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The Other Mother Syndrome

I’m sitting here alone, watching South-East Queensland scramble to prepare for the flooding that’s coming as ex-tropical cyclone Debbie works her way down the coast. The state government has taken the unprecedented step of closing ALL schools across the SE today, so my seventeen-year-old and eleven-year-old daughters aren’t at school, but I’m still home alone. They got a call from my ex-husband and have gone to see him for the day—so my plan of bunkering down at home with the girls and a pile of DVDs and some home-made buttered popcorn got nixed before I’d even had a chance to voice it.

It’s hard being the parent who has to tell them to clean their room, or do the dishes, or do their homework, when their other bio-parent chooses to only have one weekend a fortnight with them, when he always has something fun planned, and with him there are never any responsibilities or boundaries. It’s hard not to point that out when he rings them and offers to come get them and do something fun with them on an unexpected day off school, without running it past me first. It’s hard not to tell them that it hurts me that they come to me all excited and ask can they go with him. It hurts me to say, “Of course, if you want to.” But I do anyway, because I don’t want them to resent me anymore than they already do. Mother guilt is a bitch.

So, I’m home alone—my partner, B, is a State Emergency Service volunteer, and she’s gone out to be an orange superhero, and help deal with the many emergencies already happening as the deluge continues. Feeling like I do about the kids being out with their father, it’s hard to not feel abandoned by B too. My insecurities are racing madly around my head, screaming that no-one ever chooses ME. I know it’s selfish, I know it’s irrational—the jealousy on both fronts is completely unwarranted, but I still feel this way. I wonder if it’s worse because, as I’ve recently discovered, I’m suffering from a disorder I’ve nicknamed “The Other Mother” Syndrome (TOMS), and these new feelings are just piling on top of the ones already there.

TOMS is a disorder characterised by feelings of jealousy, inadequacy and loss, suffered by a partner who is not a bio-parent to a child (or a potential child who is still to be conceived and/or born). In my case, it’s been exacerbated by the fact that I have experience as the bio-parent—I consider that my role, and without that role, I don’t know where I fit. B will start an IVF cycle in the next few days, and I feel like I have no place in her journey. She doesn’t really understand—she sees my support and participation as essential to the journey. But I see mothering as my role. Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to be pregnant again. I didn’t love being pregnant any of the three times I did it previously. But I know how to do that. I don’t know how to assume any other parenting role. And I’m desperately worried that any mothering role I assume has to take something away from B, and I absolutely don’t want to do that.

I’ve looked around for information on parents in my situation, and it’s sparse. I’ve read a couple of books that address the issue, but offer no real solutions. The general consensus seems to be that it will be okay once the baby arrives and is past that initial “only wants mum” stage. But holy shit, that could be a really long way away. I’m not sure I can deal with feeling like this for that long. So I need strategies—I need to define my role during the trying to conceive and pregnancy journey. Help me, please.