Truth appears to be the exception rather than the norm when it comes to the transitions and phases women encounter in their lives. What is it about dishonesty around women/mothers and what we appear to not be able to cope with or deal with when it comes to our own bodies?
It is an incredibly frustrating phenomenon – both personally and professionally. It leaves me rallying and campaigning against the status quo of mystery, misinformation, and misogyny.
At the moment, I am involved in creating better perinatal support and services in my county in the UK and through collecting the maternity stories of women. I hear of stories where empowerment and choice aren’t even on the agenda. Stories where intuition is ignored or blatantly disregarded by a not entirely male medical environment. Words such as “allowed” are used routinely in the delivery room where a woman’s empowerment is immediately stripped from her as she “asks for permission” to perform one of the most natural acts she will ever encounter – giving birth.
This environment of disempowerment, however, starts long before the delivery room. It can start with the mystery and misinformation around a young girl’s menstrual cycle. This misinformation often leads her to feel “dirty” and “ashamed” at this time or even younger when language such as, “throw like a girl” are bandied around the playground. And even younger with our attitudes around the “robustness” with which we engage with our daughters compared to our sons. Like the warnings we give our toddling daughters about the risks they may encounter compared to the encouragement of exploring boundaries we may give to our sons.
How then do we expect our women to be when they enter the phase of becoming a mother? They are being led to believe this about their abilities and about what the state of being a woman means in the world.
The transition state to motherhood is one of the most underrated “life phases” a woman will probably ever encounter. It is not for every woman, I get that, but for those who do encounter the transition to motherhood, this phase is one many are sorely prepared for.
As women enter motherhood, they do so believing they need help from outside. They believe that they do not know what is right for them; that they have no strength, no inner power; that their body is not their own to be listened to and to be trusted. A new mother needs her intuition to be finely tuned to her baby. She needs to be able to trust and believe her body and her baby, together, know what they are doing. Often this is not the case as we squash, ignore, and disregard at every turn in this hyper-medicalised, high intervention, science-oriented world of modern maternity.
As I lie next to my daughter listening to her gentle breathing, I wonder what motherhood IS exactly. It is more than the act of having a baby and more than words. For me, it is a feeling of wearing your heart outside your body; it is a depth of pain you think you’ll never recover from. It is the charge in your veins when they cry; the lightness of being when they look at you and smile; the sensation of more love than you knew ever existed.
I have heard motherhood spoken of as a gift. And it is. We are guardians of these most beautiful and fantastic creatures, entrusted to protect and nourish them with all our being.
What may be misunderstood about this gift is that it isn’t one which is “given” to a woman by the midwife or her partner or anyone else privy to the mechanical process of having a baby. It isn’t something that is allocated or endowed to a woman if she is “good enough” or “worthy.” This is something she already has, a gift from within, of the woman for the mother, roused from deep inside. It is the awakening of innate desires and drives. The drive to protect and the desire to nurture are the profoundly held essences of motherhood.
It is these beliefs, these strengths which see a woman through the process of pregnancy and birth and on into those early days as a woman transitions into becoming a mother. During this time, as mother and baby discover each other and how to be together in the world, that are what the visceral knowing is for. It is a protection and nourishment of both mother herself and of her baby.
Without them, and without the mother having the awareness to listen and the courage, both quiet and roaring, to take heed, the transition and early days of mother and baby can be full of darkness and overwhelm; doubt and distraction. It is not to anyone’s benefit to have a mother’s voice, her innate voice, ignored or impeded.
I see mothers every day who feel as though they have “lost their way”; who question themselves, their parenting, all that they are doing with their efforts in protecting and nurturing their baby. They look inward to find blame so readily. I try to help them understand that it isn’t what they need to look inside for at all.
All those early days, and for many of the days to come, emotions can be overwhelming; almost too much to bear. You may think you have no idea what you are doing and question your ability, or your love, or your instinct to protect and nurture. But it is there. It may not be a roar. It may not be sure or confident. But it is there. Do not doubt it is there. It was always there. Hear that heartbeat? Feel that breath? That is motherhood.
Photo credit: Julie Johnson