I have never been big on clubs. They simply have never appealed to me until I came upon a club that kept denying me membership. There is one club that no matter how much you want to be in it, no matter how hard you try to join, membership is determined by one sole requirement: The Motherhood Club. Several years ago, my husband and I spent Mother’s Day with his parents. At brunch, I noticed we were the only group in the restaurant without children. I immediately became keenly aware of the absence at our table, and I leaned over to ask my husband if he thought people thought it was odd there were no children at our table. He looked at me matter-of-factly, smiled, and said that he doubted anyone was giving us that much thought. I welcomed his loving dose of reality.
Dr. Brené Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me, says motherhood is a sensitive topic for women, whether they have children or not, because we often believe that motherhood is “inextricably bound” to our sense of what it means to be a woman. She goes on to state that motherhood, and everything having to do with it, is one of the top shame (aka feeling not good enough) triggers for women. It is so easy for motherhood to become a determining factor of our worth as a woman. It is so easy for the number of children we have or what they are doing or not doing to become a grading scale we use to measure ourselves.
That Mother’s Day, I felt every ounce of emotion that comes when you find yourself on the outside of The Motherhood Club trying to get in. As I sat at that brunch, I felt self-conscious and inadequate. I felt the whole restaurant could see what I wasn’t talking about and so desperately wanted to not be true: we couldn’t get pregnant. Over the course of our infertility journey, I waded through all sorts of feelings- disappointment, frustration, confusion, envy. I feared being left… being left with this mixture of sadness and resentment… being left behind. I wondered why it was so easy for some and so difficult for others. I wondered why I had to be in the latter category.
The Motherhood Club is an interesting one. The membership form has so many questions: When? Why? Why not? How many? It seems most, if not all, women wrestle with these questions. For some, the answers come easily. For others, the answers come after a long inner debate. And still for others, they don’t get to decide the answers at all. Whether you always knew you wanted to have children, you chose not to have children, or circumstances out of your control chose for you, motherhood touches each of us differently, and the journey is filled with a dizzying array of emotions.
Even once you become a mother, the questions and fears do not automatically subside. There are now new concerns and ponderings. Am I good mother? Am I making the right choices for my child? How do I protect my child without being overprotective? How do I know if I am messing up?
My hope for you this Mother’s Day is that wherever you are in this journey, you will give yourself the space and Grace to be there. If this is your first Mother’s Day and you are wondering how it’s possible to feel excited, grateful, tired, and overwhelmed all at the same time, give yourself the space and grace to feel all of those emotions. If this Mother’s Day you are experiencing a particularly difficult season of motherhood filled with many questions and concerns and heartache, give yourself the space and grace to feel all of that. Or perhaps this Mother’s Day you are wrestling and wondering if you will ever be a mother, and this annual marker only reminds you of what you do not have. Wherever you are and whatever you are feeling, give yourself the permission to experience every ounce of that sadness, disappointment, joy, frustration, or gratitude.
But regardless if you have made your decision regarding motherhood or if you are still waiting for an answer, I hope you will remember the following:
Our worth as women is not determined by how we answer the question “Do you have children?” Our worth as women is determined by something greater and more innate. We are natural nurturers whether we have children or not. We are natural creators whether we reproduce or not. We bring beauty and life to all we touch. Motherhood is a part of being a woman, and motherhood might be part of your journey. But whether or not you are a mother does not determine your place at the table of love, belonging and worthiness. If you have zero children or if you have a dozen, your worth as a woman remains the same. You are a beautiful creation put here to fulfill a unique role and purpose. May you find comfort and freedom in that truth. May you rest in that blessed assurance.
Brown, Brené, Ph.D., LMSW. (2007). I thought it was just me (but it isn’t). New York: Gotham Books.