Musings on Mumhood- Feminism, Love and Grief

Edit: for some reason this post is showing as May 18th. I wrote it on June 11, so go figure!

I’m currently writing this at 11.30pm, in the garden, where a fairly stiff breeze is blowing. This is the only place I know I won’t run to the baby if he cries (Robert is in the house with him, in case you think I’ve just left him). I’ve wanted to get some thoughts down about motherhood for months, but it’s been rather hard to write. Not just due to the new occupant of my lap. But because my feelings are hurricaning through me and evolving every day.

When I was pregnant, I finally kicked a nasty, expensive habit that garnered me more than my fair share of tuts and frowns.

Bad for your health. And your vocabulary.

Bad for your health. And your vocabulary.

Part of the reason I read these exploitative trashmags is that I love peoples’ stories. I don’t think anything is banal. When I was pregnant, I would walk down the street with a person in my body (!!!), thinking, “And this will be you”. The fact that he would be walking down a street lost in his own thought was absolutely mindboggling to me. I find it endlessly fascinating that there’s a story behind every face, that every person dwells within their own private universe.  In a way, there’s nothing more ordinary, and nothing more amazing.

In January, Eva Wiseman wrote an article in the Guardian- “The seismic changes of having a baby”. I read it when it was linked by various Facebook friends. The consensus being, “Big deal. Woman has baby shocker”. Commentary on how self obsessed her article was. Big deal indeed.

Something isn’t less special, less beautiful, because it’s commonplace. Every day is filled with unfathomable, unpredictable ordinariness. Dreams, seasons, love. And grief isn’t less black and deep and consuming because it’s something that happens to everyone, every day, everywhere. Nobody (well, I hope not) tuts and rolls their eyes and says, “Big deal. People die everyday”. So why do we do it when people are born? Why, outside the climatic yet somehow bland scenes of a romcom, is it less amazing?

It’s a peculiarly misogynistic view to hold, this woman’s world of babies and childbirth. How dull, how droll. How very trivial. From woman to mummy, from one judgement to another. (I saw a tweet from a supposed feminist about another feminist, scorning an article they’d written sarcastically saying, “Did she mention she’s a mother?” I blocked her). Women across the world are judged on their status as a mother, or potential mother. Being a, “real” woman is partly judged by your attitude towards or your ability to reproduce.  Our reproductive capacity is perhaps the most dangerous aspect of being female.  It’s when domestic violence often starts or intensifies. It’s a visible, very visceral sign of your sexual activity. You can die because of it- through pregnancy, through childbirth, or through not being able to have a baby. Women are murdered because of it, women kill themselves over it. And the first year postpartum is one of the riskiest periods in a woman’s life- where suicide is the biggest killer. Yeah, this shit matters. This is not trivial.   The people I’ve spoken to most about parenthood have been men. It’s applauded for the dads to say how amazing it is to have a child, but for mothers, there’s ridicule. So what.

I can understand a distaste of the oddly consumerist and competitive side of parenthood. Who’s having the “easiest” pregnancy, to the easy baby, to the best pram, the milestones. That’s trivial. But sharing these things is part of the culture of parenthood. Part of life itself.  Sharing the darker aspects- feeding problems, illness, relationship problems, postnatal mental health, postnatal physical health, sexuality, the huge shake up of your identity, your body, your mind (hormones are real fuckers), wifework and the distribution of labour and for some, regret- is only just beginning to find the light. And so it should. As I said, this shit matters. Motherhood is a feminist issue.

The whole experience has stripped me down and shaken up my values. I love my job, I care about my job, and I never thought for a second I’d not want to go back to work. I used to joke that I’d leave the maternity ward and go to the pub.  But I would happily stay off to look after the baby.  And the Daily Mail would write that shit as, “How Women Are Turning On their Careers for Babies”. Which is bullshit. I’m going back to work, and I’m not a different person. This is a new part of me, a new spoke on the wheel.  It’s frustrating sometimes, exhausting often, but I never knew how easily it would come to love someone, to do those frustrating, exhausting things. How fulfulling it would feel to change a pooey nappy because it means I could kiss his toes and make him laugh, and how much joy I’d get in those tired hours. I had prepared myself for “not feeling it”. People warned me about it. After all, it makes sense. Here’s a person you’ve never met, you don’t really know, who, for a while, can’t give much back. It might take time to love them. And it did- about 10 hours. And since then my love has grown and grown to strain my heart against my chest, to spill into the world, to everyone in it.

