Tuesday, July 19, 2011

what being a mom means

Lately, I've been trying to think back and reflect on why I wanted to be a mom in the first place. Is it because I thought I would be a good parent? Is it because Joey and I had love to give and share? Why did each of us set out to become mothers?

Somewhere along the way, I learned that, for certain women, being a mom was more than just love and good parenting. It was bragging rights. It was being a part of some elite club of special people who sit at home and wipe poop and vomit all day. It was being able to talk about inappropriate things like sore nipples and c-section scars with others who cared and understood. It was being able to tell people, "You wouldn't understand. You aren't a mom."

I'm not sure where or how or why things become so mixed up along the way. But they do.

I see it start to happen when people get pregnant. Some slowly alienate their non-pregnant friends because they want to surround themselves with people who understand, because nothing could quite possible be more important than carrying a child. Then, when their child is born, it gets worse because they aren't surrounded by adults all day. They are 100 percent occupied with their child. They live, sleep, and breath baby. So, naturally, that's all they have left to talk about. They further cut out the non-moms in their lives because how could someone who has never had children possibly sympathize with them.

I'm not saying that all moms do this. But I see it more often than I'd like.

Being a mom? It's not about being in some stupid little club that makes you cooler than all of your other friends. It's about raising someone to be a productive member of society. Someone who is going to go out into the world one day and put his or her thumbprint on it. Someone who you can share your love, values, dreams, and ideals with. It's about teaching that person what's right and what's wrong. And let me tell you what's wrong. It's wrong to alienate people because they didn't grow and birth a child. Growing and birthing a child does not make you a superhero or super cool, even. It's what comes after that makes you those things. It's everything that comes after - how you raise that child, yes, but also how you manage to maintain yourself after that point. Putting people down in the process because they haven't experienced what you've experienced certainly doesn't set a great example for your children. Particularly if you have a daughter. I know I don't want my daughter to grow up thinking that the only important thing she can do in life is become a mom. Do I?

No. I don't. I've promised myself that I won't become one of those women. I won't get so wrapped up in being a mom that I lose track of who I am or what being a mom means. You know, the REAL important parts.

Like teaching my kids that no one person is more important or more special than the other.

Update:

I think people royally confused a few points on this post that I'd like to clarify:

Having your child become your life is not the problem. The problem is when you lead other people to think they are insignificant in the process. There is nothing wrong with being obsessed with your baby. I know I will be. But when the relationships around you suffer because that's all you can care about or focus on? Yes, I find that to be a problem.

I do realize that the street runs both ways, and that there are instances where childless friends are the ones who back away. I know I've done it in the past. But that's not what I'm upset about, so I'm not going to talk about that in my space. It's not a requirement here that I discuss both sides. That's the beauty of being a blogger: I only have to write about my feelings, not yours.

I also realize that not all moms are this way. I wrote "some" several times. So please, if you took offense to it, take a step back and realize that unless you've had a Facebook status end up on the site STFU, Parents or you've told me lately "You don't get it because your not a mom," I'm probably not writing about you. (And no, I wasn't writing about someone in particular to begin with.)

My final point on this subject is a non-point: I'm not going to address the anonymous comment. I have no interest in engaging in conversation with someone who wants to throw out insults and hide behind their anonymity.

39 comments:

shutterbugwife said...

Amen! I am the only person in my department at work without a child and I am so tired of feeling left out. Today, on the way to lunch, I was talking to two coworkers about something going on in my life. As I was talking to them we passed a children's clothing store.

Neither one responded to me and they didn't even let me finish. They just turned to each other and started talking about buying back to school clothes. Way to make me feel like I don't matter. Sadly, this is something I have grown to expect. It's really sad.

My Happy Place said...

