There’s also the controversial and ugly topic of abortion. If conception makes a mother, then women who have abortions are also mothers, even after the life is taken from their wombs. Some women have abortions because they have been given no medical alternative, such as with ectopic pregnancies. Some women have abortions because they’ve been convinced that raising the child could never be an option and that adoption poses worse risks than death to their children. Some women just really don’t care and use abortion as a method of birth control—I venture to assume that this last category are fewer than any other. Are all of these women mothers since they conceived, even if, as with my miscarriages, they never had the opportunity to raise those babies? I imagine that most women who’ve had abortions regret it on some level and think about the decision on a regular basis. I imagine that their heart aches just as much as the women who loses a child through miscarriage.
Is it the act of giving birth?
I’ve birthed two children. They’re both alive and healthy and residing in my home. I love them very much and take excellent care of them. I brag about them to any captive audience. The older one can talk and calls me mom, mommy, mama, and many other variants of the word. The younger one’s eyes light up brighter than usual—she’s pretty happy all the time regardless—when she sees me. In my case, giving birth did make me a mother.
But what about birthmothers?
There are two types of birthmothers:
- There are the women who conceived and birthed a child and then made the difficult decision to give that child up for adoption or were coerced into making that decision or had the child taken from them without their prior consent. In the adoption world, the woman who gave birth to the child is called the birthmother regardless of how the child came to be put up for adoption. I imagine whether a woman makes the decision or it is made for her, having a child that is no longer in her life must be very difficult. I imagine that she feels the same loss that mothers who’ve lost a child through other means must feel. She probably grieves regularly, and probably more so on day like today, when it becomes trendy to praise mothers.
- There are the women who chose to become surrogate mothers. The surrogacy process takes many forms, from the traditional where a woman conceives a child with the help of a sperm donor or the man who will be raising the child through to complicated procedures where conception takes place in a laboratory with the help of donated DNA and then the embryo is placed in the surrogate womb. In all cases, though—because science has yet to perfect the artificial womb for full-term human gestation to my knowledge—a woman will be giving birth to the child. She is a birthmother in the sense that the child is coming out of her body, and in the case of traditional surrogacy, the child is also genetically linked to her. Even if she never wanted any ties to the child, can she still put “mom” on her resume? Can she have a place of honor at the Mothers’ Day feasting table?
And what about stillbirths, early infant deaths, and other deceased children?
This has got to be hell-on-earth for any woman, to gestate a baby to term, only to find out that baby is dead. Or to take a living healthy baby home, only to find it dead one morning. Children do die sometimes. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s tear-jerking. It hurts. I’ve been fortunate at this juncture to never have had that experience, but I do know people who have suffered through it. Whether your child is still in the early stages of gestation or a fully grown adult, it is never easy to lose a child. It is never something you can “just get over.” These moms have every right to a place of Mothers’ Day honor, even if they lost their baby very early in its life.
I’m probably going to get lynched on the mommy message boards for this, but I will go out on a limb here and even consider including women whose children died at their own hands as moms. They should never have done such a horrible deed. They do deserve whatever legal and social ramifications go with infanticide and filicide. However, on some level, some of these women felt they were doing the only thing they could.
I read a book in high school entitled Tselane. An African woman—whose husband was in a distant city working—ran from her village to escape a witch doctor. She ended up birthing her son on a train. Having never experienced a train, and having been told by missionaries that it was actually illegal for her to travel that far into a pregnancy, she tossed the boy out the train window when she thought authorities where outside the door of the bathroom. She had no idea that the baby wouldn’t be okay. She was put on trial, but did not get sentenced because the trauma of losing her child and the traumatic circumstances that lead her to the train in the first place were deemed enough punishment. We may never fully understand the state of mind that leads a woman to kill her child, but we can read a story like this and sympathize with the woman.
It was a work of fiction, but there are real women who kill their children because their level of sanity convinces them it is the only right thing to do. On some strange level, they were doing what mothers are supposed to do: doing what they feel is best for their child in any given situation. Just because I can sanctimoniously say I would never do it doesn’t mean those women can’t consider themselves mothers. It doesn’t mean they can’t grieve the loss of their children. It doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a place of honor on this special day.
Is it the act of raising a child?
Here we run into several scenarios. Mothers like me, who are raising our biological children, are common in this category. So are women who married men who had children from a previous relationship and helped to raise those children. Adoptive moms also count.
But here’s where it gets tricky.
What if a child is kidnapped and the woman who raises them is in all other ways a mom to that child? What if children are switched at birth so there’s no genetic link between mother and child? What if a child is placed into prolonged foster care? What if a sister, aunt, or grandmother raises the child because the birthmother is around but indifferent to the child? What if a child spends their entire life at a boarding school and develops a special mother/child bond with one of the female faculty or staff members? What if a woman cohabitates with a man or another woman who has children and she helps with the raising of said children (regardless of the nature of the adults’ relationship)? All of the women in my hypothetical questions are raising children. All of them play the role of mom. So all of them get to be mom on Mothers’ Day.
Is it the act of loving a child?
This is, perhaps, the most complicated category of all. Yes, all of the women I’ve already called moms do/did love their children.
- But what about a woman whose significant other has children who are not around ever or often? If the woman still loves the children that their partner have, and helps care for the children remotely through child support payments or gifts whenever possible, it can be said that she is a mother on some level. My mother was such a mother to my stepfather’s daughter. For many years, it was my mother’s paychecks that helped cover his required child support payments for the daughter he was never allowed to see.
- What about a female relative that cares for a child in a motherly way, albeit from a distance? I have a friend whose niece is like a daughter to her. I don’t know if my friend has ever actually phrased it that way, but since she talks about her niece with the same fondness I do my daughters, I get that impression. Since the niece no longer has her own mother in her life, I think it is even more special that her niece has my friend in her life.
- What about all of those people who “sponsor” children in so-called third-world countries? Are you a mom to little Fumnanya because you send her cards and letters and help pay for her education, housing, and dietary needs and you brag about her to all of your friends and relatives, even if you’ve never met her in real life?
- What about women who love children in general and so desperately want them that they’ve gone through great lengths to achieve a viable conception, only to be devastated month after month by the arrival of that bitch Auntie Flo?
I do consider all of these women mothers. I think they do have a right to have some pride in their impact on the life of a child.
But what about the fathers?
Some of you may have been asking that question while reading this post. That’s easy. They have another day, Fathers’ Day. Perhaps I’ll write a similar post on that day.
Happy Mothers’ Day to all of those who are, wish to be, or ever were mothers. Give yourself a hug, pat yourself on the back, and let those tears flow if need be. Don’t let anyone tell you you have no right to celebrate this day. And don’t let the fathers hog the limelight; their day is coming soon. 🙂