Love makes a mother, not birth choices

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A dear friend of mine buried her mother on Thursday. When she called to tell me about her mother’s death, after more than a decade of Alzheimer’s ravages, we reminisced about what a wonderful woman she had been.

My friend told me that she was proud that she had kept her promise to her mother to care for her at home until the very end, an extraordinarily difficult promise to keep. When I expressed my admiration, she shrugged it off, as merely giving back to her mother her due. “There was never a moment in my entire life,” she told me, “when I didn’t feel loved.”

Later today, Mother’s Day, I will pay a shiva call. Shiva is the Jewish obligation on family and friends to comfort the mourner and remember the deceased, and I anticipate hearing lots of stories about my friend’s mother and what she meant to her children and others.

I can predict with near absolute certainty a number of things that we won’t discuss. We won’t talk about whether my friend was born vaginally or by C-section. Why? Because it doesn’t matter; it had no impact on the love and attention she showered on her children.

We won’t discuss whether her mother was awake or anesthetized when my friend was born, whether she was in agony during labor or pain free courtesy of an anesthesiologist. Why? Because it makes no difference; my friend and her siblings never cared how their mother experienced childbirth, and I’d be willing to wager that her mother didn’t give it much thought, either. She loved her children simply because they were her children, not because they were birth “achievements.”

We won’t discuss whether my friend was breastfed or bottle-fed. Why? Because it is irrelevant. It tells us nothing about her love for her children, the way she protected them, nurtured them, launched them into the world and took pride in their successes.

We are unlikely to talk about whether her mother “wore” her in a sling, whether her parents had a open bed policy, whether her mother made her baby food from scratch or bought it from the grocery store. Simply put, all the appurtenances of modern “attachment parenting,” promoted as ever so necessary to ensure a strong mother infant bond, will never be mentioned. Why? Because her mother couldn’t have been more bonded to her children if she had been super-glued to them; how they were born, whether she had pain relief in labor, whether she breastfed them, wore them, invited them into her bed or made their baby food by hand had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Today is Mother’s Day, and many of us will be celebrating our own mothers. Not everyone had an idyllic childhood as my friend did. There may be anger and resentment along with love and admiration.

Consider your own relationship with your mother. Does the way you feel about her, the relationship you have with her, have anything to do with whether you were born vaginally, by C-section, or in the case of adopted mothers, whether you were even born of her body? It doesn’t, does it?

You may be emotionally close to your mother, distant from her or angry at her. Does that have anything to do with whether she was in pain or pain free when you were born? Or are your feelings about her the result of the way she treated you in the many years since then?

Is your mother your biggest cheerleader, your closest confidant, your greatest source of comfort when you are distressed? Do you think it would be any different if she had bottle-fed rather than breastfed you or vice versa? It sound foolish to even ask, doesn’t it?

So if the love you bear for your mother, the degree to which you are bonded to her, has nothing to do with how (or even if) she gave birth to you, whether she had pain relief in labor and how she fed you as an infant, why would you think that it has anything to do with how your own children bond to you? It doesn’t.

As for me, I love my four children more than life itself. I am always only as happy as my least happy child (fortunately, they are usually happy). Their successes mean more to me than mine ever did, and their disappointments hit me far harder than my own. They are in their 20′s now, and my love for them has only grown, having been enriched by my admiration for the people they have become; each remarkably different from the others. I love them more now than on the day each was born; I love them for who they are, as well as simply because they are mine.

Love makes a mother, not birth choices.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Happy Mother’s Day to all my readers and to mothers everywhere!

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  • CBMD

    Love this post- may be your most moving yet!

  • Beth S

    My mom is a Super Hero and I will fight anyone who says she isn’t. This was a woman who in the eighties when there was still a stigma over unwed mothers chose to not only give birth to the baby girl of the man who raped her, but keep her, parent her, and love her without ever holding the circumstances of her conception against her. My mom was a woman named Barbie, who married a man named Ken just to give her child a father, well she didn’t marry my Dad to give me a father, she loved him, but she gave me the best father a baby girl could ask for considering he had no biological connection with me yet would fight to the death anyone who said I wasn’t his.
    After their divorce not only did she raise two children, work sometimes two or three jobs, and somehow find the time to sleep, she also found the time to put dinner on the table home cooked every night. When the going got tough and she found out her baby sitter was sleeping instead of watching us kids, she packed us up every night and took us to work with her.
    My mom overcame alcoholism, a major drug addiction, and everything else life handed to her with steely determination to never let it affect her relationships with her kids. So reading this with the post-partum hormones still rushing through me brought tears to my eyes, thank you Dr. Amy for validating that it was what my mother did after her kids were born and not while they were being born that made her a wonderful mother.