Omigosh...this post so resonates with me. I'm not a parent yet and don't really plan on becoming one for a couple of years (assuming I can, etc.) but I love reading mommy blogs and I love kids. None of the momniacs here in my town want to meet up with me in person because I don't have a child and therefore could not possibly be worth knowing. Little do they know they would most likely be getting a free babysitter if they meant me...and I am worth knowing. Damn elitists...

Three Cats and a Baby said...

I was the one left behind for many years.

I think that's why my best friendships lately have been with other adoptive moms that I have met through our agency. They are kind of in the same boat- were left behind by friends and are now parenting yrs later. Oh, and we never have to smile politely through conversations about breast feeding ;)

Kelly said...

This is a wonderful post, Katie.

Miller Family said...

Honestly I think most of the time it's the non-pregnant friends or non-parent friends who stray from the mom because the mom isn't able to go out and do things without baby like she was before.

S said...

I definitely know some moms like the ones you write about, but I will say that I think this attitude toward "mommyhood" is more often due to shallowness and/or immaturity, at least in my experience. At my age (40), nearly all my friends are mothers, and very, very few of them have been the way you describe. Maybe it's a function of their being professional women with lives apart from their children?

For my part, my reasons for wanting to be a parent are summed up perfectly in the following quote: "The feeling you have for your child is so indescribably deep and consuming that it must qualify as one of the few transcendent experiences in your plain old ordinary life. It arrives spontaneously. It is miraculous and supreme and irrevocable. It makes all things possible." (Attributed to Karen Maezen Miller.)

Stacy @ Ugly Truth said...

I couldn't agree with you more. Great post!

A said...

this has just become one of my all-time favorite posts of yours!

Danielle said...

Awesome post.

My RESOLVE support group leader (and now friend) said that even after she became part of the "mom club," she never felt like she fit in with the rest of the moms in her social circle who didn't struggle with infertility. She still felt like a bit of an outsider, just teetering on the brink between belonging and not belonging. Most of the moms she hangs out with now are other women who also struggled with infertility and found their way to parenthood on a variety of paths (adoption, donor egg, donor sperm, IVF, surprise pregnancies after AR). The moms belong, and best of all, the kids belong - in a way that they might not in "traditional" mom circles, where everyone is accepted and celebrated, just for being possible.

I'd rather be a part of that "club" any day.

amiracle4us said...

Love this. I also like the part how pregnant women alienate those that aren't pregnant bc it is true! Infertiles get a bad wrap from pulling away from those pregnant but they do it as well!!

Sarah Q said...

I think it is especially true that pregnancy or parenthood after infertility feels so different. It doesn't feel like there is one place that you belong. And usually at that point in your long hard journey you've learned to be open and accepting of so many different situations and possibilities that hopefully you remain open to everyone (except maybe the idiots ;)).

Kate said...

I have seen both kinds of moms.

There are those who were career women who suddenly can't talk about anything but their children (which, to be honest, does alienate me because I can't carry on a conversation that becomes so one-sided - I can't respond with the same "OMG, I know ..." that my friends get from their other mom friends).

Then there are those in my life who are still individuals as well as mothers - being a mom hasn't consumed their entire personality, and it's refreshing to see.

I certainly have thought about this a lot and I know which friends I want to be like when I beat infertility and have children of my own.

Great post.

~C~ said...

Word.

AnotherDreamer said...

EXCELLENT post. I think about this often, and find myself reflecting on it a lot. Thank you for sharing your thoughts/beliefs on it.

Kelly said...

This post is beautifully written, and so true on so many levels. I was a young mom, and my opinions didn't matter much to the parents of my oldest daughter's friends. I always struggled with not having "mom friends." Then I realized they didn't matter. What was most important was my daughter, and raising her to be the best woman she could be. At 19, I think she's well on her way.

Anonymous said...

You don't understand bc your not a mom.period. This post is based 100% on your jealously of the the "club" your bashing. IF makes people more intolerable than children.

Stefanie Blakely said...

This is a great post, Katie & I agree with many of your points.

