Unravelling the Stories and Myths of Motherhood and Finding Our Voice as Empowered Women…
‘I am not a mother in the traditional sense of the word – I don’t have kids, I have cats…’ was something I would always tell myself, but that was before said pregnancy test, before those double pink lines appeared in a haze of haphazard serendipity and well before mother nature decided to mock my apparent indifference to what the future held!! It happened in such a lightening bulb flash of a moment, before I could think straight and scarcely had time to breathe. It was like glancing back at the rear view mirror of my life only to see that where once there were traffic lights and familiar road signs, there was now nothing but an endless stretch of deserted highway leading to god knows where.
So here goes…I didn’t have a very traditional ‘hallmark’ up-bringing. Not many people do. That’s actually a good thing right? It teaches you important life skills like resilience and how to handle adversity and yes, as an adult I can reason and rationalise this, but as a young, innocent child it wasn’t so easy. That’s not to say it was all bad, but I grew up without my birth mother and had the very opposite example of what a safe, secure and nurturing environment was supposed to look like with a step-mother who was physically abusive. My father who was very loving, did the best he could but in terms of having strong female archetypes and role models in my life from a very early age, they were pretty much absent and non-existent. Suffice to say that as I grew older this created a bit of confusion as to how I go about creating that for myself as I wasn’t quite sure what a ‘healthy’ family unit and sense of self-worth looked like.
After Finn was born, this calm yet very quiet realisation of what becoming a parent meant to me began to make me question years of apparent apathy and disconnection towards my own childhood. Traumatic and soul defining as this was, I was becoming aware of some hidden truths, the heaviness of which I had no idea how to reconcile. Nevertheless, at 4.36am on a Tuesday in January, a beautiful little newborn face stared up at me for the very first time, daring me at last to confront my fears in order for my true self to finally emerge and be reborn as the mother I was always meant to be.
On Making Peace with the Past…
I didn’t know then what I would now – the anxiety, fear and fresh hope of what was yet to come into being. This sudden yet strange transformation had slowly begun to filter through my subconscious and what was once just a vague possibility that we had often joked about, was now so real it completely overwhelmed me. The initial panic I felt would soon give way to something softer, but life as we knew it was changing and there was this new sense of grief and loss to be processed.
What I did have though, was a very healthy respect and regard for those who had gone before us, those shining gems with the courage to bring up a child in a very responsible, loving way and I knew having bared witness to the amazing job that close family and friends were doing that this was not always easy and required a lot of support and sacrifice.
I’ve found great strength over the years with my extended family and in particular those early years, that helped shape who I am today. My sense of values and ethics are all driven around this single notion or idea of what ‘family’ means to me, and I feel spiritually bound by this coven. That said, it has also caused me to face a lot of sadness, anger and confusion around what ‘motherhood’ means to me and to discover a lot of what we’re told about being ‘strong’ ‘successful’ women is sometimes completely and utterly false.
So a big part of my life journey has been about rediscovering this power as a mother and a woman in my own right and not having a proper blueprint or map to go off, you’re sometimes forced to find compasses elsewhere like work, friendships, family, teachers and relationships with whom to measure yourself off. Yet still, we may grapple with a niggling sense of doubt, insecurity and fear that we’re ‘not good enough’ by comparison or somehow incapable of holding lasting, healthy and loving relationships with ourselves and others. We begin to distrust, disengage and fear our own truth and humanity. I began to feel very lost, alone and dis-empowered in those early days of parenting. When you’ve grown up without a mother it can make you feel stronger but equally vulnerable when you’re desperately stumbling to find solid ground and stand on your ‘sea legs’ as a new mum.
The truth is no two journeys of motherhood are the same, they can be powerfully personal or wildly indifferent to the extreme and yet we still manage to set the bar so high that it’s impossible to reach. In doing so, we foster from very early on, subtle feelings of guilt, incompetence and a fear of failure. ‘Succeeding’ at life becomes a sport, a kind of ‘healthy’ competition whereby we think nothing of standing or falling over each other to be the first, the best, the smartest, fittest or most popular and nowhere is this more apparent than in our very idealistic portrayals of motherhood. Even if you don’t subscribe to this, the path can still be very daunting and isolating to navigate because somehow you feel as if you don’t quite fit the mould.
