When did I start feeling like a mother? Was it the moment I stared, open-mouthed, at the positive pregnancy test? Was it that first Mothers Day that I proudly posed, babe in arms, at the camera? Or was it the day I showed our little boy off to my former colleagues?
The truth is there was no ‘moment’, but a subtle mix of experiences that have indelibly transformed my being – like how tide and wind can gradually transform a coastal landscape.
It’s hard to believe that once motherhood was about as familiar to me as living in Cuba (and a Cuban jaunt much more desirable). Before those maternal instincts propelled me toward motherland I evaded, and was indifferent to, most things maternal. Cute baby at the supermarket? ...Whatever.
But here I sit feeling like I have been a mother all of my life. As my youngest boy is about to start pre-school I wonder how my identity as ‘mother’ has become so strong.
When I first became a mother, it felt like I had just bought a fabulous pair of new shoes. I loved the way they looked but what I would do to take them off for a while! One minute I liked my new world and the next I was gasping for air. The landscape was changing, and with it, my identity.
What were those defining moments that heralded this new identity? I wonder to myself.
Perhaps it was that fierce protection I felt for my baby knowing that if a dog dared to threaten our leisurely stroll I would surely eat the dog alive. Maybe it was when I quietly acknowledged on the Census form that I was no longer a ‘worker’ as they defined it – no longer feeling ‘valid’ in a world that prized paid employment.
Perhaps it was when I felt numb and desperate as I pleaded for my baby to sleep; or when my heart would nearly burst with love (and relief) as I gazed at my sleeping toddler.
Maybe it was the many moments that I unflinchingly changed a nappy or flushed the contents of a potty, or found (to my horror) that I was calling my children ‘Lovey’.
I feel like a mother when I dress my youngest in the morning and tie his pants up around his little boyish tummy. I feel like a mother when my eldest, who has Aspergers, looks at me briefly with big you’re-my-world eyes.
I feel like a mother when, while I’m wondering if I will ever find myself in this sea of unrelenting labour (and if feminism is just a joke), I realise that the old me doesn’t exist anymore anyway.
Sure I can try and reclaim past hobbies and reinvent my professional life, but the ‘who I am now’ is not only different but deeper. Motherhood has not just added a dimension to my identity; it has changed it from a pretty watercolour to a rich tapestry of strength and tenderness.
Those fabulous looking shoes are now comfortable as well. Being a mum is now a big part of my identity.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem