Yesterday's post led to an interesting discussion which has three parts: (1) there is a human tendency to try to play down the emotional pain of another person (you can tell the person you're trying to get them to put it into perspective, but why--why does that person need perspective? Because you don't agree that they should be feeling emotional pain?), (2) the difference between maternal and mother, and (3) when does motherhood begin?
(1) We are all entitled to our own personal "big deals." Are there times when someone is telling me about something and I wonder about their perspective? Of course. But there is no point in telling them how I see it or how I feel about it because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how I process it. If it's a big deal to you, then it's a big deal. And just because I could cope with your problem doesn't mean that it isn't a problem for you.
My biggest frustration was when people tried to downplay the hugeness of infertility or premature birth or lack of ability to breastfeed to me. I think they thought they were doing me a favour. I think they thought they were removing some of my emotional pain by telling me that it "wasn't that bad." That it could be worse. And while the rational me knew that things could be worse, all these words did was now make me feel guilt over my emotions. It didn't remove the pain and anxiety and sadness. It just added guilt into the mix.
I've struggled a lot with getting those feeling under control because I do feel a huge weight of anger at myself. Nothing goes according to nature when it comes to my body and fertility. I can't conceive on my own, I didn't carry to term, I couldn't feed my children properly inutero and I couldn't feed them with breastmilk outside the womb. I didn't get to "room in" with my children at the hospital or even hold them until hours after their birth. I missed out on a lot during that first year due to their prematurity. And could it have been worse? Yes, we were in the NICU, I could see quite clearly how it could be worse. But just because it could have been worse doesn't erase the fear I felt those first weeks (and I say the first weeks because you can get used to anything. The first night with the heart monitors, I was out of bed in a second. By the second month of heart monitors, I would be poking Josh in the shoulder for ten minutes--"no, you go this time. You go this time." Okay, so we didn't wait ten minutes, but you get my point). Just because we were successful with ART and did conceive doesn't mean that I don't have sadness over the fact that conception was created in a clinic instead of my bedroom. Even when you make it to the other side, you still feel a strange twinge of sadness about the journey. Even if it had a happy ending.
The cousin of this thought is that I should just be happy with what I have and not focus on what I missed out on. Which is also a nice idea in theory. And I am happy. I love my children and I'm grateful every day for them. But wanting another or wanting an average conception and delivery does not mean that I'm not grateful for what I have. It is possible to split your focus and have an equal balance of healthy appreciation for your accomplishments while also mourning your losses. Listen, I feel sad about what I missed out on. I'm a pretty envious person. It's still hard for me to listen to other people talk about their pregnancies. And insinuating that I don't appreciate what I have just because I'm also in mourning (and perhaps will be until the day I die--maybe not active mourning, but at least a twinge of mourning in the back of my heart) is offensive, not helpful.
Whenever there are strong emotions involved, you're going to focus on what you lose. And if you aren't focusing on that loss, then you probably didn't have strong emotions over it. How can you not miss the children who didn't live? Or not miss carrying a pregnancy if you used another path to parenthood such as surrogacy or adoption? And you're entitled to miss your children and miss that sensation of pregnancy. For as long as you need. And it doesn't mean that you don't appreciate what you have--other children, your partner, your home, your career. But it is possible to appreciate one thing while mourning another. At the same time.
(2) There is (in my mind) a difference between maternal and mother. And these labels somewhat blur in certain situations. But I was maternal long before I was a mother. I felt maternally toward my students. I worried if they were learning and I worried about them outside the classroom. And I showed up at their soccer games and school plays because I was proud of them. But there was a line. And I wasn't their mother. And I don't know if I would have protected them like a mother. I was fairly fierce in my protection of them. But it's hard for me to imagine if I would do anything to protect them. Perhaps in the moment, I would. But sitting comfortably in my living room, it's hard to imagine myself doing injections for them. Perhaps I would--but I don't know if it would be because of the impulse to protect them or the embarrassment I would feel at knowing there was something I could be doing to help them and yet I was withholding it. If that makes sense?
(3) Which brings us to motherhood. I'm not very concerned when a child's life begins--conception, viability, or birth. They can do their own navel-gazing later. I'm focused on the mother. When we switch from wanting children to being a mother. And perhaps it happens at a different time for each person so it isn't as simple as saying, "it happens at this point."
I keep tracing it backwards and forwards. You're a mother when you deliver the child. But if that child only lives an hour, are you a mother? What if they child lives a week? What if that child lives a year? What if that child lives for thirty years? At what point does the label stick? And so much of this is societal. Some people expressed that while they felt like a mother, they were also embarrassed somewhat because other people didn't view them as a mother and they felt like they were crashing a party. And my point is that why should you feel embarrassment? And why have we set up our society to generate this embarrassment? Mandolyn said: "I have really begun to think of the label of "parent" as more of a mentality. And I don't think that takes away from those who currently parent actual (tangible) children."
I was thinking about this last night. Motherhood is infinite, therefore, how is it possible to detract from another person's motherhood? Why can't there be varying possibilities of motherhood? Childless mothers or not-yet mothers or mothers with children? And yet, all mothers. I don't know, I have such a love-hate relationship with labels. Are they helpful for passing along information, of course. But what about the people who fall between labels?
I have been spending a lot of time thinking about when a mother is born because I am in the middle of writing the chapter on pregnancy loss. And there is a huge range of emotions people feel about loss. There are some who lose a child late in the pregnancy and don't mourn (and I think Murray's comment: "People don't understand what they can't see" is so true in how we mourn and how other's mourn or support our losses). And there are those who lose a baby at six weeks and feel a huge amount of grief. How we mourn is so personal.
My musings on October 15th was that this day of remembrance (which is an important day of remembrance) is about the children. Subsequently the mother and father, but mostly about the children. At the same time, I don't think mothers who have lost children need another day created for them beyond October 15th. I think they should be honoured on that May Mother's Day because they are mothers. That day in May is there to show mothers how much we appreciate their hard work and sacrifices. And you can still honour a person on Mother's Day even if their children are not alive. And again, this is very personal and some people would feel awkward being honoured. But I am throwing it out there in this VERY RAMBLING discussion on the birth of a mother.
Which brings us into an entirely different category of women. Those who have never been pregnant. Those who have been trucking along for years and years and years, and have tried IUIs and IVF and had a BFN every. single. time. And are they mothers? Isn't their effort just as valid and noteworthy as one who has experienced pregnancy yet lost the child? I was just reading a post on the pain olympics and I was struck by this thought--that the pain of losing a child is somehow greater than never being pregnant. And it's an interesting idea and one that we could argue to death based on our own personal experience. But one that I think is not very helpful (see point #1 above) because we all experience our infertility very differently. My point is that one does not top the other in my definition of motherhood.
As Kathryn pointed out, in the strict definition of motherhood, "it takes a child to make a person a parent." American Heritage Dictionary defines a mother as "a female parent." But why do we need a strict definition? Or this definition? Definitions change all the time, and this one is not sacred. It can be expanded or twisted or changed.
You're a mother when you have a child.
You're a mother when you're pregnant or waiting to adopt (or have a child via surrogacy).
You're a mother when you start treatments or start filling out paperwork.
You're a mother when you go to the RE for the first time or meet with an adoption agency.
You're a mother when you start actively trying to conceive.
You're a mother when you stop birth control intentionally.
You're a mother when you start longing for a baby.
Throw out that old definition for a second. Take a moment to consider this. When did you start putting that not-yet child before yourself? When did you become a mother?