According to The American Heritage Dictionary of The English Language
(New College Edition, 1969-1975), which just happens to be the most recent dictionary I have in print, "mother" is described as:
1. A female that has borne an offspring.
2. A female who has adopted a child, or otherwise established a maternal relationship with another person.
4. A woman having some of the responsibilities of a mother: house mother.
5. Qualities attributed to a mother, such as capacity to love: a baby that appealed to the mother in her.
(Excuse me for not including definition 3, as it was a figure of speech.)
I think our definition of a mother in society's language has changed a bit since this dictionary was published last (1975). I think these days we attribute motherhood not just to the act of actually giving birth to, adopting or taking responsibility for a child, but to actively being
For example, we often refer to pregnant women as "mothers-to-be" rather than just mothers, but in reality when you are pregnant you love and care for your unborn child just as much as you would after the birth, if not more. A pregnant woman changes her diet, her activities, her plans, her schedules. A pregnant woman gives up those simple things in life she may have relied on beforehand, such as chocolate, coffee, cigarettes and ibuprofen, just so that this unborn child can come into life healthy. After birth a mother still has to monitor the child's diet and activity constantly. She gives up her nights out when she can't find a babysitter. She is every bit as protective of her child as when she was pregnant with him, though slightly less emotional (hormones etc).
This brings up another point. When we think of mothers who can't take care of their child, and put the child up for adoption, do we still think of them as mothers? These women went through the process of holding onto their baby for nine moths, giving birth, and loving and protecting, but in the end somehow found the strength to give the child to someone who could give the child a better life. They fit the first definition of mother as females who have given birth, so they are technically mothers, but do we still think of them as mothers? They love their child, as in definition 5, but do we still think of them as mothers, or just as the person who gave birth? Could a person just simply be a vessel?
Is a mother defined by how much she loves her child? Is motherhood described by how well you take care of a child? Is being a mother just going through the process of popping out a baby?
What do you think makes a mother, well, a mother?