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Mother with her child (Sculpture)
In the case of a mammal such as a human, the mother gestates her child (called first an embryo, then a fetus) in the womb from conception until the fetus is sufficiently well-developed to be born. The mother then goes into labour and gives birth. Once the child is born, the mother's breasts produce milk to feed the child.
In non-sexual organisms, "mother" can sometimes be used to mean "parent;" in the case of single-celled organisms that reproduce by fission, the mother is a cell that divides to produce "daughters."
Mothers typically have a very important role in raising children, and the title mother can be given to a woman other than a biological parent who fills this role. This is most commonly either an adoptive parent or a stepmother (the wife of a child's father).
The term can also refer to a person with stereotypical traits of a mother.
In the United States, Australia and Canada mothers are celebrated on the second Sunday in May (which has been called Mother's Day since the late nineteenth century). In France, mothers are celebrated on the last Sunday in May. A similar holiday in the United Kingdom, Mothering Sunday, falls on the fourth Sunday of Lent.
Mom, mommy, mama, ma, mummy, and mum are some familiar or colloquial words for a mother. Many times these terms denote affection or a maternal role in a child's life : "anyone can be a mother, but it takes someome special to be a Mum." As such, someone can be a mother and not a mum, or a mum and not a mother.
In contemporary society, single motherhood, the state of an unmarried mother, has become a serious social issue.
See also Surrogate mother.
The term "mother" is also used metaphorically to mean:
- source or creator, as in the phrase "Necessity is the mother of invention," or "mother country" in reference to a colony;
- precursor, as in mother of pearl;
- superior in hierarchy, as in "mother ship;"
- first in a person's life, as in mother tongue;
- main or primary, as in motherboard and the "mother of all wars".
In Neopaganism, the Mother is an aspect of the Triple Goddess, along with the Maiden and the Crone. She is associated with the full moon and with the Earth. Many ancient Pagan religions had mother goddesses; it has been argued that the figure of Mary the mother of Jesus is patterned on these. Even among those who are not Pagan, expressions such as Mother Earth and Mother Nature are in common usage, personifying the Earth's ecology as a fertile and sustaining mother.
See also Gaia