What exactly is a mother?

In the wake of a judgement from the European Court of Human Rights and a growing public outcry from both sides of the debate following the death of Savita Halappanavar in October last year, the Irish Government is this week conducting a three day public hearing on abortion in Ireland.  The hearings have been broken down into medical hearings, legal hearings and church and advocacy hearings.

I don’t want to continue the debate here – that’s for another day – but I would like to touch on a comment that was made by one of the presenting experts during day two of the hearings yesterday which covered the legal side of the issue.

University of Limerick law lecturer Jennifer Schweppe made a submission based on the constitutional law on abortion as it currently stands. Schweppe herself is heavily pregnant and during the course of her speech she made the following statement:

What is inside me now is a foetus, it is not a baby. I am not a mother, I am a pregnant woman”

To give her comment some context, she was discussing how any legislation around the subject of abortion should be value neutral and unemotive. So where previously, the legal text read “mother” and “baby”, she believes it should be “pregnant woman” or “woman” and “unborn”. From a legal perspective, of course she’s right. Emotion has no place in the law. But her statement about herself really struck a chord with me.

When does motherhood begin? I thought back to my post about Savita Halappanavar and Anna Byrne and remembered I talked about a mothering journey beginning when a woman turns her thoughts and actions towards becoming a mother but that’s a kind of pre-mother state really, isn’t it. It’s the start of the journey to a final destination of motherhood rather than actually becoming a mother.

Blogpost: What Exactly Is A Mother? www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby Blog
photo credit: MarkyBon via photopin cc

Do you become a mother the second you conceive? To say yes is to narrow motherhood to including only women who give birth to their babies but immediately we know that being a mother is so much much more than that and excludes all of those wonderful women who adopt, foster or are mothering children that they haven’t given birth to themselves.

In some ways, being a mother is all in the mind, a psychological and emotional concept more than a physical one. It’s when you become aware that you are a mother that you begin to be a mother. Or to put it another way, when you are aware of the existence of a child to be mothered by you, you then become a mother. So when your adopted or fostered child is delivered to your arms or when your relationship with your partner gets to a level where you assume a mothering or step-mothering role to their child, that’s where you become a mother. And when you discover you’re pregnant – rather then when you actually conceive – that’s the nub of the issue for me. When you see that double pink line and you realise there’s a life inside you, that’s when you become a mother. Suddenly, you have the responsibility to act on your new-found pregnant status. For most, this is an immediate instinct to change your lifestyle, your diet, to assume a nurturing role, to protect and grow this life and prepare to welcome a baby into the world. For others, the realisation of their pregnancy is not a happy time and they make decisions to end their pregnancy that are right for them. But in my mind, whatever way your pregnancy journey ends, be it holding a newborn – both welcome and unwelcome – having an abortion or having a miscarriage, you were a mother from the moment you became aware of your pregnancy.

To claim that pregnant women are not mothers and just pregnant women is to deny the love, the nurturing, the heartache, the disappointment, the grief, the myriad of altruistic emotions a women feels for the foetus in her body and how she feels about herself during her pregnancy. I think it’s impossible to say that a pregnant woman is not a mother. Can you tell a woman who lost her child in late pregnancy that she was not a mother? I don’t think so. So where does that line to cross into motherhood begin?

By all means, let’s keep the legal debate about abortion in Ireland calm, clear, value neutral and unemotive. But let’s not diminish the status of pregnant women in society by saying they’re not mothers until they hold a living baby in their hands. We’re not vessels. We’re living, breathing, loving, nurturing, strong women who when we discover we are mothers have to make life changing decisions about what happens next. It’s a mother who chooses to end her pregnancy for excellent reasons unique to her and her life. A mother chooses to continue her pregnancy to term and bring a new life into the world. There are no human incubators devoid of the emotions of motherhood here.

Your bump looks big in this: things NOT to say to a pregnant woman

photo credit: EscapeArtist74 via photopin cc
photo credit: EscapeArtist74 via photopin cc

Wow, your bump is huge! Are you sure your dates are right?

Oh, you’re very neat. Are you sure your dates are right?

Should you be eating that?

I never touched that stuff when I was pregnant.

We’re very precious about what we eat with our first borns, aren’t we? You won’t be so fussy the second time around, let me tell you.

Are you still here?

Anything stirring there?

Any sign of that child yet?

It feels like you’ve been pregnant FOREVER.

There’s no medals for not having an epidural you know.

How are your nipples? Sore?

You’re carrying very high. That head’s not engaged. You’ll be here for AGES.

You’re carrying very low. It must be a girl/boy.

Would you ever hurry up and have that child?!

You look WRECKED.

There’s that baby brain again. You’d forget your head.

You don’t actually have to eat for two, you know.

I presume you’ll breastfeed?

There’s no medals for breastfeeding you know, don’t be a martyr and it’s not fair on the daddy and the grandparents. They’ll want to feed the baby too.

