By Valerie Rice | October 26, 2020
Once upon a time this morning, I trudged through a winter storm with 40 lbs of laundry to get to a laundromat. I sat for 2 hours while the machines bubbled and tumbled, watched one of my hangers break when I slipped on the ice, and then hauled it all home to fold. After wrestling this mountain of slightly snowy clean clothing up a staircase and into the house, my teenager immediately started throwing clothes around the living room, onto the floor and started yelling because his clothes were mixed in with everyone else’s. And so I cried. The ones we love hurt us the most. Hands down. Has apologized later, but the act that he can be so cruel is due mainly to his autism and his inability to see life from other people’s perspectives. And I love him regardless. A mother’s love is impossible to extinguish. So bear with me on this long post as I describe the various types of motherhood and what each one goes through for the love of her child(ren).
THE NATURAL PARENT
This is where you get pregnant, give birth, and raise your little human. It is what most of us think of when we hear the term “mother.” Unfortunately, it does not come with an instruction manual, and everyone seems to want to give us pointers. Most of these tips come from a place of ignorance and are often contradictory. So ignore them. The hardest part, as described above, is that our mini humans are cruel, loving, demanding, expensive, sweet, and so on. They can hurt us more than any other person under the sun and fill us with pride and satisfaction faster than any career advancement can. There are no breaks; this is a 24/7 job, and if you are like me a single parent, they can run you into the ground. If your children are disabled, they can traumatize you and make you sob hysterically in the closet while draining every penny from your bank account no matter how much money you make. But oh, they are worth it. I would not trade it for anything in the world.
THE ABSENT MOTHER
I am not the author of this work, but I have been asked to contribute this paragraph. I have had seven children. The oldest is 20 and the youngest is 8. All in all, I have spent less than a few years being an active, present mother to them. You see, I am seriously mentally ill. I lost my oldest 3 to my ex when my son was only 2. I lost the triplets (gave them up for adoption because I was homeless and incapable of caring for them). My youngest is with me now, but he has not always been. You may think I am the scum of the earth. A lot of people do. I never left because I wanted to. But you can’t understand unless this has happened to you. I left because my illness was too big and affected the kids too much. Then after they were gone, my mental health spiraled down even further, way out of control so there was no hope of ever escaping the rabbit-hole. This has been the single most painful and challenging part of my life I have ever been through and it has persisted the longest. Some children won’t talk to me because they are too angry. Others just don’t know me at all, and my youngest is autistic and sometimes very cruel. But every single day I have longed to be with my children again. I missed everything, and I feel robbed by my own mind. Being an absent parent is its own special kind oh hell.
THE ADOPTIVE MOTHER
There are unique challenges that come with adoption. First of all, you have your home and personal life invaded by the state and other agencies to ensure you are “worthy” of motherhood. Your entire past and financial history are laid bare to complete strangers looking for their version of perfection. Your home is invaded numerous times to make sure it is “appropriate,” and your family and friends interviewed and questioned about your character. Now, given the fact that anyone else can run out for a weekend and accidentally get pregnant, and given the number of children waiting for parents in the foster system only to grow up without families, this does not seem fair, but that’s life. Once you pass muster you will be handed your very own child. Well, almost. The birth mother still has a chance to change her mind. So here, have a baby, maybe. Or a child of any age, really. One of the hardest things about adoption is bonding. And oftentimes they do. Luckily for this mother, the birth mother waited too long to change her mind. It didn’t prevent the court battles, the stress, the tears, or the constant fear of losing her son, but in the end, it was worth it.
THE BIRTH MOTHER
Now, this is something I know about personally. I was a teenager when I got pregnant for the first time. I was also homeless (except for the dorm) and had a low paying job (fast food) and had just started university (yes, I started university at 16… 17? I was young ). My future was bleak and, for some reason, I was really excited to be pregnant. So I chose not to abort. I shake my head now at the sheer stupidity of my teenage years. It took me up to my 7th month of pregnancy to realize that motherhood was not about ME. Despite my desperate desire to have a baby, my love for the child I was carrying was overwhelming, and I knew she deserved more than I could provide. I contacted an adoption agency. I carefully combed through hundreds of profiles of prospective parents. I stayed up late pacing the floors trying to decide who should take this baby. It was heart-wrenching for me. I loved her, I wanted her, I wanted what was best for her. I didn’t want to leave her. And then I met them. They were perfect. And then my water broke in the middle of the night. Her birth was quick and she was perfect. I handed her over to them and was pulled from the room. And then, I almost died. I became septic from the process of giving birth, was back in the hospital, managed to survive, and was then released. What followed was court proceedings asking me if I was okay giving away my child. I was not, but I said yes.
