"The essence of motherhood is not restricted to women who have given birth; it is a principle inherent in both women and men. It is an attitude of the mind. It is love -- and that love is the very breath of life. No one would say, 'I will breathe only when I am with my family and friends; I won't breathe in front of my enemies.' Similarly, for those in whom motherhood has awakened, love and compassion for everyone are as much a part of their being as breathing.”
~ Mata Amritanandamayi known throughout the world as Ammachi, or Beloved Mother ~
I have recently been inspired to consider the true meaning of what it means to be a mother.
As Ammachi points out so eloquently in the above statement, there are many women (and men) who embody the essence of motherhood who have never had biological children. As someone who has worked with scores of women struggling to become mothers over the past decade, I have been struck by so many who are childless but who are already mothering in such beautiful ways in the world.
Maybe they have committed their lives to teaching, or to changing the education system by dedicating super-human amounts of energy to making a difference in a terribly broken system. Maybe they have chosen to work in the non-profit sector or as therapists, doctors or attorneys. Their work can change the lives of thousands of people and the ripple effect of their gifts to the world is immeasurable.
I was recently moved to tears by a patient whose love for the students she serves shone in her eyes just as if she were talking about her own children. It seems unfair that these women, who give so much to the world, could still feel less-than or inadequate in any way. They are expressing the most beautiful and selfless form of mothering without even realizing it. And we need to start recognizing that this mothering outside of the social structure of the nuclear family is just as valid as mothering a biological child.
As an adoptive parent, I know many amazing adoptive mothers who have gone above and beyond and parented children with complex histories, struggles and traumas with unconditional love and unrelenting hope. And even then our culture can make us feel less-than for not having “real” children or “our own” children.
Another huge inspiration is my best friend Donna, who faced a long fertility struggle and ultimately found peace being child-free. Instead of having biological children, she gave birth to an amazing acupuncture practice in a town where Chinese Medicine was very new. She has changed the lives of countless patients over the years and helped many women struggling with infertility. She is one of the most powerful mothers I know.
And of course there are saints and spiritual leaders like Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, Ammachi, Venerable Khandro Rinpoche and so many more… wise women who have been able to change the world because their concept of mothering was vast and selfless. Their examples can inspire us all. And hopefully, as women gain more power and equality in the workplace, government and clergies, we will start seeing how motherhood means more than giving birth to biological children and relegating all of our mothering energy to the domestic sphere.
Women have always, and will continue to change the world in meaningful ways because we all have the power to be mothers in the world—whether we have given birth to a baby or to an inspiration. May we all begin to recognize this divine mothering energy and power when we see it. And may those whose hearts yearn for a child be filled with the recognition that they can express the essence of motherhood in so many ways.