I am sitting in a doctor’s office waiting room with all four of my stairstep children. They call “Vargas” and we all get up, me with a squirmy toddler in my arms and a giant purse 95% full of receipts and snackfood wrappers. “Ok mom, right this way!” the nurse cheerfully chirps. I bristle and feel immediately annoyed.
“Alright mama, can you get her to stand here for a weight?” “So what are your concerns today, Mom?” “Hey mama, can you get her into this gown before the doctor comes in?”
Every time this nurse calls me mom I have an intense visceral reaction of irritation, despite her outward kindness towards me.
I want to just as kindly tell her, “I do, in fact, have a name. I am a person. A multi-faceted person who also happens to be a mother.”
This scene has happened over and over for the past eight years, with my level of annoyance waxing and waning. For years, I didn’t understand my reaction and a wave of shame and self-loathing would quickly follow the wave of irritation. I should love being called mom.
It’s a privilege and an honor to be a mother, right? Don’t I love my family more than anything else in this world? Yes.
I can tell you all about cold war politics and the Rwandan genocide thanks to a degree in international studies that I’m clearly putting to great use as a birth doula. I have lived in three different countries and traveled to more. I read multiple classical novels every year, just for fun. I’m bilingual. I was a competitive gymnast and now, a runner. I own a business and am a partner in another. I’ve attended dozens and dozens of births and taught hundreds of parents the ins and outs of childbirth. I keep up with current research in my field. I have a blissfully happy marriage along with a wonderful community of friends and I pour my soul into both. I love Seinfeld, Queen, summer, and fireworks. I have survived some truly horrific ordeals and I’m really proud of the life I’ve made despite it all.
When you, a stranger, call me mom instead of using my name that has carried me throughout every role and experience in my life, you strip away all these things and don’t see me.
It’s also a presumptuous usage of a very personal title that I do, in fact, cherish, but not from you, stranger. The sweet sound of “mama” coming from the lips of my tubby, adorable two-year-old with her tiny arms wrapped around my neck; to me that is divine music and warmth and the crux of life. That word is reserved for her, my spitfire three-year-old, my love-bucket five-year-old, and my sidekick eight-year-old. “Mama, I love you.” “Mommy, look what I made!” “Mom, I need help.” There is nothing better.
It wasn’t until a doula conference a few years ago that I finally identified why I hated being called mom by other people so much.
The speaker had started taking questions at the end of her talk, and a colleague raised her hand and said, “I had a situation with a mama last week…” (Oh, and did I mention that doulas are the worst at this?)
“Stop.” said the speaker. “Don’t call her mama. That’s not her name, nor her role to you. She is a client paying you for a service. Call her your client.”
Lightbulb moment! I’m not weird and selfish and horrible.
It’s unprofessional at best; a rude write-off at worst. It doesn’t feel good to be pigeon-holed into one identity. Perhaps not everyone is so bothered by it (or bothered at all), but it’s certainly a valid and reasonable reaction.
Validation is something we are drilled on, as doulas. All experiences are valid and they matter. I finally started to give myself permission to dislike being called mom by the world at large, and I don’t even feel ashamed about it anymore.