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Inside the Ultimate Secret Society: Motherhood

In this week’s paper, we tell our stories

Motherhood is the ultimate sorority. It’s also the biggest. Eighty percent of American women belong; worldwide, mothers number two billion.
    Like all membership societies, motherhood demands an arduous initiation rite. Passing through it is an experience no uninitiate can share and one every initiate understands.
    Just on the other side are rewards beyond belief until they are yours.
    “For me, becoming a mother turned into life’s greatest lesson about love. Before your little one arrives, everyone tells you how wonderful and life-changing becoming a parent is, and in reply you respectfully smile and nod. But really, it’s something that you truly can’t understand or appreciate until it actually happens. You thought you knew love before — thanks to your friends, husband, family — but really that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” explains Olivia Campbell Anderson, from whom you’ll hear more in this week’s feature story.
    “Babies are better than lovers,” one of my sons’ wise godmothers told me, and she was right. Mother and infant are the ultimate loving pair — each defined in the eyes and touch of the other.
    The experience is staggering, and so are the responsibilities, which last a lifetime. They are, in the most intense years, overwhelming. Over time, you forget just how hard unless you’ve written it down, as I did in making this poem at the end of a work and family day when my sons were nine, Alex, and four, Nathaniel.

    They talk about power failures
    I know what they mean
    I just shut down.
    I have cooked dinner
    Bedded two children and kissed them all    
    First changing the damp sheet on the bottom bunk
    Told eight fireman/batman/helicopter-man stories
    (and then the dog peed on his brother so
    Nat the fireman squirted the dog
    with his hose).
    Should now my head slump woeful on my breast,
    Let it, please.

    Frontline mothering is over in a few short years. Just about the time you’re fully addicted to the experience, the kids are their own people and can manage quite well without you. Except when they can’t. Then your elastic had better still be snappy because you’re mother all over again.
    From such intensity, the sorority of mothers takes its power.
    Solidarity unifies our sisterhood. Our bond may go unspoken, as in the melting tenderness old mothers feel at the sight of new mothers and their babies. But it’s often spoken, for sharing a universal experience, we speak a common language. It’s a popular language, and we speak it every chance we get, exchanging stories of childbirth and rearing, joy, improbability, outrage, indignity and exhaustion.
    Which is what we bring you in this week’s paper, celebrating Mother’s Day.
    What it’s really like to be a mother is a secret typically shared only among the sisterhood.
    To the world, we are defined by the other, not in ourselves. We are Alex and Nathaniel’s mother. We are selfless. Or selfish. We are busy. Exhausted. Good. Mean. Too young. Too old. Too fertile or infertile. Analyzed, praised or blamed for staying at home or working outside the home. Too driven. Too permissive. Too distracted.
    Even on Mother’s Day, we are recognized for what we do for others rather than who we are.
    So this year I asked mothers to tell their own stories. The call went out on Facebook, in Bay Weekly’s new e-newsletter, at bayweekly.com and by e-alert to our usual writers, thence to their mothers, daughters and friends.
    Waiting for you to turn the page are the first-person stories of mothers ranging in age from 18 to 67. Together they are brilliant, like the facet of a well-cut diamond.
    If you’re a mother who missed this opportunity to tell your story, take it now. Send me your story at editor@bayweekly.com for upcoming publication. Or add it to the story at www.bayweekly.com under Add New Comment.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com