I’m not celebrating Mother’s Day, because my grown daughter and I celebrated last week. Who needs an arbitrarily set annual day to celebrate the miracle and joy of motherhood? Francesca gives me little mother’s days throughout the year, usually with little or no notice. This past week, she came in from the city, and gave me a most welcome gift: She cleaned out her childhood bedroom, which I have been using as my writing office. I had already grown accustomed to ignoring the pile of stuffed animals and old dance costumes and stacks of CD; and the additional space is breathtaking.
I always feel very ambivalent about celebrating Mother’s Day, because I almost did not become one. In my twenties, just after getting married, I was told by various doctors that I might not be able to conceive. And it seemed they were right. The years passed by without any sign or hint of a possible pregnancy: First one year, then three, then six, then ten. At first I tried to convince myself I didn’t care, that maybe I didn’t need children, that my career as a writer would be enough. But I as I grew older and the bitter reality sank in, I began to feel deeply anguished, even deprived. I had to go through the entire cycle of grief (with apologies to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross): Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, before I was finally granted the unlikely, ordinary but amazing gift of a child in my own womb, just as my own hair was literally turning gray. It didn’t happen just like that of course: I had started seeing a well-known specialist, and it took surgery plus a cocktail of potent fertility drugs, but exactly ten months after that surgery—the small scars from it still red and visible on my abdomen—I was back in the hospital, pushing my 8-1/2 pound daughter into the world. My husband was right there beside me, actually holding onto my thigh as she came out, then cutting the messy umbilical cord with the doctor’s shears. It was quite a day for our little family, but one I felt I’d earned, emotionally.
And so on Mother’s Day, I try not to revel in my own good fortune, but feel for all the women who long to be mothers, and can’t; for those who have to endure the painful, humiliating, expensive and seemingly capricious process of infertility, often without positive results. And even for those who don’t want to be mothers, and feel reviled for that; for those mothers who lose children, at any stage in life—my next and last pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, so I understand that pain, too. I feel too for mothers struggling with children born with unique and challenging issues and conditions; for mothers who find raising children difficult; for the mothers of children who go astray; mothers struggling with substance abuse problems; for mothers struggling with depression. In another words, all mothers and non-mothers and would-be mothers—you are all my sisters. Not just today, but every day.