I can remember many moments feeling completely and totally demoralised by lactation consultants for choosing not to breastfeed after 4 weeks due to issues with my son latching. Or the time I had to ask a very lovely but distracted midwife just 2hrs after labour how to breastfeed as I was told I needed to start producing colustrum almost immediately…but perhaps the most disheartening of all was the time I attended a buddhist talk and dared to ask a ‘teacher’ and fellow mum how she found a sense of peace in parenthood and her response was simply…’how’s your compassion?’ (not for myself but my child). I did eventually come to understand what she meant by this but at the time this was very hard to hear. In short, we disempower ourselves and others. We dishonour our own unique path and ignore the journey we’ve made to get here and instead of celebrating diversity and authenticity we judge those who are different, or may be struggling. We idolise this utopian view of the strong ‘earth mother’ type who can be, do or have it all and in doing so, lose base with ourselves and what makes us truly unique and individual.
So lately I’ve begun to ask myself …
How Positive and Empowering are the stories we tell ourselves as women?
We forget to say…please and thank you. We forget to ask how are you? And how can I help? And more importantly, we forget to value our own basic human needs and wants within friendships/family relationships and take those who are closest to us for granted. I am guilty of this. Instead of being grateful for what we have, we want more or worse we retreat and cut ourselves off. We forget to forgive, and be forgiven, to take time out for play and valuing our true identities as kind and compassionate beings. We lose ourselves over and over again because this is a symptom of not allowing ourselves permission to give and receive love in equal measure. But how can we value others if we don’t learn to go within and value ourselves first? We forget to indulge in self-care and family because ‘I’m too busy’. This narrative is extremely damaging and dismisses the power and potential we have as women to show support for one another and come together in times of crisis or change in deeply healing and empowering ways.
As a child, I will never forget waking up at my Auntie’s house surrounded by my sleeping cousins. We’d all have sleep-overs after family barbecues and dinners, staying up way past our bed times and falling asleep listening to the sounds of all the adults partying late into the night. Cocooned under the warmth of my blankets, I could hear the comforting and familial sounds of Spanish being spoken in rapid fire. The women were coming together to prepare breakfast, intermingled with sudden shrieks and bursts of laughter and the strong smell of coffee and burnt toast.
When I think back and reflect on that memory, however much dysfunction I may have experienced in my childhood, I realise there was still a lot of love, strength and unity being celebrated and honoured in that room, something I never quite found in a corporate boardroom, schoolyard or mum’s group. In some ways I’m still searching, but I know one thing to be true…those sacred peels of laughter, their strength, sacrifices and stories imbued every fibre of my being with joy. It’s left an imprint so that even now, whenever I’m stressed out and feel as if I can’t cope with it all, I simply remember my grandmother putting the kettle on to make a cup of tea or a nourishing meal to remind myself that nothing else is more important in this world than the warmth and love we give to ourselves and others.
That is our greatest strength as women, no matter who we are or what we are here to do, we are missing the point if we don’t realise it’s our natural instinct and ability to give and receive love, our capacity to nurture and care deeply that makes us extremely aware of being sensitive and vulnerable at times. They are NOT weaknesses but badges to be worn with respect, honour and pride and to be celebrated both at home and at work. This is where true peace, stability and happiness can be found and I’m convinced there is no greater gift in this life.
Afternote: I began to write this story a few months before my son was born and it remained unfinished until 3 months post- birth. Having undergone a period of post-natal depression soon afterwards, I questioned whether or not to post this for quite some time. Through the help and support of close friends, family, my therapist and a reconciliation with my own mother, I’m now feeling stronger and far happier than ever before. I’m proud of how far we’ve come as women to come together in times of need and there are a lot of support groups like PANDA www.panda.org.au who are doing an amazing job to help parents who may be doing it tough or feeling isolated and alone. If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression please reach out and talk. My story is just one of many but more needs to be done as a society to validate our worth as mothers and to lift the stigma of post-natal depression and mental health in this country . Being a mum has completely transformed my life in ways I could never have imagined and deepened my bond with spirit and self. I will forever be in debt to this tiny little buddha who continues to teach me as much as I teach him!!