1) You lose your mother to cancer and other disease.
2) You want babies and can't have them.
3) You get cancer and think you'll really never have them.
4) Post-chemo: you have a baby.
5) You want more babies and cannot.
6) You look back in love and awe at your mother's political and activist work.
7) You become your mother and try to save the world.
8) You feel: Gratitude and grace for the gift of motherhood.
It's a fraught day for many, a joyous one for others.
I know, first hand, both the immense pleasure of being a mom, and the intense pain of wanting to be one and not being able to. I also know the angst of losing a mom, the challenges of working full time and parenting, and the difficulties of raising a child alone.
It's a complex role, motherhood.
First, I lost my mom, too young. That's a complicated story. She was a complex person, married to a very difficult man. It took many years for me to come to grips with her greatness. I always saw her as weak and fallen, but now I see her differently. I see her as a victim of her time. I see her as a hero. That's the story of the book I'm writing.
And then there's the challenges of being a mother myself.
For years, I wanted to be a mother. I mean really, really wanted to be a mother. It was an obsessive desire. I wanted to have five or six kids: With Six You Get Eggroll, The Waltons, Yours Mine and Ours.
It didn't seem to be in the cards for me. Yes, I was of the generation of women that wanted to work and have a family--but it wasn't my career that got in the way, I just didn't seem to fall in love with "traditional" marriage or child-friendly guys. They were artists, actors, dancers, hippies, and free spirits who saw the nuclear family as confining, repressive, anti-happiness.
So, for years, I watched, with intense envy and sadness, other women get pregnant, give birth, and do it again and again. Everywhere I went, there seemed to be women with babies, toddlers, and pregnant women. My friends all had kids. Not just one, but several.
It was torture.
The sight of a stroller, a mother nursing, children in the playground with their moms, made me weep. I hated hated hated baby showers, dreaded the invitations, the cards, the excited calls from friends and their words: "I'm pregnant!" I would try to sound happy and supportive, but inside, my heart was breaking. 'All I ever wanted was kids,' I thought, 'Why couldn't it be me?'
The man I loved through my late twenties and thirties "wasn't ready and wanted to wait to have kids." I waited for him to change his mind, to feel at ease. My partner poo-pooed the "nonsense" I told him about the decline in fertility rates in women as they age. He thought medical statistics "were all in the mind."
The years went by and the clock ticked.
Then, in my mid-thirties, I got cancer and faced an onslaught of intensive chemotherapy treatments. Chemotherapy, my physicians said, might very possibly render me permanently infertile. I was bereft and upset with myself. Why had I hung out waiting for someone else to make up his mind, when having children was so vital to me? Now I might never have biological children of my own, now I might die and never experience motherhood at all.
There was no time for freezing eggs. I needed chemo right away.
Out of guilt, and possibly a sudden waking up to the sacredness and fragility of life due to my life-threatening disease, my partner then promised to have a baby with me when I was healthy enough to try.
Two years later, we tried to get pregnant. Nothing happened. Then after much help from an excellent reproductive endocrinologist, I became pregnant and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy girl. At last, I was a mom.
She was and is my miracle.
Yet. Even though I finally had a child, I still ached for more. So, I tried and tried, but I could not conceive again. I went through several years of giving myself shots of hormones daily, of multiple surgeries and treatments and various drugs. No luck. Every month, I went through a dramatic cycle of hope and disappointment that took a heavy emotional toll. Finally, I ran out of steam and stopped trying. I was too exhausted to go through the adoption route.
The grieving and longing for more children passed in time. Today, my heart is full with joy and gratitude for all that I have. My girl amazes me more and more each day with her kindness, intelligence, grace, vision, and generosity.
My relationship with my own mother has evolved over the years as well. Growing up, my feelings about Mom were fraught. When she lived, I saw her as the beaten-down woman of an abusive husband. I wanted Mom to be strong, to get out and save herself.
Now, twenty years after Mom's death, through researching her life in more detail for my book, I discovered that she was an important environmental and peace activist. She put her own body on the line to save the lives of many.
I have also come to understand the complexities of motherhood in a patriarchal world. It's not easy to leave an abusive relationship, and it was more difficult in my mom's lifetime. Fingers pointed at women when men misbehaved or when marriages failed. Women were supposed to keep everyone else happy. Adrienne Rich explained it all as a kind of altruistic self-sacrifice. Yes, we still have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of mommy and women blame. I was guilty of mother-blame myself when Mom lived.
I now see how deeply and positively Mom influenced me in a myriad of ways. For Mom's sake, I wish she could have put feminism into practice in her marriage, yet I no longer blame her for not being able to do so.
On a very positive note, I have come to follow Mom's path as an activist who works to protect all children from the polluting of our earth.
Every day I thank my mother for giving birth to me, and for teaching me the value of working on activist causes for the good of the earth and all living beings.
Every day I look at my daughter with amazement and feel immense gratitude for the gift of motherhood and all that it teaches me.
I honor my child.
I honor my mother.
Today, when I'm feeling any (mothering) grief, helping to take care of our mother earth is the best medicine of all.