Motherhood: Are You in, or Are You Out?

By Stacey A. Pawlak, Ph.D.

As Mother’s Day approaches, women of reproductive age take part in the Mommy Draft, whether we’re ready to play or not. Team Mom is generally seen as the ‘winning’ team, what with the cards, brunch specials, floral arrangements, macaroni necklaces, and shout-outs in the community, at church, and on social media. Every other woman gets lumped into Team Non-Mom, whether she’s happily childless, has lost a pregnancy, or is struggling with infertility, or adoption. On Mother’s Day, those on Team Non-Mom don’t just take second place, many – especially those who do want children - frequently feel like they’re in last place.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were no teams, and no veiled competition, for something that proves elusive to so many of us? I have nothing against celebrating motherhood, and am a mother myself, but I am not a fan of the fact that Mother’s Day creates an artificial division between the Haves and Have-Nots. What if we simply celebrated the qualities, themselves, that make a “good mother” (or a good parent, for that matter), whether we have a child to direct them toward, or not?

So what are the qualities that should be celebrated, and what would this “Not Mother’s Day” look like? Here are some ideas…

  • Good moms frequently put their child’s needs above their own. On Not Mother’s Day, how about if we all think about what our family, friends, and even strangers might want or need from us, and try to give to others what we can? This might mean we take less, wait longer, or give up something we want, but the true gift is in the giving rather than the receiving, as we all know. So donate some time or money to that local women’s shelter, give the Uber driver a bigger tip, or drop in to see that lonely relative you’ve been semi-avoiding. We may even notice that taking care of others lets us forget our own troubles, for a little while.
  • Good moms are nurturing and loving. On Not Mother’s Day, let’s be caring toward all those we love, as well as those we don’t love so much. Let go of the beef with that frenemy who keeps asking “when are you going to get pregnant?”, post only positives on social media, and make empathy the word of the day. And, of course, shower your loved ones – from your own mom to your fur-baby – with affection.
  • Good moms multi-task. Not Mother’s Day is a great time to remember all the various aspects of ourselves, and our lives, that make us who we are, and tie us to the world around us. Being a mother, or wishing to be a mother, is only one variable that forms our identity: we are also spouses, partners, daughters, granddaughters, perhaps sisters/aunts/nieces, workers, friends, pet owners, travelers, runners, readers, sewers, community members, and so much more. It is easy to forget these important pieces of the puzzle, when our days are spent timing ovulation cycles, looking at donor profiles, completing the adoption application process, or secretly crying over all the pregnancy, and new baby posts, on our friends’ Facebook pages. So get busy in a better way, remembering all the things that make you, you, but have nothing to do with being, or trying, to become a mother. It’s a good bet that some of these are the very things that inspired you to pursue parenthood in the first place.
  • Good moms balance the good with the bad. We all have a tendency to get caught up in what we don’t have, and to forget what we do have. So Not Mother’s Day might be a good time to understand, that joy and pain, can co-exist. We can be grateful, and joyful, that we have so much (a warm bed to sleep in, friends to talk to, that new Samsung Galaxy S8,) while mourning our losses (of children, fertility, or reproductive choices) at the same time. Grieving is the process of traveling through the darkness, but reaching for the sunshine on the other side.

So whether you are already on Team Mom, doing everything you can to make the cut, or happily on Team Non-Mom, I wish you a good Not Mother’s Day, full of compassion toward self and others, and hope for a positive future. In the end, I’d like to think that we’re really all on the same team, anyway.

For more Mother's Day and infertility content, click here.

Stacey A. Pawlak, PhD is a Staff Psychologist with the Women’s Wellness & Counseling Service and Health Psychologist for the Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Program at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics in Iowa City, Iowa. Her clinical specialty areas are infertility and perinatal loss.

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