What is a mother?

Our lovely daughter Zannah is 28 and has been living in New York for the past two years.  During that time she has trained as a Chinese medicine based massage therapist, a high level qualification that has given her a wonderful foundation to take into the world of work as a complementary therapist.  She returns home to the UK on Christmas Eve.  I am bubbling with excitement and anticipation.

Zannah is an adult, as are her two older brothers.  They lead their own lives and make their own decisions, but do I ever stop thinking and worrying about them?  No.  Not to the point of it getting in the way of enjoying my life, but because I love them dearly and their well-being is of enormous importance to me, they remain a constant on my emotional horizon.  That’s what mothers do, even when they are happy to acknowledge their offspring as fully fledged adults.  Dads think about their children too and DO lots for and with them, but by and large the emotional work of parenting is done by women.  Mothers, genetic or non-genetic.

Where have these thoughts come from?  Well, partly because of the time of year.  Christmas messes with my emotions like nothing else and Zannah’s impending return has only added to that (in a good way!).  But also partly from the article in Sunday’s Observer about Vanessa Trail who has been an altruistic egg donor several times and has recently discovered that she has contributed to the creation of three children.  The headline says, “I knew I didn’t want children.  But then last week I found I have three”.  So she doesn’t want to be a mother but somehow the implication in the second sentence is that she is one.   What I suspect, however, is that this tricksy wording is that of a sub-editor and not Vanessa herself who is quoted later in the article as having written in her ‘letter to the child’ that she had, “stressed how important it is to understand that your real parents are the people who care for you day in and day out and who raise you, not the person who provided the genetic material.”  So not a mother after all.  Not that this means that over the years Vanessa may not think about the children she helped to bring into being.  She will of course be identifiable to them from when they become 18 and this is made more likely by her having made it clear in her ‘letter to the parents’ that she thinks it important that children are told about being donor conceived from when they are small.  But her thinking will be that of someone who is not involved in the lives of the children created and so without that intense emotional involvement that is overwhelming with small children, waxes and wanes during the school and teenage years and returns again, in my experience at least, when they are beyond immediate parental influence but nevertheless remain embedded in your heart.


This is almost certainly my last blog before the festive season so, with special thoughts for those who either regularly or this year in particular are finding Christmas difficult, I wish you all peace, joy, hope, good health and happiness for 2015.


About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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2 Responses to What is a mother?

  1. A pox on subeditors who think they’re witty. Well, it’s Christmas, so maybe just a little rash.

    Makes me think how difficult it is to get across the idea that just because you are female, you don’t have maternal feelings, don’t want to be a mum yourself, don’t ever see yourself in that role. It’s like there are only two roles – mother and not a mother. If you’ve contributed genetic material then you have to be a mother, with all the other stuff that goes along with it, right? Meh.

  2. oliviasview says:

    Hi Christabel
    I don’t think Vanessa wants to be seen as a mother. Perhaps she would see herself as a progenitor but ‘mother’ has come to mean so very much more than connection via genetics alone. It implies an emotional bond that mostly includes having gestated and given birth to a child. Adoptive mothers of course have not given birth but still mostly develop that intimate emotional connection but adopted people often retain an emotional link to their birth mother. Like you I think there should be more possibilities for women than simply being defined as mothers or non-mothers. Someone close to me, married to a member of my family, did not want to have children. I have never thought of her as a non-mother. She is herself and a successful professional in her own right. There is a poverty of language around these new relationships.

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