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.

WTF Week

This week has not been a great week.  I know you’re probably thinking, “didn’t she write that last week? And the week before that? And the week before that?”  I guess it’s true.  It’s been a rocky, rough time at work and when it’s the place you spend 40+ hours a week at, it impacts you.

I’ve been struggling how to write this post because I need to write it.  It’s been on my mind for a week, but I’ve had so many emotions over the last week that I haven’t been sure how to write about it without possibly shooting myself in the foot or being premature.

First of all, I still have a job.  Yay! Given that, what do I really have to complain about? A week ago, I was asked to take a new position in the org.  It’s a market research position and honestly, it was what I asked for.  A couple of weeks ago, my former interim supervisor (did you follow that?) asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him: data, information.  I want to do market research and disseminate information to help us make data-driven decisions.  Well, it turns out that leadership took me at my word and gave me exactly what I asked for.

So the question becomes why I am not more enthusiastic since I got exactly what I wanted.  It’s been a difficult transition. I’m losing an occupational and organizational identity I’ve held as a web developer for 13 years.  I’m losing part of my team and retaining only one direct report which makes me feel a little ridiculous.  I watched a coworker who I helped hire become manager of the team I was formerly a part of.  I now report to a coworker I also helped hire.

I’m also formally untied from people with whom I’ve been structured organizationally since 2005. I tell people that we were a family.  It’s true.  It’s the best group of people with whom I’ve ever worked.  We worked well together but also cared about each other.   It’s a huge shock.   I think I’m also reeling from the major amount of change lately.  In addition to my manager and my coworker, I had a team member retire, another team member leaving for her dream job in Miami, and my most recent hire moved to another team in the re-org.  I truly feel like a bomb went off and left destruction in its wake.  Some of those people I’d worked closely with for over 10 years, and in 4 weeks, everything has changed.

I’ve cried a lot the past week and been in a definite funk.  I went from feeling like a future leader in the organization to a failure.  Because that’s what part of me whispers: you failed.  You didn’t do a good enough job.  That’s why they were so quick to remove the web duties from you and give you market research.  And not to consider you for leadership of your former group. You failed. And I can’t stand that feeling.  And of course, these changes haven’t executed delicately, so my feelings get hurt and umbrage taken regularly. I feel awkward talking to coworkers with whom I used to be close and being overly formal: “if you don’t mind, I could talk to…”

I’m trying to take a deep breath and calm down.  Trying to take each day as it comes even though I feel so blue and wonder about my place and the perception of me. And then I wonder if a man would worry about this and feel like I’m letting Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer down in my reaction to this situation and my inability to leverage it to advance.

All this sturm and drang and remember, I actually got what I asked for which should make me feel a little bit good, right?  I guess that what I’ve discovered is that sometimes, getting what you want doesn’t feel as good as it should.

Since I haven’t been getting a lot of sleep, I’ve had a lot of chances to find some good reads.  If you have a moment:


  • Google appears hell-bent on destroying any social capital it had with its users.  There are reports that its News Alerts haven’t been working well for a few months (something I’ve noticed as well). In related news, Google debuted Keep, but users are reluctant to adopt based on its capricious decisions on what apps stay and what apps go
  • My county library published a review on a Jane Austen book that sounds great: What Matters in Jane Austen: 20 Crucial Problems Solved.
  • You probably heard about New York Magazine’s feature “The Retro Wife.” It was…interesting.  Reductive yet informative.  The Atlantic, my hero, has had several good articles on it like this one and especially this one
  • My friend Brandy wrote a post in early March about food, research, and what her family is doing to avoid harmful foods.  I feel I need to qualify this by saying that I am not a crunchy, earthy person usually (not that I’m saying that’s a bad thing or that Brandy is!), but I feel very strongly about making sure Daniel eats as much natural food as possible.  Am I perfect?  No.  We’re a work in progress, but Brandy’s post is definitely thought-provoking. I have a major urge to buy a cow and chickens and plant a serious garden. See, I told you my survivalist tendencies weren’t far below the surface!
  • And Buzzfeed.  Buzzfeed has brought me so much laughter lately. Please visit and enjoy. The had a post on the end of Mercury Retrograde that was very appropriate as well as one on almost 40 people who need to stop using the Internet that had me in tears from laughing so hard.

How was your week?  Tell me something good!

Finding a Moment to Cherish

Happy Hump Day!  I’ve always hated that expression; it seems crude to me, so of course it makes perfect sense that I just used it.  Today I’m over at Liberating Working Moms with a post about hectic schedules as a working parent and the resulting worry and guilt about quality time with Daniel.  It turns out that we do have a moment to cherish each night.

If you have a moment, please read about our cherished moment and share yours.

Beyond the PAIL

The phrase “beyond the Pale” refers to the part of Ireland under English control during the Middle Ages.  Pale came to mean boundary; therefore, if you move beyond it, you are outside of the boundary and laws don’t apply.  The phrase implies that you’ve gone too far and are alone.

