Who Can Experience Motherhood? and other risky questions

When thinking about how I could delve into some higher stakes material in my topic of motherhood, most of the questions I came up with had to do with the question of motherhood and different identities.

I remember hearing as a kid (in 2008) about a story about “the man who gave birth.” It was the story of a transgender man, Thomas Beatie,¬†who despite transitioning to a man had all the necessarily anatomic and biological mechanisms to give birth. He was interviewed by PEOPLE and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Since the birth of his first daughter, he has since given birth to two more children.

While the stories focused mainly on the biological aspects of this unconventional birth story, I wonder now about the implications for the meaning of motherhood. Specifically, do you have to give birth to a child to be and feel like their mother? In the case of Thomas, he birthed the child but identifies as male. His wife did not birth their daughter, but from a legal and genedered perspective is the girl’s mother.

Of course, the idea that you can not birth a child and still experience motherhood isn’t unusual: surrogacy, adoption, etc. But I am interested in the tension between the biological and social ideas of motherhood, especially in contrast to fatherhood. For Thomas, does he experience a mix of motherhood and fatherhood? What about a lesbian couple–how is motherhood shared, and different between the woman who birthed the child?

In this way, I am also interested in whether or not motherhood is or must be something that is learned, and how patterns of motherhood continue or are broken. Will I be like my mother when I have children?

For my last experiment I was thinking of writing a personal essay examining my relationship with my own mother in adolescence. In thinking about how I could incorporate these questions into my last experiment, I think that the question of learned patterns of motherhood would be relevant, as my mother’s relationship with her mother is often projected by her onto our own.

As well, I’m sure there would be a place to tie in the history of my mother’s newly discovered half-sister. When my mom visited her this year, she texted me describing some eerie similarities between her sister and her mother, despite the fact that they’d never met, and between her sisters’s family and ours. This raises the larger of question of how mothers and daughters are connected biologically, and how the two sisters have experienced motherhood differently given their histories.

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