As the birth of my fourth child rapidly approaches I find myself considering all sorts of maternal issues to do with both myself and my mother. In particular how I have only recently settled myself into the role of mother. It may seem bizarre that I can feel this way when I have had three children already but I have really only just become comfortable with the title; having always felt a little like an imposter before.
I distinctly remember my second Mothers Day as an example of this. My husband and I were standing outside the gates of Buckingham Palace in London when I remembered what day it was. We quickly got out our mobiles and made some extremely expensive calls home feeling very guilty to have forgotten the occasion. We then moved on, wandering the streets of London and it was half an hour later before either of us realised that it was my day too. I mean I knew I was a mother, I had some lovely stretch marks to remind me (still have them, just deeper and darker), but I guess I didn’t feel it deep inside yet. Mothers day to me was for my Mum, not me.
I have heard people say that motherhood brought them closer to their mothers and while I believe that’s true for me, there is also a lot more to it than that. I have always felt close to my Mum, but becoming a mother myself has made me feel, on some levels, more equal. I make that distinction because no matter what I do in my life and how many children I may have, she will always win. Yes, I too have now experienced childbirth, and am beginning to understand the sacrifices you make for your children, but all of that only adds to my understanding of what she has already done for me.
So how then has motherhood made me feel more equal? It’s in the little things.
Recently, on my birthday, I found myself thinking not that I was born on this day, but that on this day my mother gave birth to me. As a child, it’s all about you. I would never have thought my birthday also belonged to my mother until I experienced how important the births of my children were to me. Every time one of my beautiful children has a birthday I look back on the day they were born. I experience again for a moment the anticipation, the pain, the bond between my husband and myself and the pure joy and exhilaration I felt as I looked into each of their eyes for the first time after nine months of nurturing.
With each of my three children I have one particular memory of the pregnancy or birth that I store like a treasure and take out occasionally to stroke and polish so that it doesn’t become tarnished with time.
With my first born, my son, it was just after my waters broke (long before labour began for me) and I was walking down our stairs almost drunk with joyful anticipation for what was to come.
My memory gem for my second child is the glistening moment when I found out we were having a girl. As I lay there during the ultrasound I couldn’t help but let my imagination run away to ballet classes and pink frilly clothes.
For number three, my boy who is still my baby, it is a moment that really epitomises how I feel for all of my children – if these memories are gems then this one is a diamond. I recall holding him in my arms for the first time and having him stare straight into my eyes like he was seeing all of me that was, had been and would be. Someone present actually took a photo just then, a close up of that intense gaze and every time I see it I am right back there.
I know that I could stroke any of these memories in one, 10 or even 30 or more years’ time and I would be back in those defining moments. I had though, never really understood that my mother might have her own jewelry box full of treasures. Although it’s a common understanding that children can be selfish, it is forgotten that this trait extends to adult children also. No matter how old we become, we will always be our parent’s children. I think that motherhood has taken some of the subconscious expectations I had of my mother and instead made me more grateful for the things she did and still does.
Another way that motherhood has made me feel more equal is that it has taken away the rose coloured glasses I viewed her through. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that I’ve stopped seeing my mother as perfect and began to see her as someone more like me.
As I struggle with all the little things like how much television is too much, how to get a two year old to eat and how to discipline effectively, I realise that she wouldn’t have had any idea what she was doing either. I never considered that. I think that’s the way it should be though, as a child, that stability is a great thing. It means that no matter what sort of unstable, crazy things go on like divorce, death and other issues, you still feel safe on some level.
My mother always made me feel safe and for that and so many other things I thank her. So as I sit here awaiting baby number four I wonder what precious gem of a memory will be added to my collection. I also think of her, my mother, and hope that my children will one day do the same for me.
“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