And it frightens me. It terrifies me. Throughout pregnancy, I consciously tried not to connect. I felt at every stage I could lose it, and he could die. I tried to protect myself by keeping myself at a distance. Which is very hard when the distance goes as far as inside yourself.  In the quieter moments with Robert on his nightshift I’d play him songs (him! It was him all along in there) and talk to him and feel his kicks in response. And it got harder and harder not to connect when I’d have my panicked morning frappucino (cold and caffeine, the perfect way to get your baby to move) and he’d give me a few pissed off kicks. But it was terror, almost constant terror.

I feel the same terror, mingled with bliss, never a hope of separating one from the other. I’ve sat, so many nights, with his downy head under my chin and cried over it. My fear of death has come back tenfold, because the absolute best case scenario is that I won’t see how my son’s life pans out. (Did my dad feel this way about us before he died anyway?) From both me and Robert, and through both me and Robert, there will come that inevitable terminal separation. Forever and forever from the one who I grew with my body. And that we will break his heart one day, and mine breaks over and over again.

Now my life seems to be measured in his days and weeks and months and years, and not my own. And it feels so very small. The grief is raw, and I try to centre myself. I grieve each clothes size, each little thing that was there that’s already gone- gone! forever! The way he’d sigh after finishing a bottle. Moro! Squealing with delight at Saturday in the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Not being able to reach Monkeys in his bouncy chair. Being so tiny, and now not so tiny.  I used to think babies were hams. That’s the word I used- they’re angry and pink and wibbling. But every day! he does something new. He’s babbling now, giving us long lectures in his language we’re only beginning to understand. He rolled over this week and was so shocked he burst into tears. First, a second of silence, then he caught my eye and his lip began to wobble. I picked him up and called to Robert upstairs. This week, he also stroked a cat. He’s just noticing them, particularly fascinated by their hovering question mark tails. I held his hand- his tiny hand- and pressed it onto her fur. He unfurled his fist and began to laugh- a belly laugh (I understand that phrase now, as I held him he bellowed, and I understand that one, too). And it was utterly beautiful. This little moment of discovery in the world, and as near to death I feel I am sometimes, I am born, again.

That probably sounds evangelical, and I am, in a way. I can see why people worship their children.It’s okay to, as people. The problem is when we see them as extensions of ourselves, which they aren’t. From the second they’re born, they’re their own person. Which is frightening in itself, with all that being a person entails. I don’t know how I’m going to cope the first time someone’s horrible to him. When he’s hurt or disappointed. For the first few weeks I was afraid to take him to places I wasn’t sure were child friendly as I knew I’d disintegrate if I saw a tut, or someone mumbling about bloody kids. They’re part of our lives, part of our society. There are some places they don’t belong (we tried to take him to someone’s birthday dinner, thinking it’d be sedate, but I was on the train home 30 minutes later) but that’s okay.

Another reason why I cry is his childness makes me ache for mine. In as much as he makes me wonder and look at the world anew, my small self is huddled inside, nerves as exposed as my heart feels. When he cries- from hunger, or fear, or loneliness- I feel the fear and loneliness of my own childhood. I rush to make it right, to put arms around the lonely one, to wipe away the tears and soothe the fear. And now I feel every child’s fear and it means I can’t watch or read as much as I used to. It causes me physical pain. I find myself crying at the big things- news reports- and the small, FUCKING ADVERTS. (Fucking meerkat bastards). I feel like a layer of my skin has been sloughed off, and sometimes, I want the hardness back. Give me back my cynicism (it’s still there, somewhere). It’s agonising sometimes. Sometimes too much.