There is definitely a divide between moms and non-moms, but what I've noticed (and this has been discussed a bit on Twitter) is that it can come from either side. I have heard (from you and others) that some women become moms and abandon their childless friends.

But I've personally experienced the exact opposite-- some of my childless friends seem to prefer not to spend time with me, because Liam must come along unless it's an evening that Rob can watch him. And that hurts. A LOT.I have just as much to offer a friendship as I did before-- having a baby did not rob me of the things that made me a good friend before Liam came along.

As someone who "lives, sleeps, and breathes" my baby (And I'm proud to admit that!) I still have plenty to talk about.

When friends get together, the three topics most often discussed are relationships, jobs and family. For a SAHM, her baby fits all of these categories, so it's hard for baby talk not to dominate her portion of the conversation-- and I do talk about Liam a lot with friends. But, I enjoy talking about movies, music, news, politics, celebrity gossip, etc, just like any other woman (mother or not).

I do think there are parts of parenthood that people don't understand until they are in it, but this should NEVER get in the way of a friendship. We don't have to share all of our life experiences to form a strong connection with someone-- My best friend married a Canadian guy and moved to Alberta. I have no idea what that's like for her-- but it hasn't damaged our friendship in any way. It's the same with me and motherhood. (Thank God, our friendship is so strong!)

As for idea that a mother is inferior in some way for not birthing her baby-- that just strikes me as crazy. I'm sure it happens, but I just can't imagine someone feeling that way. Why should someone else care HOW you became a mother?! When you have a child, you are a parent. Period. It doesn't matter how the child got here. Has someone actually told you that they will consider you less of a mother because of adoption (If so, I want to punch them) or is this a fear you have?

I have come to realize that many of the times where I felt uncomfortable around non-IF mommies, it has been my own insecurities that have made me feel that way, not the other mothers.

One last thought (damn this comment is all over the place)-- You are going to be an AMAZING mother and all of the thought you've put into WHY you want to become a parent is going to shine through as you raise your child. xoxo

P.S. A side note to Lisa's comment-- it is possible for mothers who adopt to breastfeed if they want to. :)

Ranae said...

This is a beautifully written post. I also have friends and family that have said the "You're not a mom so you wouldn't understand..." I also have friends who are moms who aren't like that. I think it's the statement "You're not a mom, so..." that ticks me off the most. I don't go around telling people, "You're not infertile, you don't understand..." It's just like putting up a brick wall in a conversation and letting us run straight into it.

shutterbugwife said...

Anon- You clearly do not understand because you have never dealt with infertility. If you had any idea what it was like to struggle for something that you want this badly and have people treat you differently because you can't have it, you would never had made that comment.

I would take the time to educate you but I know it would be a waste of my time. Next time you want to leave a rude comment, you should know that correct punctuation and spelling make much more of an impact.

Doogie said...

I'm normally pretty taciturn about what goes on in my life, just because I think I'm a boring person generally and I always think if I weren't me, I wouldn't be interested in hearing about it.

But ask me about my daughter and suddenly my face lights up and it always begins with, "She's fantastic. This week..."

I like to think I still listen, and I've retained all my mom and non-mom friends. I always wonder, though, if I do as good a job being sensitive to others as I think I do. The problem is, I look at other people's selfish behavior (You can't have a baby at my baby shower, because it's about MY baby, not yours.) and I think, does she know she's being an asshole and deliberately excluding me ('cause I'm bfing and I'm not interested in four hours away from my kid on a weekend, when I don't HAVE to pump if I don't want to) or am I the asshole who can't be away from her kid for four hours. She thinks her position is reasonable. It's hard from the inside to figure out who is reasonable and who isn't.

So not to stick up for the unreasonable moms, but I don't know how much understanding they have of how obnoxious they are. I guess it goes back to the idea that in the story of our lives, we're always the hero.

Do I Have to Be a D.I.N.K.? said...

Love this post! So true!

