10 Tributes To Women Who Didn't Give Birth But Still Gave You Life

Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall does not like the word "childfree," and neither do we.

"It sounds like you're less because you haven't had a child," she has said. "There is a way to become a mother in this day and age that doesn't include your name on the child's birth certificate." With Mother's Day here again, we may be focusing our gratitude on moms in the traditional sense, and that's lovely. But what's also worth celebrating is the love, care, mentorship, guidance, and inspiration that other women bring to our lives.

This isn't to say that everyone who identifies as female must be "nurturing," regardless of whether or not she has kids of her own, or that emulating the qualities typically associated with motherhood makes anyone more of a "woman" than anyone else. Rather, we're recognizing that "a mother's love" is far from the only kind of love a woman can give to a young person learning how to move through the world. In the words of Joy Bryant in Lenny Letter, "I've got plenty of love to give, and plenty of plans to help make the world a better place through something other than my offspring."

Ahead, we've gathered 10 poignant stories about people who may not be biological moms but have forever shaped lives for the better.
Advertisement
1 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"In the days and weeks immediately after my mother's death, there were alternate stretches of hazy confusion and then headache-inducing surrealism... I’d just started the third grade; all I really knew was that life had suddenly turned scary and weird.

"My first guiding lights of normalcy came in a trio, and just in time. They were three devoted friends of my mother's who slipped seamlessly into the new incarnation of my life, stepping in for school pick-ups and dinners and to preside over the general entertainment of a heartbroken eight-year-old in need of serious distraction.

"Every Tuesday for that first year, Junebug (as I still call her) would arrive at my small private school with her pockets full of "fruit leather" snacks and Peanuts comics clipped from The Hartford Courant to escort me home. Linda created a serial drama that starred a human-sized, fashioned-obsessed rabbit, episodes of which she enacted at the family dining table. And Jeanne, who lived in Boston at the time, would come into New York for weeks on end to help out.

"It wasn't easy; I had my fair share of math homework freak-outs and sleepless nights, battles with authority and issues with gender. But Jeanne was patient, and she could calm me like no one else could. And at a time when I needed it most, she introduced me to worlds of fiction and humor and art that I love to this day. Whenever I needed her, there she was; from her home in Boston, Jeanne would read me to sleep over the phone when I couldn't settle down for the night. Her presence, either as a voice over the receiver or in person, pulled me into a safer realm of Enid Blyton books, inside jokes, and acceptance. She became my stepmother four years later.

"With Charlie Brown (whose lines will, for me, forever be spoken in Junebug's voice), Linda's fearless fashionista bunny, and The Famous Five children's adventure novels as read by Jeanne, the fog began to lift. That surreal feeling was replaced with clarity, and I grew stronger with this trifecta by my side.

"Grief hates pity and adores stability in equal measure. These three women, often with the great personal sacrifice of their time and money and energy, helped to set me on an even — but still wonderfully, perfectly eccentric — keel. And, with their continued humor and love, I have (mostly) stayed there."
— R.F. Jurjevics
2 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"Barbara and her husband Jake lived across the street when I was a little girl. She was a tall, thin woman with reddish hair, which she wore in pin curls while Jake was at work. She was always patient and kind, and my sister and I never saw her in a bad mood. We were allowed to stay overnight in her 'spare room' on special occasions. If we were invited to dinner, we got our own Shirley Temple cocktails, like the grown-ups.

"We asked Barbara why she didn’t have children of her own. 'But I have you!' she’d say, and that was good enough for us. My mother made us take sewing lessons, and I soon ran into trouble with a blue corduroy jumper. I’d made a big mistake involving the nap when I cut the fabric. I’d laid the pattern out wrong and realized it too late. So I went over to Barbara’s for help. With utmost patience, she pieced together a new section of the jumper. 'No one will notice,' she said. No one did. Casually and with an easy grace, she restored my self-confidence more than once. She never told me she loved me, but I always knew it anyway."
— Risa Nye
Advertisement
3 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"As we sat on the floor of the bedroom, she in her jeans and me in my pink nightgown, it wasn’t the last time I’d wish or wonder if she was really my mother. Couldn’t she, Mary Lee, not her sister yelling down the hall, be the mother I really belonged to, instead?