I’m not always walking around in a blissful daze. He can do my head in, too. The sheer relentlessness of it is a shock. This person (person!) is utterly dependent on you and it’s so daunting. And grinding. I miss the days of not worrying whether cot death has taken him (my head plays these awful scenarios, screaming), or worrying that something else will (please don’t take him, take me instead). Today, he was driving me up the wall. He’s going through a Baby Phase, you know, baby stuff. More of the mindblasting world to make sense of. I set my alarm so I could be there when he woke up (as Robert sleeps with him, not me, due to medication). He gave me this gorgeous smile and started kicking his legs excitedly and laughing. Which was a good start. And proceeded to go through the day refusing to nap, going on baby lectures, hating to be held, wanting to be held then hating it, lots of bottles, and a three hour battle to get him to sleep. Then he does that thing- that melty heart thing which is why you eventually don’t care, have a second wind and want the whiny exhaustion to last forever. A three hour bedtime and finally get him to lie down, pick up a book and he coos in anticipation, holds his hand out for me to hold, giggles and makes cute noises with rapt attention the whole way through. Then a few songs which he smiles at so much I gave up with his dummy. Lie next to him and he sleepily gazes into my eyes and rests his little hand on my cheek. What a babe.  This was the book.

book

It’s given me more love for everyone, and unlikely allies have emerged. People I didn’t know really cared have been on the end of Twitter, Facebook, a phone, with blankets, toys, little hats, clothes. He’s bedecked in the love and the kindnesses of others, and it’s beautiful. He’s an adored and doted on nephew and grandchild. It’s given me a new love for my husband, too. He was amazing throughout my pregnancy, throughout the labour, and he’s a wonderful father. Utter, utter gentleness and love, and pride. Watching them together is a delight. Just him talking- about any old thing- makes Oisín giggle and whoop with delight. He smiles so broadly when he sees him, they adore each other. Robert’s better than me at taking him out, he shows him the world, shares with him so many things. He’s going to be the stay at home dad, and it’ll be hard. The whole stay at home thing isn’t set up for fathers. But what a role model he will be. He’s just a baby, just a child, but the world will try to teach him he’s a boy, and what a boy is supposed to be. And Robert will be there to teach him that a boy can be gentle, and kind, and loving, silly and emotional, as so many boys are, but told they shouldn’t be. He will grow up with the very best boy to teach him. And I hope I can do teach him well, too.

So, my little baby, when you can read, and if you ever read this, I love the hell out of you. Sorry for the sort of swear word but I’m sure you’ll have heard a lot of those by now. It’s because you’re half Irish, and this is our punctuation. And I’ll love you, whoever you are (and I’m getting an idea, my curious, giggly, reachy little Bean) and whatever you do. Nothing you do will ever make me not love you. You’re pretty ace. Now go back to sleep. xxx

PS: I don’t read trashmags anymore. They make me cry.

107 Responses

  1. That was beautiful. I don’t have kids, too many obstacles in the way, but I can even do “What if something happened to my baby?” as a thought exercise. Any child I had would probably end up in a sling, on my back, until they were 25, I’d be so scared of them getting hurt, or worse.

    I hope Oisin can grow up in a world that doesn’t disparage “women’s work”, and where domestic work and childcare are valued over sport and trashy celeb culture.

  2. You’ve made me laugh, and you made me cry, as you so often do. Your writing is as brilliant as ever, it has not changed a bit, but it’s totally different from BB (Before the Birth), how do you DO that?
    I know it will be a trial to go back to work, but when you do they won’t know what’s hit ’em!
    Rob
    PS, Second Banananduck’s hopes for Oisin’s future.

  3. […] Filed beneath: Mental health, motherhood The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive […]

  4. Yes, yes, and yes. My little boy is eight now and I still feel like this. As for child-friendly places and so on, also, YES. I was playing a gig last night and my son was there with me, watching; if only there were more venues like this, more places where children could be seen as the part of society which they are.

    I am still learning not to see my son as just an extension of me. I never do it on purpose but sometimes it happens by accident.

    I agree with you utterly about how men’s writing about fatherhood is lauded but women writing about motherhood are greeted with an eyeroll.

    Yes.

    [As a side note, and I hope this isn’t being nitpicky, but it’s my understanding that there’s a space in transwoman, etc, so, trans woman, as I might say ‘bi woman’ and not ‘biwoman’, and I would possibly suggest that some trans men might not wish to be referred to as “transitioned from women”, but I’m cis, so equally I could be wrong.]

