Happy Mother’s Day from Your Friend, the Unmother
For the last few years, Mother’s Day has been hard for me. While I’m childfree by choice, as more and more of my friends and family joined the sorority of motherhood, I felt utterly alone and left behind. I grew resentful of the mom worship I saw constantly. Every pronatalist remark made anger flare in my chest.
But at the same time, I know mothers do a lot and agree, they deserve a day. Thanks to a cocktail of deep-rooted anxiety, a thriving inferiority complex, and a severe case of middle child syndrome, I struggled with how to hold these two ideas at the same time—so much so, that I wrote a whole book about it.
Not every childfree person shares my experiences of discomfort with Mothers’ Day—there are as many ways to be childfree as there are ways of being a mother. But I believe sharing my struggle is part of an important societal conversation on women and their value outside of the motherhood paradigm.
"there are as many ways to be childfree as there are ways of being a mother"
I got caught in a cyclical grief I didn’t know how to claw my way out of, distancing myself from mothers and children, and focusing on the childfree people in my world. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of during this journey, like telling my mother I’d rather gouge out my eyes than go to my sister-in-law’s baby shower, and telling my elderly neighbour I would get an abortion if I got pregnant when she suggested I might change my mind.
Even in the depths of my reckoning, I tried to mask my feelings on this day.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” I said to the mothers in my life, false cheer heightening my voice, a tight smile distorting my face.
And the people around me felt uncomfortable too, perhaps sensing my disingenuousness and battling their own awkwardness. What to say to a woman without children on Mother’s Day?
“You too! You’re the mother of stories.”
“You’re a mom. Your kids have four paws.”
These false parallels are not of interest to me. It comes from a kind place, but it feels condescending. I chose not to be a mother. A choice that was hard to make in our child and mother obsessed society. I am proud I resisted the external and internalized pressure to reproduce.
"I am proud I resisted the external and internalized pressure to reproduce."
This week, I was in a long-term care home giving a presentation for my day job. They had a Mother’s Day tea for the residents, The common area was full of liverspotted, wrinkled women in fancy, oversized hats. They held delicate teacups in their tremoring, arthritic hands. Wheelchairs and walkers were strewn along the perimeter of the colourful tables with floral centrepieces. A wavering voice sang the old Irish classic, “A Mother’s Love Is a Blessing”, acapella. I didn’t feel anything but kindness. I just thought, how nice and went on about my day.
I have finally come out on the other side of my struggle. After months of therapy and a medication regime, I no longer have to look away from laughing children and smiling mothers. I don’t mentally check out when someone starts talking about their kids. There aren’t as many caustic thoughts that I have to resist verbalizing. It’s been a hard journey to get here—and I’m still far from perfect. I’m sure I’ll occasionally trip and fall, becoming defensive and disrespectful to the mothers in my life.
The relationships I have damaged with my behavior are also still in need of repair. I’m starting this work in earnest, while also being compassionate with myself. I understand why I did what I did. I’m trying to do better. I think others need to do better too.
"Today, I want to celebrate everything my mother did and does for me, while still honouring my complicated relationship with children and mothering."
Today, I want to celebrate everything my mother did and does for me, while still honouring my complicated relationship with children and mothering. As I reflected this week, I wrote the below poem as a part of my ongoing healing process.
If you’ve read this far, thanks for sticking around. Feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments. Oh, and if you identify as a mother and celebrate today, Happy Mother’s Day!—I mean it.
You always say that I was an easy baby.
Taking bottles without fuss.
Sleeping through the night.
I like to imagine you held a
mirror to my bowed lips, watching
my warm, moist breath obscure my reflection,
to make sure I was still with you.
Yet it seems I’ve used up every ounce
of that easiness and I’m trapped
being this difficult adult,
who bristles and is barbed,
who spends sleepless nights
pacing through hallways
like you never had to do with me
when I was an easy baby.
Crow’s feet chisel my thin skin but
my inferiority complex
has a root system like goutweed.
It makes me infantile and inconsolable
at the slightest transgression.
“Easy, baby,” I murmur to myself
when I feel the cavalry in my chest
coming to attention.
The colts whinny and stomp their hooves
in preparation for battle.
I stroke their soft velvet noses
and feed them the sweetest apples I can find.
They usually charge despite my best efforts.
But do you know how I try
to nurture that insecure child inside while still honouring the mother of that easy baby?