Monday, May 13, 2024

Giving Birth


by Warsan Shire


Baptize me

     now that reconciliation is possible. 

If we're gonna heal, let it be glorious.

One thousand girls raise their arms.

Do you remember being born?

Are you thankful?

Are the hips that cracked

     the deep velvet of your mother

     and her mother

     and her mother?

There is a curse that will be broken.



Yesterday was Mother's Day, and I was okay. A year ago, I sat on a high open terrace with my friend Jane, just days before Mother's Day and we agreed to release all expectations of how that day should be. For me, Mother's Day had been silently fraught ever since my very first one, thirty two years ago now, when my husband, usually a man of romantic gestures, failed to observe the day as I had expected he would. He had grown up in an island where on Mother's Day people gave thanks for their mothers in church and didn't get into the Hallmark aspect of the day otherwise. Once he understood my disappointment, he rallied, but if I'm being honest, my disappointment on the only first Mother's Day I would ever have, gave this day a brooding quality I never quite outran, or rose above. 

Outwardly, I kept things light and bright. Even after my own mother died, and the day would pierce me with missing her. I cried softly on waking and then became breezy once I stepped out of bed. Then, last year, Jane and I sat on her terrace with the springtime sun falling around our shoulders, and we dissected all the things women feel but do not say about mothering, and how it all crystallizes on Mother's Day, settling into a tender ache about which we do not speak. And then we just decided that henceforth, Mother's Day would be just another Sunday, merely a Hallmark confection, and we would let go of all expectations of the day, releasing the people unwittingly chained by those expectations, because how could they know about things we never said?

There is true power in two women sipping seltzer under a sun colored sky and just deciding. I know because last year and this one, I felt no angst as the day approached. I happily welcomed my children last year, and this year, when I knew my son would have to work and my daughter would be out of town to attend a friend's wedding, I felt no twinge, because after all, it was just another Sunday. But then my nieces texted me, the two who lived with us for a spell after college before getting launched, the ones we playfully call "the roomies." They wanted to know what I was doing for Mother's Day because they wanted to come over and spend it with me. 

Maybe they were missing their own mothers, but they did come over in the early afternoon, and they stayed till well into the night. We set out a brunch feast of quiche and chicken maple sausages, grapes and strawberries, blueberry muffins and croissants, waffles and jam, and avocado slices, and we made mimosas with the Prosecco and orange juice my husband brought home. We noshed and watched movies, a cheesy rom com (Mother of the Bride) and a diverting comedy caper (Queenpins) and then sat around the kitchen counter and just chatted, and later we put a few pieces into the puzzle on my dining table, and it was lovely—all the more so because I had no expectations whatsoever about what or how the day should be.

I read once that disappointment is expectation unmet, and that if we release our expectations we will avoid disappointment and could it really be that simple?



The poem is by the Somali British poet Warsan Shire from her chapbook Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth. It spoke to me on Mother's Day, but then all Warsan Shire's poetry speaks to me. The photo of her is by Amaal Said.


  1. Is there anything on earth as complicated a conundrum as motherhood? Sometimes I wish humans were more like mother hens who are the most incredible mothers, sitting on those eggs, barely eating, barely MOVING for weeks and then when the babies hatch the mamas so carefully take them into the world to teach them to scratch and drink and how to stay safe. And those hens would and absolutely do give their lives for those chicks if predators come around. And then...after a few months, when the little ones are ready according to their mother's calculation, she begins to ignore them and re-enters the life of the flock as if she'd never seen those little ones before in her life. She does her job, she does it well, and then she gets on with life. It may be that one or some of the chickens she's just hatched become good friends with her but she has no sense of needing to continue tending to any of them.
    It's so cut and dried, unlike our relationships with our children, and of course...our mothers.
    Perhaps your release of expectations about Mother's Day are simply the correct animal way to feel.

  2. My husband spent the day pampering me - a fine pancake lunch, a fresh batch of my favourite cookies, the kitchen cleaned and the dishes done. I always feel a bit awkward when he does this, as for me the day was always a celebration of one generation up, but neither of our girls was available and so he stepped in. Love the man, even if I did have to help make the cookies.

  3. Mother's day is like Christmas and birthdays, so many unspoken expectations, never met, because they're unspoken. My family is so fractured that holidays only magnify those fractures, expose them to the world, and I feel like a failure, again. Katie saves me, forces me to stay grounded and hugs me when I cry. She's a lovely young woman.

    I'm glad you ended up having a good day, a day without expectations. Please explain to me how to do that:)

  4. My mother died 19 years ago and I have no children, but I know what I'm doing next year - going to YOUR house. That brunch sounds fabulous, and I would just spend the whole time working the puzzle. Truth be told I never liked Mother's Day even when my mother was alive because I knew I could never meet her expectations (she was an amazing mother, but like many women wanted us to guess what she wanted because telling us took away the magic).

  5. Every day ,after giving birth, is Mother's day- un-celebrated privileged job - the best life has to offer. Females of this species do amazing work- the work that keeps everything/ everyone going, nurtured , valued- without mother's there's nothing at all. Every day is a celebration, gratitude . We know this every time we look at our incredible children and possibly their children. Mother's calendar day is contrived and a bit insulting, guilt inducing for some and a boon for marketing.

  6. It sounds like you were able to do an amazing thing, giving up expectations. I'm working on it.

  7. I know what you mean. At first on Mother's Day, my oldest son who lives with me said nothing about it and I thought, "has he forgotten what day it is?" But then I thought, "maybe he said it but I didn't hear him" so I didn't want to bring it up. But during the day I told myself, he does so much for me all of the time and I am so lucky to have him in my home. We did have a gathering here for dinner and he cooked out for us and he ended the day with "I hoped you enjoyed your day, Mom". I was silly to think he forgot and let my feelings get hurt for no reason at all. I like your idea of letting go of expectations...

  8. it really is that simple. my husband grew up after 9 without a mother in a family that did not give gifts for any occasion. I came from a family that not only gave gifts but expected gifts for all the Hallmark holidays. so the first two decades of my marriage were full of disappointment when I gave and rarely received. I finally let go and Mother's day and all other such holidays are just another day. and I like it like that because 1, no disappointment and 2, no stress for me to have to go out and get acquire a present. calls and texts from my kids and grandkids on those days are all I want and need. I'm glad you had such a lovely day.

  9. Yes! I'm thankful. Thank you so much for this Mother's Day post. Sending love always.