Mama in Many Ways

Mama: One word that is essential and eternal in the global community. But the meaning of the word “mama” has expanded and evolved considerably, especially in the 21st century.

No longer are women offered a single route to motherhood via pregnancy and childbirth. Instead, women now become mothers in a variety of manners, all of which are becoming more and more socially acceptable.

Women become mothers via surrogacy, adoption, or foster care. In the United States, some agencies report that as many as 35,000 children were born via gestational surrogate in 2011.[1] Indeed, surrogacy is becoming a global phenomenon: In India, some women earn money as gestational surrogates, and parents often come from countries such as the United Kingdom or Japan in search of a gestational carrier.[2]

Women whose lives do not fit into the pattern of traditional motherhood become mothers in other ways. Take, for example, Lenelle Moise, a gay woman who considers how she will become a mother without a typical “father” involved in her poem “& do you see how much I love you.”

Other women choose to become mothers via adoption, including Sarah Buttenweiser, who talks about her daughter’s open adoption in her essay “What’s in a Name?” Around the world, there are an estimated 163 million orphans. In the past decade in the U.S., more than 200,000 children have been adopted, many of whom come from other countries such as China, Ethiopia, or Russia.

Beyond traditional adoption, other women are mother figures by offering much-needed support to children. After Marie Claudine Mukamambano lost her mother in the Rwandan genocide, she decided to create an organization for other, younger Rwandan orphans to offer a support system to orphans. Extended family members such as aunts or grandmothers also step in to fill the shoes of “mama,” as Margaret O’Brien celebrates in her song “Dorothy and Louise,” a tribute to the aunts who mothered during her childhood. 

Around the world, the meaning of the word “mama” is expanding to include many different experiences of motherhood. Explore these stories in our new gallery, “Mama in Many Ways!”



[1] Building Families, "Exciting Statistics on Surrogacy," accessed June 20, 2012