  5. Such a wonderful reading, it’s a shame feminism doesn’t always include motherhood, but you seem to have found a balance. Thank you for sharing your musings

  6. Reblogged this on Stevie Mac and commented:
    Very much worth reading

  7. Of all the articles and posts I’ve read on motherhood, and there have been many wonderful and touching ones, for me this comes closest to capturing all the competing and contradictory feeling and fears and joys and grief of it. A wonderful piece of writing that encapsulates a labyrinth of feelings. Thank you.

  8. Women love their children before they even meet, but they get to experience the magic of life developing within. Men love their children unconditionally once they meet. I have two sons who are fantastic dads.
    I would envy you your wonderful parenting journey, but I’m a grandma now and get to enjoy the process all over again without the responsibilities🙂

  9. Reblogged this on zafarmuzzammil913 and commented:
    Ooooo yeah!

  10. kindly follow back

  11. Most women do feel the way you do and it is clear you love your child so much. I relate to all of it, especially the fear of death, that exploded when I had kids. Mine are 13 and 7 and still that follows me.

  12. Really beautifully written. I am not a mother, but this still brought me to tears.

  13. This is a beautiful post. Being a mother does not make us perfect, thank you.

  14. I would envy you your wonderful parenting journey, but I’m a grandma now and get to enjoy the process all over again without the responsibilities

  15. How beautiful. The mundane, colourful, ordinary, extraordinary thing that is motherhood. :’)

  16. I smiled and laughed and felt sad, a whole gamut of emotions went through me as I read your blog. From one Mom to another, I commend how well you put into words the mixed joys and fears of Motherhood. You are truly a gifted writer.

  17. Thank you writing this! I can relate to this in so many ways. Beautifully written x

  18. Reblogged this on Feed for Thought.

  19. I agree so much with your statement that something isn’t less special, less beautiful because it’s commonplace. Your article resonates a little story that I wrote, called If only the dead could talk. Talking about your baby, makes me wish I still have a tiny tot (mine are a bit older) they are simply gorgeous at that stage. Enjoy every moment ‘cos they grow so fast. I can relate to a whole lot that you wrote and by the way, I still indulge in banality. Life is too short to take it so seriously🙂. Thanks for sharing. acookingpotandtwistedtales.com

  20. That was priceless🙂

  21. This is very captivating. I don’t have any children yet, but you have managed to depict the emotional attachment that you have with your baby so well that I was able to feel the love you have through the words. Great stuff🙂

  22. Reblogged this on Mobile Tech Media.

  23. Reblogged this on entwaves.

  24. Oh my gosh this was so brilliant! I just had my second baby and I thought I was going to be blasé about it, but the feelings (the feelings!) seem twice is pervasive and crazy and indescribable as they were the first time. I sometimes get scared to talk about how I love my daughter in case my son starts to think I don’t love him as much. The 11-year gap between them might be why it all feels so brand new!
    And I go back to work in less than two weeks! *screaming*

    Thank you for writing this and letting me know I’m not crazy to think ‘hormones are fuckers’.

  25. Reblogged this on mjohnson166.

  26. great post🙂 blessings to you

  27. […] Hormones – That’s when, it appears, our hormones come into pay🙂 To quote a recent article I really liked “hormones are real fuckers”. […]

  28. […] Filed underneath: Mental health, motherhood The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive […]

  29. I really enjoyed reading your blog and your perspective on motherhood.

  30. Beautifully written ! Love this ! X

  31. Reblogged this on Tana Daily Telegraph and commented:
    Wow! Not only did you ‘murder’ me somewhere along this journey with one line, quote: “…Sorry for the sort of swear word…It’s because you’re half Irish, and this is our punctuation…” but you also made me understand why Irish humour is probably the most prolific, organic, and sometimes sentimental. Thanks for such a great share. Would certainly be looking forward to be ‘murdered’ once again in the near future.

