Pregnancy doesn't make you a mother

I am a mother, of two little girls, after a very long struggle with infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss. For more than 7 years I dreamed of joining the “mommy club”. Truthfully, it was longer than that. From the time I was a child, I’d dreamed of being a mother. But for me, and so many women like me, the dream of being someone’s mother didn’t come easily. 

And then, one day, I was a mother.

My eldest daughter was placed with us in a lightning speed adoption. We literally went from hopelessly infertile and fighting our way through the grief of another miscarriage, to being parents, in less than 3 weeks. It all happened so quickly, my head spun.

But two days after my daughter was born and placed with us, my family threw me a baby shower. All the women from my family were there. My mom, my aunties, my cousins, all of them mothers. And I remember it so clearly, how they raised their champagne glasses in a toast to my motherhood, to my baby and said: Welcome to the club!

At last, I’d arrived!

Only, I hadn’t. Not really. Not in the eyes of a fertile society. Here I am, almost 8 years into parenting, the mother of two little girls and I’m still waiting to feel like I’m part of the “club”.

What makes me feel excluded?

The language society uses when they speak of mothers and motherhood, which is almost always linked to pregnancy.

When you consider that 15% to 20% of South African couples will struggle with infertility, that’s a large portion of society being excluded from the parenting narrative that is so highly focused on pregnancy. That’s 2 people for every 10 that will struggle to conceive. And I haven’t even factored same-sex couples into that equation.

Pregnancy is a journey, not a destination.

What happens after the child is born is real parenting, not what came before. And yet so many women are excluded from the parenting narrative because they haven’t been pregnant. I chatted to other mothers wo arrived at motherhood through similar circumstances to my own, and they all shared the same sentiment, the feeling of exclusion. From literature and blogs right through to medical aid care for their babies not born via their own pregnancies.

This is how society excludes us:

While society pays lip service to how I am a real mother, often the actions and the words don’t match. 

  • When my second child was placed with me, we couldn’t get medical aid for her because I hadn’t been pregnant and given birth to her.
  • Another reader shared how she’d been unable to receive the Gift Baby Bag from a well-known medical aid, because she hadn’t been pregnant with her baby.
  • Most commonly, all of us moms-via-pregnancy-alternatives have experienced a disregard for advice and experiences we may want to share with other mothers, simply because we weren’t pregnant.
  • I’ve even had someone tell me once: “If you were a REAL mother…”! and believe me, I’m not the only one. 

Pregnancy doesn’t make you a mother.

Mothering a child makes you a mother. Late-night feeds, dirty diapers, exhaustion, worry, guilt: those are the things that make us mothers. Not pregnancy.

So the next time you want to talk about motherhood, please remember to not be so pregnancy-centric. In an era when more and more of us are becoming mothers/parents through alternative means, try to be inclusive of all of us.

I just want to be accepted into and embraced by the mommy club and I don’t feel pregnancy entitles anyone to VIP access to that club! 

Follow Sharon van Wyk, aka The Blessed Barrenness, on Twitter.

Read more:

Adopted or biological or both... love is love!

What makes me a mom?

Read more about adoption in our adoption section

Read more about infertility here

Have you also experienced exclusion, or been made to feel less of a mom, because you didn't physically give birth to your children? What must institutions and society change to be more welcoming to all parents? Share your stories with us at chatback@parent24.com. Please tell us if you'd like to remain anonymous.