Since today is Mother’s Day and most of you reading this are either parents or educators/counselors who have mothered hundreds of children, I thought I’d share my journey to becoming a mother.
Remember today the impact you have made on the young lives you’ve touched, and the impact they’ve made on you.
In my twenties, I wanted to be a mother in the abstract. It seemed like a good goal but I did nothing to achieve it. When I turned thirty, something changed. Since I wasn’t married, I made plans to have a child on my own, against the protestations of virtually everyone I knew.
Then I met and fell in love with Shawn, a man who “never saw himself as father material” (his words). I remember talking this over with my friend Rita, saying that if Shawn didn’t want to have a child, I should break up with him. I was 32 and if I wanted a child I needed to be focused on that goal. This was just a few months after Shawn and I had met, but having been a social worker for several years, I knew the golden rule of human behavior: “People rarely change. If they change it’s because they are in extreme pain. Even then they rarely change.”
Rita is very wise. (And also one of the strongest people I know.) She suggested I give the relationship six months. She had a hunch that Shawn, given time, would change his mind. I was dubious but decided six months was reasonable.
In that span of time, Shawn and I decided to get married, something we chose to keep secret from everyone else. (Which made my relocation of hundreds of miles to move in with him a fun thing to announce.)
Fast forward to 2004, when we’re married and moved into our dream house. (It was no one else’s dream house then, but it was ours.) We started trying to have a baby. I conveniently ignored all the things doctors had told me for years about the likelihood of my having children. This led to more doctor appointments. It led to the biggest stack of paperwork I had ever seen, strewn across our bed, while we phoned our mothers asking for random pieces of family medical history. It led to me, sitting in a waiting room alone with that stack in September, while every other woman in the room clutched at a partner’s hand. (Who knew this was an appointment you shouldn’t attend alone?)
The first words out of the preeminent fertility specialist’s mouth? The FIRST WORDS?
“Are you Italian?”
I really thought I had misheard him. What the heck did my ethnicity have to do with anything? But I said, “No, I’m Hungarian.”
He said, “But you have olive skin and dark hair and eyes. You COULD be Italian. I mention this because I have an egg donor who is available right now and she’s Italian. I know we haven’t done any testing yet, but with your history your chances of getting pregnant on your own are slim to none.”
If you know me, you know I’m great in a crisis. I’ve rescued children from drowning, saved a teen who had set herself on fire, told a carjacker that he didn’t want my car because it was out of gas. In the moment, I’m amazing. I do my falling apart later.
So, though inside I was reeling, I calmly told Dr. Hot Shot that Shawn and I had not discussed the option of an egg donor and that we would need to do so before taking any steps. The doctor said, “Men really need to contribute biologically to feel like a father, but if a woman carries a child, it’s less important to her that she contributed. It’s much more psychological for women.” (Yes, he really said that. Exactly that.)
He then began to discuss the myriad tests he intended to perform in the coming weeks. I stopped him at one point to mention that my work was going to have me on the road for the next few months. I told him that I’d call his office in November when I returned and we’d schedule the tests.
You may be able to guess that I never made that call in November.
In April of 2005 I got pregnant in Chicago, when Shawn and I were both there on business trips. My midwife later questioned how I could be certain when Girlie was conceived and I told her that Shawn and I were only in the same state for a couple of days that month, and on one of those days I was tired. She dropped her pen, laughing.
Girlie was due January 19th, the day after my birthday. Never a big fan of leaving places, she opted to stay where she was until we forced the issue on February 3, 2006.
Every parent will acknowledge that having a child changes your life. I was prepared for changes, though absolutely nothing – no books, blogs or advice – could have prepared me for Girlie. She was then and remains today one of the VERY few true surprises of my life.
No human being has ever reflected for me who I am with such searing honesty. In Girlie, my dreams shout, my fears scream, my flaws are magnified by a thousand. She has opened me to love in a way I had barely understood previously. And with all of this, she is so completely her own person, so much not an extension of me.
People often ask me if I swam, since Girlie is a competitive swimmer. My answer is always, “Yes, but not like her.” She is not me. She is not living the childhood I lived and she will not become the adult I am. I have hopes for her, but even those are mine. I can encourage her, but ultimately her choices and her path are her own.
It is perhaps the ultimate irony – we are tasked with doing everything for another human being, guiding and providing and teaching and disciplining and more. And that human being may elect to take everything we’ve given and set it aside. Or that human being may soak it all up to become their best self, someone we don’t yet know, someone we can scarcely imagine.
Let’s take a minute today to reach out and thank someone who has mothered us. It might be your biological mother, or not. It might be your grandmother, aunt, sister, friend’s mother, godmother, neighbor, teacher, guidance counselor, rabbi, priest, roommate or friend. The person you wish to thank may have already moved on from this life. In whatever way you’re able, say thanks.
We’re all in this together. My work is committed to helping people identify and pursue their goals, on the journey to their best selves. I am grateful beyond measure to be able to play a small part in this mothering process.
A huge thank you to the many people who have mothered and continue to mother me: my own mom, my Grandma, my Nana, my Auntie, my Aunt Karen, Mr. Kelleher (3rd grade), Mrs. Devlin (my 4th grade), Mrs. Monninghoff (8th grade), Mr. Merkel (9th-12th grades), Professor Salomon, Professor Oster, all of my close friends, and now, my Girlie.
Happy Mother’s Day, shiny humans.