  32. I beg to differ

  33. Oh, how beautiful. I was beginning to write that it sounds like you had antenatal depression and are struggling with post natal depression. I am new here and hadn’t noticed your blog name was related to depression! So perhaps you already knew this, and if so, I wanted to say that I wish you the best of motherhood in all it’s glory. And if this is news to you, then I wish to say, not only are you not alone but you ought to wear it with pride. There have been many studies and research into hormones related to motherhood and maternal instincts, and it is clear to see that postnatal depression is required (well, the hormones that cause it!) to fully respond to your child. Yet another example of just how remarkably unique our reproduction really is. My daughter is just shy of eight months and I never knew I could cry with such ease. I never knew it would hurt to grieve the past, the present and the future all at once. I never knew I would respond to a baby the way I do, both emotionally and physically. I never knew that parenting would require recommitting myself daily, bidaily, sometimes even tridaily to this small being. Who, interestingly enough, we happen to call Bean also! Being a Christian, a housewife and perhaps the least feminist female I know, I was hesitant to click on your article. But I am so grateful I did, the truth is, under every single trait, characteristic and preference lies the rawest of raw biologically human trait: our maternal instinct. And I hear you not because I am a feminist nor a wordsmith such as yourself, nor am I returning to work or struggling with depression, but because I too, am a mother. You are so eloquently spoken (written?!), thank you kindly for sharing your words, and I am glad to now be following your blog.

    • Thank you, what a lovely comment. I have bipolar disorder but I don’t feel like I’m experiencing depression at the moment. Definitely a degree of anxiety though. Congratulations on your daughter🙂

      • I’m so sorry you are struggling with such a crippling disorder! I cannot imagine. I do wish you the very best, I can certainly understand the anxiety all too well! Thank you kindly!

  34. Amazing and mind blowing!!! I have an 8 month old daughter, and I’m only 19 (I was 17 when I fell pregnant with her and 18 when I have birth to her). I understand the panic and the worry, especially when I went out without my fiancé. People would starts like I was a hopeless single mother doing all the wrong things! But I got over it, my daughter is the biggest light in my life and my fiancé and are can not be more happy to have her! And at the end of the day my daughter was healthy and happy and I had a loving fiancé who was waiting to come home to me after work, nothing is more beautiful than that❤

  35. Reblogged this on peggieluash and commented:
    This is so sweet!..

  36. Thanks this wowed me! Now I can see what every child means to a parent. Every child is a miracle

  37. Powerful and beautiful. Thanks for sharing. Gonna follow you.

  38. Reblogged this on apeesin's Blog.

  39. Lovely. My boy is now 6, scary how fast the time goes 😢

  40. Awesomeness thoughts you got ma’am! 💗

  41. How very moving, I felt the same as you when I had my first child, my daughter, she’s 3 now, then I had my son, who is 20 months old now. My love for them is total and all consuming. However, three years into this thing called ‘motherhood’, I am mourning for my old self, when I can find her. Sometimes I forget how I was pre-baby. I am a work at home mom, and at the moment I am consumed with paid work (the kind the pays the bills) and child care work (unpaid kind), the grinding never ending, wiping, cleaning, scolding, disciplining, toilet training, non-stop drain and I’ve very little time for myself to even just think about what I’d like or want or about spirituality or whatever it was that I used to think about (like I said, can’t recall). And the last 20 lbs of baby weight that I just can’t seem to shift isn’t helping me find my old self either. I was known as the skinny girl who can eat whatever and never gained a pound. I know it sounds shallow but I’d like to find her again too. Thanks for sharing. Much love to you.

    • You’re welcome. Although I find a lot of joy in motherhood, I am still glad I’m going back to work out of the home. It must be very tough to be at home working and doing childcare, you have my total admiration.

  42. This was written so beautifully. It perfectly captures the mixed emotions of motherhood. You’re scared shitless yet know you were always destined to have these tiny humans. You love them so much it hurts. Thank you for sharing.

  43. Such a lovely heartfelt piece. You seem very hard on yourself. Don’t be. Having depression is rough for you, not necessarily for your child. My boys are teens now and I have suffered with depression in varying degrees throughout their lives. They tell me that they are proud of me for coping, keeping going, and glad that I have been honest about it with them. Otherwise, they have no interest or concerns about their mother’s mental health. It’s simply not a big deal for them. Maternal guilt is a ball ache. I think it’s probably unavoidable. Try to remember that you boy will adore you, regardless of depression, morbid thoughts, medication etc. Good luck. You sound lovely x

  44. Thanks for this. beautifully written, and spot on.

  45. You’ve made me laugh, and you made me cry, as you so often do

  46. Reblogged this on Tech Talks.

  47. Reblogged this on jananidivya.

  48. I enjoyed your take on motherhood. If you’d like, feel free to read my latest blog post about what happens when motherhood isn’t what it seems after complications in birth. krysiaquest.wordpress.com. Be well!