Courtney said...

Excellent post once again my friend.

Clearly anon hasn't dealt with infertility because if they had, they wouldn't have been a coward to no reveal their name. Ugh. *hugs*

Browniris said...

I think that this is such a great post. Thanks for sharing!

Dawn said...

"They live, sleep, and breath baby." That is me. The entire time I was pregnant I said that I would never be that person and then I brought home two amazing little boys and I realized that my life had totally changed. And I wanted it to. But I have many friends that do not have kids and I certainly love to hear about their lives and adventures. I enjoy talking about more than just my kids.

I have found parenting after IF to be a huge struggle. You don't 100% relate to fertile moms, and you don't really fit into the IF community anymore. I'm afraid that if I say the wrong thing sometimes that I'm just one of those jerks that had my kids and forgot what it was like.

Kelly said...

Anon- You're a jackass. No one is jealous of anyone. Who would be jealous of someone who has NOTHING to offer the world other than offspring? Surely not I. I'd like to think that I am contributing more to society than a carbon footprint. Being a Mom doesn't mean you don't get to be YOU still.

Kechara said...

CONGRATULATIONS, KATIE!!!!

Erin said...

I don't really think that people were confused so much as offering their perspective on things. Personally, I've never had a friend who became a mom that cut me out of her life when she had a baby. I can relate to that feeling though because I've had friends cut me out of their lives when I had a baby.

You're right that this is your space and you don't have to discuss both "sides", but your readers should be welcome to discuss their "side" as well.

Of course, I really don't think in this situation there are sides. Personally, I'm getting more and more frustrated with everything about infertility/pregnancy/parenting having to have a side. Can't we all just try to support each other the best we can?

Anonymous said...

I love this post! I agree with you 100%. I am a momma, and after many struggles to get here and I love my girls more than anything in this world. HOWEVER....I still love myself and get very irritated with the "mommy club" where all the moms talk about are their kids, constant comparisons, etc. I don't feel like I fit in at all.
I am still who i am whether I have children or not. I spend a good amount of time with my child-free friends just like before I had children. And I also make a point to not talk about my kids the whole time. In fact, if (and they always ask) they ask about them I'll give a 30 second update and then that is that, no one wants to hear about how your kid is doing this or that or how wonderful they are all the time. Of course I think they are wonderful (and they are) but so are everyone else's kids. :)
It is important to not have your life revolve around your kid...because it isn't healthy for them or you.
GREAT POST!

Secret Sloper said...

Katie, I think the person who made the comment that this could be partially age-related makes a good point. I'm in my early 30s--in some parts of the country I'm going to be an oooooold mom. But here, in NYC, I'm on the younger end! Many of my friends are not married or (if they are) seriously thinking about children. I have a grand total of one friend in NYC who has a baby. (All of which I definitely appreciated during our struggles).

I wonder about how I will preserve my social life after Smudgie comes. Will I still be able to do my girly lunches and dinners and meet-ups? (There hasn't been much bar hopping in my life for a long time). Will my friends resent it if I have to bring a baby to lunch? (I doubt it, but you never know). Will people just assume I can't hang out.

And I'm also looking forward to meeting moms in my area. Partially because I don't have any friends in my neighborhood and partially because I like expanding my social circles. But I don't think of it as replacing existing friends at all.

Finally-- I try to make an effort already to talk about a lot of other things than my pregnancy. My friends always ask--they're kind, they're interested. And perhaps I do go on a bit more than I intend to. But I also consciously switch the conversation to them and their lives and their concerns for an equal amount of time. Or spend time talking about school/family/non-baby stuff. But isn't that what mutual friendship is about? Taking an interest in each other's lives, regardless of the circumstances. It shouldn't be hard to do--yet I know it is.

Maegan said...

