Friday, May 11, 2012

Motherhood Defined: It is in the heart of the beholder


"Motherhood": Sculpture at the Catacumba Park, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Motherhood.  It can mean many things, and our own definition of it is largely defined by our individual experiences.  To one person, motherhood might simply mean the act of raising children; to another, motherhood might be what defines them.  
It is not uncommon to generalize the concept of "motherhood" and lump everyone who upholds a single criterion - being a mom - into one group.   But, really, motherhood affects us all in one way or another, and that way is as unique as the pattern of curves and ridges on a fingertip.
Despite the recent outbreak of (heated) discussion surrounding the Time cover story depicting a beautiful and young woman nursing a toddler, and the questioning if following a certain philosophy makes one more or less of a mother, humans, as a whole, are truly bound by a common goal: to raise the next generation to the best of our abilities under the circumstances at hand.   
But, there is no one answer.
Every mom will have her own definition of motherhood.  But, being a mom is by no means a prerequisite for understanding motherhood as it relates to an individual.  For this special Mother's Day post, we would like to pay homage to motherhood in its many forms.  Here you will not find a singular description of motherhood.  What you will find, however, is what it means on a more personal level, which is to say that the definition can only come from the heart. 
Thank you to all of the wonderful people who participated in this project (and with short notice!) - we have answers in paragraph, tweet, and prose forms.    
Ilina Ewen, Blogger at Dirt and Noise@IlinaP
What does motherhood mean to me?
Motherhood means feeling a kaleidoscope of emotions simultaneously - fear, glee, worry, angst, pride. And it means being an advocate and a revolutionary who empowers her children to engage in society in a meaningful, fun, vibrant way. And lastly, motherhood means always giving up the biggest piece of cake and the last popsicle and being okay with that.
Momma, PhD, Scientist/Wife/Mother
Motherhood means accepting responsibility. If you read the news or listen to the hype, you know what I mean.  Every choice you make, from before a child is conceived, until long after you're dead, there is someone out there that will tell you how it impacted your kid. As my nana always said, "It's always the mother's fault."  I just hope that as the time passes I get more credit than blame for how my kids turn out.
Motherhood is how you stretch your heart in ways you never thought possible. It's how you love through the ups & down, the challenges that life brings. And, it lasts a lifetime from that first tiny cry. 
Chris Gunter, Director of Research Affairs, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, @Girlscientist
I'm a human geneticist by training, so I've been told having a child is the ultimate version of participating in my research. But the science analogy that best summarizes it for me is maternal-fetal microchimerism. Data demonstrating that my son and I each likely have some of each other's intact cells inside us forever -- as I have with my mother, and she with hers, and so on -- beautifully represent to me the meaning of motherhood. As the quote from Elizabeth Stone goes, having a child "is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." To me, that includes half my DNA, some of my cells, and so many of my hopes and dreams, all in one sweet, kissable package.
Dr. Cheryl G. Murphy, Optometrist and Science Writer, @MurphyOD
Motherhood: As a mom of triplets, some would say I have triple the work but I like to think of it as triple the hugs, triple the joy, triple the fun! And when people ask me what it's like to become a mom I tell them "it's the toughest job you'll ever love." Happy Mother's Day to all of you amazing, do-it-all moms out there! 
Matt Shipman, Science writer, and founder of the First Step Project@Shiplives
I'm a man, so I obviously have no first-hand experience as a mother. That said, I was raised by a (wonderful) single mother, and have had the pleasure of watching my wife be an awesome mom to our three daughters. Those experiences have shaped my impressions of motherhood. To me, motherhood means being kind, but honest. Being gentle, but strong. Being nurturing, but encouraging independence. Motherhood is letting your kids think you are ten feet tall and bulletproof, so they feel you can keep them safe -- even though there's stuff out there that scares the hell out of you. It's encouraging your kids to learn new things and to work their butts off in school, without making them feel stupid. Motherhood is leading by example when it comes to telling right from wrong, and showing your kids which battles are worth fighting. And, when the time comes, motherhood is letting go of the reins to see where the kids go on their own. Motherhood is not for wimps.
Julie Marsh, VP of Operations, Cool Mom Picks + Cool Mom Tech@coolmompicks@coolmomtech 
To me, motherhood means leading by example in the most pivotal role I've ever accepted.
Emily Willingham, PhD, managing editor, Double X Science, science writer and editor, biologist, autism parent, mother, @ejwillingham
The greatest realization of motherhood for me was that the children we have are people of their own, not "our" children or some kind of nutty, messy, screaming, demanding "other" invading our space, disrupting our lives, and taking our precious time. They are people I love to have around me because they make me laugh, they bring out the teacher in me (not hard to do), they are cool and interesting and imaginative and fun, and each of them (I have three) is a complete individual with a unique personality, outlook, potential, talent, and beautiful, beautiful face that I love to see every day. Just as I choose to spend time with others whom I love, respect, admire, and laugh with, I choose to do the same with my children. That said, I also still have what I had before my children arrived--a happy, full busy life with a partner to whom I seem to grow closer every day, and work that I love. Thanks to my children, I've got something even more--three more wonderful people added to my life whom I am deeply delighted and, frankly, honored to know. As Bill Murray's character in Lost in Translation observes, "They learn how to walk and they learn how to talk... and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life."
