I was having a conversation with a co-worker a few years back shortly after I’d been promoted and given a new position at a different test facility, and we somehow touched on the topic of single mothers — as I was one, and he had been raised by one. His experience had not been pleasant, and it was easy to see just from our short conversation that he held all single mothers to his own lacking mother’s stature. He spoke of an embittered woman who would lash out at her children for the life she felt she had lost, that she felt she had been forced to give up — a sentiment he was positive that I shared.
I’d been divorced for a few years by that time and my life was in a really good place. I’d just moved closer to my job into a nice new house, which was also just down the street from my daughter’s school. My new position had stabilized my previously erratic work hours, and my daughter was doing very well all around. She was happy, I was happy, and it was great. My ex-husband and I were getting along better than we had in nearly a year and when my co-worker asked what I thought of motherhood it wasn’t difficult for me to say, ‘I believe my daughter is the best thing that could have happened to me.’
He scoffed and rolled his eyes, as you well might be doing. Perhaps this is another one of those issues that only exists in the internet unreality, but there is a general sense recently that no woman actually enjoys being a mother, and if she does it’s because she lacks sense and intelligence. But like everything in this life that is worthwhile, I can love a thing beyond all reason, and still struggle with and at it. My co-worker then pointed out that as a mother I was supposed to say that and that I couldn’t know everything my life might have been if I hadn’t had a child. And that’s true. I can’t know what might have been different had I not had my daughter when I was seventeen any more than he could know what his life might have been like if he hadn’t joined the military or if he hadn’t gotten married and then divorced. But we can’t live our lives in the poisonous sphere of ‘what if.’ ‘What if’ doesn’t matter, it doesn’t exist, and its utterance is beyond pointless. ‘What is’ matters and what we do, here in the present, is all that truly exists.
And what ‘is’ for me is the beyond logical attachment to my daughter that permeates my entire life. That intense, visceral emotion that I felt the moment I knew she existed; before I even really understood what love was, what it meant to feel that level of dedication to another living thing. I can’t adequately describe what it feels like to care for something so much you would honestly, unwaveringly, be willing to die for it. Motherhood has taught me, during a time when a huge amount of other women have screamed at us mothers that we are wrong and that we are weak, that it takes a great deal of strength, courage, and selflessness to be a good mother. You have to be brave to teach your children bravery; you have to be strong to teach them strength, you have to be compassionate to teach them kindness and understanding. Much of who our children become — not always of course — is who we are and who we taught them to be. I can completely understand why many people wouldn’t want such a heavy responsibility.
Following the conversation with my co-worker, I sat down and considered his arguments and my reactions to them. For the first time in many years I tried to consider what my life might have been like without a child from a cold, logical place devoid of attachment. I had pursued a college education; I had a great job, good friends, a home, and everything I needed. The lack of a child may have gotten me there sooner, or, as I was want to believe, I may have never gotten there at all. It was impossible to deny that my daughter had projected me forward with my education, that she was a powerful motivator in every decision I had made. She’d given my life, my choices, a deep and resounding sense of purpose that I truly felt could not be replaced. I didn’t want to fuck up my life because I was then, inevitably, fucking up hers. There is power in that; there is a prevailing strength in pressing on for someone else when you lose sight of yourself. Something that, for me at least, guided me forward in life when I was lost and broken.
I don’t believe in destiny. I don’t believe I was meant to be a mother, exactly, or that I was meant to be anything at all. We are defined, molded, and made through our choices and we must own them. I own mine without shame. I’ve made my mistakes, but my daughter has never been one of them. In fact, I believe that she may be my crowning glory.
So no, I don’t say that my daughter is the best thing that has ever happened to me because I must; I say it because, for me, it is true. Because there is no better feeling than her small, sweet arms around my neck, with her head pressed into my neck and her hair in my nose. There is no sweeter sound than her laughter, or even the annoyance I feel when she’s rambling or pouting, because it’s all so real, so vital, and so physically and emotionally profound when so much in this life is removed, contained behind cold glowing screens. I’ve done things, personally, for which I am proud, but I have never felt more pride or fulfillment than when my daughter was named top of her class, the first time she read aloud, and that utterly full sensation that washed over me when I read in her little school journal that said she someday wanted to write stories like her mom.
I find fulfillment in the life I am able to provide for my daughter, the lessons I hope to teach her concerning personal responsibility and quiet strength. A thousand arguments could be made for all the things I might have done without my daughter, and I’ve certainly done many things with her (you might even say outside her), but all of them meant so much to me because of her. Motherhood didn’t evaporate my dreams, like I’ve heard so many claim is often the case; it honestly gave them a renewed sense of purpose, a necessity even. But one thing is for certain, the love I feel for my daughter cannot be replaced. Having felt it, lived it and basked in it, I would not trade my life for another because I’m not sure I could go on living without her. There’s a place in me that aches at the mere thought of it, and it presses down on me from all sides, an emotion that threatens to rob me of myself.
All this to say that, as much as I respect a woman’s wish to not have children oh honestly wonderful childless women of the internet, I would also ask you to respect how deeply and truly I love mine. Please don’t diminish the love a mother can posses for her children; we aren’t all after the same things in life, but that makes the alternative no less worthwhile. Parenthood does require selflessness, sacrifice and strength, and I don’t understand why those traits should be so easily dismissed and cast aside. I have a job, a career even, I sought a higher education and I’ve had my share of relationships, but nothing has been more difficult, and thus more fulfilling, than being a mother. For me, for my life. I make no conclusions about yours and I would caution you from making any about mine.
I’ve recently felt that there has been a very harrowing attack on motherhood, a deep seated need to point and project the issues of others, the desires of others, onto women with children. As though their experiences and wants are the same, and that one set is better than the other. We forget the impact a mother can have on her children, for better or for worse; we also forget that motherhood need not be the only identity a woman embodies if she doesn’t wish it to be. I am a mother yes but I am also an engineer, a writer, a reader, a runner, a lover, a fiancé, a historian, a fighter, a cancer survivor, a lover of all things ‘nerdy,’ a daughter, a friend, a person.
We forget that really, what we all want deep down, is the choice to decide what is right for ourselves outside the sphere of what everyone says we ‘should want’ or ‘should do.’ Why shouldn’t I be a mother because you feel it is a waste of time anymore than you should be a mother because I believe it isn’t?
Almost any woman can have a child, it’s true. It has been happening since the dawn of time and will continue to happen until we reach our end. There is nothing objectively special or new about motherhood, about giving birth, but there is something profound and priceless in a true and good parent. Anyone can be a mother, but not everyone can be a good one.