Category Archives: Childfree

The Evolving Meaning of Mother’s Day

I spent my mid-30’s to age 40 wishing myself numb on Mother’s Day. All I saw was motherhood being equated to womanhood, and mothers being not merely honored, but elevated to superhuman goddess status, purportedly feeling love more deeply, and glorified as more generous, more selfless, more feminine, more nurturing, more complete. More, more, more. The implicit take-away for me was that women who aren’t moms, regardless of the circumstances, are less.

Yes, it’s true that not having children is a choice I made. Yes, it’s a choice I continue to make since technically, there are avenues for having children that remain open for me. Choosing one thing means not choosing another though. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if I had chosen differently – a different college, different career, different partner, different house, different city, or a child. There aren’t true do-overs, and life isn’t as tidy as the choose-your-own-adventure books that I enjoyed reading as a kid, which offered the option of starting over to see where the other choices took me, so I could decide which ending I liked best.

Every time I find myself wondering about the adventure I didn’t choose – the one that requires childproofing our home, a Diaper Genie, little league, Dora the Explorer birthday parties, and college saving accounts – I quickly remind myself of the many reasons I opted to not have children. Concerns about destabilizing my diabetes, possibly exacerbating health issues I’ve finally gotten managed, and putting my life and the life of a child at risk. Yes, I am well aware that women with type 1 have healthy pregnancies all the time, but I wasn’t comfortable with the risks, and that strongly factored into my decision. I also considered my reluctance to pass my disease-prone genetic material to another human. Having a child clearly contradicted my deep concerns about the effects of overpopulation on the environment and society. Even when considering adoption, I admit that my personality and priorities aren’t aligned with parenting. When I get the what-ifs, I review my reasons, and invariably end up at the same conclusion I made 11 years ago when I had my tubal.

Last year marked the first Mother’s Day when I felt at peace with my decision. As I described then, adopting a vegan lifestyle fulfills my longing to nurture, to feel connected to something beyond myself, and to leave a legacy. While I might not have children and grandchildren who will one day remember me fondly, I’m hopeful that humanity will evolve beyond its current consumerist ideology – consuming animals, consuming the Earth, consuming each other. I’m hopeful that Earth’s descendants will live harmoniously with each other and the environment, building on a foundation of conservation, justice, peace, and kindness towards all. I’m hopeful that by living these ideals and sharing these ideas, future generations will benefit. This is how I mother.

I would say that my feelings about Mother’s Day this year are essentially the same, but more integrated and familiar. I relish that I have found meaning in Mother’s Day that resonates in my heart. What I find most revelatory this year is the evolution of meaning, not just for me personally, but what I observe in others’ lives. I have friends who struggled with Mother’s Day in years past, but are currently expecting, or birthed, or adopted children in recent years, and now celebrate as moms or moms-to-be. I have friends who struggle because they’ve lost their mothers. Due to my own relationship with Mother’s Day though, I am especially linked to my female friends without children who are struggling today.

I didn’t really know where I was going with this when I started writing – I just knew I needed to record my thoughts – but I think I most want to make the observation that the meaning of Mother’s Day changes. That seems pretty obvious at first glance since Mother’s Day has a different meaning for people depending on age, gender identity, and life circumstances. However, during the years when Mother’s Day sent me into a tailspin of grief, I was convinced that’s all Mother’s Day would ever be for me. As our circumstances change – and circumstances always change – the meaning of Mother’s Day evolves though.

For anyone who is struggling today, I understand. Our circumstances differ, but I know what it’s like to hurt on Mother’s Day. I hope you get through this one with love, support and validation. I also want to suggest that the meaning of Mother’s Day will evolve for you. There might be years when it feels worse than it does today, although I hope not. There might be years when it feels better, perhaps tolerable. Depending on your circumstances and your journey, the day might come when you even feel good… and rightly so. Your love, nurturance, strength, and generosity towards the world are always valuable and desperately needed.

Grieve if you’re sad, but know that I am celebrating all that you do to mother this world because your nurturing spirit and loving actions deserve recognition. And if the day comes when Mother’s Day has a new meaning for you, meaning that brings peace to your heart, and a smile to your face, we can celebrate together. After all, if motherhood is the epitome of womanhood, let’s not just passively acknowledge the varied ways of being a mother in this world. Let’s explore those ways of mothering, and own them. Don’t let the Hallmark definition of Mother’s Day undermine or deter you. Let’s update its purpose, and give it new meaning, together. The world needs more women like us.

Kisses for Mom
Kisses for Mom

Mothering

As a childfree/childless-by-choice woman in my 40’s, emotions have run high and wild for me the last few years on Mother’s Day. I even feel conflicted about which term to use – childfree or childless – because one suggests freedom, and one suggests loss. My experience has proven to be something in-between.

