Motherhood Has Many Faces

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Becoming a mom may take us by surprise. Or it may have been a long-planned and hoped-for dream. It can leave us breathless with its new joy and wonder as those we mother grow and change every day. We become mothers through nature, nurture, choice and most assuredly through love. And we know that the depth and poignancy of this mother love never ends

The spectrum of motherhood is as diverse as the many women who are called by the various “Mom” names. This month we pay tribute to the affection that is shared through these myriad relationships.

The act of bringing a new life into the world is accompanied by a multitude of feelings–joy, gratitude, hope for the future, wonder, perhaps a touch of uncertainty that one isn’t up to the task. Jessica Lange puts it simply: “The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.”

A mother of a child who is adopted will quickly clarify that there’s no diminishment of love because they don’t share genes. For her, motherhood transcends biology, and it’s been said that creating family is not about blood; it’s about who is willing to hold your hand when you need it most. “Adoption has the dimension of connection–not only to your own tribe, but beyond, widening the scope of what constitutes love, ties and family,” said Isabella Rossellini. “It is a larger embrace. By adopting, we stretch past our immediate circles and, by reaching out, find an unexpected sense of belonging with others.”

Emily Perl Kinglsey, describing the experience of being a mother to a child with a disability, likens it to planning a fabulous trip to Italy but landing in Holland. “So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people that you would never have met. It’s just a different place…But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills…and Holland has tulips.” Terri Mauro, author of 50 Ways to Support Your Child’s Special Education, says, “Having a child with special needs brings with it abundant opportunities for grace. It slows you down and allows you to enjoy the little things–a calm quiet day, a hard-won skill, a spontaneous hug, a pleasant conversation…You are granted the privilege of focusing on the things that really matter, teaching your children how to love and care and communicate on the most basic level…Miracles happen every day, if you only know where to look for them.”

Many women who are blessed by marrying a man with children, young or adult, wish the word “step” could be stricken from the English language. Yes, there are challenges with blending two families, but frequently the rewards far outweigh the difficulties. I fall on both sides of the fence; I have a wonderful mom who came into our family when I was eighteen, and I became a bonus mom myself years later. Mutual respect, love, forgiveness and friendship establish bonds within a blended family that may be as strong as biological ties.

Author Hope Edelman, at the age of 29, published Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss, an exhaustively researched work that explores the myriad, lifelong issues facing women who have lost their mothers. She says, “There is an emptiness inside of me–a void that will never be filled. No one in your life will ever love you as your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again.” If you are one of these women, Edelman understands that Mother’s Day may be a double-edged sword, celebrating the mother who gave life and yet still feeling longing and grief. She suggests making your mother part of the day–cooking one of her recipes, talking about her, telling her stories, recognizing her and celebrating her life.

Mothers who have lost a child, at any age, from any cause, have experienced life-altering change accompanied by a roller coaster of emotions. The “closure” that is a part of the grieving process is elusive or non-existent; these moms are never the same person they were before, but nevertheless they will always be a mother to the child who was lost.

Mothers who are raising their grandchildren, moms of choice–aunts, sisters, your friend’s mother who treats you as her own–are all part of the many faces of a mother’s love. Recognizing these women is part of our celebration as well.

Ironically, Anna Jarvis, who lobbied Woodrow Wilson to name a national Mother’s Day 101 years ago, remained unmarried and childless her whole life. Let’s remember her efforts–call your mom, whatever her name is and wherever she may be!

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