Finding the woman inside the mother

Amy Gray and daughter.
Amy Gray and daughter. 

It’s Mother’s Day today and I sit in an empty apartment. My daughter’s with her paternal grandparents before her father will pick her up and spend the rest of the week with her as per our custody agreement of week-on/week-off. I have no mother to call thanks to a mutual disowning.

Though  this sounds incredibly bleak, to be honest, I am thankful. There’s no crowded cafes to contend with on enforced outings. No soggy French toast casting a pall over proceedings. So too do I get to avoid the presents, being the disagreeable sort who is hard to buy for and so bad at housekeeping I will stand on torn giftwrapping paper for weeks afterwards.

 I am sick of the canonisation of motherhood. The soft, dewy filter of servitude and sacrifice we layer over women, a day of enforcing pastel stereotypes that have less to do with actual mothering experience and more to do with cultural expectations of women.

Part of it is the fact when we think of motherhood we cast out so much of the woman inside the mother. That swirling complexity, that morass of origins and intent. So often when we think of women it becomes a filing of ‘before motherhood’ and ‘motherhood’. Before motherhood is presented as a race of experience and adventure, with that slight tinge of anxious doubt you will be able to reach that grand destination, to become a mother. Once you do, people assume things slow down, you slow down, you stand in a single place, easily defined and easily bought off with a single day of celebration.

I craved having children. My biological urge to reproduce was a wave that threatened to drown me; the desperate impatience, missing a stranger I already knew I loved. I worked hard to overcome my fertility issues, knowing there was someone special at the end.

But coming to know the gorgeous and complex child that emerged didn't slow me down, it didn't make me stand in a single place. Having that child – cut straight from me and dumped onto my chest, her face a blur of confused anger at being born – brought fire and complexity. There would be no slow pace, no avoiding risk.

Because the minute she arrived I felt brave. I realised in an instant all that I hadn’t achieved and just how much I had to do. The miraculous act of her existence didn't simplify life the way society tells us, it brought complexity and challenge. You become wholly unconcerned by society’s expectations of you as a mother when you realise your every move is being scrutinised and absorbed by the child you made and raise. If someone was going to watch me live my life, I had better make it an interesting one.

Thanks to her, I take risks. Massive risks. Stupid risks. I refuse to show a growing girl that motherhood will halve me the way society expects. I show her instead it is one aspect to a life that teems with complexity and challenge and where big leaps will always be needed in a crowded world. That we can ignore our personal and social boundaries and just take a running jump at everything that interests us.

So we go to protest marches, we travel, we chase our interest, we lie about in torpor with our books, we chat and beg for silence, we succeed and sometimes sit in the dark and wonder if we will fail. She sees the failure as often as she sees the triumph because I refuse to believe motherhood or childhood are cocooned from reality and life’s inevitable currents.


In attempting to show to show my daughter she can design her own life without reference to rules or social expectation, I’ve managed to redesign mine. Because she was watching, I started living the life I actually wanted. Thanks to her presence, life is a rich, confusing labyrinth of needs, responses and impulses. Together, we've built our own world and we've built our own family who, though not related, give love, inspiration and support.

I would not have this contentment without her presence reminding me she was watching. My life would be halved had I kept my eyes on what society expected from me as a mother-woman and not on what my daughter would need to get through life. So I don’t need my daughter’s thanks or anyone else’s. They can keep the tepid tea, the ill-bought presents, the fraught cafes, the declaration “motherhood is the hardest job in the world” and the whole damn act of celebrating the narrowest slice of femininity women can offer the world.

I have something much better instead. I have a life and I have her, a whole world.

Originally posted at Amy’s blog Republished with permission.