  49. Reblogged this on Electric Carrot.

  50. That was beautiful, utterly , delicious mind food , it was amazing the way you just made the unfathomable everyday ordinariness so special👏

  51. I’m not 19, I’m 64. I never had a baby, but I just found your posting so touching. I’ve had a lot of shit in my own life, I’m cried, struggled, hated, and loved…. and now I’m a Tibetan Buddhist learning how to find peace in my mind by letting go of my emotions. It’s easier when you have love. You are very lucky to have a little baby. I never did that. You are blessed, and loved on a dimension you have no idea you have. Trust, love others, don’t worry and you will be protected and taken care of the rest of your life. Lots of love. Visit my blog sometime … creativemeditationspaces.wordpress.com – may it bring you inspiration!

  52. Follow me please. And beautiful post btw

  53. This is so beautiful, it made me cry a little. Your family sounds so very wonderful and special.

  54. Reblogged this on tokio1smooth and commented:
    I think I know some close to me like this.

  55. Reblogged this on beauty pirrates ' .

  56. Reblogged this on josiemint.

  57. As a mother, and now a grandmother, I adored your beautiful description of motherhood. No you are not alone, and yes, of course motherhood is a feminist issue. If you get the time, you could do not better than read Julia Kristeva’s ‘Women’s Time’, who as a mother and philosopher puts it beautifully.
    I also submit my own published article, ‘Mother, dear Mother’ (Journal of Visual Arts Practice Vol. 3. No. 2) where I use Kristeva’s work to understand the art of Louise Bourgeois.
    Of course, this is a lot to ask a new mother, but you have the best educator there, in your arms and cooing at you!
    I love your writing. Will now Follow. S x

  58. I’m a new mother myself, and I absolutely adored your post. It walked me back through my journey with my son and helped me remember all of the moments we’ve had together this past year. Many of them have gotten shuffled aside in an effort to manage his medical needs. Thank you so much.

  59. Reblogged this on KaXtone's Blog.

  60. I don’t know where to begin. I love hearing other people’s stories. I can very much relate to this. My children are now 11 and 13 but I remember feeling the same when they were babes. I still look at people on the street and wonder if that is who my son or daughter may be. Having children altered my perception from being self-centered to wanting to create a better experience in life for them. I am now divorced from their father and remarried but it made me realize just how much we give of ourselves for them. I also agree so strongly about those commonplace moments. They are the “little things in life ” that should be cherished and not dismissed. Not to mention, Grief is love in it’s purest form. How is that mundane or dull?

  61. انغسل

  62. This was beautiful, and the whole time I was reading, I was comparing with my own experience, with my own beautiful baby boy, and baby girl (um, 30 yrs ago) and your words were warm fuzzies to my heart and memories. I still feel these things about my precious babies, yes even 30+ years later. “Mommy” is the best word in any language. Thanks for sharing.

  63. Tears streaming down my face as I read this. I remember when I felt the overwhelming love/fear/impending doom of new motherhood. I still feel it sometimes and my boys are 30, 15 and 12. It never goes away mama. Just gets less often as they get older and more able to care for themselves. Right now, I’m going through the pain of letting go. My 15 year old wants to leave home when he turns 16 and… I don’t WANT him to. It hurts to see them go.

    Hold him close mama. They grow up WAY too fast!

  64. Reblogged this on akastarmalik and commented:
    Putting work!

  65. I do love this! It reminds me of myself in so many ways🙂

  66. Reblogged this on newtomotherhood1987 and commented:
    I have to share this. A Brilliant piece. Reminds me of myself!

  67. […] On Mumhood — Feminism, Love, and Grief […]

  68. Very important for our society. Thanks for this enlightenment

  69. Wow your amazing

  70. Wow! you’ve written down every emotion and fear I too felt and still do. This is the sort of honest article that should go into a ‘Motherhood Magazine’.

  71. Many battle Bi Polar…you are one of the brave ones who beat the dang thing: Try “July 4th, Civil War Reenactment (Douggie Style)” at dougstuber.wordpress.com Yours is a great Blog, I shall delve in again!

  72. ❤❤❤

  73. THUMBS UP!

  74. Thank you for this

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