more, or that I got to spend more time with Connor than her. There were days when both of us just cried.
WPC: What have you found helpful to address these challenges?
Amy: Thankfully, after a month or so, I felt more in balance, and that things would be ok. Aside from time to get used to our new family, a few things also helped me with that transition. Because of my complex pregnancy, I had been referred into a mood clinic at Sunnybrook. My doctor and I had worked on some coping strategies for assessing my thoughts. When I started thinking I was an awful parent, I looked for evidence against that thought. For example, I felt bad at leaving Connor in his crib, but reminded myself how much he loved looking at his mobile, and that it was only a few minutes and he hadn't even cried. And I'd feel proud that I was able to get Carly a healthy and varied snack in those few minutes.
The second thing came at exactly the right time, when Connor was about a month old. The last week before school started, I spent a week with both kids - and both of our dogs - at our cottage. I don't know what I was thinking. Being the only parent with a newborn and a kindergartner was intense. But - I proved I could do it, and have fun just the same. I had one big goal, and that was to show Carly and I that our relationship wasn't that different now. Every day, I came up with one or two things we could do together, usually while Connor was wrapped on me so it didn't rely on staying close for naps. One day, we dug for worms and went fishing off the dock. Another, we chopped fresh tomatoes and made chili from scratch. And on the last night before my wife came back up, Carly threw the two of us a surprise dance party.
Looking back, that week was the game changer. I stopped crying all the time. And I realized that I was a super parent, and I could handle any challenge that came our way in the future.
WPC: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pregnant self?
Amy: I do wish I could rewind to halfway through Connor's pregnancy, and start preparing myself for that transition from one to two. I've heard since then that other parents struggled mightily with it. I'm always busy this time - never napping when the baby naps. There are more dishes, more laundry, more tidying. And both my wife and I spend a lot of time playing with Carly, so there's a lot less time for housework. On top of that, though, I wish I had known how heartbreaking it would feel to not be able to still respond to Carly's needs as quickly as I used to. Some times, she needs to wait for me to finish that diaper change or whatever, and I was totally unprepared for how awful that would feel to me.
WPC: If you could, what is one thing you’d change about parenthood in our culture?
Amy: I'm excited that we seem to be sharing more honestly about the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood, but we could be even more transparent or create an environment where it's ok to struggle without fear of judgement. I love being a mom, and I'm aware it's felt easier for me than so many of my friends. But it's still hard, and I have days when it's brought me to tears, or I've lost my temper over something minor just because I'm feeling burnt out. Knowing that my friends go through the exact feelings helps.
Carly went through her first truly difficult phase when she started in JK, and for the longest time, we thought she was especially struggling compared to her peers. We endured "tsk tsks" in stores, and unhelpful parenting criticism, usually from older women who had parented in a different time. But over time, more parents shared that their kids had the 30 minute sidewalk meltdowns too. Or had to be carried out of the house to get anywhere. And as more parents shared that those phases passed over time, with growth and kindness, I didn't feel like we were anything out of the norm, and I had hope and patience that things would get easier. And within a few months and a few small shifts in how we communicate, she was back to the joyful, positive kid we'd always known.