Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK, and as is now expected in the modern age, social media was awash with posts about it. There were check ins at fancy restaurants where some were taking Mums out for well deserved treats. There were pictures of homemade cards, lovingly produced by children and presented with flowers and breakfasts in bed. There were touching tributes paid to Mums no longer with us, Mums to be, Mums who brought up families alone and Mums who supported and inspired their children. Husbands and partners gushed about their amazing wives and girlfriends and Mums themselves gushed about their beautiful children and how wonderful motherhood is. It’s all very heartwarming stuff, and many a post I saw brought out a smile or elicited a teary eye. I know some hate all that schmaltzy stuff and abhor the idea of commercialized holidays, as if it makes you incapable of expressing such appreciation on any other day of the year, but I personally think it’s nice to see such an outpouring of love, especially as it isn’t often these days that we’re encouraged to stand up and publicly state how much we love and value our loved ones. All in all it certainly appeared that my friends and associates had a wonderful day.
But what about those of us who aren’t Mums?
It can be an oddly alienating experience, being childless in your 30’s on Mother’s Day. Silly really, as it is just another day, but the way people’s lives are so public these days, it really can draw a divide between those who have children and those who don’t, and that can be painful. What starts out at the beginning of the day as an innocent expression of love can quickly turn into what feels like an onslaught to someone cut out of the loop by the end of it. Everywhere you turn there is a reminder of the fact you have not yet procreated, and at times it can start to feel like an assault. We have children, and you don’t. You aren’t one of us, you can’t be in our gang. Poor you, you can’t possibly be capable of understanding true joy in life because of your empty womb. We pity you, you poor, childless being. No one really means it that way, of course, but it can’t help but feel like a competition at times. One post I saw said ‘It takes a special person to be a Mother,’ not at all untrue in lots of cases – but what does that make me? A lesser person? Less capable, less caring, less worthy? Does that mean I’m not special? It made me suddenly feel inadequate, like I wasn’t fulfilling my true potential in life simply because I haven’t given birth – and when you already harbour anxiety about your childless state this can make the day a little hard to bear.
There are so many reasons why a woman my age might not be a Mum, yet society insists on splitting us into two just two camps – those with and those without. Those with are portrayed as such a diverse bunch. They are warriors, goddesses, nurturers. They are teachers and carers and inspirations. They are celebrated. They are, after all, holding and shaping the future generations. But those of us without are just without, and only one question is usually asked of us – ‘Why haven’t you had children yet?’ as if it is a given that we should have, and it’s odd that we haven’t. But it isn’t odd, and there is so much more to our stories than just our lack of offspring, so I thought I’d take a few moments to pay tribute to the other non-Mums out there who might also have found Sunday hard to get through.
Some of us are childless by choice.
We didn’t feel that maternal urge growing up. We didn’t play with dolls or name our future children. We like our life the way it is and would rather not have to be responsible for another human being. Some of us don’t feel capable of being responsible for ourselves never mind a baby! And sometimes that choice isn’t actually based on not wanting to be a mother – sometimes it’s based on circumstance. It’s because we don’t feel we can provide for them well enough yet. It’s because we haven’t met the right partner and we don’t want to go it alone, or we don’t want to bring a child into a home we know might not be stable or a world that doesn’t feel welcoming to us right now. Sometimes it’s because we doubt ourselves and our abilities and don’t know if we’re ready. Either way, be certain we have thought about it. We’ve weighed up the pros and cons and made the best decision for us, and for those children that might be or have been.
Some of us can’t be Mothers.
Or not in the biological sense, anyway. Our bodies weren’t built to accommodate it, or something happened that took away it’s ability to. Sometimes we’re ok with that, sometimes we’re not. Sometimes we’ve spent months, years, decades trying to conceive, but nature hasn’t cooperated so far. When you ask us when we’re going to start a family, it makes us feel like failures, regardless of whether or not we want children. It makes us feel defective, as though the world thinks we don’t have a purpose in life if we can’t gestate a child.
Some of us were Mothers once upon a time.
Every Mother’s Day for us is a painful reminder of the children that once were here but now are not. Sometimes you don’t even know we were Mums, because we’re told not to talk about it. We’re told it’s unlucky, and it should be kept a secret until an obligatory date, so when the child never comes or gets cruelly taken away we can’t talk about it. To the rest of the world, those babies never existed, but they existed to us, even though sometimes we never got to hold them in our arms or hear them call us Mummy or count their tiny fingers and toes and watch them grow. We saw their image flicker on a screen and we heard their hearts beat and we felt them move in our bellies. We will always be Mums in our hearts, but we might never tell you about it.
Sometimes it just hasn’t happened for us.
We want it more than anything, but it just hasn’t worked out that way. Careers have gotten in the way, we’ve had money troubles, relationships have broken down. Maybe we just waited too long. Some of us regret it, some of us don’t. A lot of us are more than familiar with that bitter sweet combination of joy and resentment when a loved one tells us they’re expecting. Maybe one day we will be Mums, maybe we won’t. We might adopt, or foster, get a dog or tend a garden to make use of our maternal urges. Maybe we will just continue to cherish our Nieces and Nephews and Godchildren as if they were our own. But plenty of us will yearn, and worry, and fear that it might never happen. We will always wonder what might have been and it cuts like a knife when you ask us why, because we can’t answer and it doesn’t seem fair. And it really isn’t pleasant or helpful being told not to wait too long, or having articles about how many of your eggs die with each passing 30-something Birthday constantly thrust in our faces, as though there is a ticking bomb in our uterus.
I hope one day that I get to experience what Mother’s Day is like for a Mum, and if I do I’m sure I’ll join in all of the gratuitous posting and sharing. If I don’t, I’ll find a way to deal and I’m certain life will be just as sweet. It will just be different to how I expected it to be. One thing is for sure though, whatever happens I will always be thinking about the non-Mothers out there, who are so much more than just a childless person.
Much love to all my Mum and non-Mum readers alike!