  • http://upliftingfamilies.com/ Christy Garrett

    I miss my mom every day. She also lost a long battle with Alzheimers. I am thankful that I was choose to be her daughter, she did a great job teaching me how to be a great mom to my own children. I agree anyone can give birth to a baby but it takes love to raise a child.

  • Mishimoo

    The sheer volume of awesome parents that visit this site gives me hope and makes me so happy. <3

  • carr528

    Well, darn, I think I just got an eyelash in my eye. That’s the only reason my eyes could be watering.

    I was a c-section baby (as were my own children), and I have no idea if I was breast or bottle fed. I would suspect bottle, since I’m a 70′s baby, and that was the “in” thing then. Never asked. Don’t care. My mom and I have a fabulous relationship, and I doubt it would be any better if I had been a vaginal birth. In fact, without a c-section, neither my mom nor I would even be here to worry about it.

    • Sue

      Well said! As I’ve described before, I only found out about my own feeding history when I was having my own child. My wonderful mother, who loves babies and children with all her heart, started giving me formula on the advice of an early childhood nurse after about six weeks because I apparently ”cried all the time”. And here am I, in glowing good health, still enjoying the love of my mother!

      • araikwao

        Ha ha, near-identical situation here!(although I think my mother kept going a few months longer, so I must therefore be superior to you :P

  • MaineJen

    This may be the best, most uplifting piece I’ve read on this site. It puts everything into perspective beautifully. Thanks for this!

  • Paloma

    This is a great piece. I love my mom even though my relationship with her isn’t always the easiest. I love her because she is my mom, she has always been, she taught me right from wrong, read bedtime stories to me when I was little, and she was there at my graduation cheering me on. If I found out tomorrow that someone switched me when I was born and my parents are not my biological parents, I wouldn’t care, because they ARE my parents, and they have been for 24 years. Love makes family, nothing else does. It is also why I love my father, even if he didn’t give birth, and I love my brother, and every other person in my family. Thinking otherwise just shows that your family does not come first, other things do.
    PS: I’d like to see what the NCB crowd have to say about Dr. Amy after a piece like this one ¬¬

    • Sue

      I’d be surprised if we see them here. It would destroy their image of Dr Amy as a “meeeeaaaan woman-hater”

  • Mishimoo

    Thank you for this beautiful piece, and my sympathies to your friend and her family.

    You touched on something that I have been thinking about for some years, and have only fairly recently been able to reframe due in part to your work on debunking the bonding myth. I was born by caeserean and ever since I can remember, my mother has been angry with me for it. It was medically necessary and as I’ve said before, the quote from the worried ob/gyn went something like “I’ve never seen a live baby come out of so much blood.” Yet, she has screamed at me for ‘deciding’ to descend and engage at the 26 week mark, which apparently caused my head to grow within her (android) pelvis in such a way that I had a halo mark for the first 3 months after birth. She screamed at me for her placental abruption, for not having a natural birth, for her allergic reaction to the painkillers, and for her RCS with my siblings because this was before VBAC.

    Before I read your work, I blamed the caeserean for lack of bonding. I blamed myself, because I didn’t know better. Now I do know better and I no longer feel guilty. So, thank you for helping me realise that her flaws are not my fault. Thank you for reminding me that love is what makes a mother.

    • Trixie

      Wow. That’s messed up. I’m so very sorry.
      I’d never think of treating my c/s child different from my vaginal birth child. In fact when my son had questions about how he was born, I was really careful to try to explain it in such a way that he wouldn’t feel like I suffered or like it was his fault for being in the wrong position. And I’m careful to not let him overhear me saying his sister’s birth was much easier, because I worry that he would internalize it and feel guilt or shame.

      • ngozi

        I tend to blame myself for my c-section, and blame myself for my son coming out gray and not crying. I sometimes feel that if I had managed my gestational diabetes better then that wouldn’t have happened. I also feel that if I had managed my health better I wouldn’t have had gestational diabetes in the first place. I can’t imagine blaming my son.
        But then I realize that blaming anyone isn’t helping the situation. The best thing for me to do is love and take care of my son, and try to improve my health.

        • Sue

          How could anyone construe those few hours in which the baby detaches and exits as having anything at all to do with the love and connection that develops between us?

          Let alone the following lifetime?

    • AmyP

      Your mom is a nut.