This is a great post. There's a small group of women at our small church and I've found it difficult to really be FRIENDS with them (though we're as friendly as can be). I don't have any children either and as much as I love kids and don't mind talking about them, it's hard when I feel like I'm lacking that ONE credential (a child) to be fully accepted into the group. While I haven't experienced anything cruel or derisive, I have perfected my polite, interested smile and my ninja-skills of ducking out of a conversation that's lasted twenty minutes and has covered nothing more than their kids and their habits.

JDragonfly said...

"I only have to write about my feelings, not yours." *Exactly.* Your blog, your perspective. If someone doesn't want to hear it, they can go elsewhere. The internet is a pretty big space, after all!

Not dignifying Anonymous's insensitive and unthinking comment with a response. *Perfect.* You are a class act.

While blogging is a conversation and community that sometimes takes place without much accountability, it's not a place where people should feel free to cut other people down. If you wouldn't say it out loud in front of someone, it flat out shouldn't be said.

I really hope that you weren't hurt by the comment Anonymous left. Writing and sharing your experience does make you vulnerable, and I'm sorry that someone was so willing to take advantage of that. Shame on her.

LC said...

Best post ever! Thank you!

Esperanza said...

I agree with PPs that comments should be a place for people to "respectfully" offer their thoughts and experiences about what was written. Obviously 1st Anonymous poster did not do this but I can't imagine anyone (at least in this community) is going to take her seriously because she chooses to express herself in that way. I hope that I am too am offering my opinion respectfully, even if it's not what everyone wants to hear.

I think there is something interesting here that no one has brought up in this space (though maybe I missed it in one of the comments). It seems that you feel frustrated that some moms feel that if you are not a mother you can't understand motherhood and are therefor unable to be friends with mothers. I'm sure mothers out there exist. I don't actually spend much time with mothers (though I am one myself) so I've never met one myself. I don't remember meeting any mothers that felt that way when I wasn't yet a mother, though maybe they just didn't express it to me while we were talking.

I guess my question is this, are you frustrated that these mothers think you can't know what it's like being a mother if you haven't been one or because they deem you unworthy of friendship because of it? Either way, I think it's something the IF community really has to look at because I think there are plenty of us (I know myself included) who have deemed fertiles unable to understand what it's like to deal with infertility or loss and even those among us (again myself included) who have already chosen not to be friends with people because they are fertile and we believe they can't understand us (and therefor may and do say hurtful, insensitive things).

I don't believe a person can know what it's like to experience infertility or loss if they haven't themselves. I don't think they can know what it's like to parent after infertility if they haven't themselves. I also don't think someone knows what it's like to be a parent in they haven't themselves. Does this mean any of these people are better (or would be better friends) than the ones who haven't experienced what they have? No. But do people sometimes feel that way? Probably they do. I bet every person who commented on this blog has looked down on, or felt disparaging thoughts about a fertile person at least once in their life. I know I have, many times. And I thoughts countless times, "you don't know what it's like," though I haven't said it.

And perhaps that is the big difference you are making, that some women come out and say it and basically tell you they can't be your friend because of it. That is messed up thing to do. And yet we support the infertile who has to tell her pregnant friend "you are now pregnant, you can't understand how it makes you feel, I can't be friends with you." I just don't see how it's that big of a difference. Maybe the pain involved with IF? Perhaps that is enough of a difference? My point is in both cases people are moving away from others because of a lack of understanding (that I believe truly does exist in both instances).

continued below...

Esperanza said...

...continued from above.

I agree with Stephanie and Erin - I have experienced so many more childless friends who have pulled away because I can't accomodate the lives they want to lead and the things they want to do now that I'm a than mother friends who ditched me before I had a kid. And I, personally, have ditched way more fertile friends because I felt they couldn't understand my struggles and loss than I think most mothers ditch childless counterparts. But maybe that is just me.

