Monday, November 16, 2009

What is a mother?

Abigail breastfeeding at two weeks old.

I've been thinking for the last few days about being a parent. More specifically a mother. What makes a person a mother? At what point in the process of being pregnant is it okay to call someone a mom. If someone adopts at what point are they considered a mother. This isn't because I'm having some sort of crisis about being an adoptive mother. I feel very secure in my mother status and believe God chose me to be Abigail's mother (and Jason her father).

However I was trying to recount when I started to feel like a mom. We waited on Abigail for three years. So the moment I opened my heart to hoping in what God had promised...was that the turning point where I unofficially became a mother. My gestation was nearly three years. Sure I didn't have the growing belly and some might argue that mine was easier, but physically less stressful does not make it easier. So back to the mother thing again. Did the transition occur when Abigail's tummy mommy (we will call her V) called and said that she wanted us to adopt her baby. Was that the day I could start walking around saying I'm a momma?

I am still unsure. It's harder for me to figure out as well. Because V was an amazing tummy mommy. She took care of Abigail and herself so that her daughter could be healthy. So I will never discount that fact that she is Abigail's momma. We might share that title, and that may feel threatening to some, but she loved with an unselfish sort of love.

The dictionary defines mother as a female parent. It also refers to maternal tenderness and affection. So I am a mother in the true definition of the word. Some woman argue that only giving birth makes this true. Some would say that they mother the children they care for while parents are at work or doing other things.

So not to long after Abigail was born I had a child tell me I wasn't her real momma. The child is kind of a punky child and was trying to anger me (although I didn't let him worked). Since that day I have wondered about the idea of being a real momma.

This particularly struck me because of the situation this child is in. His mother is close to double digits in the number of children she has. The older ones take care of the younger. The range in age from 18 to the youngest who is the same age as Abigail (a little over a year). The younger kids prefer the older girls that take care of them over their mother. Their mother is partially a victim of generational poverty, and partially a victim of making bad choices. We won't go into that here. However I just kept thinking about this child telling me I wasn't Abigail's real momma, and what being a real momma meant to him. I never asked, and probably never will. The child was too young to understand life outside of you didn't give birth.

I will say though at this point that I don't think I would handle a comment like that well. I have covered my love for V and am not discounting her roll in Abigail's life. I will say though that I cut the cord when Abigail was born, and since then I have taken care of her (as well as papa of course, but this is about momma). Although V came to visit Abigail in the nicu, Jason and I were there through all of the test, listening to what the doctors said, and feeding her when she was finally allowed to eat. As soon as we got legal custody of her I began breastfeeding (that's right you can do that) and was up every three hours (with my husband by my side...he does need some credit for that) trying to figure out how to nurse her with a supplemental nutrition system. When we got home Jason still helped with middle of the night stuff (making the formula, changing things) but once again I was the only one who could feed her. I took her to all of her doctor appointments. I got spit up on. I changed poopy diapers. I took her for follow up blood test. I held her when she got shots. I worried through the legal process before everything was official. I made all of her baby food, washed her clothes and diapers (once again yes, we use cloth diapers). I am with her nearly all of her waking hours.

Somewhere in there I am certain my status of mother, if it had been questioned, became official. Over the next few months though I took on more things and these are the reasons I would get pretty defensive now if someone said I was not her real momma. I have sat through SO many doctors appointments, spent hours upon hours researching, worrying, and losing sleep. I have written everything down from doctors appointments. I have kissed her when she fell down, held her in the middle of the night when she was sick, sat through her ear tube surgery, and a MRI.

I am the one who has been there for everything. I am unquestionably her momma. She would tell you that her 14 month old way.

However as I think about this I also think about friends who have struggled through infertility. They may not have the pitter patter of little feet in their home, but I have never seen such mother hearts. Does not having children mean they are not mommas. Sure the definition might not work in that case, but still I wonder.

So here I would like to pose an open question. What do you think? What makes someone a momma? When do you become a momma? Does having children make you a momma? Does not having children make you not a momma?

