Thursday, May 10, 2012

On Motherhood

This Sunday is Mother's Day. Although it is celebrated on different days all around the world, most cultures set aside a day to appreciate our Mothers and all that they do for us. Sunday morning will probably see my news feed awash with photos of homemade cards, breakfasts in bed and flowers, some of which, undoubtedly picked by tiny fingers (and quite possibly from the neighbour's garden). It's a day of emotion for most, of remembrance for some and celebration for many.

It is such a powerful word, "Mother".  It invokes many of its permutations, from the sacred to the profane, all of which is dictated by our life experiences.  The word, this title, means so much to so many people.  As a culture, we like adding little specialty titles too:  "Working Mom", "Blogging Mom", "Stay-At-Home" Mom,  even "Absentee Mom".  There is also "Special Needs Mom", but we will get to that one later.

Becoming a "Mother", for me, was life changing. Gone was the egocentricity, the partying, the sense of entitlement. It wasn't just about me any more, it was about this little person. This new sense of "us". Instead of two people in orbit around each other, we were now three, a cohesive unit. It was wonderful and terrifying all at once. Previous to this, I had spent countless hours at the gym, the salon, the nail salon and the mall, shopping for new clothes and new ways to combat my 'age'. I needed to look better, was the thought, to look more like the ideal and inflate what I recognize now as an appalling lack of self-confidence. I spent countless dollars at the liquor store too, trying to soothe myself after the rest of it 'didn't work'. I am one of those people that motherhood changed for the better. I will admit that wholeheartedly and face any criticism that may generate.

After a rough entrance into this world, my son had a mother.  Me.  I was somebody's Mother. (Eek!)

I entered a second phase after my year of maternity leave as I returned to work.  As a "Working Mom", I was supposed to have it all:  a faboo job, a clean house, carefully scheduled play dates and homemade banana bread cooling on the counter.  I did too... well, most of it.  My house, like most, has stages of 'clean'.  However, I still baked the banana bread, I still sat down every day with my son and went through his day and did activities together.

Flash a few years in the future as I have my twins.  Becoming a mother this time meant a whole lot more things.  There were more labels.  Now I was a "Twin Mom" and most notably, a "Special Needs Mom".  It can be a bit confusing at times as the first title usually makes people squeal with glee.  The second one usually elicits a completely different reaction.

Stupid human tricks aside, it's the last one that has caused the most growth and simultaneous heartache/joy.  To be clear, it's not my son that causes me heartache as my critics would contend;  it's society as a whole. I'm not just talking thoughtless vocabulary choices as there are still a lot of people out there who don't have the foggiest idea what 'special needs' are.  In my example, I have a son, a twin, who has Down Syndrome, the most common genetic disorder that occurs in 1:700 live births.  You would think people would know a little more about it.  Instead, I find myself railing against a public perception that is somewhere between 40 and 80 years out of date.  There is a lot of ignorance out there, ranging from being told that my son will break apart my family or should have been aborted, to more milder forms, usually involving a "I didn't mean it that way" or "you're too sensitive". 

I read an article the other day that certainly captured most of it.  Called "7 Things You Don't Know About a Special Needs Parent", it hits the mark on a few points.  Please understand, these are not things that we experience every day, or feel all the time.  But, we will run into all 7 of these things at least once in our lives.  It happens.  I don't begrudge my friends with neurotypical children their pride at their children's accomplishments;  I will admit an occasional pang when listening to a laundry list of some of the more inconvenient aspects of their child's behaviour.  Again, it happens.

Becoming a "Special Needs Mom" can sometimes mean a whole new level of advocacy.   I've joked in the past that this job came with a sword and magic helmet, along with the ass kicking boots that come standard issue with being a "Typical Mom". My thoughts right now are with my friend M who is fighting with an area school board to allow her son admission in the fall.  She has been told that he is "too small", that they do not "encourage sign language", that they "don't have children with Down Syndrome".  It is completely appalling as M lives in the next county, forty minutes up the street from me.  My elder son has had a special needs child in his class both years of kindergarten;  there are many integrated special needs children in his school.  It is not a 'special' school or a trial school, just your average neighbourhood elementary.  It is pathetic that a forty minute drive can mean the difference between acceptance and complete ignorance. 

That is not to say that being a "Special Needs Mom" is any more important than any other type of Mom, because it isn't.  That is one of the pitfalls of this job, to think that this particular journey is any more important or difficult than any other.  I have no idea what it is like to be a "Single Mom" or a "Same Sex Mom", a "Step-Mom", an "Adoptive Mom" or any other title that we can apply to this job.  Despite the content of this blog, it's not my "Special Needs Mom"-ness that defines me any more than my "Twin Mom"-ness or my plain ol' "Mom"-ness.  I'm a Mother, just like the other millions out there.  We all bring our uniqueness to this title, but in the end, we are all the same deep down.  We want what is best for our children. We want a roof over their heads and food in their bellies.  We want them to grow up to be happy, productive adults.

This Sunday we will enjoy the many flavours of Motherhood.  Whether we biologically or adoptively assumed this role, we all have lots in common.  We forget that sometimes.  We all have our quirks, or specialties and even our weaknesses. We all have discovered strengths that we never thought possible.  "Mother" is the most demanding and most rewarding job I know.  It doesn't matter what prefix you put in front of it.

“Why do people say 'grow some balls'? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” - Betty White


  1. I have a title for ya - Momspiration. Happy mother's day lady!

  2. I can relate to your post on so many levels, particularly the first few paragraphs. I too spent hours working out, shopping and just generally spending time on me (or as a couple). What a shock it was to become a parent. And just when you start to get over that shock well it's time to go back to work and enter yes a whole new phase of motherhood.

    You're right, we don't need prefixes, "Mother" really says it all.

    Happy Mother's Day to you and all of the other lovely Mom's out there!


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