It may come as no surprise to any of you who have experienced stillbirth or the death of your infant that I didn’t fit in as a mother without my child. Not for lack of desperately trying.
In 2004, no less than four babies were born to people close to me (three of those were born into the family). When I attempted to share stories of Ellanor with some of the new mothers I had around me that first year after her death, I was met mostly with silence and a swift change of subject. I’d like to think it was because they were uncomfortable with me talking about my baby when she was no longer here, for that would be the kinder aspect of the noticeable change in their behaviour towards me during those awkward moments. But I know in at least one case, it was more due to the fact that I wasn’t paying full attention to them and their baby. They put their perceived need for accolade and acknowledgement ahead of mine.
This was my introduction to the judgemental world of motherhood. My first taste of pondering if I really wanted to be known as a “mum” at all, if this was how we were going to treat each other.
I see now, with much time, healing and acceptance to distance me from my confused and exposed feelings at the time, that it’s not always like that. Indeed, many women come into their own and hit their stride as the life-giver of a little person (or 3 or 4 or 5!). Some of the most naturally generous women I have known are mothers. I seek these types out and avoid getting caught up with the wounded ego energy that has to judge others in order to feel justified, vindicated, better than. It’s pretty easy to identify and blessedly easy to avoid getting involved. Women are as unique as mothers as they are as co-workers, friends, partners. There is an overly heavy expectation of perfection on the female of the species – something widely and often discussed, especially online – and especially on mothers. And sometimes, childbirth and the realisation of caring 24/7 for this new person who relies solely on her is plain difficult for some women. I get that. I felt touches of it many times as I grappled with the daily grind of coping with “it all” and trying to “get it all right, all the time.” Besides all that, to go from the label of “woman” to “mother” in itself is huge and impacting.
But I am still surprised by how many of us don’t admit that. For every person who has no trouble saying how hard she is finding it, there always seems to be another who is obliviously inconsiderate in unfairly judging how a fellow mother is handling things and making decisions (usually it comes down to clothing or food choices).
From my observations of myself and others over the past 8-9 years, I see there is a clear category within The Motherhood that projects their own struggle – perhaps with their identity and/or with the difficulties they experience juggling raising a child and, say, keeping their house in the order they were used to prior to babies or maintaining the relationship they had with their partner at the same level of intimacy as before – and instead of being widely supportive and accepting of ALL unique mothers, starting with themselves, there are barriers raised. Or is that… bars raised? Through insecurity, it is easy to let judgement get out of proportion. I’m sure you have heard it as often said as I have that when we feel insecure we try to give our own egos a boost by belittling others (even if only in our own mind). There is no other time like new motherhood to make a woman feel insecure. Depending on their character to begin with, and then the support they have around them and the difficulties they may be facing depending on the baby’s needs, this could end up being the new M.O. for a person. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve heard it said. I think many of us know someone (or at least, know someone who knows someone) who “changed so much after she became a mother, I hardly know her any more.” I don’t think it’s any coincidence.
Should we write off anyone, though? What if we accepted everyone more? Starting with ourselves?
Recently, I had the great pleasure of meeting a few more really lovely, easy-going women. People who are clearly comfortable within themselves and, therefore, are not judgemental of my backyard with its dog poo and post-renovation building hazards (hey, we ran out of money so we had to down tools mid-deck-raising). It’s refreshing. It restores my faith in people, to find normal people I can align easily with, without struggle to find words or noticing deafening silences. These are friendly women I could easily invite over again. And their children are an extension of that. I have my dear daughter to thank for the widening social circle she is accumulating and, in turn, from which I am reaping certain rewards. Now that she is realising the friendship pool is vast at school, she is growing into her own as an individual – with firm guidance and reminders from her mum and dad at home about how to identify good friends – and she is beginning to make friends who suit her personality and emotional makeup, not just friends in need who are there out of habit.
I’ve learned how to be a mother by watching my daughter.
Where once my strive to be accepted and acknowledged as a mother simply because I had given birth was unrelenting and not discerning (“please don’t forget me or my daughter, I have the stretch marks that bear witness to her existence in this world, I produced the milk that kept her fed while she was alive, I can join in your stories of newborn cries and awakenings because we did that too. Let me be included in The Club!”), now I can step back and see the wider picture. I have the power and control to review and renew my outlook, daily if needs be. My responsibility to the world around me – including my daughter’s wellbeing and learning through observing my actions as a rolemodel – is to diligently work to remain accepting of All life forms and let them be. The answer has never been “conform to an ideal in order to fit in”; we only exhaust ourselves if we try.
I choose to be considerate. “Consideration” is the process of deliberation, meditation, thoughtfulness, solitude and recompense. It holds the qualifying elements of—“in view of”, “taking account of”, “in return for”.*
Keeping my own ego in check helps me to dissolve my ill-placed criticism of another. My job in these latter years has been (and continues to be) to learn prudence through the advent of wisdom. Saying less and listening more. Expanding that consideration and reworking my own perception from one of seeming disadvantage and turning it into an advantageous perspective, recognising the collective Universal worth of my experiences. Turning weakness into worth—gathering medicine in order to perform, or create, a form that can transform vulnerability into sustaining strength.*
Photo copyright: Nerida Murphy 2012
“Judge nothing, you will be happy. Forgive everything, you will be happier.
Love everything, you will be happiest.” – Sri Chinmoy
*Includes paraphrased concepts from Peace Space mandala #9, the colour of Spectrum Magenta – “The Cove Of Consideration”, and mandala #10, the colour of Rich Magenta – “The Ancestral Shield”
If you are interested in learning about how your individual learning and healing through all levels of the psychological and psycho-spiritual states may be supported by the Peace Space series of mandalas, please feel free to email me (confidentiality assured). You may also wish to read further on their website or join the group on Facebook.