That concept is fitting given the controversy roiling in the ALI (Adoption/Loss/Infertility community over the creation of the PAIL (Parenting/Pregnancy After Infertility and/or Loss) community.  Quick recap:  the PAIL community was created by Elphaba (we do love our nom-de-plumes) to help those who feel between worlds once they achieve pregnancy or parenthood.   Unfortunately, the creation of the community was done without discussing it with the ALI community’s godmother, the amazing woman who has worked tirelessly over many years to build a space in which everyone felt included and supported, and she feels hurt and that her ideas are being used to build something exclusive instead of inclusive.

There has been a lot of nastiness in the comments accusing PAIL members of using the community to rub their success in the faces of those who are still trying to achieve parenthood and even some resurrection of everyone’s favorite game: the pain Olympics.

What the members of PAIL keep trying to explain and what continues to be ignored is the very real need for support for those parenting after infertility.

The ALI community is an inclusive, supportive place when you are wondering why you don’t ovulate.  When you are having vial after vial of blood drawn.  When you move to HSGs, clomid, IUIs and IVF.  When you lose a baby too soon.  When you agonize over the importance of biological ties. When you need to consider the ethics of domestic or international adoption.  When you are outraged over a surrogacy attorney’s crimes. When you need to vent about callous friends and family members who don’t understand your pain. The community celebrates your highs and mourns with you during your lows.

Sadly, as many of us have discovered, that support ends when you receive a positive pregnancy test and/or finally achieve that take-home baby.  Blog readers drop off.  When you participate in the community, you are ignored.   Your new status is everyone’s goal, yet you are almost ostracized once you reach it. The solution, as some of the commenters on Stirrup Queen’s post suggested, is for us to expand our readership into the general mom blogosphere.

Ignoring the fact that the solution is a bit condescending, the real problem is that we don’t feel like we belong completely in the broader parenting community.  I don’t feel like I belong completely.  I am a mother, but I still feel “other.”

There are some tangible reasons someone parenting after infertility might feel different from mothers who took a more conventional route to their children.  They might be parenting a child of another race or in an open adoption and dealing with the issues that surround those situations.  They might not have carried their child themselves.   They might have to include complicated factors such as donor sperm, eggs or embryos into their child’s origin story. They might be dealing with mountains of debt and scarred veins from IVF treatments needed to achieve that child.

They might be parenting multiples and fielding knowing glances from strangers insinuating that they know your children must be the result of infertility treatment and feeling free to inquire after the regimen and using terms like “natural” (with the implication that your children are unnatural). Parenting after infertility causes many of us to redefine our definition of what a mother is.  What a family is.

Though I have my much-loved sweet boy, I still can’t participate in some of the experiences and situations mothers use to bond with other mothers.  Baby showers no longer cause me pain, yet when conversation turns to swapping war stories on birth options, labor experiences and breast feeding, I literally have nothing to say.   I notice the other preschool moms in my son’s (former) class are all either pregnant or have recently given birth to their second child, and my mind goes to our 5 embryos in storage and the tens of thousands of dollars we will need to make a second child a reality.   I observe the heated discussions over breast feeding vs formula feeding, natural birth vs pain medication vs c-sections, and they don’t mean anything to me (which is probably a good thing).  I have no stretch marks to display (not from pregnancy anyway), no frustration over shedding baby weight.  These concerns may sound frivolous, but they are the very real conversation of mothers around the often primal nature of motherhood.

I find myself questioning myself as a mother all the time.  Am I giving Daniel everything he needs?  Am I being the best mother I can for him?  Is there something in me that prevents me from being a good mother? Because I faced the real fear of never having a child, I now feel fear all the time.  Fear that I won’t be deserving of this incredible miracle that we were handed.

Some of this otherness and doubt may stem from the fact that our membership in the ALI community is based on the fact that we are abnormal at procreating in some way; that acknowledgement of not being “normal” doesn’t go away once you have a child.  And that you needed to use medical treatment to subvert your body, while amazing and miraculous, sometimes makes me wonder whether I achieved motherhood fraudulently.  Was I supposed to be a mother?

Maybe that’s the crux of my otherness: a nasty, deep-down suspicion that I don’t belong because I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I don’t write this post to be dramatic and fuel the fire on the inferno of PAIL.  I love my son.  I would have done nothing differently to have him.  I can swap stories about sleeping and feeding when he was an infant, commiserate over picky eating habits as a toddler and what it’s like being a working mother.  I do feel like I am a parent and share the same trials and tribulations others feel.

It’s just that how we got there never goes away.

Maybe I’m making too much of my experience.  I remember in philosophy class that one theory said that as individuals, we are all alone and can never really know anyone but ourselves.  We are all “other.”  I thought that theory was very sad and depressing, and I think that we as humans are so desperate to build community and to escape that existential loneliness.  We don’t want to be other; we want to find others like us who have shared the same experiences.

Please talk to me:  if you are parenting after infertility or after a conventional path, do you fully feel like a mother?  Do you ever feel like you don’t belong or are “other?”