Wondering about the bigger picture,


  1. Here's what a mother is to me, it's a woman, who takes care of and loves you! It's a simple as that! I've told my mom that I have "adoptive" mothers. A lady who I worked with in college has been "Mom #2" for about 7 years! I love her and know that if I ever needed anything, she would be there, just like my Mom #1. There is also a lady whom I worked with down here in Florida who is "Mom #3". She has taken and picked me up from the airport, and even made me soup when I was sick. I think to be a mom, all you have to do is love! That's the most important thing a mom can do for her kid(s). I haven't seen you with Abigail, but I do know that you have a great heart and are full of love! You are Abigail's momma, no matter what some snotty nosed little punk says! You love her, and most of all, she loves you! ~~ Lyndsi

  2. Interesting, deep questions. I can speak only for myself. During the 15 months that I parented, I did mostly feel like a mother. However, there were so many other people involved, telling us what was "in the best interest of the children," that it took some of that ownership away from me and my husband. We felt we knew best, and certainly loved those children more than anyone else, but we weren't allowed to make critical decisions for them on our own.

    Now that they've been gone for nearly four years, those 15 months seem dreamlike. Sometimes I hardly remember those days. Maybe that's because I choose not to, because so much pain goes along with the remembering. We don't really talk about it any more, except occasionally when we remember funny things they said. I certainly don't feel like a momma anymore.

    Some people would tell me that I WAS their mother and still am, and philosophically I can sort of agree with that, but it doesn't feel like that to me anymore. I do not consider myself a parent in any way anymore. I still think about those children, wonder where they are and how they are doing, wonder if they ever found a forever family, think about what we'd be doing if they were still with us. But to protect my heart, I cannot permit myself to think about these things too much. I have to distract myself. I can't allow myself to still be their mother. In order to move forward in my life, I have to let go of them as completely as I can.

    So for me, I was a momma, but I'm not anymore. But being momma doesn't depend on biology. I think it has more to do with the heart.

  3. I think the moment "V" chose you to be her daughters mother and she took a step back to let that happen is when you became a momma. It is a hard thing for a birthmom to do but when you know you have chosen the best possible mother for that child you can let go. I am speaking from a birthmom perspective or course so I hope it helps. Maybe it would be hard to consider yourself a Mom until the very moment that baby is placed in your arms or maybe it doesnt feel final until the papers are signed. But you were that childs mother from conception becasue that's what God had planned for you and your husband. You are a REAL MOM to that precious baby girl. It doesnt matter what some punk kid might say to you! They dont own your feelings you do and you know what feels right in your heart. Try not to think about it as much and dont ever let it get you down. You are as REAL as they come blood or no blood.

  4. I've been thinking through this question lately, as a girl I know has wanted to start calling me her mom. I love her. I care for her. I provide for her in some ways. I am not her mom.

    You know I like being able to define things and I agree that "mom" can be hard to define, but I think having kids makes you a mom. Of course, there are different senses in which people can "have kids," as you express. You have a kid in one way, and a birth mom has a kid in another. Both are good moms.

    Emotionally, I think it's better (as your friend was getting at) for people not to call themselves a mom unless they are uniquely responsible for their child. Just as people can have qualities of a good wife before they're married, they are not a wife until they are married. So I think people can have qualities of a mom before they are actually a mom. I think it's important to affirm those qualities about them as we pray for them, but to call someone a mom before they have kids in some sense (and kids in utero -- someone's utero -- certainly counts, I'd say...) takes something away from the struggle toward and joy over the time they truly become a mom.

    There is certainly some ambiguity for everyone as there is a process to becoming a mom. For some it's a legal process, for some it's a biological process, for some its some of both, but there's ambiguity in all. Like the mother's day when I was pregnant. I was becoming a mom and I was a mom at the same time. It felt a bit ambiguous. And then there is that I am trying to mother some of the neighborhood kids in a sense. But I am not their mom. I can help them through life. I can be responsible for some aspects of their growth, but it's important for them, for me, and for my kids that I am not called their mom.

    There may be something else to say about spiritual mothers and fathers, but that's a different (though very important) subject.