Mothering can be a lot of things, and there is really no one right way to do it,” Amy and Sarah Monson agree. Their lives are filled with opportunities to mother, to nurture and to care for people, animals, gardens and relationships. Some of those opportunities are filled with intense joy, like the recent birth of their first grandchild. And some are difficult, frustrating and heartbreaking. Mothering isn’t for the faint of heart.
Mothering at home
“I always wanted to be a mother,” says Sarah. She dreamed of motherhood in the traditional sense of pregnancy, home birth, nursing and sleepless nights. But her lived experience has been quite different. “When I first met Amy and her daughter, Lynnea, I didn’t start out as a parent. Over the years, we chose each other, and that is how I became a parent.” The first year was full of “You aren’t my mother!” However, over time, Sarah and Amy each negotiated their own parent/ child relationship. They are Mama Sarah and Mama Amy now.
When they met, Amy was a single parent of a vivacious 5-year-old. Her philosophy was that if she was making parenting decisions for her out of love, she wasn’t going to screw up too badly. She chuckles while explaining that she learned a lot from Sarah, including, “If it isn’t life-threatening or morally threatening, why not let her play in the rain or wear purple, pink and red together?”
Lynnea was in high school when Sarah started her midwifery training. At the time, Lynnea dreamed of having Sarah as her midwife someday. But as amazing as that sounded, Sarah knew that Lynnea was going to need her more as a mom.
By the time Lynnea was pregnant, the pandemic had started. It turns out that parenting an adult child, particularly a pregnant one, during COVID-19 was extremely difficult, and it required the determination of both mothers. It was hard on Amy and Sarah not to be with Lynnea physically to comfort her and cheer her on before and during the delivery. Comforting over a text or phone call isn’t the same.
When their grandchild, Isaiah, was born, Amy was teaching a class remotely. “I didn’t expect becoming a grandmother to be so overwhelmingly powerful. A new baby is always a blessing and miracle. I was sitting and holding him and burst into ugly-cry tears. I was so overwhelmed with how beautiful he was and how much I loved him,” Sarah shares about the experience of finally getting to meet Isaiah in person.
“If life doesn’t move you, then what’s the point?” Amy seconds. During their recent visit to meet their grandson, they delighted in watching Lynnea and her partner in action. They had successfully raised a strong, passionate and competent daughter who now had her own child. They realized that they were just there for backup, to create a safe space for the new family and provide reassurance.
Mothering in the classroom
Amy knew when she was in high school that she was expected to make a career choice and stick with it. She also knew that she was gay. “I looked around my community and saw what jobs and which people in my community had respect. I thought that teaching could be a good option. I could be smart and excel. It was a way for me to make my parents proud. I understood how school could be a safe haven for some kids, how it could be a place that was a comfort in a way that home wasn’t.”
As a teacher, she realizes that her career choice is partly about giving back and partly about improving what school can MOTHERINGMulti-Dimensional RWMagazine.com :: 29 be for those kids who need it—not just academically, but socially and emotionally— to grow confidence in themselves.
She teaches Speech, AP Literature and Composition and Drama and also directs the plays and musicals at Mayo High School. However, the academic subjects don’t hold the lessons that are most important for her students. Through theater, Amy teaches her students how to rely on one another, explaining that is how a show is made. “It isn’t just about the actors or the lights; everyone is important and serves a purpose to make sure the story is told and the audience has a good time,” she explains.
Every kid needs something different from her in her theater-mom role. Sometimes they need someone to believe in them or a place to belong that isn’t judgmental. Sometimes they need a creative outlet for a productive, collective end.
Amy’s mothering roles as a teacher can be as diverse as sending reminders, holding kids accountable and bringing in other experts. However, underneath all of those interactions is a desire to build tradition with her students, give them roots and wings and empower them to discover things about themselves.
“If people are given the opportunity to hear their own voice, they often learn what they need to hear from themselves.”
Some days are harder than others when grief and loss abound. Two students from Mayo High School died this year. Seniors didn’t get to do the play “Clue” or attend the drama banquet. No matter what is happening, though, Amy knows, “Each day, there is one kid who needs me to be there. I don’t know who that kid is.” She shows up every day to encourage and comfort her students in the same way she comforts herself, understanding, “We love big and live big, so we are going to feel stuff.”
Mothering as a midwife
Sarah has been a midwife at Mayo Clinic in La Crosse for over five years. She became a midwife because she felt a calling to help women find their strength and support them on their journey. She knows that just like raising a child, being a midwife isn’t about her; she is just there to give her patients the tools to support their own journey into motherhood and becoming a family.
“I get the opportunity to see people at their strongest and most vulnerable. I feel deeply honored that people trust me with their secrets, fears and amazing resilience. They find a power within themselves that they didn’t realize they had. Not many people get to see other human beings in that way.”
A lot of Sarah’s work is to help women make decisions about their health and well-being outside of the journey to motherhood. She is proud of the work she does with gender nonconforming patients, helping them feel comfortable in their own skin when the language is usually exclusively feminine and people feel really vulnerable.
Being a midwife gives Sarah the opportunity to get to know her patients, their hopes and their fears. Just like in parenting, “If people are given the opportunity to hear their own voice, they often learn what they need to hear from themselves.”
Mothering as one aspect of caring
“Mothering is perhaps intertwined into everything I do,” Sarah reflects. “I resist that in some ways because I don’t think that is all that women are. I think we fall into a trap as women to think that we have to mother everyone—that mothering is the most important thing we can do in our lives. It is one amazing thing we may get to do if we are lucky. However, to have to do it is different from choosing to do it.”
Amy and Sarah believe that caring for one another, whether in motherhood or other relationships, is what’s really important. The ability to give what needs to be given, without sacrificing self, is what it means to be human and to contribute, as long as giving isn’t the only thing you do. Creation, essential human expression, can be done by growing children, tending a garden or caring for a pet. Sarah and Amy have both made that choice.