Things I’ve Learned about Motherhood
by Leah Rediger, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life
I’m a mom. I have two little(-ish) ones, an eight-year-old daughter and five-year-old son. I’ve been told this means Mother’s Day, which falls in the month of May, has something to do with me. When I first set out on this mother of all journeys about ten years ago, I thought I was prepared for anything. I read every book about pregnancy and infants I could find, I thought I had a stable marriage, and my terminal degree was almost completed. However, the map to where I am now was nothing like the journey I had anticipated. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
Biology doesn’t make someone a mom.
Struggling with infertility for two years before getting pregnant with my daughter challenged my “perfect” linear process of what it takes to make a family: Get married, check, wait a couple years, check, get pregnant, check. Something that seemed so easy for every woman around me was, for me, a process of doctor’s appointments, specialists, testing, fertility medications, self-administered abdominal injections, and countless negative test results. About one in eight couples struggle with infertility in the United States, and yet there is still so much silence and shame around it. I remember how it felt when a family member teased me about whether I was finally going to have a baby and I bit back an angry retort: “Don’t you know we’ve already been trying for more than a year?” Just today at the grocery store while I was purchasing fish, I said it would need to be enough for two adults and two children. When she handed me my salmon, the employee replied, “There, that should be enough for your husband and kids!” Quite the assumption, given that I had not indicated the specifics of the relationships between the four people in my household! These experiences have helped me truly see the diverse ways families come together and I have advocated for the women alongside me on this journey. I resolved never to be “that person” who asks a couple about their family planning … not only could they be planning for a future without children, they may be secretly longing to conceive, facing shared custody as a stepfamily, or waiting on a long adoption process.
You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.
I have a personal tradition of collecting a new keychain every time I move somewhere new. More than a year ago, with this quote on my new silver keychain, and with friends to help, I moved myself and my children away from their emotionally, mentally, and spiritually abusive father. Healing from 13 years of abuse, going through a divorce, and helping my children through the shock and transition as a single mom took more willpower and guts than I ever knew I had. For a long time, I had admired the lengths that moms would go to in order to protect their children, never knowing I was going to be one of them. I used to think it was a choice I made … but necessity made me adapt and thrive so my children could be safe and content.
It takes a community and a village.
There’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but I’ve found it took a community to help me realize who I am and be that person for my kids. When I began my role at Doane three years ago, I believed I was selfish, too emotional, and a bad listener — because I had a spouse who had convinced me to believe these things about myself. I thought my kids must deserve better than a mom like me. But then my new friends and colleagues on campus showed me the real me — independent, highly empathetic, and someone who listens and helps guide others spiritually. I’m now proud of who I am and what I can do to set a good example for my kids and our Doane students.
My journey as a mother has been long and winding! I don’t share this to compare myself to other women, but to offer that every mother’s path is unique. As a society, we pressure women to mother in a specific way. The cards, types of celebrations, and advertisements surrounding Mother’s Day often acknowledge one “cookie cutter” type of mom. Ultimately, this is damaging to those of us who have found that our identities as mothers and people are more complex than a Hallmark card. Though Mother’s Day this year has already passed, I ask you to consider who in your community is choosing to create a mothering space that is open and accessible, that drives us towards empathy and growth.
The blog posts in Forward. Together. are intended to foster an inclusive community of empathy and curiosity at Doane University by providing a glimpse into various individual identities and worldviews. These are community members’ unique stories and should not be presumed to be the experience of all who share the same identity.