Since Mothers’ Day is this coming weekend, I naturally have to write about how much I dislike the holiday. I have a wonderful mother and mother-in-law, and many other family friends and aunties who have been kind to and interested in me. I have no qualms about celebrating these individuals. But the day itself is still a painful reminder that I have not (and not by choice!) conformed to the societal standard of women-as-mothers. My post last year dealt with some of that.
I have kind friends who remind me that they see me as mother to the child we miscarried. I appreciate this. I often don’t feel like a mother, because I do not parent. However, an article I read in the online child bereavement forum stillstandingmag.com suggested a difference between being a mother and being a parent, and I find that an interesting, and for me, helpful, distinction. I can more easily think of myself as a mother when I differentiate that from active parenting. It makes sense, too, because we might consider that a woman who gives a child up for adoption is still a mother, even though she does not parent. Who acknowledges her on this so-called “Mothers’ Day”? Does Hallmark make a card for that? So, a female who parents is a mother (whether the child is her biological offspring or not), but a mother does not necessarily parent, then.
Also, I think non-parental figures who choose to care for the children of their family and friends can be an important and positive (and under-Hallmark-appreciated) influence in the lives of those children. I am grateful for my niblings (nieces and nephews) both biological and not. They are a constant source of joy for me. And, I remember fondly and appreciate those people who were engaged in my life who were not, as I imagined, contractually obligated (like parents) to be so. (I’m not certain what I thought having children entailed, but apparently it included a contract, signed at the hospital probably, or a clause in adoption papers, to be interested in your child and also to think they are good-looking and talented regardless of the objective evidence to the contrary during their awkward teenage years – thanks Mom and Dad!). The love of parents should be stable and unconditional. The love of others is a choice (although it can be unconditional as well). Together, both reflect the freely chosen and yet constant, covenanted, love of God for his children.
There have been some painful experiences in the last week that have preliminarily punched me in the emotional gut, as it were, so I am approaching this Mothers’ Day weekend less resilient than I would like. Last week while I was in the waiting room for an appointment, someone assumed I was there for the prenatal care offered at the facility and asked me “how far along” I was. This was a bit of a surreal experience where I felt compelled to make her feel better and quell her embarrassment. Later, the incident played over and over in my mind, and the injustice of looking pregnant (PCOS is linked to stubborn weight gain in the stomach) while not being able to get pregnant added insult to the injury.
As a sidebar, it is never safe to ask a woman if she is pregnant, or assume that she is. If you haven’t received a direct announcement, play dumb. Please. It is easier for everyone.
And then yesterday, I was shopping in the dollar store while waiting for my husband to be done at his meeting in town. A song on the radio mentioned how “cool” it was to see his baby’s heartbeat at eight weeks during an ultrasound. I don’t disagree. I can’t wait to see something like that. But it was still a painful reminder that my own pregnancy never made it far enough for that. I lost it at about four weeks, and even the early ultrasound scheduled wasn’t early enough.
There is no safe place away from these kinds of experiences. They can’t be completely controlled. Even if I locked myself in my home and never turned on the television (or, let’s be honest, the Netflix) or radio, my own mind would follow me and dredge up these kinds of feelings. I do, as a rule, try to limit my exposure to things that make my emotions surrounding pregnancy and motherhood harder to handle. I don’t attend church on Mothers’ and Fathers’ Days. I try to stay aware of my comfort levels and try to use social media as sparingly as I can.
Recently I came upon an article about how politeness training can cause women to work to maintain relationships after sexual assault, and make them vulnerable to assault in the first place. The issue of politeness training leaving a person inept to defend themselves or act in their own best interest struck a chord with me even though I have never been a victim of assault.
I felt compelled to absorb the pain the question about “how far along” I was dredged up for me because my instincts have been trained to prioritize other people’s comfort above my own. I often battle resentment after-the-fact when people say or do insensitive things regarding our difficulty in having children because in the moment, mild shock sets me on autopilot and for me (and many women), that involves being polite and putting other people’s comfort first. We are essentially trained to cover for other’s bad behaviour.
In season five of Downton Abbey (on Netflix!), the character Mrs. Hughes states that she wishes men would worry about women’s feelings as much as women do for theirs. While men are also affected by this politeness training, I do think it is more thoroughly ingrained in women, in general. After all, from the time we are small, we are told, implicitly or explicitly, that we are the relational ones, the kin-keepers. That is our job as women, whether descriptively or prescriptively put to us. (I would like to note that I believe that this state of affairs is not an issue of men vs. women, but an issue of societal structures stunting the potential and truncating the humanity in both).
I am not advocating unkindness or harshness instead of politeness. I do believe, however, that the difference between goodness and niceness extends into this territory. Refusing to absorb other’s thoughtlessness might not be our idea of nice, but it is certainly not bad. It might not be comfortable for either party to call out inappropriate or insensitive behaviour, but it also might allow for more healthy relational interactions, and less unspoken resentment.
Happy Recognize-the-Important-Women-in-Your-Life-Entirely-Unrelated-to-Their-Reproductive-Status Day!