This is my first Mother’s Day.
I know some people start feeling like a mom before they have a kid, or when they’re pregnant, but that was not the case for me. Like most first time moms, I had no idea what to expect of new motherhood. Before I gave birth, I tried to imagine those first hours of skin to skin, the first attempt at breastfeeding – all the things you hear other new moms talk about. When the time came, nothing went as planned. It never seems to with kids.
My son unexpectedly wound up in the NICU and I couldn’t hold him for the first few days of his life – let alone enjoy skin to skin or practice breastfeeding. Trying to get my milk to come in while sitting alone in the dark, pumping in the middle of the night, thinking of my son who I hadn’t even held yet in the NICU all by himself, was not the start to motherhood that I had imagined. But those first few days taught me a great deal about motherhood. Among the many lessons that experience taught me, perhaps most important was the sudden, powerful realization that I now had another life to take care of – not just to care for physically, but to protect in every way I could. I’ve never been one to hold back an opinion, but learning how to advocate for my son was a new skill. As anyone who has had a baby in the NICU can tell you, it’s an overwhelming, scary experience – and I was lucky, my son was healthy with a treatable problem. Even so, for that week, it was a constant effort to get information, process information, and make decisions. All within the first few days and hours of becoming a mom for the first time. I learned that to advocate for him, I would push further and harder than I ever knew I could, or than I ever would have for myself – and that made me really feel like a mom.
Hearing the stories of the many women who have given birth during this crisis has reminded me of that experience. When these women found out they were pregnant, they had no reason to imagine that in 9 months they’d be giving birth in the middle of a global pandemic. It wasn’t their plan, but it’s where they found themselves, with no option but to push ahead and find the best way to care for their babies. Some of them were forced to deliver and recover alone, and all of them are now self-quarantining in isolation with newborns. One of the greatest joys of having a new baby is introducing them to all the loved ones in your life. All these new moms are delaying that joy and wondering when they might be able to bring their little ones outside of their homes and into the world – and what the world will even look like then. These new parents are left to try and solve the challenges of new parenthood alone, in isolation. I feel for them. Particularly those parents who have had to quarantine away from their babies for a period of time. That forced distance feels absolutely impossible to overcome in the moment.
I’ve never been a big fan of Mother’s Day in general. To me it feels outdated and a bit sexist – and I know that’s not entirely fair since there is also Father’s Day – but somehow Mother’s Day feels patronizing. For example, I’ve never understood the widespread acceptance that Mother’s Day should be celebrated with breakfast in bed. It doesn’t sound bad per se, but it also seems to suggest that every other day breakfast is the responsibility of the mom, and today she’s getting a break. I bristle at the implication. The whole holiday highlights the fact that the vast majority of the work moms do every single day goes completely unacknowledged. If moms, and especially working moms, could put in real requests for Mother’s Day I imagine it would be something more like having half their to-do lists completed for them, or finally seeing actual policy and culture changes at work that enable them to succeed as both mother’s and employees. Now that would be a celebration of motherhood!
Despite my somewhat pessimistic view of the day, the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that this year in particular it deserves celebrating. Many recent studies have confirmed what we already know: moms are taking on significantly more of the extra childcare, homeschooling, and household work – and it’s taking a toll, mentally, physically, and emotionally. This crisis has increased, substantially, the burden on moms, and as a whole we are stressed, anxious, tired, and overworked.
Which is exactly why we should be celebrating. Women are giving birth during the most insane global health risk our generation has lived through – but they’re still doing it. Working women are running themselves to the brink of exhaustion attempting to care for our families and our careers – but we’re still doing it.
Instead of thinking about breakfast in bed, this year I want to focus on something else that happens on Sunday – the support and encouragement that we share, mother to mother. The gratitude and respect that is passed between generations and peers. It almost feels like a secret, unspoken agreement between mother’s – ‘I see you, they (our kids, our spouses, everyone else) may not really see all you’re doing, but I see you, and I know exactly how you feel, because I am right there with you.’ That’s the part of Mother’s Day I really value, the acceptance and support passed from mom to mom and back again. All you mother’s, grandmother’s, soon-to-be mother’s, mother figures, and future mother’s – I see you. Happy Mother’s Day. You’re certainly worth celebrating.