So, Sunday was Mother’s Day. We spent it at a christening, surrounded by plenty of new mums and women planning on becoming new mums.
What a startling reminder of those early days of motherhood it was.
The breastfeeding, weaning, baby Einstein, routines vs non-routines… I heard it all, and remembered more.
I remembered the frantic desperation of trying to work out how I was supposed to care for this tiny, fragile miracle which my body had somehow managed to create. I remembered clutching at all kinds of ideas, trends and buzz words, hoping in vain that one of them would unfurl from within me the magic of motherhood, and I would suddenly know how to get my baby to sleep, or maybe even (whisper it) sleep through the night. Big nope.
Most of all I remembered the feeling of being a crashing failure, panic at not being able to get it right, and absoute terror that I was doomed to forever get it wrong. The insanely high expectations I had for myself were compounded by post natal depression and the idea that motherhood was a sort of competition between women, and everyone else seemed to be winning.
Looking back on those days, however, I remember how often I was lifted up by other women, though I didn’t acutely register it at the time. The members of my NCT group, who were always there in the middle of the night and never judged me, even though I was judging myself. Our incredible teacher, who reminded us to be kind to ourselves and dropped everything to come over to my flat and help me get my tiny daughter latched on when I was beside myself with despair. My wonderful female GP who got me all sorts of referrals and without whom I may well not be here today. My best friend in the whole world, who came to me in the middle of the night with no questions asked, and listened while I cried. My fabulous mother, who never pried or preached, but quietly supported me through it all. She still does.
And today was International Women’s Day.
Being a woman is symbiotic, for me, with being a mother. I would say it was becoming a mother that actually turned me into a woman, though if we are going on the definition of a woman as a female over the age of 18, I’ve been a mother for almost as long as I’ve been a woman anyway.
I fully recognise, however, that this isn’t everyone’s truth, it is just mine. The beauty of womanliness, I reckon, is that it can mean whatever you want it to mean. You are womanly simply by dint of you being a woman, so whatever you are, is womanly. I think some people, who are not women, would do well to remember that. We define it for ourselves, not them.
We have all, as a sex, been raised up by generations of women who fought for our rights. We can vote, hold property, have abortions legally and safely, but we have an awfully long way to go still. The way women are shouted down online for having opinions and terrorised into silence, the way male politicians keep trying to chip away at our abortion rights, or benefits that overwhelmingly affect women, the horror of FGM. <This was a bad list to start, it could go on and on and on…>
The world has metamorphosised into something which our brave foremothers never would have predicted, but our problems still have the same root cause. The Man and its powerful, pervasive discourse runs deep and my voice is never going to be the one which changes as much as I would like it to, but if I can accomplish one thing, it would be to remind as many women as I can that we are stronger together. In my weakest times, it was the women around me who saved me in all kinds of ways; with cups of tea, cake, words of wisdom or of solidarity, or sometimes just a hug. And they did it without any agenda.
Imagine what we can do when we do have an agenda.