A day for mothers
Thinking of my identity, my mom, my kids, my patients, and a political reckoning
It’s Mother’s Day, and at 6:15am on my way to work this morning in the rain, my Uber driver said, “You shouldn’t be working on Mothers’ Day! Make the men work!” I laughed and appreciated the sentiment, but also thought about how a single day off is the least of what we need. We need equal pay, paid parental leave, better healthcare access and maternal outcomes, the ability to determine our own gender identity and let our kids do the same, and abortion access nationally. What does it mean to celebrate Mothers’ Day as women’s rights are being attacked?
Still, I am a hopeless romantic, and much like we over-celebrate holidays during the pandemic in order to combat some sense of despair, I like to put some sort of outsize importance on the holiday as a ritual. As a ritual, Mother’s Day reminds me to look through old pictures of my Ammamma and my mom, and my kids the day they were born. It reminds me to reflect on the last nearly two years of motherhood, and the 38 weeks of pregnancy before that. Last Mother’s Day, I still had a sense of not knowing exactly who I was. I was one year postpartum, and feeling like I was still in a tug-of-war battle with my pre-pregnancy self. Not just physically, which is what is often talked about in the media, but in terms of identity. No one told me (or more likely, I didn’t listen) that the process of pregnancy and delivery and postpartum and feeding and clothing and rocking and hugging and laughing and crying with these new people you brought into the world would change who you are in some fundamental way. And I didn’t realize how resistant I was to change.
So there I would be feeding my new babies and guiltily dreaming of times when I used to be able to sleep in till 9am on a weekend. Or there I would be using my post-call “day off” on the phone arranging doctors’ appointments, calling insurance companies, thinking of how I used to be able to do whatever I wanted on these days. There I would be physically and emotionally exhausted without the bandwith to have normal human conversations any more, even when I made herculean efforts to hang out with friends. And often, I couldn’t do the things I could do before; couldn’t wear what I once wore; couldn’t completely feel present in any one place because there was always a piece of my heart in the other.
No one tells you that in becoming a mother, at least for me, there was some process of mourning my old freedoms (which I never really appreciated in the first place). Then there’s the second phase of wondering what your parents were like before they had you and your siblings, and did they ever miss that freedom? What about my Ammamma, did she think about this? Or is this a case where my existential wanderings are particular to me, rooted somehow in my American childhood, and foreign to them?
On twitter one day I read a doctor’s tweet that it took her 2 years to feel like herself again after having children. 2 years! That was a long time. Now, it makes sense to me, with the edit that for me, it took me 2 years to find the version of myself that is both the old me and the new me. It has taken me that time to not only return to writing, but reaffirm it as a core part of my being. It has taken me that time to see how much of a better doctor I am to my patients’ families with the experience of parenthood. It has taken me that time to realize I have grown into my new self and actually enjoy it. Thinking about my old freedoms has been replaced by so many indelible moments of joy and new freedoms. The kids and N and I are constantly singing with each other, and my house is like a mini karaoke studio, which really beats anything I used to do with my free time. Simple things like bedtime storytime or bathtime, or even just the kids’ bedhead hair when they wake, fill my heart to the brim. Every new word they learn is like magic—how did they pick it up so fast? I wish I could bottle up the feeling of anytime they wake up or I come home from work and we see each other after a while of not seeing each other.
I once asked a physician-writer for writing advice and he said, “Don’t have kids.”
I was affronted, but as I collected my private indignation and left the meeting, it crystallized in that moment that having children was incredibly important to me.
However, the framing that it has to be either-or, a choice of one versus the other, is incredibly paternalistic, and wrong. Because the other thing to appreciate this Mothers’ Day is partners and family members who support mothers; who make sure they take the time to do the things that make them fulfilled, and successful, and happy. And, policy that does so. Having children certainly takes up time for both partners, and that is made even more stressful by the lack of governmental support—both in the way of paid parental leave, as well as difficult access to contraception and abortion that can given women control over when they have children, if they choose to.
I can’t think of Mothers’ Day without thinking of my patients, and how so often their mothers are their advocates all day and every day for their care. I’m also thinking about my patients and friends who do not have mothers, who have lost their mothers, or who cannot see their mothers, or choose not to. This is a day that can be tough for many and I think it’s okay to not celebrate it if it feels that way.
If you’ve stuck it out this far—thank you for reading my long-winded reflection. If you have a mom or mom-figure in your life, take a moment to reflect on them. If you are a mom or trying to be a mom, take a moment to reflect on how much you’ve done, and how strong you are.
If you’re looking for a Mothers’ Day gift that’s not flowers or chocolates, consider donating money to an organization helping women fully access reproductive healthcare. This has a list of some places.