It begins before you even know it. You know you’re pregnant but no one else does. But then you think you catch a knowing look from a woman on the corridor at work or one of your female colleagues almost imperceptively glances at your belly mid-conversation and you wonder fleetingly, do they know? No, sure how could they?
Then when the time is right, you break the news of your impending arrival and to a chorus of hand clapping and cries of “I knew it“, you find that you have suddenly become a member of the most ancient and secret society in the world: the sisterhood of motherhood. It’s a lovely, warm, supportive, open and welcoming place, the sisterhood, but its members only grant you access once you have crossed the threshold into pregnancy. There are women I have worked with for years who completely changed our relationship once they found out I was pregnant. Conversations took on a new tone; stories were exchanged, tips offered, sympathetic ears, eyes, faces came forth and new friendships were formed purely and solely on the basis of extending and sharing experiences of pregnancy, birth and motherhood. I was delighted actually. My working relationships improved nearly overnight, as if I had learned a secret handshake which opened up a network of membership privileges and insider knowledge.
As my pregnancy continued and my bump was obvious to everyone, I began to notice the sisterhood was not exclusive to my mothering work colleagues. In fact neighbours who I’d never exchanged a word with began to stop for a chat as they passed by the front garden and some even called to the door to ask after me and the approaching big day and to offer their help and their stories. Chance meetings with acquaintences would descend into excited, hushed whispers and the sharing of delightful, intimate tales. When Baby S arrived, this loveliness continued.
Mothers are so nice to other mothers.* It’s like an instant “knowingness” and recognition, a universal empathy that doesn’t need to be verbalised. Mothers know what it is to be a mother and regardless of different philosophies or opinions on the A-Z of childrearing, every mother knows what it feels like to be a mother, the very essence of it, at whatever stage of the journey you may be on. It’s almost cellular.
One of the beautiful things I have loved since my mothering journey began is the new friendships that I have developed. The friendships began because we became mothers at the same time but have endured and matured into strong, important relationships that have subsumed and transcended our shared mother-status. These friendships have enriched my life at a stage when I pretty much thought I had a full complement of friendships. They are unique in that we just jumped right in at the deep end, straight into the heavy stuff, no messing. I remember in some of our first meetings talking about perineal massage, incontinence, stitches, piles, cracked nipples, sex – and not a red face in the house. We talk about the profound emotional, psychological, physical and physiological changes and feelings we have experienced and are experiencing – our hopes, our fears, our worries and always the humour that follow us on this journey. It’s amazing. They have added such value to my life.
As a fully fledged member of the sisterhood of motherhood, I have found myself extending out the hand of “knowingness” and support to other women coming up behind me. I find I can’t control it actually. I see the pregnant woman and I want to reach out. I don’t mean overshare and burden with my own experience but I do feel a desire to let them know that I know. And that I’d be delighted to help with anything at all. Does that make any sense?
It’s such a wonderful secret society to be a part of. I think what would make it even better is if it wasn’t a secret society. I was blissfully unaware of it’s existence pre-pregnancy. I’m fairly sure I would have scoffed at the idea of it too and dismissed the perceived smugness of it all. Now, I can only imagine all the good it would do, if women grew up in a world where this sharing of motherhood was a wisdom we all had from birth. I think it would empower women and they could make better, more informed choices about motherhood and where it may or may not fit into their lives.
Then maybe things wouldn’t come as such a shock. And maybe women would be nicer to each other.
*You might have spotted my asterisk there. The caveat I’m including is “except online”. Sometimes some mothers can be very mean to other mothers online because they are emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet. That’s just not cool. I have no problem when people disagree with people to their face or disagree with them completely behind their backs because there’s no harm done there, but there’s no need for the cowardly anonymous attacking.