Alice Callahan, Science of Mom@Scienceofmom
What does motherhood mean to me?
Motherhood is humbling. Of all the endeavors I have tackled in my life, never have I wanted so badly to get everything right and yet known that I would not. Never have I been so emotionally invested in the results, so exhausted by the labor of it, and also, so strangely confident that it will turn out OK. It is the most human thing I have ever done.
David Wescott, It's not a Lecture@dwescott1
For men whose ideas of fatherhood were shaped in large part by its absence in our own lives, motherhood may mean something a bit different.  I'm by no means a scholar, but I've had the opportunity to speak often and at length with women across the globe on this topic, and to curate their thoughts a bit. These women talk about the feeling of connection to their children they know no one else has.  They describe the magic of watching their little ones narrate the moments of discovery in their lives. They talk about how their children "complete the circle" and teach them the other side of unconditional love. They help you understand why people invoke the lioness or the grizzly when describing the protective instinct.  
My perspective of motherhood is a lot like that last sentiment - it's the unyielding power that rises up in you when you realize a little person depends on you for everything.  I know that many men step up when left in that situation - I've seen it first-hand - but I suspect the feeling is different for women because this little person actually came from you, is an extension of you, is connected to you in ways no man will ever fully understand. 
When I think of motherhood, I think of unconditional love. It's what my mother gave to me, and it's what I expect I would feel for the children I don't intend to have. My mother made countless sacrifices for me, but she was independent and did not allow motherhood to define her. She has always encouraged me to be my own person and chase my own dreams. She didn't want me to feel constrained by gender roles. I feel fortunate to live in a time when motherhood is a choice, not an obligation. I admire my peers who have chosen to have kids, but I’m content to enjoy the rich mother-daughter relationship I have with my mom without feeling obliged to replicate it. 
Editors note: Christie has recently written a wonderful piece on motherhood at Last Word On Nothing.  Go read it!
Carin Bondar, Blogger and Filmmaker for Scientific American, the David Suzuki Foundation and Huffington Post, @drbondar
As a working mother of 4 very young children, I don't have much time to reflect on much - this stage of my life is pretty much dedicated to surviving.  I do know that once I decided that I really wanted to start having children (when I was almost finished my PhD) - my life seemed oddly empty.  It was as though I realized that something tremendous was missing and I became completely obsessed with wanting them.  Now that I have them (yes all 4 of them!) there are many times when I feel completely overwhelmed and exhausted, but  I will always remember the feelings of desire to have a family.  I know that my life would be empty and incomplete without my lovely babies.
Jeanne Garbarino, Biology Editor at Double X Science and Rockefeller University Postdoc, @JeanneGarb
For five years, I have been a mother.  I have learned - and am still learning - some very difficult lessons on time management and prioritization, on choosing my battles wisely, and on being ok when things aren't exactly perfect (or even decent).  But, to be honest, these are all lessons I really needed to have in my life.  Though it might seem a bit counterintuitive, the mostly delightful chaos associated with rearing my girls has given me more focus.  For me, motherhood is more of a state of being, and it has helped me learn how to not sweat the small stuff (for the most part), to be more mindful of the present, and to think more about the future.  Oh, and motherhood also gives me that special golden ticket to buy really cool games and toys (because who isn't interested in seeing what Doggie Doo is all about), as well as provides a dependable companion for roller coaster rides.
Motherhood had made me stand in my living room as my kids run around me and think how odd it is that I protect these three little persons. Motherhood has made me weep at the sight of children hurt or hungry; has made me rageful at a world where monsters are free; has made me face my own capacity for anger; and it has graced me with random gifts like hysterical laughter over blueberry waffles at the breakfast table. 
Rebecca Guenard, PhD, Atomic-o-licious@BGuenard
Motherhood
Listening to stories,
admiring all they know.
Hugging, kissing,
holding Cheeto-covered hands.
Tightening hockey skates,
washing baseball uniforms.
He stands on the mound alone.
From Twitter
@Scientistmother: motherhood means joyous bittersweet scary make a better person love no matter what
@Cbardmayes: mh=if my heart was as the universe, still would not be big enough to hold all the love for my son & his smiles #happymunkimama
@Labroides: motherhood is seeing my wife find reserves of strength patience and love that we didn't know she had
@Babyattachmode: to me motherhood means realizing that I have this enormous amount of love for such a little person!
@Jtothehizzoe: The "motherhood" is that end of town where all the moms hang out, actin' all hard, right?

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