the definition of motherhood

December 12, 2008 § 2 Comments

what does it mean to be a mother?  i am not trying to wax poetic.  i am trying to get a handle on what does ‘mother’ mean as a social category.  i think that we deny the existence of a lot of mothers when we speak and write as if the central determination of who or better yet what is a mother is that she does the primary care for her biological offspring with whom she carried in her womb for 9 months.

i do this too easily.  speak and act as if becoming a mother is about uterus, ovaries, menses, pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, etc.  as if these biological processes define motherhood.  they dont.

at the incite! conference in denver there was a workshop called revolutionary motherhood.  and in it were women who were adoptive parents, godmothers, aunts, folks taking the primary care for their parents, and more.  and i felt this internal twinge, this resistance to calling these women…mothers.

and then i remembered at this conference how it had seemed so clear to me that even though ‘woman’ in comparison to ‘man’ was an oppressed social category, if incite! centered the experiences of women of color  in relation to ‘trans of color’ and marginalized the experiences of transfolk then incite! was being transphobic and oppressive as an organization.

and so if i centered the biologically/primary caregiving-identified mothers as the primary experience of motherhood, then i was marginalizing alot of mothers.  saying that their experiences were not ‘complete’ somehow.  they were ‘kinda like mothers’ but not ‘real mothers’.  and since i was considering some mothers to not be ‘complete’ i considered their lives, their experiences, and their knowledge to be incomplete as well and thus not as important for me to pay attention to.

now it is easy for me to identify as the one who is ‘marginalized’ in the power equation.  and so this is a good point for my brain (ah, so sluggish…must sleep…) to remember all of the info that the center folk often miss from being so full of themselves and not paying attention to other voices…

a moment: for sojourner truth’s: aint i a woman…

reproductive justice is not simply about biology.  it is about the relationships that we have to those that are we take care of and those that have taken care of us.  incarcerated women who are separated from their children are mothers.  and so are transfolk who identify as mothers. and so are folks who adopt.  me, housing a baby in my body and then my arms is a beautiful experience but it is not the central experience of motherhood that all other experiences must be compared to.

i am not exactly sure what the definition of motherhood.  as i am not even clear on how we define the human experience or answer the question ‘what is life’ or sentience.  perhaps these categories cannot be defined but experienced.  they cannot be quantified but they can be understood.

6 months ago i wrote: motherhood is love by any means necessary.


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§ 2 Responses to the definition of motherhood

  • twincitizen says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a bit now, and I think it’s great. I wanted to comment on this post, because I think it’s a really interesting question that you’re posing and I have one to ask in response. Why does motherhood have to be centered when we talk about primary care-taking? I’m an adopted person. I think of the people who raised me as my parents. But why do I have to? Would I love these folks any less, would our relationship be any different, would they love me any less, if we didn’t all play the charade of trying to approximate a biological family? It’s kinda silly really (and not just because I’m black and my a-family is white). I think of my biological mother and father as my parents as well, even though I’ve never met them. They just are. And while I see the good in expanding our definitions of motherhood/parenthood, I also wonder why these are the only terms we get to use when we speak about primary caretakers.

  • maia says:

    i think these are really good questions…they remind me of my resistance to gay marriage. i am going to think about them some more and write a blog post. thank you so much for asking them…

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You are currently reading the definition of motherhood at guerrilla mama medicine.


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