The online definition of motherhood states that it is 1. ‘The state of being a mother. 2. The qualities or spirit of a mother. 3. Mothers collectively’ (www.dictionary.com ). But what does it really mean? Well, it means different things to different people. Motherhood has different faces that are changing throughout our life journey. From the concept of ‘what if’, ‘maybe’, from the dream of ‘what it could become’, from the longing of ‘now’, ‘what if it could not’, to the actual raw, filled with emotions, fears, doubts and love unknown. From having a mother to being a mother. Motherhood – a million eyes, million grimaces, million possibilities, dreams and longings. Motherhood – a strange creature elevated in our culture on highest pedestal. Motherhood – a commandment given to every single little girl to carry in their souls and aspire to. Motherhood – what are you?
For me for a very long time motherhood was lined with fear – a very primal fear. It was a photograph I found when I was 6 years old. My grandmother told me not to look, but I did regardless – driven by curiosity and the promise of forbidden fruit. On this photograph was a baby girl sleeping in a coffin, surrounded by flowers. ‘This is my baby daughter that died’, she said when I stood mesmerized by that photo. And for me they were fateful words. Unconsciously they shaped my view of what motherhood is or can become. And for years unconsciously I associated motherhood with dead or dying babies. I’m not surprised now that I was so petrified and worried that my child could die. That picture was the proof of that possibility and I had it carved in my memory, behind my closed eyes. Even today I can recall this photo with all the details. But this experience of motherhood cannot be the only one, I thought. So, I went on a life long journey to discover what motherhood meant for other women and what it truly meant for me.
For some time, I thought that motherhood begins during birth. And it is partially true. As a doula I had a privilege to witness many births of babies and their mothers. But I deeply believe that motherhood begins so much earlier. I believe it begins with the idea. When a woman decides that she is going to conceive. This is when the journey of motherhood begins for her. When she becomes responsible for someone else, it doesn’t matter if that person is only an idea, still lives within her body or has been already born in this world. This is when one becomes a mother, when she enters a state of being a mother. Motherhood is when you witness your dream flowing out of your body with blood and tears month after month. When your body goes through the changes to accommodate life growing within, and then when it opens to bring that life forth. Motherhood starts often with pain, but also with hope. Hope that has the power of creating miracles. Motherhood is a tiredness so profound that you have no idea who you are anymore. Motherhood is giving up your name and individuality and becoming ‘so and so’s mum’ for what feels like an eternity. It is fear and worry, stress and laughter. It is not knowing what to do. It’s constantly trying to do better. It’s raw, dirty and scary. It’s bloody exhausting. It’s beautiful. But most of all motherhood is this extreme, out of this world love that changes you and your surroundings, that gives you unhuman strength, that allows you to see the light even amid the darkness. Love that shapes your life and allows you to become a better version of yourself. And if you think that you don’t know what motherhood is just because your baby left your body before they could develop, grow and be born – let me tell you that this is not true. You know what motherhood is as well as I do. You are a mother, and you know the most painful and the darkest face of motherhood. The face I was fearing for so many years. And my heart and respect goes to you – beautiful mother. And as you go through that pain and grief and feeling that you are on the outskirts of society, know that there are many mothers that are sharing or have shared your faith, and that together we are the collective of mothers. Brave women who give names to their born and unborn babies, who carry them all in our hearts, memories and in the collective energy of being. We experience motherhood in our own way, and we call it differently, but we are all mothers – carers, givers, protectress, worshipers of life and priestesses of death.
So, to prove that motherhood has many faces, I sent a question to some of my friends – What does it mean to you?
Asia answered me with the quote: ‘Avec l’amour maternel, la vie vous fait, à l’aube, une promesse qu’elle ne tient jamais. Chaque fois qu’une femme vous prend dans ses bras et vous serre sur son cœur, ce ne sont plus que des condoléances. On revient toujours gueuler sur la tombe de sa mère comme un chien abandonné’ (Romain Gary, Promise at dawn).
Joli said: ‘It means everything to me as a woman and a human being. It allows me to grow and see the world through their eyes. I could not have imagined a life without them and from very early on in my life that was my intention. Never looked back. I grew up in the house where mothers and women got celebrated and valued and the same goes in my home now’.
Malwina joked: ‘Motherhood is fucking shit! Day 20 of my cycle 😉’
Diana wrote: ‘Motherhood is probably the rawest form of contact the universe has with mankind.
It’s the reason why, we as a species, have not gone extinct.
It is a calling that might subtly come as a whisper, sometimes ages before a mother bears a child; or that “smack-you-in-the-face really loud frightening foghorn” before or even after a child is born (sometimes both!). Ultimately, it’s a calling. Not all women hear it, not all women respond to it, and not all women accept it – and that’s okay.
A woman/girl/female is different to a Mother. A Mother is someone who has heard this calling, responds to it and accepts it.
Motherhood is the desire to create life, to nurture, observe and cherish life. In a way to be reborn, but consciously. To witness life unfold, day in, day out through someone else. It’s an expansion of the mother’s soul into another being. It’s pure love, it’s instinct. It’s easy and difficult, joyous and frustrating, it’s energising and exhausting, peaceful and exasperating, all at the same time.
It’s a gift.
Motherhood is a gift, a gift of love and life, and when a Mother meets her baby for the very first time, you may well call it nature or science, instinctive, innate or intuitive… I simply call it magic’.
Iryna wrote: ‘Motherhood is a world full of love and kindness. This is like to give a birth to new possibilities within ourselves. A slightly sad part of motherhood is in Barbara Kingsolver words: Kids do not stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.’
Dalia said: ‘Motherhood means constant personal growth: just when I think I’ve got everything under control it changes again so I have to dig deeper, work harder, develop new dimensions. Motherhood means understanding what triggers me and working on myself to respond in a healthy way. Motherhood means complete, utter vulnerability…. the love of a child is so transformative and heavy…there’s always a track at the back of your mind worried about ‘what if something happened to them’….’them’…the little people who have the power to smash your heart and life to smithereens. Motherhood means the lesson of even if you don’t always like someone, you still love them and show up for them. Motherhood means internalising the message that the greatest achievements can be agonising and emotionally stormy. Motherhood means feeling waves of euphoric love and joy daily…it gives back! Motherhood means a different relationship with my body…my belly would look lonely without the marks left by my pregnancies. Motherhood means having to be the best version of myself because there’s an audience waiting for me to model how to do life…. but nobody gave me a guidebook. Motherhood is the place I try my hardest…blood, sweat and tears. I’m very grateful to it.’
Isha wrote: ‘My womb tells me, motherhood is a sweet, insisting longing, then an overwhelming power, then a release and surrender.
My breasts tell me, motherhood is flow, circle of life, intimate connection, sweetest love and closeness, giving of nectar and receiving satisfaction.
My heart tells me, motherhood is a life teacher with countless lessons on trust, bonding, letting go, communication, understanding, presence, allowing, boundaries, and most of all: Love. My daughter offers me these moments again and again, in which I can become more intimate with what it means to me to choose love.
My mother does that too.
Motherhood is creating and sustaining and adapting and adjusting.
Motherhood is richness.
I love being a mother, even though I do feel challenged at times. But it helps me grow.’
After reading our ideas, confessions and understandings of this concept, of this state, you may disagree. Your face of motherhood can be totally different, your voice may say a different story. And that’s ok. This is the mystery and beauty of motherhood. It’s different for every one of us, and it doesn’t make it right or wrong, it just is. So, listen to your voice deeply, listen to your story, acknowledge it and be grateful for its wisdom and depth. Motherhood has so much to teach us, whichever of its million faces you’re looking into the eye of right now.