This coming Sunday is Mother’s Day, and I am feeling a lot of tension about it.
As a mother with 2 young kids, including one born in the past year, Mother’s Day should be a day of celebration. Of joy. Of gratitude. Of honor.
In my journey to becoming a mother, as well as the process of dealing with infertility, I’ve marveled at what the the process of birthing children has actually birthed within me.* I have endured not just the birth of my two daughters, but the birth of new ways of living, relating, and existing in this world. I have experienced motherhood changing me for the better, not only transforming my life but also the lives of those around me. And I have experienced a deeper sense of appreciation and awe for my own mother and all that she had to navigate as an immigrant woman, raising 3 daughters, in a world entirely different than the one she was raised in.
So on this Mother’s Day, I am celebrating the new life that motherhood has birthed in me:
- A greater awareness of and appreciation for my own body, especially the ways it has created, grown, and nourished human life
- A deeper connection to my husband and the joy that comes from seeing him become an incredible partner as we learn to co-parent together
- Daily reminders of what it means to be human, to see the present moment as ripe with gifts to be savored, however mundane or ordinary they might seem
- A constant push to live in grace- to know that failures and pain are inevitable but that healing and forgiveness are also possible
- Eyes to see other humans (however old or young) as bearers of God’s image, full of breath and life and potential, no matter how terribly they might be tantrum-ing or how badly they might be sleeping.
- An entrance into the wide village of parenthood and an overwhelming gratitude for the community of mothers who have gone before me, journey alongside of me, and will come after me
- A deeper freedom to play. To imagine. To laugh. To delight. To wonder. To ask questions. To turn everyday objects into doctor’s tools, or to transform a living room into a zoo.
- A sense of responsibility to build our family- developing our own rituals, narrative, and liturgy in ways that both honor the gifts of those who came before us and also break free from unhealthy patterns
All of these new signs of life — within me, within my family- are to be acknowledged. They are gifts that have made me better.
To be a mother is to be acquainted with birth.
On this Mother’s Day in particular, I am feeling more visceral levels of grief, recognizing ways that a day that honors the joys of motherhood must also honor the pain that comes from it.
Some of this, I think, comes just from all of the natural transitions that our bodies and our spirits go through simply in the process of motherhood. Mothers grieve the loss of our bodies, what they may have been before giving birth. We grieve the transitions of our identities, and all that changes about how we think of ourselves through becoming mothers. At every stage of our child’s development, we grieve the loss of a certain “stage” or experience of our child. We grieve the ways that we are not in control, and that our children may not always do or be what we want them to. We grieve the ways that our world will not always be kind to our children or treat them the way they deserve to be treated.
To be a mother is to be acquainted with grief.
This year in particular, the “usual” griefs of motherhood are compounded by the realities of living in a pandemic and feeling utterly out of control, regularly triggered, and closer to our own human vulnerability. This year, on Mother’s Day 2020, we are invited to celebrate not just idealized conceptions of motherhood, but the very real, feet-in-the-mud, tears-on-our-face, shit-on-our-hands realities of it.
So this Mother’s Day, I am also grieving alongside:
- Black mothers in our communities who are grieving the lynchings of their children, and all the emotions that come from the reality that they cannot ever keep their children completely “safe” in this country
- Mothers in my life who are frontline workers, separated from their children in this time due to sickness or due to the risks that their jobs might present for their families
- Mothers in my life who have lost their husbands due to covid-19 or other sicknesses, and have unexpectedly become single parents
- Friends in my life who have lost their own mothers due to covid-19, and are experiencing their first Mother’s Day without them
- Mothers in my life who are missing the care and safety net provided by their own parents, and the struggles to care for the children without access to usual support systems
- Mothers in my life who are parenting children with chronic illness, medical challenges, and disabilities, and are feeling exponentially vulnerable and overwhelmed in times like these
- New mothers in my life, who in addition to the regular stresses of having a newborn, are unable to have friends and family hug, touch, hold, and snuggle those sweet babies
- Mothers in my life who are facing financial hardship and economic setbacks, feeling the burden of being unable to feed their own children or the anxiety of facing potential evictions and displacement
- Mothers in my life who have lost their children- whether through miscarriage, birth complications, terminal illness, unexpected catastrophe, or estrangement- and are feeling triggered by all of the grief and death that surrounds us this Mother’s Day
- Mothers I have worked with in the past, who are incarcerated, and feel the ongoing guilt and isolation of being separated from their loved ones, especially due to restrictions on calls and visitors imposed by the covid pandemic
- Those in my life who are dealing with infertility, whether it’s been just a few months or 10 years, and feel triggered by jokes of an influx of “corona babies” or the pressure to get pregnant with all the “free time” people have through stay-at-home
- Those in my life who are single but want to be mothers, and are struggling as they are isolated and unable to connect with people in this time.
There are so many other categories of grief I could name. These are just a few.
With every category, I can picture a friend’s face, say a friend’s name. They are very real people, with real stories, with real pain. But they are more than just that pain.
So this Mother’s Day, in the middle of a pandemic, as we face an influx of ads urging us to buy our mothers flowers, or send them digital photo frames, or to use video conferencing products to “see” our mothers, let us acknowledge the very real costs and tensions that come from Mother’s Day 2020.
It’s okay to celebrate. It’s okay to feast. It’s okay to indulge and be grateful.
But it’s also okay to mourn. To feel uncomfortable celebrating. To feel tension. It’s okay to not be okay.
This Sunday, let us welcome the wide range of emotions, experiences, and tensions that this Mother’s Day will bring. And as mothers for generations have done, let us open ourselves to hold that wide range of human experience- with care, with tenderness, with presence, and love.
*While the birthing process for me was a physical birth, I want to also acknowledge the wide range of birthing experiences for mothers, which includes those who foster, adopt, go through surrogacy, have legal guardianship, are godmothers, etc. When I talk about birthing in this piece, I want to honor that diversity of experiences.
A few of my favorite Mother’s Day poems and litanies