      A different kind of mom would be all the more attached to a baby for having been through so much. I’m not mother of the year, but the fact that my last baby came with lots of complications (subchorionic hematoma with bleeding, gestational diabetes, sciatica, my usual Group B Strep, conceived right after a miscarriage, etc.) did not put me into a permanent snit. She is valuable BECAUSE I paid a high price for her, not in spite of the fact that I paid a high price. Not that I’m in a big hurry to do all that again…

    • Sarah

      Not a psychiatrist, psychologist, or even an MD, but your mom sounds like a narcissist. Even if it were true that caesarians interfered with bonding, it wouldn’t have been your fault. Who would blame a baby for their birth experience?

      Even if your mom had had the perfect birth experience, it sounds like she might not have been able to bond with you. You would have done something else at some other point that interfered with her comfort or convenience and she would have blamed you.

      There are groups that support the adult children of narcissists. I’m sorry for the suffering YOU have endured.

      • Mishimoo

        I’m also fairly sure that she has Narcissistic Personality Disorder – my dad’s psychiatrist suggested it 2-3 years after I mentioned it, which was really validating. Of course, we’ll never know for sure because she tends to avoids mental health professionals as “they’re all liars.”

        Also thanks to Dr Amy, I realised that my mother’s relationship with her clients is not healthy due to the lack of professionalism disguised as concern. She’s an OT in private practice that moves every few years and has the kind of following that homebirth midwives accrue because she will do anything for her clients. (Not to mention incorporating spiritual/religious beliefs into her work)

    • Irène Delse

      I’m so sorry, your mother seems to have had problems there. Post-partum depression or something? Anyway, it was wrong of her to burden you with it. You have all my sympathies.

    • MaineJen

      Wow…that’s messed up. So sorry you ever had to feel that way!

  • Sue

    Thank you for those beautiful sentiments.

  • Mary

    Wonderful post!!!!

  • Spiderpigmom

    Ah. I love your Mother’s Day posts so much. Thanks.

  • Renee

    Excellent, Thanks.

  • Ducky

    Wonderful, Amy, thank you!

  • MLE

    I loved this.

  • Mhud

    I loved this post. Mother’s day can be hard for many reasons. Relationships with your mother, relationships with your mother-in-law, your husbands relationship with his mother, etc.. It is good to remember that at the end of the day, as children all we want is to be loved and accepted, and surely, all mother’s want is the same. The thought of birth didn’t even enter my mind. Just knowing I am loved by my mom, I love her, and my son loves me is enough. Thanks for the blog.

  • Madwife

    My husband is a pain in the arse.
    He was born via forceps.
    Ill blame them

    • The Bofa on the Sofa

      Nah, that’s just the way we are. You don’t need forceps to explain why a husband is a pain in the arse.

      • AmyP

        But it certainly gave him an early start.

    • ngozi

      My husband is a pain in the ass.
      He was born by a midwife at home (back when that was about the only choice poor people had).
      Should I blame her?

  • Suzanne

    Fabulous post! Couldn’t agree more!

  • Jenny_from_da_Bloc

    Bravo!

  • araikwao

    Beautiful! And happy Mothers’ Day to all :)

  • Captain Obvious

    Happy Mother’s Day.

  • TwinMom

    Thank you, Dr. Tuteur for everything you do!

  • Jocelyn

    What a wonderful post. Thank you Dr. Amy, and happy Mother’s Day!

  • Anna T

    My mother had a vaginal birth and fought like a lioness to be able to breastfeed me, but I’m sorry to say that our relationship isn’t very good. It’s detached, in fact. As of today we haven’t spoken for weeks because of some petty misunderstanding. I want to call her but don’t know what to say.

    So, of course it’s better to have a smooth straightforward birth and to breastfeed successfully than to have an emergency C-section and not to be able to breastfeed, but in the long run, you are right, it hardly matters for most people.

    May your friend find comfort.

    • EmbraceYourInnerCrone

      Completely un asked for advice but i will give it anyway. I have lost relationships because I find it hard to take that first step and call, even though I really want to, I let the awkwardness get unbearable. My advice is call and say anything. Keep it light and completely boring at first if it helps(the weather is a good place to start) just opening the door a bit can help you get back to talking. The longer you don’t the harder it gets…

      • Anna T

        Though this is very much OT, of course I need to call her and eventually will…

  • ArmyChick

    Awesome post! The woman I call mother did not give birth to me, did not breast feed me but she treated me as her own and loved me and nurtured me every day of my life until she passed away. And that’s all that matters to me.

