On Being a Mother (2015 Version)

It’s February 26th. And, as I do every year around this time, I am struggling with the definition of motherhood and being a mother.

This year, I’m thinking deeply about what I gave up to be where I am, in graduate school, earning a master’s degree. One discussion on the subject has always stuck with me. I was sitting in my psychology professor’s office, discussing the requirements for getting a graduate degree in psychology. Her background and extended time at the university made her an expert in my eyes. As we sat, she rattled of a lot of statistics—a doctorate in psychology would take me up to eight years. I could get a master’s, but there weren’t many jobs available without the doctorate. She also told me that many people struggle to have or start a family in graduate school because of the demands on their time and person; she knew that I had lost my child, and that the idea of having another was always lurking in some part of my mind. She only brought it up because she cared, because she wanted me to make the best choice for me and my future. But it still hurt to hear it: “If you want to get an advanced degree, and I believe you could, then you need to make peace with the fact that it’s possible you will never have another child.”

I remember sitting on the rolling chair in my professor’s office that day, pushing the chair back and forth with my feet, and wondering what was really the most important to me—did I want to further my education? Or did I want to be a mother? Did I really have to choose? Yes. Yes I did. The world says the women can have everything, but, in reality, it’s really, really hard to have it all. There can’t be one victory without the giving up of another.

People keep asking me what I want to do with my life after graduate school. Here’s the answer: I want to write, and I want to teach. (Though the teaching dream may be in limbo at the moment, but that’s for another post). I’m doing everything that I’m supposed to now; I’m working on getting as many publications as I can under my belt and trying to gain teaching experience so that I can be hired as a professor. The more I publish, (provided I can get experience), the more hirable I become. I can establish myself as a possessor of knowledge, but it’s gonna take time. Time that I don’t have in the grand scheme of child bearing. I watch the people I know, the woman, and when they have children versus when they have solid jobs (aka, I have observed and researched the tenure process). Many women wait to have kids until they have tenure; there’s a whole stigma that women with families are somehow “less than” men. I’m not aiming for a tenure position; if I write enough, I won’t need one. (Apparently I COULD get one if I was published highly enough. Again, that’s another blog). But I still worry about the stereotype, should I try to have kids. I worry that I see that situation only growing worse and worse as time goes on. I worry that I am growing into a world where the whole idea of having a family is lost; I worry that I have already made that choice.

I turn 31 this year. I’ll finish my master’s when I’m 32. (Provided it doesn’t kill me first). Then I’m out in the world, maybe teaching, maybe not. Maybe solid, maybe not. Probably not. It’ll take time to find a stable living out there in the world, and I’m not going to have a baby unless I can provide for it. So my career is a strike against my future child. And here’s the other thing about babies—you can’t make ‘em solo. And I’m just not interested in a relationship with a male. Strike two.

Okay, so, I know that there are other ways to have babies besides the whole sex thing. But those ways take time too. By my estimation, I’ll be in my late 30’s before I even have the opportunity to have children. A good friend pointed out to me this week that she’s in that age bracket and having kids. But for me, in my head, it all goes back to that being established thing. I’m scrambling now to pull it off as much as I can before I graduate, but thesis time is fast approaching, and then there will be no time for anything else.


And with that argument, which is, albeit, flawed in many ways, I face the fact that I might never have another child. I might not be a mother. Which brings me back to “What is the definition of a mother?” I looked it up. Here are some highlights:

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth

2. a woman in authority, or, the superior of a religious community of women

3. bring up (a child) with care and affection

4. give birth to

5. a female parent

6. something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale

The next question is, where do I fit into that?

1. a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth

That’s me. Or rather, that was me. It’s a weird gray area that’s not current, but that’s current at the same time.

2. a woman in authority, or, the superior of a religious community of women

This is definitely not me.

3. bring up (a child) with care and affection

This isn’t me either.

4. give birth to

This, yes. This was me. 22 hours of labor earns me the right to claim this one.

5. a female parent

Again, this one’s a weird gray area.

6. something that is an extreme or ultimate example of its kind especially in terms of scale

I like to think I’m extreme, I guess. But I’m not. I’m not “the mother of all—“ anything.

Really, the only thing here that solidly applies to me is giving birth. But lots of women do that, and they aren’t all great. Or, they are, but they don’t keep their baby for whatever reason. I feel like, on that basis, I have to disagree that to give birth makes a mother.

4. give birth to

This means that I fit nowhere in the definition of being a mother. My situation is just so … gray.

And so ends my yearly reflection on being a mother. I don’t fit into the mother box; I sit outside of it, balancing on its flap and looking inside to the place where I may never go. I wanted to write; I probably left the dream of being a mother, of having another baby, behind when I chose the dream of writing. I let the door to motherhood shut on me when I turned 30, and I don’t know how to reopen it. I don’t know if it CAN be reopened. I had a chance, and I lost it. I wanted to write, and I went after it. And sometimes, I can’t help the idea that I have forever left myself in the gray. That my son is gone, and that I won’t have another. 

Happy February.

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