I thought I wanted children when I was young because that’s what I was supposed to want. However, by the time I was about 20, I realized I could barely take care of myself, and had no business being a parent. As a sexually active young woman with type 1 diabetes, which I was more or less ignoring, I knew a baby would be bad news. I was committed to making sure a pregnancy would be carefully planned, inasmuch as such a thing can be planned of course. The flip side of that was that I was just as committed to making sure I didn’t become pregnant as long as I wasn’t ready. I used Norplant, an implantable dummy-proof and highly effective birth control device that lasted for five years, starting at age 20. When it expired, I happily got another Norplant. I figured I’d get a new Norplant every five years until I decided to have a baby, or my biological clock expired, whichever came first

Those plans didn’t last for long though. By the time I was 30, Norplant had been taken off the market because some women had issues with it, class action lawsuits were filed, blah, blah, blah. I was SOL without a comparable replacement form of birth control. I reluctantly switched to the Depo-Provera shot, but that was horrible. Whereas on the implant-it-and-forget-it Norplant, I would literally go years without getting a period (yay!), the shot caused me to get my period every 2-3 weeks (boo…), and required quarterly visits to the doctor to get re-injected.

After a year of that inconvenience, I decided I needed something different, but had few choices. I was married by then, and having had some oopsie-the-condom-broke scares in the past, I wasn’t going to rely on condoms. The pill was contraindicated because of my diabetes and associated heart risks. After ruling out a few other miscellaneous options, I decided to get my tubes tied. At 31, my ambivalence about having children was holding steady, and in the end, none of the birth control options met my personal needs. Thanks everyone who colluded to take Norplant off the market. Yes, I’m still mildly bitter about that.

Through my 30’s, I struggled with my decision, despite having plenty of sound reasons to not have children. My confidence in my capacity to parent was low for a myriad of reasons. I had career and education aspirations that were more important to me than changing diapers. After nearly two decades of mismanaging my diabetes, I’d already experienced complications, and while I’d finally made peace with my diabetes, becoming the proverbial model patient, I didn’t want to undermine my health any further than I already had. Long before veganism even occurred to me, I worried about overpopulation, the resources required to raise children, and the future of the planet – environmentally, politically, socially. The world seems unkind most days, and I wasn’t keen on purposefully bringing another being into humanity’s destructive shit storm.

But.

All around me, people were having babies throughout my 30’s. Not just any people either. My peers, friends, acquaintances, people my age. Constant reminders that this is what people my age do. Some days, my FB feed overwhelms me with photos of people’s children, birth announcements, ultrasound images, baby shower photos, and the phrase that makes my head spin with rage, “starting a family.” It’s been hard to feel completely secure with my choice when I naturally wonder what those experiences are like, when my story doesn’t align with the narrative, when I observe how women are enthusiastically welcomed into the inner sanctum of the mommy realm, and people implicitly suggest that Hubs and I aren’t a family. Anne Lamott beautifully articulates how women without children, for whatever reason, are devalued because “Mother’s Day celebrates a huge lie about the value of women: that mothers are superior beings, that they have done more with their lives and chosen a more difficult path.”

Changing my mind and having biological offspring was off the table, unless I went out of my way to undo a procedure performed by a surgeon I had specifically instructed to burn the hell out of my Fallopian tubes. In theory, adopting was an option, and I’ve thought about it, but Hubs isn’t interested, and inevitably, I come back to some of the reasons I decided to not have children; I don’t think parenting suits my personality, and I have other things I want to do in life.

That doesn’t mean I haven’t felt sad though. I wouldn’t say I regret my decision, but there have been tearful moments of wondering what it’s like. I get that motherhood, as an identity, responsibility, and gift, is canonized, but the implication is that the rest of us women are a bunch of second class nobodies. From this side of the OB/GYN waiting room, it invariably seems like womanhood is equated with motherhood, especially on Mother’s Day. As such, for the last several years, as I’ve reflected on the ramifications of my choice, I’ve loathed Mother’s Day. As a side note, if I actually got to see my mom or mother-in-law, the day would be more meaningful, but since they live elsewhere, we don’t do anything. The absence of celebration reinforces the message I get from the world around me, the message I’m trying my hardest not to internalize, the message that I’m not a real woman, that I don’t know true love, that I don’t know life’s purest joy.

Mother’s Day at ages 39 and 40 hit me hard. I was pretty fucking miserable. It was an understandable response to the natural tendency to reflect as I approached and then turned 40 years old. In light of how miserable I was, if you’d asked me how I would prefer to feel on Mother’s Day, I would have hoped to think of it as any other Sunday. I would have been content to not feel like an unused uterus, dry nipples, and a trainee vagina, with a forever unfulfilled potential to truly love. If you’d asked me a year ago what my lofty aspiration for Mother’s Day 2014 was, my response would have been to not give a fuck.

Now, the day is here. This year I’m 41. This time I’m vegan. I had hoped to feel indifferent, but I don’t. I do feel different though. Being vegan has allowed me to reframe what it means to be loving and compassionate. Being vegan has expanded my vision of how to be a mother in this world, to this world. Being vegan has shown me that blooms of injustice and brunches of suffering do a disservice to the notion of mothering. Being vegan has opened my eyes to abuses against our animal friend mothers, particularly those in the meat, dairy and egg industries. Being vegan has helped me become the person I’m supposed to be, loving, caring, protective mother to this precious Earth, her resources, and the non-human animals among us. This is my identity, my responsibility, the gift that has been given to me that has infused Mother’s Day with new meaning and purpose.

Happy Mother’s Day to all women who have opted not to parent a human child, but instead, have embraced their role as mother to animals and the Earth. You are not alone today, you are not forgotten. I am one of you. We are mothers.

Mother's Love
Mother’s Love