In the name of the mother

For the first year of my daughter's life, she refused to address me by name. I know what you're thinking: Most babies fail to say much in the first year. But somewhere around month 10 or 11, she seized on the word "Mommy" and joyously bounced it around in her mouth for hours on end. This was lovely, except for the fact that "Mommy" was Amy's name.

My name—at least at first—was Ema. And no matter how many times I looked her in the eye, smiled my widest, most loving smile, pointed at myself, and cooed, "Ema...Ema...I'm Ema," she would always just look at me with a confused expression on her face. Whenever she needed something, she would simply point in my direction and grunt the infant equivalent of "Hey you." Unless she needed something from Amy, in which case she would toss off a casual "Mom-my!"

I had originally wanted to be called Mommy. But when I was in my last trimester and Amy and I started to discuss naming rights, it became quite clear that she deserved the moniker far more than I did. It wasn't just that Mommy was iconic or sentimental. The word would be a talisman of sorts in a world far more apt to honor my connection based on blood than Amy's forged in sweat and tears. It wouldn't prevent people from nonchalantly asking us, "Who's the real mom?" as if they were simply asking for the time. But when we turned away from the person and our daughter looked at Amy, arms outstretched, and demanded "Mommy...uppy," we would all feel just a little less wounded by the encounter. 

Amy claimed Mommy, and I looked around for a suitable alternative. I knew a few women in two-mom households who had opted for Ema, which means Mommy in Hebrew. While Hebrew is essentially Greek to me, it was nonetheless comforting to know that the word had been around for a while and had all the connotations of Mommy for someone who did actually speak the language. Thus, Ema it was.

After the baby was born, Amy and I went through a careful training process with our families to get them to use the proper designation when referring to each of us in front of the baby. I had stridently corrected several family members who had handed the crying baby back to me with the words, "There, there. It's OK. Here's your Mommy now."  

For the baby's first Christmas, Amy's sister Sarah made our little threesome stockings with our names sewn on the front. On the back of Amy's, she had sewn "Mom" and on the back of mine, she had sewn "Ema." I loved that stocking, and to this day I still feel a pang of guilt about the fact that I felt compelled to add a clumsy glitter-glue Star of David under the "Ema"—just in case anyone was confused. 

After several months, everyone was finally getting the hang of calling me Ema around the baby...except the baby herself. I kept trying to imprint it, but it just wouldn't stick. Ema was a dud.

In desperation, I decided to hunt for a different name. And that's when "Mama" came to me. I'm not sure why I hadn't considered it before, but there it was. I tried it on, let it roll off my tongue a few times. I liked the way it sounded on me. Plus, bonus points for alliteration. But I wasn't going to commit to any new name until I could test it under real-life conditions. I approached the baby in her crib, where she seemed to be preparing for the Junior Olympics. I looked her in the eye, made my smile as wide as it could possibly go, pointed to myself and said, "Mama...Mama...I'm Mama."

"Mama," she said back, easily and lovingly, with no trace of annoyance that it had taken me so long to figure out my own name. So, Mama it was. Mama it is. Mama it will always be.