"It wasn’t just because of the yelling — yelling sometimes accompanied by the odor of beer, always accompanied by me saying 'I’m sorry,' even when it wasn’t my fault, even when I wasn’t sorry at all — it was because Mary Lee, eventually known to my own children as Aunt Mimi, turned down the din of anger and replaced it with glee. If I put Fritos on my pimento-cheese sandwich, she praised my new recipe; if I laughed at a joke and spewed Coca-Cola on my new shirt, she would loan me one she she'd 'been thinking of giving [me] anyway.' Even my tantrums were a good excuse to 'get away from all that chatter in the other room.' She’d quietly let me cry until I could find the smile I became known for with my friends, the one I often lost inside my mother’s house."
— Mary Hutchins Harris
4 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"Writing and making art have been lifelong loves of mine, but these pursuits might have remained hobbies if it weren't for one of the best storytellers I ever knew: Señora Marilyn Barrueta, my high school Spanish teacher.

"Sra. Barrueta was always telling her classes stories, both personal and universal. She introduced us to literature, music, and art that made me proud of my Hispanic heritage while helping me understand the world's injustices. She expected us to tell stories, too. It seemed that we were constantly talking and writing essays — not just bland grammatical exercises, but real, thought-provoking essays. When it came time for us to share our ideas, we aways had her full attention and sensitivity.

"After graduation, Sra. Barrueta continued listening. She pushed me to keep studying Spanish, which I did in my translation minor, but she wanted me to focus on my writing and art. She said that's what I was meant to do. A few months before she died, she bought a comic of mine, but not without telling me, 'You have to charge more money for your work. You must value what you make.' I listened and today I am a professional writer and artist."
— Christine Stoddard
5 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"My Aunt Cathy was nothing short of incredible. Her determination and zest for life were both intense and humbling. She was diagnosed with cancer when she was 12 and was among the first wave of children to be treated for cancer in the 70's. The years of harsh radiation treatments didn't slow her down for long: She graduated with a nursing license and started caring for AIDS patients in the early 90s, back when HIV-positive people were treated like lepers.

"Everyone she met would remember her forever — she was eternally honest and charming and her wit was sharp as a knife. She taught me to think for myself and question authority (to the dismay of my mother, I'm sure), to value my family (even the ones we both couldn't stand), and to always realize how lucky we all were to be alive.

"Though she was never exactly healthy during my lifetime, she also never ever let her illness get the best of her. Even when she had to stop skiing, or go on oxygen, or eventually use a scooter, she went everywhere with fierce determination and strong spirits. If there was any possible way for her to do something herself, she damn well would and she would let you know it. When she passed away in her late 40s, it was absolutely devastating, I felt like I had lost a mother. I hadn't even known how sick she had become, really — she hated for her family to see her sick.

"But after the pain started to fade a little, I realized that she still goes everywhere with me. She is in the confidence I feel when I do something difficult, she's with me when I stand up for myself against authority figures, she is in the warm laugh and the crooked smile I adopted from her, she's even in the flowers I plant in my garden. She changed me forever, and I'm so glad she did."
— Ash Hodges
6 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"Soon after turning 27, I turned a corner in life. An infamous party girl in my youth, I grew sick of the drama and the late nights were getting to me. Then Laurie Daniel entered my life. She introduced herself to me because she was drawn to my long locks and we quickly discovered we were both hairdressers. Laurie became a friend, and over time, a mentor. Close to ten years my senior, she had already experienced many of the growing pains and challenges I was facing as a young woman.

