To Mother

I’ve posted several times about motherhood and what it is like when you don’t have the typical physical experiences of becoming a mother. I read an article recently on trans parents and their experience of motherhood. Titled rather provocatively “Is Motherhood Gendered?”, it brings a new dimension to the ongoing question of what and who is a mother:

is motherhood something innate, as we are so often told – a chemical reaction of love and self-sacrifice tied to the ‘transformative’ process of pregnancy and childbirth? Or, is it something that can be learned? Ultimately, is trans motherhood about emphasising similarities or, perhaps, about learning to embrace differences?

It’s very often a heated, complex topic. Am I less of a woman because I did not physically grow, birth and feed my son? Is a trans woman less of a woman if she does not? I admit that reading that article and its terminology and scenarios had moments of confusion for me: a biological woman transitioning to a man who decided to have a child? Mind blown. I literally do not have a vocabulary for that, yet I hope that if we can figure out how to refer to those familial situations, we can figure out how to refer to other situations in which a mother is the mother but not the biological mother.

In regards to mothering, I like the direction that philosopher Sara Ruddick  is going:

Sara Ruddick promoted the use of the verb ‘mothering’ as gender-neutral; she proposed that rather than being a product of our sex and gender, ‘mothering’ is a practice. In the past, mothering has been associated solely with female work, representing the ‘female’ qualities of gentleness, softness, kindness. But in today’s world – where men can stay at home, women can go to work, and gender can be switched – ‘mothering’ must be expanded to include others too.

Sometimes I wonder if it seems silly that I am hung up on the physical aspects of motherhood when the point is that I was able to become a mother. A genetic mother. The point is that it can be hard to be a woman, a mother, with a less-than-traditional path in this society.  The definition of being a woman is still tied to motherhood, and when you differ from that, it is painful and difficult. Even now, 11 years after we started our TTC journey, I still feel “other.” And age has not helped because I feel like I am entering the span of life in which I am no longer considered to be a legitimate woman. Invisible. Yes, these are my own issues. Yes, many of them are likely silly. If I – a cisgender woman – feel like this, I can imagine how my trans sisters feel. My hope is that we can work together to create a new vocabulary that represents our experiences and realities and expands the definition of what it means to be a woman AND a mother.

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5 comments

  1. As a woman approaching 30, I found the “pregnancy jealousy” article you recently shared to be intriguing and relate-able, as I never contemplate motherhood more than I do in the days following a peer’s pregnancy or birth announcement. That phenomenon is likely one reason why I already have my imaginary daughters’ names chosen and their lives idealized even though I have never had the itch to try to conceive and often question if motherhood is a path I want to take. When I do find myself daydreaming about having a child, the method of obtaining her is neither here nor there. The idea of natural childbirth, with its wide range of mental, emotion, and physical experiences (of which I’ve read), fascinates me as much as the notion of adopting a child whose DNA is not my own. Until reading this post, I never considered that the experience of being a mother would differ based on the occurrence or absence of certain physical events. I also never considered that not having children would make me less of a woman in the eyes of myself or anyone else. When I think of what it means to be a woman, I think of my 6 amazing best friends who inspire and empower me every day. None of them have children and half of them have made the decision not to. As a person who, at this point in my life, is ambivalent about birthing and raising children, it is not always easy to relate to how mothers (of any gender) and members of the TTC community feel. This post helps me understand your world a little better. Thank you for sharing these honest and intimate thoughts. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your comment. We live in a time when so much is possible. My path is certainly not everyone’s path and I have had a rather difficult family-building path that others with conception challenges may not have. I appreciate the opportunity to think differently about these reproductive challenges. Thank you for being open to receiving these musings!

  2. Thoughtful post. The elevation of the word “Mothering” definitely implies that women are “more” as parents – more responsible, more necessary, more SAH, etc. stuff that is outdated. As we continue to redefine womanhood (including the ways you note here) I like the idea of a gender neutral word to define the nurturing involved – whether father, grandmother, nanny, etc.

  3. As someone who lives as cis heterosexual female but feels none of those, I too find the idea of “mothering” maddeningly complex. Like: I have children who seem to be cis gender female. I feel unqualified to support them in figuring out what that means because I don’t feel like I ever felt right being female. Maybe my experience at the least female end of the female gender spectrum (probably more into the gender neutral limbo land anyway) is important to share but I have no idea how to explain in age-appropriate words that I don’t feel like “mommy” or “one of us girls.” My spouse and I actively use “parenting” for both of us and both talk only about our spouse rather than a gendered pronoun, and it’s a step, but it doesn’t stop everyone around us from gendering our actions & inactions (especially our children!). We still use mommy and daddy to refer to the other to the girls and it has felt strange since day 1 but it’s also hard to make any other choice with the extreme societal pressure.

  4. Hi, here from the roundup. And from an almost opposite end of IF land, where I did get to carry a baby, but not the genetic link to me. Mothering as much as I can, while bracing myself for that fight in the future, where I imagine my daughter accusing me of not being her ‘real’ mother….

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