Sunday, 21 April 2013

Motherhood is Rebirth

Today I read this beautiful post about motherhood being a form of death, and it reminded me of last weekend with my teenage boys. They were climbing a mountain, going higher and higher and I was just torn between letting them go, as I usually do, and calling them back. I am not a helicopter mum. I usually let them fall and fail and skip homework and get into trouble. And trust that they will be sort of sensible, make small mistakes, and learn real lessons. So my yells of "Guys, that's it! No higher!" confused my adventurers. They rolled their eyes. Went a LITTLE higher, just to prove they could.

"There's a path you know. Good grief!"

With thanks, Maithili Women's Centre, Nepal
"You have to see it from my perspective," I sighed. "Think of your time in the engineering lab at school, and how you feel about the things you make. Imagine if you had spent fifteen years creating something so beautiful and so amazing that you wanted to just mount it in a glass case, or call the Guinness Book of Records to see if anyone had ever done something so amazing. And imagine if you saw that thing perched on the edge of a cliff, about to fall. How would you feel?"

"Yeah, okay." And they strutted a bit, because they are my greatest creations, for sure.

But that doesn't really begin to cover what happens to us when we become mothers, does it? The complete paralysis when you see your child on the edge. Okay, there was a path. But from where I stood I could not see it and it stopped my heart.

I've often listened to a mother-to-be say confidently, "Oh yes, he's signed up at the nursery, I'll be going back to work as soon as my maternity leave is over," only to see that mother reduce her work hours, change everything she thought was true about herself, and eventually become a full time mother to the small person who rocked her reality.

I've seen mothers-to-be, all ready for full time attachment parenting, rethinking their plans once they become a mother, needing to carve a time for themselves, a craft, a small business... or even to go to work full time.

I've seen countless mothers on a sensible path of education or career, do a total turnabout and head back to school to study something new. Or search for a new and meaningful job in a new field. Or become obsessed with regaining a youthful body, maybe in an effort to raise the dead?

I am always sad when mothers have to defend their choices. Whether they work outside of the home, or have become passionately interested in knitting, or breastfeed an older baby, or let their baby cry it out, there will always be criticism. How can anyone know the decision making process that leads to a parenting style? The mother may not even know, herself - It is true, for instance, that an instance of childhood sexual abuse can make it very difficult for a mother to bear the thought of breastfeeding, even if she does not remember the abuse. So who are we to criticize her decision to feed her baby in the way that is comforting to her? There may be factors at play in the home, with family members, finances, a news story that struck a note. There are a million factors that make up a mother, and the reasons for her choices are nobody's business.

Many ancient societies had a ritualized death and rebirth ceremony for adolescent boys. Modern gangs often provide similar, violent, 'coming of age' traditions. Modern men don't have an accepted ritual, and maybe that is why so many of them cannot grow up. Maybe it takes a crisis, full of fear and pain and courage, to grow up.

The time when our babies are born is like entering a cocoon. We spend months or years, sleepless, perhaps having another baby, hibernating, feeling euphoric or depressed or anxious, missing our old lives, gradually metamorphosing into something new. Perhaps that is the reason so much native art depicts ghosts or images of death surrounding birthing mothers: Not because of the risk of death in childbirth, but in honour of the rebirth of the mother.

Which is why I want to say to all new mothers, feeling trapped in a weird new world: Yes, mourn the loss of your self. You will never know her again, truly. But look forward to emerging from the cocoon. It may take months or years, but one day, when you have had a full night's sleep and no-one is attached to your leg, you will notice that you are new. You will wonder who you are. You will be so new that you would want to change your name, but the world has done it for you already: 'Mother'.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

I have been thinking about that post a lot recently. Especially as we have had (and seemingly continue to have) a trying week with one thing and another. Sometimes solitude sounds almost like a pipe dream. But when you eventually get it you feel numb and almost paralysed. You know that there are a million things you could do with this time but sitting on the sofa drinking tea seems to be best way to spend it! When the time has past and it is back into action with both feet, legs, arms, whatever you feel guilty for not actually using that time productively. The evening comes and even though you have, cleaned the kitchen two or three times, made dinner, washed and hung out the clothes, entertained a needy toddler, listened and supported your husband and maybe done some ironing while watching your favourite programme on tv you feel you should have done more with your day. Even though by comparison if you think an "ordinary" week before your little one had made an appearance might have involved a lot less. So why doesn't it feel like you've done anything? And why do we feel that we are "stealing" the time alone when our little ones nap? I say drink tea, have a biscuit, eat lunch in the lounge while watching TV, put your feet up, phone a friend, have a giggle, have a nap yourself. If it recharges your batteries for the next five hours onslaught then do it. Because they need you and the tidying and ironing can wait... For a bit! I try to remember this too... When our oven door fell off and the sausage casserole I started making an hour and half ago still for some reason seemed to have ages left to cook (even though the same recipe worked perfectly fine the week before). So I made some porridge but it was too hot and goes everywhere as a tired and hungry toddler flicks the spoon... I try to remember because they are the most precious things to us and in order to give them a fitting chance to become well rounded individuals we have to be there for them always! So rest up as tomorrow is another big day!

Nan Sheppard said...

Oh, I promise you, sitting on the sofa with your feet up and a cup of tea IS THE MOST productive thing you can do. Listen to the voice of experience! I am sorry I didn't do that more... Just stopping for a moment and taking a breath is so important.

Islandgirl said...

Beautiful and thoughtful as always Nan..welcome back :)

Nan Sheppard said...

Thanks! You've been an inspiration lately :)

Candygirlflies said...

Nan, this is wonderful.

Really.

Perfect.

xoxo CGF

Nan Sheppard said...

Thank you! And Happy Mother's Day, peeps!!