  • Amy M

    Happy Mother’s Day to you too, and to the other mothers here. Of course I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiment—love and care make a mother, not how the child was born or which parenting style a mother chose. Despite what seems obvious to this community, I’ve seen your very question (“Was your mother an attachment parent? Do you think it affected your adult relationship”) on AP forums online, where the discussion goes completely in the other direction. Some women out there seem to think that they have bad relationships with their mothers because their mothers were not AP, or because they were not breastfed or whatever. Some believe their births via Csection were traumatic (for both mother and baby I guess) and they need to get over their own trauma before they can successfully give birth to their own children.

    I guess its easier to blame something that did or didn’t happen in the past than to address current issues and work on them. I’m sure in some cases, there are reasons beyond anyone’s control why the mother and daughter would never have a good relationship (mental illness, drug abuse, etc). But, I think maybe some of the women who are terrified that if they don’t do everything “just right” they will never bond with their babies, have troubled/distant/no relationship with their mother, and trying to do everything in their power to ensure that doesn’t happen with their own children. I hope they come to learn that they simply have to love their children and be there for them, and it will generally work out.

    • Elaine

      There is this poster on MDC who seriously thinks that many/most of her and her children’s health issues can be traced back to the fact that her mother had a c-section with her. Of course, if the mother/grandmother in question had gone for a vaginal birth and instead the baby had died, this poster and her children wouldn’t even be around to have health issues.

      My mother had a vaginal birth (she was bummed to need Pitocin, though), and breastfed me for about six months. We still have a challenging relationship, because she couldn’t really figure out how to relate properly to me in any stage from when I started to talk up until the present day. But she sure had that babyhood thing down.

  • wookie130

    Happy Mother’s Day, Dr. Amy! I think this is my all-time favorite entry on this blog! It’s positively beautiful!

  • Mac Sherbert

    On this Mother’s Day I have completely OT post. Well, it’s kind of related because I’m becoming an upset mom. I know many of you are knowledgeable about public health. Can anyone tell me what an appropriate protocol is for informing parents when a child at a school has a confirmed case of whooping cough?

    BTW – My grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s after over a decade of suffering. It’s a very long agonizing thing to watch. Bless your friend and her happy memories of her mother.

    • theadequatemother

      Why don’t you call the local public health office and ask? That’s what I would do.

      • Mac Sherbert

        Duh!
        –(but I don’t think I would get anyone today.)

    • Squillo

      Whenever there is a reportable disease at our (public) California school, we get an official notice of the disease that lists incubation, symptoms, etc.

      • Mac

        There seems to be some discrepancy. They only sent the notice to some parents not all, I’m guessing those they thought at highest risk. However, my doctor thinks my child (yes, vaccinated) has it and I’m not at all happy that all parents were not notified.

  • no longer drinking the koolaid

    What a lovely reminder that one does not have to be a perfectly attached mom to love her children. Makes you think that maybe those choices have more to do with a woman’s own needs than those of her child.
    Happy Mother’s Day Dr. Amy.

  • Zornorph

    Happy Mother’s Day, Dr. Amy. It’s sometimes a sad day for me ’cause I was only 14 when my mum passed, but she was the most wonderful woman in the world. Other than the fact that I was not a C-section and I think I was breast fed, I have no idea about any of those other things and nor do I care. Even if she was alive, I don’t think I’d have asked her about those things. They are just not important. I was loved and nurtured and that was all that mattered.

    • Carrie Looney

      My mother passed when I was 13. She gave me so much love and support, and I admired her so much as a scientist as well as a mom. I don’t remember my birth or the first few months of my life; I remember all the things that came after that. I am grateful that she vaccinated me fully and always made decisions that gave me the best chance at life and good health. I’m a lucky woman to have had such a good mom, just unlucky to lose her so soon.

  • http://kumquatwriter.wordpress.com/ Kq

    Happy Mother’s Day!

  • the wingless one

    Happy Mother’s Day to you too Dr. Amy! Thank you for all the knowledge and encouragement you have provided to so many mothers out there with your blog. I can’t thank you enough because your words have helped me feel proud and empowered by my son’s c/s birth instead of sad or ashamed that my body “failed” (which it did – placenta was “done” at 34w5d).

  • http://whatifsandfears.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-business-of-being-misled.html Doula Dani

    A very lovely message for mothers, to hopefully help rid themselves of some guilt.

    Happy Mother’s Day, Dr. Amy, and all the mothers reading!

    Very sorry to hear about your friend’s loss.

  • Karen in SC

    Happy Mother’s Day to you, too!