We didn’t need all those gadgets in our day.

Don’t waste your money on that thing. I guarantee you it’ll be in the press and you’ll be pushing a Maclaren by the time the year is out.

Did you have a sweep?

Would you not just go for the section again this time? It’ll be easier than ending up there anyway.

I can’t believe they just won’t bring you in and induce you.

What are you reading those books for? Sure it’s better not to know! TRUST ME.

First labours take days, you know.

A TENS machine??? You’d know you never had a baby before. Ha!

You’re not the first woman to have a baby you know.

That baby is massive. You’ll never get it out yourself.

All that hocus pocus won’t do you any good when you’re screaming for the epidural.

Oh, you’re much bigger this time, aren’t you?

10 months!? It was only 9 months back in my day.

Enjoy your sleep while it lasts…

File under Stupid Things People Say to Pregnant Women and cross-reference with Oh, Mind Your Own Business and Unsolicited Advice.

People say the rudest, most inappropriate things to pregnant women. Often the comments come from a place where the commenter didn’t have a great time themselves and they can’t help projecting their experiences on others. But every pregnancy is different and unique to each mother and her baby. Block it out and let it all wash over you ladies! Water off a duck’s back 🙂

My personal favourite affirmation is “your baby is the perfect size for your body” and everyone has an opinion on that one, don’tyaknow!

Any other gems to add to the list?

Related links:

Hey lady, get your hands off my baby!

Top 3 things to say to a new mum

Night owl to early bird

They were good times, those times. Those times when I’d go out after work on a Friday, stumble home with a kebab, bag of chips and a little pot of hummus to dip them in and then sleep until well after noon. In fact, I think only with the exception of actually having to get out of bed early for a reason, I probably slept until after midday on every weekend through my twenties.

I was a night owl, you see.  That’s what we call ourselves – those of us who retch at the idea of being awake too early in the morning. I actually did do that a couple of times when I had a part time job in college where sometimes I’d need to be up and about at 6am. The sheer effort of being vertical and dressed would see me having a little heave if I over-exerted myself.

Even when I was pregnant, my body clock maintained its late schedule. I remember being disgusted to discover that prenatal exercise classes were happening as early as 9:30am on Saturday mornings.  Who the fuck is up at that time, I wondered?

These days, with over eighteen months served as a mama to a very busy little man, a 9:30am class seems positively late or maybe just about the right time, considering that breakfast is done and dusted, the washing machine is on, the dishwasher is filled and the few bits from the tumble dryer are folded and tidied away. I’ll even get a cup of coffee finished.

Blogpost: Night Owl to Early Bird www.mindthebaby.ie Mind The Baby blog
photo credit: gato-gato-gato via photopin cc

I find it fascinating that the complete disruption of sleeping patterns caused by the arrival of a new baby has actually had the power to essentially reset my body clock. I’m impressed in fact because it was probably no harm. I must admit, it has taken some time with significant resistence from me at the start but finally, being up and active at 7am no longer seems like the horror it once was. Although I am thankful it’s not 6. Or 5.

It’s made easier of course by having toddler who loves to run around the house and play with his toys while I can busy myself with chores and play with him at the same time. There was many the long, long month where I was just up with a tiny little thing who I couldn’t put down and could do nothing but wait for time to pass. That made for some very long early mornings indeed. But now, it’s kind of refreshing to have a whole day laid out in front of me.

My bug bear these days – and there’s not many people who’ll agree with me on this one I’d say – is that radio doesn’t really get going until 8am on a Saturday with Countrywide on RTE1, followed by Playback, The Business, Saturday Marian and just in the last few months, Claire Byrne.  Lovely. Then on a Sunday, things don’t kick off until 9am where my listening schedule is forced into Newstalk from 9am followed by TodayFM from 10am because Marian doesn’t start on Radio 1 until 11am. I do love my radio current affairs at the weekends. I can’t stand listening to music in the mornings. It makes me sad and uneasy. I think it might be that I can’t put a time and place on it.  When I have the cacophony of voices debating the issues of the day around the kitchen, I feel connected with the world and it’s reassuring that life is going on outside my front door. Early weekend mornings without my talk radio would be very trying indeed.

I think I might just have written a post about the positive side of long term sleep deprivation. Thank God I’m not fighting it any more because I think I’m in it for the long haul now…

Accentuating the positive

Do you know what a Wheel of Life is?

Accentuate the Positive - Mind the Baby
Picture courtesy of www.startofhappiness.com

A very clever man, who gets paid handsomely for his cleverness*, got me to fill one out during the summer. At the time, I didn’t fully understand why he thought it would be a good idea for me to complete one and when I did, I subconsciously chose not to register the results. But I get it now. God, I get it now. It’s taken me this long – with some reflection and the dawn of a new year – to understand it. Continue reading Accentuating the positive