Mum’s (Not) the Word

mother and child

I love my mother. I love her sometimes so painfully it brings tears to my eyes. I want to honour my mom the way I believe she ought to be honoured; I want to rise up and call her blessed; and I want her to know I thank God for her each and every day.

But this post isn’t for my mother.

My mom has kids — 3 grown kids, a daughter-in-law, and 3 grandbabies.

I know there are women in the world who are childless by choice. Be they single, dating, engaged, married, divorced, widowed or all of the above, they have chosen not to bear children. This, too, is a choice to be honoured.

But this post isn’t for women childless by choice.

There are mothers everywhere, with biological, foster and adopted children. There are moms who thrive in motherhood; there are moms who struggle with special needs children day in and day out, but secretly wish someone would help shoulder the extra load; there are moms who never planned to be moms, but became moms through marriage or extenuating circumstances; there are moms who struggle with mental illness or addiction, and are terrified that if they reach out for help they will lose their children.

But this post isn’t for these women, either.

This post is a tricky one to talk about. I need to be honest without demeaning the powerful and incredible role of “mother”. If you’re a parent and you believe that childless people have no idea what it means to be a parent, you’re correct — in part. There are many childless women who don’t have the first clue about what it takes to be a mom. But trust me… there are some who do. And to be fair, there are some parents who don’t have the first clue about being parents (most of them actually, especially the first go-around I’m told); I’m getting at those parents who really don’t seem to catch on along the way.

This post is for all of us who have longed to be moms, but have not had the choice or the opportunity to become them. This post is for us celibate singles, taught to “wait for the right one to come along” (and we’re still waiting); for those who felt called to celibacy long ago, but still feel the natural tugs towards creating family; for those moms who have miscarried once… twice… time and again, and either have chosen to stop in order to cease the heartbreak, or to stop because your bodies simply can’t handle the stress; for those moms who lost your children — from infants to adults — in accidents, wars, violence, or suicide; for those of us who have been told by doctors that “children aren’t possible” and have waited years to adopt, are still waiting… waiting… waiting.

This post is for us.

I celebrate you all today, knowing the burning value you offer our world. And I don’t speak those words lightly because I am one of you. It is hard to celebrate myself when motherhood is offered up above so much else in a woman’s life, and when choice is out of my hands, I see myself as a failure. I feel the pull of my body and spirit towards child-bearing, child-rearing, and yet… nothing. For younger women in similar situations, the clock still has some grace. For others of us, we feel time stealing away our chances, and it brings an immense amount of grief.

It was the most natural thing in the world to imagine myself as a mother while I was growing up. The oldest of 3 kids, I was the nagging mama hen; I didn’t work at the local supermarket or fast food joint, but I was everyone’s babysitter on the block; I was the camp counsellor every year during the summer; I loved kids, I loved youth, I loved babies. Look at my resume and that heartbeat is reflected there.

Why?

Why don’t I get to be “mom”? Why don’t so many of us?

Why do others have “mom” taken away from us?

I can’t answer that.

I won’t answer it with: “there’s a reason for everything” or “God’s got great plans for you”… God might have plans, but when our biological clocks and our abundant spirits ache with the emptiness, those answers are ashes.

What I will affirm is: I know the envy and jealousy I feel when Mothers’ Day comes around. I’m left wondering: “when is it MY turn?” I know I would be a great mom; I have the desire, the willingness and now a few extra years of wisdom. But I know what it is to feel “less than” because I haven’t become a mother.

Whether these messages come through sermons or ladies’ groups, or from evolutionary scientists claiming I can’t know the bond of mother and child because I haven’t experienced the “biological imperative” of protecting my own flesh and blood, it rarely matters. They are real.

I affirm your grief you feel, knowing people mean well when they say “You’re still a mother, even if you lost your child”; yet those words ring hollow, even painfully in your souls. Whether the words are true or not, the loss of a child is a grief impossible to describe. You might think: “who cares if I’m still a mother, whether he’s gone or not? I just want him back!”

I affirm your loss and the disappointment you endure, once the spasms have stopped and you realize that a miscarriage has happened. Whether you already knew of your pregnancy and had begun the journey of anticipation, or whether the miscarriage was the message, the shock is horrible and yet so un-embraced as “real loss”. I feel for you; I hold you.

I affirm your strength of character, my LGBTQ+ friends, denied adoption because of your gender role or sexual orientation. Competent, loving, holy, embraced by God, but not by church leaders, social workers, counsellors, or governments — doors are slammed again and again… and again.

I affirm your need to hide from the world when science repeatedly tells you: “You can’t have kids”. We take the long way home so we don’t have to walk past the playground; we skirt grocery aisles strewn with kids, not because they annoy us, but because it’s too painful to watch; we go to restaurants later in the evening, or ones that don’t cater to families so we can take our minds and hearts off of one of the relationships we desire the most; we avoid women’s groups at church, or volunteering in the nursery, or teaching Sunday School. It’s just too painful.

In my experience, one the most painful reminders of being childless-not-by-choice is: “You can’t love my kid like I love my kid”. The honesty in the statement is less harmful than the… oh what’s the word… possessiveness of it. It hisses: “Back off! You’re too close!”

I can’t say I’d be different if I was a mother.

But as one who cares for children, youth (and parents), and knows the powerful bond between caregivers and children, and is reminded to “back off”, I know the sting; I know the exclusion; I know the misunderstanding; I know the need to sputter: “B-but, please… hear me out!”

I affirm you all. I affirm myself, and I affirm all those who are “mothers” in this world, but are perhaps forgotten, beaten up, cast aside, or not given any second (or third, or twentieth) chances. We care for our neighbours; our aging landladies up the stairs; our nieces and nephews; our siblings with disabilities; our parents; our partners and spouses; our church families; and each other. It’s not easy being childless in this world.

Some of us will have to grapple with crippling emotions that come with the realization that “kids aren’t coming, are they?”; some of us will need time to re-imagine our lives when we planned them so differently; some of us will need to be re-membered: that is, we have been mothers but our children are gone and we need community; and all of us will need support from parents and non-parents alike to deal with a very godly, very present desire that isn’t coming to fruition.

To parents: please be patient with us. We invite you to see our love for your children and perhaps consider how fierce it is, how pure, how imaginative, how crazy, how tired, how strong, how weak, how imperfect and how God-given it is. Come and see how in love we are with your children, and how delighted we would be to have endless nighttime feedings, trips to the doctor, snotty noses, dirty diapers, braces, glasses, homework help times, time-outs, mood swings at puberty, discussions about who’s a good friend and who’s not, the sex talk, the god talk, prayers at bedtime, and all.that.laundry.

Maybe God does have something different in store for me. But different doesn’t always mean “better”; and “different” doesn’t even come close to taking away the desires of our hearts… my heart. Be patient with us. Be gentle.

Above all, be gentle.

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