As this pregnancy continues on and the likelihood that I'll be able to hold a living child in my arms later this year increases, I've noticed an odd sense of relief. Not that my child might live - no, that relief is not odd at all - but relief that I might finally be considered a "real mother".
That's a strange phrase, I know. By "real mother" I don't mean biological mother. (I think adoptive mothers are just as "real" as biological mothers.) And you're really either a mother or you're not, right? I have a daughter, so I am certainly a mother. But that's not how other people always see me. As the mother of one, I'm often regarded by other mothers as more of a fluke than a "real mother", somehow a little less than or maybe a "mother lite". It's as if the real test of motherhood is the ability to juggle the responsibilities of multiple children and not in fact the ability to mother the child(ren) you do have.
No one looks to a mother of one as a parenting expert. No one asks a mother of one for advice. No matter how well a child turns out, it can always just be attributed to "luck", the child's particular temperament and personality, or even to the environment in which the child was born, but certainly not that child's mother. There is always this elephant in the room: "But what if she had to deal with a truly difficult child?" or "I'm sure Junior would have turned out well no matter what she did."
Of course, nature plays a role in how children develop. We all know that person who excelled despite a terrible home environment or child who turned to a life of crime despite wonderful parents. But nurture surely has a say too. Unless you're the mother of an only child. In that case, your nurturing played no role. No matter how much time you spend agonizing over parenting decisions and loving and caring for your child, you really just don't have that much effect. Because you're the mother of one and you are and always will be inexperienced, bumbling through motherhood without the opportunity to practice your mothering skills on more little souls.
I'm exaggerating a bit, obviously. Certainly not everyone treats me this way, but I regularly receive comments that allude to this sort of thinking and on several occasions have been told point blank that my experience or input doesn't matter because I'm only the mom of one. I don't want to be seen as a parenting expert or be sought out for advice, but I want to be taken seriously in conversations about parenting and children (and let's face it, pretty much every get together with other moms is dominated by these conversations). I don't want to have to fight to be acknowledged as a "real mother" and I want the real, hard efforts I make as a mom to be recognized. I'm tired of having to always justify something that I have no control over. I didn't ask to be the mother of only one.
Yes, in many ways being a mom of one is easier than being a mom of many (or even just two). But thank goodness for that because it's nice to have a little bit of consolation while I'm dealing with the difficulties of recurrent loss and secondary infertility. I'll be the first to admit that there are benefits to an only child, yet I shouldn't be made to feel guilty that I enjoy those benefits. There are also some ways in which having an only child is harder, and I'm tired of having to pretend those don't exist or else be told that they don't.
So here I am, most likely about to end my time as a mother of "only one". I will no longer have to deal with this. But so many others will. And I wish there were an answer, a way of making all mothers feel like valuable, capable, "real" mothers. I don't know what that answer is, but I want every mother of one to know that you are a mother in every sense of the word. Having another child would change many things about the way you parent, but it would not make you any more a mother. The love you have for a child and the sacrifices you make matter just as much as the love and sacrifices of a mother of many. Your life is different, but it is not less valuable. Your motherhood is whole, even if your hands are not full.
After all, the mother of our Savior was the mother of "only" One, yet her Son thought her mothering spirit and experience was sufficient to give her as a mother to us all.