Maybe I'm missing the point of this post. Maybe the pain of IF makes these incomparable. I just think we have to recognize that a difference in experience and understanding can cause rifts between people. I don't believe they should be the cause of distance but I think it's human nature that they are. I'm not excusing moms who tell their childless friends "you don't understand" with an air of superiority. That is unconscionable. But I think the IF/loss community (myself included) needs to take equal responsibility for the times we distance ourselves from our fertile friends for a similar inability to empathize.

Jjiraffe said...

I get the raw frustration that you feel. I just had dinner with one of my best friends who is childless by choice and she told me that she feels everyone looks down on her and assumes she "hates children" even though she is a devoted and wonderful auntie. It made me sad for her. Then there are the WOTH moms who made me cry two weeks ago because my life "is nowhere NEAR as hard as ours."

I hid from all people, fertile and non, for two years when I was going through IF. I realize now that if I had stuck to my awesome, core group they would have lifted me up. There are wonderful empathetic friends who would carry you to the end of the world on their backs. Then, there are other people. Try to forget the other people. They aren't worth your time.

I will say that I know very, very few infertile women who forget their struggles and wind up insensitive to those going through IF. Those on both sides are crucial to the battle to get reproductive rights on the national agenda.

So gravitate towards empathy, no matter how you get it, and stay away from judgmental people. I would day that pregnant women are not the enemy, but people trying to constrict our access to fertility medication.

Susanna said...

I'm a mom after a long battle with IF, and you're absolutely right. But I think it's because some people are just a$$holes both before and after they have kids, their behaviour just changes with regards to what they're being a$$holes about. Before they had kids all they wanted to talk about were their vacations, their cars and a lot of other shallow BS. Now that they're parents it's now all just diapers and what a genius their perfect Gerber baby is. A$$holes continue to be a$$holes even after children.
RE: the poster who said "you just don't get it bc you don't have children." That just made me laugh because it was so spiteful and ignorant. It's just an excuse some parents use when they are self-centered narcissistic self-important a$$holes. She may as well have just posted "Here I am, First class spiteful A$$hole!!!" That's my translation, Katie!
great post & hugs,
Susanna (yes, the one you know personally :))

Anonymous said...

If you feel "insignifcant" in the life of someone who has had a child, I think those are your own insecurities manifested. People's lives change when they have a child. Priorities change. Interests change and sometimes you find you have less in common with someone. That's life, it's not just another way the world of "fertile" people are against you.

foxy said...

Hi Katie,

Reading your post and the comments, well I always appreciate the way that you can make sense of these complex emotions and put them into words. There are some great comments here too.

I talk a lot about the greatest gift that I've been given by our IF journey is compassion. There are so many painful life experiences that I will never personally experience, but I can offer empathy and kindness regardless. Clearly those mothers you refer to haven't learned this life lesson, yet.

I also wanted to thank you for reminding me how lucky I am to have a best friend who has shown me so much compassion these past few years as she became a mother long before me, yet so carefully balanced her now role with our relationship. I need to thank her for that.

Congrats again on the RESOLVE award, it is well deserved!

sheka said...

I'm about to turn 40, have been married for 7yrs and have no children. It hasn't been a conscious choice to be child-free. I love kids and would be grateful for the chance to love and raise one. But it just hasn't happened at this point and...wait for it...I'm at peace with that. I have a husband who loves me, a career that I've enjoyed for the past 15yrs and 4 "furry kids" that fill our house with a respectable level of noise:)
In short, I have a life that I'm thankful for just as it is. Having a kid would be bonus. But not necessary for leading a fulfilling life.
I have to wonder if all those whose identity has been swallowed whole by motherhood feel like their lives were unremarkable or insignificant before they performed the sacred task of giving birth? (yes, hint of sarcasm intended)
ALL of life is sacred! Every season of it. Whether you are in the throes of raising children, hoping for the chance to do so or just living life with a sense of gratitude b/c you got to see the sun come up another day- there is NO lot in life, no season of living, that trumps another in significance.
And you don't have to be a mother to understand that.