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Motherhood is complicated...

Mothers are often considered competent, warm, and maternal and admired for these traits. Mothers on TV and in film sacrifice everything to nurture their children. But this narrative isn't representative of all types of mothers - every experience of motherhood is unique, meaning something different to each person.

Photograph: Unsplash

Text: Lyndsay Jensen

Motherhood is a relationship, a full-time job and an identity. An estimated 85% of women have birthed a child, making motherhood, or at least the thought of it, a prevalent part of life for most women. So let's see how mothers are represented, not just the typical "tv mom" characters.

It's not always about biology

Mothers earn the title in many ways that aren't biological. The tasks and duties of mothers are often carried out by the people who didn't physically create them. Around 10% of children are parented by their grandparents, and about 3% by other family members. Millions of children worldwide have been born using assisted reproductive technology, some of which include donor eggs and sperm. Men can be mothers, too. Transgender men and other gender non-conforming people can become pregnant and birth a child and have many of the same parenting desires as cisgender mothers.

Motherhood requires love and dedication to be responsible for a child — most moms will tell you that the origin of a child's DNA is not essential.

The desire to be a mom

Some people don't feel a pull toward motherhood. Others want to focus on other priorities. Academic achievement and participation in the workforce are two of the main reasons women choose not to become a mother. Motherhood isn't for everyone, and although being childfree by choice can be empowering, childfree people are often viewed as selfish or materialistic and stigmatised for their choices.

For women who are mothers, maternal regret is a taboo subject, but it's important to know that some women regret their choice to become a parent. Other women who willingly pursue motherhood grow to regret their choice when they find the social promises of motherhood are unfulfilled.

Many women make the purposeful choice to become mothers, but they find themselves unable to become a parent or maintain parenthood. This can occur due to inability to conceive, death of a child, loss of stepchildren to divorce, loss of custody, and loss of ability to parent. In addition, some people feel that becoming a parent is impossible for political, financial, and environmental reasons. Unemployment, underemployment, and unstable housing leave many people delaying the transition to parenthood or avoiding it altogether.

Making space for moms

There are many paths to motherhood, and none of them are smooth. The transition to motherhood is a beautiful, transformative time for some people. Still, for about 20-25% of women, perinatal depression and other mood disorders make pregnancy and postpartum a scary and threatening time. In addition, traditional gender roles and gender inequities make motherhood difficult and cause some to delay or avoid motherhood altogether.

Although mothers need social support from their friends, families, and communities, busy schedules and lack of structured support systems leave many mothers without the necessary support. Conversely, mothers who are well-supported are less likely to experience postpartum depression.

Celebrating moms comes down to much more than sending cards on Mother's Day. It also includes making space for mothers of all genders —LGBTQ parents are underrepresented in the current dialogue surrounding mothering. Changing how we talk about motherhood can make space for all moms - the moms who choose not to breastfeed, the moms who are depressed, the moms who had scary pregnancies, the moms who don't have partners, and the moms who are moms even though it wasn't their choice.

Motherhood is never easy or simple, and while it's hard to make sense of all of its complexities, making space for all moms can make the path a little bit easier. So we wish all our moms a happy Mother's Day – not just one day a year…but every day.

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