There are two ways to lose your mother. Actually there are many more than that, but let’s assume that she’s a good woman and you love her and want her around. You can lose her when you’re very young, and never know an adult relationship with her, and have very few, precious memories that you hardly dare think about for fear of wearing them out – that’s where I am. Or, you can lose her when you’re both older, when you’ve had way more history with her, and maybe conflicts and complications, and way more opportunity than I ever had to get to know her and love her. 

Which way hurts more, when you lose her? I know which one I’d rather have. Even if it does hurt more in specific ways, I would rather have had a chance to know her and be shaped by her. I don’t even know what I’m missing, having lost her so young. But it’s a grass-is-always-greener thing.

Several of my friends have had babies recently, within the past couple of months. One of my closest friends had a baby in France, where she lives now. The baby came five or six weeks early, which she’s made light of but which sounds like kind of a big deal to me. They had to stay in the hospital for the first few weeks till he could feed properly, though he wasn’t in an incubator or anything like that. I spoke to my friend on the phone one day.

I love her no matter what her mood or state of mind; as I said, she’s one of my closest friends, and I don’t say that lightly. But talking to her that day was like talking to the Platonic ideal of her. She was herself, utterly and completely, magnified by a thousand. The highs were higher, the lows lower. One minute we were talking about the babies on the preemie ward, and the anxious parents, and we talked about how sad it was there. We got very sad. Then the next minute she was telling me about how the grandparents were planning a visit, and how this, the first grandson, may as well have been the Sun King himself returned to earth, and we laughed and laughed. She laughed so much, in a way I’d rarely heard her just let go and be merry. It was marvelous. Motherhood is agreeing with her, and it’s a good thing to see.

Another close friend of mine came to stay recently, and we talked about her experience with the births of her two children. I wasn’t around when they were born; this is a friend from college and we’d temporarily lost touch. She told me that, as soon as they brought her the baby, both times, she fell totally and completely in love as soon as she saw them.

I know this doesn’t always happen. There’s post-partum depression, and lots of other factors, and there must be times when the hormones just don’t kick in and the poor woman is left with this helpless yet extremely demanding person they cannot get away from. I can’t imagine how awful that must be.

This motherhood thing is fraught. I get that it changes your life; it should change your life. I believe there’s nothing more important than being responsible for the care of another human being, particularly an infant or a child. But I also agree with people who say that this mother’s day thing kind of reinforces a bullshit idea, that a woman who is a mother is better than a woman who is not. These friends of mine who are mothers are pretty awesome. But they were before, and they still would be if they’d chosen a different path.

Women are having fewer babies these days, I’ve been learning. I know more women who have chosen not to have children than women who’ve had them, though of course since I’ve chosen not to have kids myself, that’s not unusual. I think this is a good thing. Women are having fewer babies because fewer of them die in infancy or childhood, and fewer of them are needed for hard labor to support the family. Children should be wanted and loved by people who can care for them. But there’s lots of work for all of us, good work, and raising a child is not necessarily the only or the best thing an individual can contribute.

A person is not more or better when they have a child. Except to the child.

Hang in there, folks.

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