Before I had children, Mothers’ Day was mostly just another of those manufactured occasions in retail world. When I worked the fragrance counters of David Jones and Grace Bros (you young people will know the latter as Myer nowadays which we ex Melbourne people quite enjoy having in the centre of Sydney) Mothers’ Day was a lead up week of packaged specials and desperate young people looking for generously priced cosmetic encounters for their mothers and Fathers’ Day was way bigger in terms of sales. Interesting, no? Now I am a motherless daughter, and a daughterless mother though, and Mothers’ Day has taken on more complex hues.
My mother died in 2002 from lung cancer. My non smoking, healthy, fit mother who probably contracted her cancer from the kind of HRT she was taking after her non emergent hysterectomy to “treat” her menopause, was always given a phone call, sometimes a card, sometimes a present, depending on which city I was living in at the time. When her mother was alive, Mothers’ Day often meant a trip to my grandparents’ house. My sister, whose birthday sometimes coincides with Mothers’ Day, was always considered by our mother to be a great Mothers’ Day present, indeed surely a new babe would be a truly poetic gift for such a day? Perhaps if mum’s birth experience with her hadn’t been a caesar under a general, it may have had more resonance but growing up we didn’t understand the significance of birth.
I was in a new relationship when mum died and I love my (now ex but still present and loved) mother-in-law but back then we weren’t close and I think I remember my then partner ringing his mum from time to time for MD (I can’t keep typing it in full!). My first MD I was in the height of the PTSD, close to the time I was suicidal and I remember every ad on tv feeling like a taunt to someone who grieved not pushing her baby out. My mother-in-law kindly sent me a card because it was my first; she’s lovely like that. I think I took to ringing her for MD around then too since I missed my own mother and she’s always been a bit of a substitute. In some ways we’re closer than I was to my mother, she’s certainly been an amazing support over the last few years even after I separated from her son.
As the years moved on from my first birthing experience, and the PTSD lessened, and I had a baby at home who was born as we both needed, I found MD less painful. I’m still not really a commercialised occasion person but as the kids grew, they were more appreciative of the occasion and that was fun. Then my daughter died, not terribly long before MD in the scheme of things. That first year was a constant sting from the junk mail to the ads on tv, to bus shelter ads, to all the other stuff around me. All the images of happy mothers surrounded by happy children, none of whom appeared to be missing, were like having my heart twisted and stomped on. Like lots of Occasions that year, I just closed my eyes and tried to move through it unconsciously, hoping to go to sleep before it and wake up after it. It was not to be though and ex partner kindly provided gifts, as usual, and the world did its thing and then it was over for another year.
Since then I feel mostly ambivalent. I’ve been grateful in some ways that my mother hasn’t been around to witness the storm over her grandchild’s death because I think after losing a baby herself midpregnancy with little support and acknowledgement that it may have been particularly painful to her. During the inquiry, it was my mother-in-law who came to be with our other children, and who held me as I sobbed on the floor after the first day in court. So many reasons I have to be grateful to her. I know I challenge her in lots of ways but she keeps her heart open to me in all my oddities and outside the mainstream ways and I love her.
Last year on the weekend of MD, I took the children away for a few days so their father could begin to pack and move out of our shared home and relationship after eleven years together. This year I’m wondering if I couldn’t have timed it slightly better so neither of us have that mass media reminder for the rest of our lives of that weekend apart. Sadly, commercialised occasions don’t rate highly in my plans so I obviously missed that it was even happening at that time until it was too late. I had several days by the beach, that weekend, which were really lovely albeit complicated and sad as well. The kids and I watched their new movie several times, took lots of baths in the 25 person spa (well, five, probably but it sure seemed huge!) in our room, went out for meals and tried to work out what to wear to the beach when the sun beats down from a distance as it does in Autumnal Sydney.
At the same time, one of my dearest friends was going through massive trauma as she had not long before left her husband and he was thoughtfully bringing court action against her to punish her for it. That was her MD along with her own mother dementing. Other friends with fertility struggles, sole parenting against great odds, missing their mothers, missing their children, living the reality of the mothering trope in an anti-woman society, are all living with the complexities that MD tips off in many of us. I struggled to achieve my first pregnancy and had two miscarriages and over two years of hard work on it to have my son. I remember the pain of MD then too as I tried to become part of a club I thought existed.
I wonder if we can reframe and reshape Mothers’ Day so it becomes a time of deeper reflection and less about the consumerism that drives these occasions? What about my friends who happen to be lesbians and who parent but are stuck with iniquitous laws denying them the rights others take for granted? Let’s think of those mothers today. Let’s think of those who mother the earth but may never have grown so much as a cell in their wombs. Let’s think of the mothers locked up in immoral gaols in Australia for the crime of wanting to give their children a life without war. Are women in detention centres even aware that we have those occasions? What might they make of it as women behind bars?
So many women I know will be grieving the empty place at MD lunch from a babe who has died. Stillbirth is so common in Australia and yet so denied. Women facing treatment for fertility issues will be feeling the sting of it seeming that everyone else in the world conceives and carries babies to term. Let’s hold the missing and wanted babes and their mothers in our hearts today. Women whose children have been killed or taken are living with that empty place today and such grief, compounded with a lack of that thing poets now call closure, must surely be a living hell. I will hold each of you in my heart and thoughts today too.
Let us think of women whose babes were forcibly taken because they were birthing too young, minus a husband, in a time when women were sluts or wives and the punishments dished accordingly. Let us think of adoptive mothers, biological mothers, mothers raising babies born to other women, the layers of love, complexity, pain and joy involved. Let us think of the generations of mothers whose children were ripped from their arms over the centuries in Australia because racism and genocide go together. Let us think of women accessing reproductive technologies of all kinds, their pain, their heartache, their commitment and the children they bear, and don’t bear, as a result. Let us think of the women experiencing trauma around birth in this moment, the next moment, the previous moment, and beyond. Let us think of women giving birth handcuffed to beds for this is how we treat women in gaols all over the world. Much love to you all.
Since Mothers’ Day falls in what I’m told is Doula Month, and right after International Day of the Midwife, maybe we could also think of it as the day for birthing women? There is, after all, no day devoted to those to whom birth really belongs. This strikes me as sad but indicative of our attitudes to birth which always put those of us who birth right at the bottom of the ladder of importance at such a time. MD also falls in Masturbation Month. I’ll leave that to you to consider.
As I live through another Mothers’ Day this year, the loss of my daughter seems closer than usual given the recent inquiry which is still not over. I’m also more aware than usual that the white plastic box containing her ashes is not complete because parts of her body will be kept forever by the Department of Forensic Medicine. This pains me. My children will probably be with their father that day and I know in his thoughtful way he’ll have considered a gift for me, as I do for him at birthdays, Christmas and Fathers’ Day. He too will be missing his younger daughter as he does every day. I hope that however you spend Sunday 13 May this year that you will have peace and find a place and a way to do the day in a way that speaks to you, whatever that is.Tweet