Fierce Mama

Fierce Mama


The other day a friend reading my new memoir, Sex Changes, remarked, “Something that really comes across is your fierce love for your children.”


That surprised me. I wasn’t particularly conscious of writing about my feelings for my children in the book. But the comment also brought back the moment I realized that I had become a mother.


It was a beautiful autumn day in New England, eighteen years ago. My four-or-five-month-old firstborn was asleep on my bed in the little cottage we were living in at the time. I was just outside the bedroom doing some work on the living room sofa when, unexpectedly, the door to my bedroom creaked part way open. Then several things happened more or less simultaneously. I experienced a phenomenon I had always thought of as metaphor, not physical fact: I felt the hair on my arms stand straight up. I stood up too, and soundlessly walked the few steps to the fireplace where I picked up a metal poker. I went into the bedroom. The baby lay sleeping peacefully on the bed. There was no one else in the room. The door must have been blown half open by a breeze I’d been unaware of. I closed the door. I replaced the poker. I sat down again, shaken to the core.


There was little chance that an intruder could have climbed in through one of the ground floor windows in the bedroom without my knowing it. But when I heard the creaking door I didn’t think. I acted. My body acted. Pure animal instinct set me in motion. Just as, walking alone through the supermarket, my breasts met the cry of an unknown baby on another aisle with a flood of warm, sweet, nipple-prickling milk.


Creating new life, my body had taken on a new life of its own. An elemental, animal life powered by the biological imperative that my baby, that all our babies depend upon. I’d become the moose mama shyly and awkwardly shielding her pair of calves on the road around the bend from the house I now own. I’d become the bird mama who dive-bombed me in a park in San Francisco when I paused to look at the hatchling chirping at the base of the tree it had fallen from.


Two more babies and several other huge life changes later I’ve experienced a lot more of what it means to be a mother than I had eighteen years ago. But maybe I haven’t learned anything more important than what the creaking door demonstrated that afternoon:  I had profoundly changed. Someone – my  son – and something – his wellbeing – now mattered more than I did. More than anything. Not in some lofty, distant or intellectual sense but in as physical and gut-wrenching a way as could be.

You can’t protect them, I’ve been told.  They have to make their own way. Sink or swim.

You’re not responsible, I’ve heard when I hold myself responsible for things that have happened to my children in my absence, things that should not have happened. Don’t blame yourself. You didn’t know. It’s not your fault.

I can’t buy it.

A few weeks ago I left the baby boy who once slept on my bed in a college dorm room and drove away. It was breathtakingly painful. It made the case better than anything else ever had that if danger stalks him I won’t be there to fend it off.

And yet. I can’t buy this freedom from responsibility. I am responsible. There is nothing on earth that I am more accountable for, that the cells of my skin, my blood, my bones know me to be more accountable for, than the lives of my children. That’s my job: protecting them. It’s my job even if, even when, agonizingly and unbearably, I can’t accomplish it.  

Is that a bad thing? If, as parents, we held ourselves accountable this way, we’d have no children abused or neglected at home. If, as adults, we held ourselves accountable this way for all children, we’d have no Jerry Sanduskys. No Jimmy Saviles.

A baby’s survival is lodged in instinctual, hot, protective love. Maybe the children who grow up knowing that someone would die or kill for them carry a little of its heat with them when they inevitably go out to meet the world and all its hazards on their own. Everyone says my son can take care of himself. My son says it. He is learning fencing, a fact with no connection to the creaking door incident except its metaphoric value in suggesting that perhaps he really will be ready to wield his own defensive weapons should the need arise. If he is strengthened by the untamed love of his infancy, so much the better. And if he decides to let me jump in and tear his opponents to shreds, I’m ready.

Even if we can’t shield our children from harm we’re damn well built to try.



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5 responses to “Fierce Mama

  1. I just found this post years late and wanted to tell you how moving I found it. Becoming a mother is, like you, one of the foundational experience of my life. I would say the foundational experience except that I am a long-term sober alcoholic (27 years) and I know that without that sobriety I never would have had children at all. My marriage changed me too. We had 17 years until his premature death, years full of laughter and, of course, sometimes not so great bits. That changed me. He poured out love on me and our sons during that last year. His death rounded off what we’d shared. Knowing that we’d kept our promises, that I had been so loved. That keeps me going during the long lonely years since.

    But … Babies.. How motherhood changes us. It was the biggest, most visceral change in my life. That sense of utter devotion to someone so small, so vulnerable. My baby hurt himself, cried out, that special, piercing cry of distress, and I, in the kitchen, found myself up by his cot before I even registered I had heard him. I moved so fast, all instinct.

    What you say about how that mother love forms a protection round our adult children is true, and my life demonstrates it. I became an alcoholic young, it runs in my family. For years I struggled alone, hating my drunk self. Then, eventually, I got into rehab. At the start I hated it, rejected it. But after a few days I started to believe it might work and threw myself into the program. It was one of the highlights of my life. When I left I left with loads of phone numbers and I kept in touch with all my peers. One by one they relapsed. A couple died. After a couple of years the only ones still sober were those who came from loving, stable homes. People in the depths of degradation can only climb out if they believe, deep down, that they matter. I know my sense of mattering comes from my parents, who adored me and my.brothers. So what you’ve given to your son is indeed a shield and protection.

    Our instinct as mothers, to do the best for our children, would – if felt and practiced by all adults – transform society. However anyone who’s been involved with the care of breeding animals will tell you that bad and good mothers occur among animals too. Some pigs eat their young. I suspect that maternal instincts are stronger in some individuals than others, but more importantly people (& maybe animals) learn mothering by watching it in action.

    The last observation I’d make is that, as a woman, becoming a mother was the first time I’d confronted blatant, heavy duty sexism. At work people had no qualms about saying that I wouldn’t have the drive to succeed now I had a baby. My assistant became my manager. People (not just men) who had previously treated me as a fellow professional, now talked down to me.

    Anyway, thanks for your amazing post which struck many chords with me. I came on this post late because I’ve been browsing your whole blog. It’s well worth the time. The selfish middle aged man who wrecks his family for sexual reasons is all too familiar. Normally it’s a sports car and a blonde. In the case of AGP transing there’s a difference. The family still gets trashed but this time the selfish bloke,gets cheered on as some sort of freedom fighter!

  2. Christine,

    You need not publish this because have a delicate question to ask about your ex. I just read a comment published by Goodman and Cerullo in the Gazette and I am rather frustrated because I would like to write another blog post about this attempt to censor you. You commented on my blog today.

    The question I have is when did your ex have SRS?

    I found the above commentary on the Gazette both silly and a straw man in so many ways. Trying to equate a wife and a transgender husband to a spouse and a black spouse is just deceptive and an attempt to deflect the argument away from the reality of your situation. There is no similarity.

    I am a little uncomfortable asking that question about your ex but it does have some bearing. I assume he has had SRS or wants it but the thing that bothers me is the convenient way he claims transsexuality while at the same time advocating transgender activism based on a perceived courage, bravery, and suffering

    You can email a response to or tell me to buzz off.


  3. Christine.

    Do not let the transgender mafia get you down. They will try and shout you down, as they already have, because you dare write from the point of view of the wife.

    I read the book and it is wonderful and in many ways uplifting because all we can do when this happens is either bow down and be pushed around by a husband or straighten our backs and have the resolve to move on as mothers and women. Sadly for many of them it is something they will never understand.

  4. doublevez

    Beautifully written.

    Until the day we die. ❤

    (Just another feminist mother.)

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