"Over time, our relationship grew. I started depending on Laurie as a support and after several years of late-night phone calls where I sought understanding and wisdom, she became a second mother to me. Laurie doesn’t have children and it’s not a goal for either of us. Our bond is so strong because she’s never judged or criticized me and I can tell her anything. We have laughed and cried and survived. Laurie makes the world a better place with her generosity and compassion. She has shown me how rad it is to live a positive lifestyle and continues to encourage me to become my best self."
— Hayleigh Hatcher
7 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"It feels a little strange to write about a woman other than my mother on Mother's Day, and even stranger to write about a woman who isn't really old enough to actually be my mother, but without a doubt, Amy Bucher has shaped who I am. She is the VP of programming and content for Part2 Pictures and the executive producer on the CNN series "This is Life with Lisa Ling," and she is kind of a badass. When I first met her, I had just started as an intern at Part2 and she had just come back from filming in waterlogged Bangladesh. I learned that she had worked for National Geographic for many years — making shows about mummies and pyramids — and that she had just won an Emmy for a film about mothers in Ethiopia suffering from childbirth injuries. I wanted to be just like her.

"Over the years, she helped me grow from an intern to a producer and director in my own right. We have been in so many different kinds of high-intensity situations together, from filming in homeless sex offender colonies to faith healing conferences. I will never forget filming a daughter being taken from her mother and calling Amy in tears. She understood what it felt like to watch someone's most vulnerable moments unfold while holding a camera. She has helped me navigate tough situations in my personal and professional life. Most importantly, she always held me accountable.

"I don't really know if Amy ever wanted children or if she someday will — she once told me that when she was little, she always preferred playing 'ancient Egypt' to playing 'house.' But I do know that as much as Amy has impacted my own life, she has also had a huge impact on so many people that she's never met by making compassionate, beautiful documentary television that lets people know it's okay to ask for help, be who you are, and live life to the fullest." — Lauren Terp
Advertisement
8 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"Few people have an Aunt Madonna.

"'Aunt Donna' — as she's called by friends and family — was an additional mother figure for my five siblings and me. From tackling homework to giving gifts, Aunt Donna is motherly in abundance, despite never having had her own children.

"She traveled from Cincinnati all over the world. I remember sitting on her lap as she would tickle my back with manicured nails. I imagined the countries she’d just returned from. 'Is "justalicoushuff" a word there?' I'd ask, making up a word. On occasion, to humor me, she’d say 'yes.'

"As I grew older, I learned the impact she'd made in hospitals across the world. Aunt Donna worked for a medical group that developed a device that saved countless lives. She traveled to over 70 countries to teach doctors how to use this device. She combined her business acumen and nursing skills to truly help humanity, spending years traveling, educating, and saving lives. I know that she's gone to great lengths to help others.

"Each Christmas, Aunt Donna took my five siblings and me, one by one, to go shopping for each other. She supported me early in my performing arts career, traveling with me across America, helping me develop a career that continues to lead me around the world today. The love and time she gave have made me the person I am today. I only hope that I can pass that on to my nieces and nephews." — Shane Ohmer
9 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"My mother does not have biological kids: My brother and I are adopted. She has been a teacher for about 40 years, mainly teaching grade-school and kindergarten kids and working as both a private tutor and an instructor at a learning center. She took some time off to stay home and raise my brother and me, but otherwise she's poured her heart and soul into teaching. I can remember a number of times when her old students have seen her in person years later and gushed about how incredible she was as their teacher. My mother has the patience of an absolute saint, and a true passion for teaching kids in their more formative years.

She is the epitome of Amazing Woman, and I'm so proud that she's been able to share that with not only me but all of the students she's worked with in her career." — Lauren Newton
10 of 10
Illustrated By Paola Delucca.
"Having Leslie and Karen in my life is a blessing and a privilege. Growing up, things in my house were complicated, and they both stepped in to care for my sisters and me in different ways. Leslie is the one who took me shopping for makeup for the first time, hosted sleepovers at her apartment in New York City, took us out to celebrate life milestones, helped us with college essays, and more.

"Karen was equally instrumental — helping my dad pay for us to have the best education, offering me a haven in her home during tough times in college since she lived close by, never taking any bullshit behavior, and teaching me how to cook my first carrot soufflé. They are both brutally and wonderfully honest, intellectual, patient, generous, and fun as hell. Without them, I wouldn't be a fraction of the woman I am today." — Julie Bogen
Advertisement

More from Sex & Relationships

Watch

R29 Original Series