(M)otherhood

As I was reading a review of this book, it struck me that these are issues that come up frequently in my all things adoption group. I am also personally familiar with secondary infertility and abortion. Looks like a good read. Here is the review by Viv Groskop in The Guardian titled – Motherhood: A Manifesto; (M)otherhood; The Motherhood Complex review – calling time on the cult of the perfect parent. Yes, she reviews 3 books, I’m only highlighting one here – (M)otherhood by Pragya Agarwal. You can read about the other two at that link.

In (M)otherhood, behavioral scientist Pragya Agarwal wonders if a book questioning the parental self and society’s attitudes to that self needs to define itself either as memoir or as political writing: “Does it really have to sit in a box?” Here is proof that it really doesn’t: this is an exhilarating, genre-defying read. Unsurprisingly, coming from the author of Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, Dr Agarwal is especially concerned with issues of identity, which makes this a thoughtful, anthropological journey. What does it mean to want to be a mother? What will others assume about you if you choose that – and if you don’t? What do these assumptions tell us about who we are as a society?

She frequently wonders about the role of the judgmental words we use around female bodies. She is told she has an “incompetent” or “inhospitable” uterus. She writes movingly of the ambiguities of motherhood, secondary infertility (being unable to conceive after giving birth in the past), surrogacy and her personal experience of abortion as a single mother: “A contradiction: I was a mother, but I couldn’t be a mother. Not then.”

All these moments are seamlessly interwoven with statistics, quotes and scientific evidence to clever narrative effect: the personal and the universal aspects of motherhood are illuminated as interchangeable in a way that is reminiscent of Olivia Laing’s writing on loneliness or the body. The science writer Angela Saini sums up (M)otherhood perfectly in her cover quote as “a step towards a literature that acknowledges the breadth and the variety of the parenting experience and its cultural meanings”. The whole thing adds up to the most thoughtful, empathic and inspiring science of the self. (Not that I can see Waterstones – a bookstore in the UK – adopting this as a shelf category. But perhaps it should.)

The reviewer ends with these thoughts – Overall this trio represents a side-eye question: “Haven’t we all had enough of trying so hard?” As Eliane Glaser points out in Motherhood: A Manifesto, many of the current stereotypes of mothers “symbolize our failure to improve the experience of motherhood.” See TV’s Motherland, books like Why Mummy Drinks and endless “hilarious” jokes about wine o’clock: “The only suggestion we can offer is to just drink through it.” Melissa Hogenboom’s conclusion in The Motherhood Complex? We are so obsessed with being “perfect parents” that we set ourselves up for failure. Better to be “selfish” (actually, sensible) and leave children to their own devices more often. I’ll drink to that.

What does this have to do with adoption ? If we can address what drives EVERY woman to believe she needs to have children, we can lower the demand by infertile women for other women’s babies and perhaps address the core issue of providing financial support and encouragement for mothers to keep and raise their own children. So yeah, it IS relevant.

How Do You Refer To Her ?

After discovering who my original grandparents were (both of my parents were adopted and died knowing next to nothing about their origins), my next education was in the realities of the adoption experience from a private Facebook group that includes all people related to the circumstance.

Early on, I learned that women who have given up a child to adoption dislike being referred to as the birth mother – as though all they did was give birth – failing to acknowledge that they gave 9 months of their life to the development of that baby – and not understanding as well the bonding that occurs between mother and child during gestation.

Understandably adoptive mothers really don’t want to dwell on the parts they were denied for whatever reason from experiencing.  They are a desire-driven, forward looking bunch.

One such mother replied to a question about her preferences – as a mother of a child lost to adoption I prefer to be referred to as my daughter’s mother – because that is what I am. My daughter can call me whatever she chooses and it varies…she is 50 years old. Let’s be honest…..you, are your child’s adoptive mother. Your child has a mother. If you negate that you are negating a primal aspect of your child’s life! The truth is critical. Do not take ownership of that which is not your truth.

Another one shared – I prefer mother, mom, or natural mom. Birth mother reduces me to my uterus and ability to procreate. It dehumanizes me and intentionally strips me of my actual motherhood all in the name of stroking the egos of adoptive parents.

Yet another one added this – I like bio mom. Biology means a lot to me. But I don’t get offended by any of the other terms or names.

Sadly, another one shared – My daughter was adopted without my consent, we have direct contact once a year. The adoptive parents and social workers have always pushed the term ‘tummy mummy’ which I personally find very patronising and hurtful, I’d prefer natural mum over anything else.

Finally, there was this – I’m a mother, pure and simple. Of course, I lost my children to Child Protective Services, and it was in no way voluntary. As an adoptee, as well, I *far* prefer the term first or original mother over natural or birth mother. Both of my mothers are my “real” mothers. Both are my mother. “Birth” implies that my original mother was a brood, and “natural” implies that my relationship with my adoptive family isn’t natural. For me, it is. Being on both sides of this, I would argue that the feelings of the adopted person should be paramount to the feelings of the biological parent.

If you would like to know more about the history behind this issue, you can read about it here – The Origin of the Word “Birthmother”.