Mixed feelings about my first Mother’s Day

On Mother's Day last year, I was six days past the 35-week mark of my pregnancy, the milestone at which I was officially safe to deliver my twins at the hospital of my choice and likely to avoid NICU time. By this stage of the pregnancy, I was constantly uncomfortable. Talking for more than a couple minutes got me winded, with two babies stealing space from my lungs and in the irritating habit of kicking my ribs from the inside. One time, in the middle of a sentence, it seemed my entire body ran out of water, and I physically could not speak another word until I'd drunk a glass. Each night was a puzzle of what position would allow me to sleep without feeling faint. And every few days my hands and feet would become incredibly itchy, a symptom of a late-pregnancy liver condition for which my negative test did not entirely alleviate my doctor's concern or stop me from scratching until my skin was scraped and red.

In short, I hated being pregnant and wasn't feeling terribly fond of the rib-kickers. Celebrating Mother's Day — say, going out for brunch with food that would barely fit in my crowded-out stomach and mimosas I could not drink — did not appeal. Maybe next year, I thought.

Now it's next year, and all the mimosa-serving brunch spots are closed. We couldn't do a traditional Mother's Day celebration if I wanted. And would I want it? I'm not sure. The pandemic adds an extra layer of oddity, but the holiday already feels like an uncomfortable fit.

I've never been able to generate any enthusiasm for "Hallmark holidays." (If I'm honest, even most real holidays leave me fairly flat. In Saint Paul's dichotomy of those who "judge one day to be better than another" and those who "judge all days to be alike," I am decidedly more the latter.) Mother's Day is arguably not a Hallmark holiday — its founder, Anna Jarvis, sincerely wished to honor her own mother and decried the day's quick commercialization — but it certainly plays like one: formulaic, maybe more obligatory than legitimately joyous, unconnected to any specific historical event, and devoted primarily to consumption.

There are many people, no doubt, who celebrate Mother's Day in its original, earnest intent. I admire them, but I haven't been among them, so suddenly embracing the holiday when I've become the honoree casts all my past indifference in a newly cold light.

Then there's the dissonance between the commentary of the celebration and how my life works. The sentimentalized version of Mother's Day often has a connotation of apology, like the spouse and kids realize how trying and useless they are around the house, and they feel bad enough to cobble together a single day of someone else cooking and cleaning but not bad enough to actually stop being so trying and useless. It's a holiday that says, "Sorry we never put your wants and needs above our own, mom. We'll do it just this once!"

Still a few weeks shy of their first birthday, my kids are too young to do (or fail to do) chores, and, though we have the ordinary quarrels about housework, my husband is not trying and useless, especially where childcare is concerned. He has fully, blissfully embraced fatherhood, perhaps a little too much in the wardrobe department. The disparate meaning between the common usages of "mothering" and "fathering" (the former a long-term act of care, the latter equally able to describe the one-time act of impregnation) does not make sense in our marriage. The lack that Mother's Day frequently aims to fill is not particularly lacking.

Adding further to my ambivalence is that motherhood has yet to lodge itself in my head as a defining part of my identity, though certainly mothering takes up a great deal of all my days. Introducing myself in most contexts, I'd likely speak first of my faith, work, and education, mentioning my children after all that, like the standard conclusion of an author bio: "She lives in Minnesota with her husband and twin sons." Thinking about celebrating Mother's Day, my mind more naturally turns to my own mother and mother-in-law than myself.

Perhaps that is as it should be, and a guide for Mother's Days future. I may be equivocal about the day, but it may be that my kids, once they're old enough to understand, will take a different view. If, like Jarvis, they embrace the day, I'll welcome it and share in their rejoicing. I'll happily drink the mimosas and open the presents and leave the dishes to other hands.

But if they take after their mother and judge all days to be alike, I'll welcome that as well. A day spent avoiding unwanted holiday obligations is a good thing, too.