Sunday, May 12, 2013

We Are All Mothers

Me and My Kid
I know many women—lovely women, loud and funny women, quiet and reserved women, healthy women, brave women—whose plans for motherhood were thwarted. Preeclampsia, HELLP Syndrome, infertility, stillbirths, miscarriage, even busy careers that claimed all their attention until neither pregnancy nor adoption were viable options. They wanted to be mothers, to birth a child and marvel in the joy that comes with shepherding a mini-me through life’s stages, to revel in the role of cheerleader, confidante, and healer of skinned knees and broken hearts.

My chest tightens every time I meet another woman whose dream of motherhood never materialized, regardless of the circumstances that created the chasm between her and the child she once imagined. I know what I’m about to say runs the risk of sounding trite coming from a woman who spends countless hours with her daughter, a woman who got her happy ending to an otherwise frightening birth experience. But here goes: We are all mothers, regardless of whether or not we have children.

Clare with Aunt Dede and Cousins Sam, Andie and Peirce
My own daughter, Clare, has been blessed with more mothers than I can count. For quite some time following her birth, I was unavailable to mother her (funny how a coma will do that to a person). I consider my former sister-in-law, Dede, to be Clare’s first mother. For nearly two months, Dede cared for my newborn daughter, in addition to her own young children, 400 miles from where I lay in the ICU. 

When Clare returned to San Francisco to be reunited with Jeff and me two weeks after my hospital discharge, our recently hired nanny, Vi, took over as Clare’s second mother. Still unable to perform the simplest tasks of motherhood, I could only watch as Vi bathed and fed and nurtured my little girl. As my physical stamina improved (I’d been sleeping 15-20 hours/day when I first came home), Vi transitioned me into the role of my daughter’s caregiver with an ease not often found in 21-year-olds. She then helped my little family relocate to Boulder, after which she bowed out and returned to San Francisco in what felt like a subtle nudge for me to step up to the plate. Given my rough start with motherhood, any shred of confidence I’d previously held about being a mom was blown to bits as quickly as my health was.

Over the years, more women showed up to mother my child. Jean, the part-time nanny and mother of two adult children, and Christy, the babysitter and yoga instructor who’s not interested in having children of her own, remain important relationships to my now teenaged daughter, even though both Jean and Christy moved away some years ago.
Yoga with Christy
Reunion with Jean
My sister, “Aunt Nooner” (it’s not what you think), mothers Clare from halfway across the country during their frequent telephone conversations, Karen’s innate sense of empathy doing more for my child’s emotional development than she knows. 
Goofing Off with Ghee

My mother—“Ghee” to Clare—has regular one-on-one outings with my daughter during which they discuss the gamut of life topics and share their own private jokes.

Favorite Teacher Cara Mentzel
Clare’s teachers, drama camp counselors, swim team coaches—they’ve all mothered my daughter in their own ways: developing her abilities, correcting her mistakes, protecting her, encouraging her, and fueling her desire to learn and grow. In other words, loving her.
Favorite Teacher Lisa Kennedy

Even the college student who noticed Clare, then five, looking lost and frightened in the crush of costumed people on that awful Halloween when a group of us were trick-or-treating and it was my daughter who was missing when the headcount fell short—I count her among those who’ve mothered my child as well. Not to go all “it takes a village” on you, but, truly, I am more grateful than words can express for every person who has ever had a hand in mothering Clare—be it for a year, a day, or the ten minutes it took that godsend of a CU co-ed to reunite my daughter with her parents in 2005.

Jill and Roscoe the Rescue
Lest we shortchange the mothering we have each done, let us remember that mothering comes in many forms—for example, the volunteer efforts of my friend Jill, who is childless but a mother nonetheless. Each week on Facebook, Jill posts photos and stories of the latest rescue pup she’s fostering, the love and compassion she has for these dogs abundantly clear.

Sabra Hosts a Party for Jesse

My husband’s niece, Jesse, is a small-town girl from Michigan who moved to Washington DC after graduating from college to pursue a career in public policy. Despite having no family in the vicinity, Jesse managed to navigate this life change well because my friend Sabra, also a DC resident, stepped in as her mentor, confidante, and yes, mother. Sabra has never given birth, but between her graduate school alumni association, undergraduate sorority, numerous junior work colleagues, and Jesse, she has mothered more people than I can count, myself included.

Sandra Takes Her Mothering to Rwanda
My friend Sandra mothers whole groups of children every time she visits another refugee camp in Africa, giving away hundreds of the indestructible soccer balls her company manufactures. For whatever brief amount of time she spends with these children—demonstrating the ball’s durability, kicking it around with them, or daring them to try to pop it—she is a mother to them, a maternal presence connecting through a shared love of soccer.

To mother is to nurture, to guide, to encourage, to love. It’s about embracing the opportunity to touch the lives of others, be they our children, our friends, or even a complete stranger who, in that moment, could use a hug or a kind word.

We are all mothers.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Download a PDF of the first 4 chapters of Lauren's memoir, Zuzu's Petals: A True Story of Second Chances, free.  Click here and go to the link below the "Buy the Book" button.  Zuzu's Petals is also available on Kindle and Nook.  Hardcover signed and inscribed copies are available at Happy reading!

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