I became a mother at 17, the summer after graduating high school. On Independence Day, while watching the fireworks with friends I came to the realization that the sickness was pregnancy. I named the tiny seed within me Gaia Maria, an ode to my true hippy nature that was cleverly hidden under a punk aesthetic. I knew exactly who the father was and exactly when it had happened, and exactly why. Three weeks later I bled and writhed, alone in my locked bedroom — running between the bedroom and bathroom next door. I could tell no one, no one could help me, no one could know.
At 20 I was told I was likely infertile. My body manufactured infections and my immune system was nearly non-existent. Free Depo-Provera shots from the local Planned Parenthood had further destroyed my organs. We tried and tried, despite poverty that meant everyone said we were foolish to even want it. How could they understand we were told it was impossible and that the longer we waited the more impossible it would become? People who can have children whenever they want or who know they do not want them don’t understand what it means to be told it’s not even an option, much less that you don’t have a right to want the same things they take for granted.
At 21 I miscarried twins, a long and complicated illness brought on by starvation, dehydration, sleeping in the park, and numerous infections. Who would have imagined I would become pregnant again so quickly after. I thought I was dying, clueless to the little being inside me. He was strong and fought through all the ways my body tried to expel him. He survived… he still survives.
He tells me I made a mistake. Tells me I am the worst. It doesn’t matter that I tell him he was wanted, planned for, but he (and other nosy people whose opinions do not matter) insist he was an “accident”. He criticizes my every choice, and has no clue of the ways I’ve had little choice. Motherhood is like that. There are choices you make and choices that seem to be made for you and choices in which there is no good option so you make do with what is before you.
Out of love for him, I ensured I would not get pregnant again and risk my health further. A permanent medical solution turned out to be wholly impermanent and I became a mother again and again, many times over, but held none of them long enough to become more than a bean inside me.
I am deemed the worst — the sort of mother that no one approves of, though most of their assumptions are silly. I will never be “right” and have no desire to be “good.” I am dangerous, my body and my mind labeled and libeled.
Mother’s Day holds so little for me because I’m not the right sort of mother. People feel content to scoff at the day because of their own difficult or non-existent relationships with their own mothers. They give no thought to the many people in their lives who have mothered them instead. I too have the difficult relationships and also have had many who have stepped in to mother me when I needed it. I have mothered more than the child born of me, and then lost them.
We mother ourselves every day, and mother others whether by virtue of birth or otherwise. Many of us mother our mothers, or our fathers. We help to raise siblings, neighbors, and others. And still we will never be “right”.
Motherhood is mythologized as grand sacrifice for certain sorts, and demonized as a series of irresponsible choices for others. Maybe it is something in between, and we bad mothers are only bad because of some ridiculous notion of what makes a good one. While not celebrating our own toxic parents, we can still celebrate those who try.