I was experiencing severe depression and hormonal changes from giving birth. I wanted my child, I wanted someone to talk to who WASN’T going to tell me that I didn’t deserve to be a mother. I tried to kill myself to escape the pain. I ended up in a psychiatric hospital where everyone told me my actions validated my inability to parent. I never would have done it if I still had her. My arms felt like they were breaking from her absence. Now that she’s an adult I desperately hope she will want to meet me and fear that she hates me and won’t want anything to do with me. Either way, I understand.
This is not to be overlooked. Pregnancy loss is a devastating event for any expectant mother. When a woman finds out she is pregnant, her entire life changes. She changes her diet and behavior, such as quitting smoking and drinking, she starts exercising and treats her body much more carefully to ensure her human grows most efficiently. Losing this human is devastating both physically and emotionally, and many people invalidate her status as a mother. Especially if she is pro-choice. First of all, pro-choice is not pro-abortion. It just means that a woman’s pregnancy is nobody’s business but hers. Second of all, a woman mourning her pregnancy doesn’t need your negativity. Losing a pregnancy is traumatic, both physically and emotionally. You lose a bond, you lose a lot of blood, often needing a D&C, which is written as abortion in medical records despite it actually being a lifesaving operation to stop bleeding during a miscarriage. Your body can become septic from the absorption of fetal tissue, you gain weight, become depressed from both trauma and hormonal changes, you grieve, and it can take a year or more to move through this event.
I have done this, too. A few times. I found it to be both trying and delightful. Not only do you have to deal with the State going through your personal life, showing up at your door at any moment, and heading into court, you ALSO get the pleasure of a child with understandable emotional issues. Whoever is placed in your care has been taken from their natural family and sent to your house and you are expected to ferry them to therapy and other appointments, school, visitation, and so on. You have to work with several types of workers and keep your home spotless at all times. You get to pay for an extra human with no financial support and parent within the guidelines of both the State and their natural family. And nobody sees you as the parent, not even the child. But you bond with them. You love them like your own, hold them when they cry, advocate for them in the schools, feel proud when they start to improve behaviorally and academically and cry when their parents give up on them and leave the state. It hurts, even more, when the State asks you to adopt them but you can’t afford it, so you lose them forever.
THE GRANDMOTHER AS MOTHER
This is one of the hardest types of motherhood. You have to be able to live 2 roles. Not only do you want to be fun, spoil your grandchild, but you also have to step up in the role of parent and enforce those boundaries. It is about finding balance. It can be hard to separate the two roles, and it affects the child’s behavior, especially if there are behavioral problems to begin with. You really need a lot of love and patience. Unlike other types of mothering, you aren’t going to get the benefits of forming a friendship later on. Taking on this role means that these kids are going to need you to be more of a support in the future instead.
This is not the wicked witch of the fairy tales that society has conditioned us to believe in. but these stories have made this a difficult position to hold. Being a stepmother means inserting yourself into a position where the children do not want you and they are almost always resentful of your presence. It is very difficult to fill the role and nurture when you are taking over for someone who is no longer there. Once they move past the resentment and anger, which can take a good three years or so, it becomes more of a natural parenting process without the pushback and anger. You become more of a guide once you can develop trust and respect which will eventually turn into love.
I thank you all for sticking with me to the end. Being a mother is incredibly difficult, no matter what your situation. Each type of mother is just as valid as the next, and each has its own unique challenges to face. Each motherhood experience also has its own benefits, despite the agonies of motherhood. There is one thing I really hope you can take away from this: Motherhood is grueling, and not something that just anybody can take on. It has to be chosen of a woman’s free will. It can kill you, it can drain you, it can break you, and it can raise you up higher than anything else. But it is not a punishment, a simple process, or a repercussion. It is a lifelong commitment that does irreversible damage to your body and permanently changes your soul. So support those mothers out there, no matter what form they take.