Rounding the Martello Tower and down the slipway, we run. The only sound is the rhythmical pounding of footsteps on the concrete at the water’s edge as Dublin Bay spreads out in front of us, silent on this early Saturday morning and awash with light from the rising sun. Enthusiastic bathers are wading in soundlessly as we slip by, the only others crossing our paths are your older garden variety of South Dubliner, early risers by nature now that their aging bones dictate their waking hours. They too preserve the silence, instead nodding or gesturing warmly as we all agree wordlessly what a beautiful day it is. Howth is as clear as bell in the distance as the heat of the unusually warm summer sun burns off the haze to reveal the Head in all its wild glory. Continue reading Making time for me to become a better 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.
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.
Mothers have been very visible in the media in the last few days for all of the wrong reasons. They are devastating, heartbreaking and life changing reasons. I know many mothers who have gripped their babies tight with love and fear, crying and whispering “there but for the grace of God, go I“.
There is something so special and unique about mothering. Since I started on my mothering journey, which for me began when I realised I wanted to become one, I have realised what a spiritual, all encompassing, powerful life-force mothering is. My identity as a woman is now intrinsically linked to my mothering status. It does not define me but it is part of the core of my being. I will never not be a mother.
Being a mother is very different from being a parent. There are myriad aspects to being a parent that can be shared with many people of either gender in a child’s life but there are some things that only a mother knows.
Only a mother knows what it feels like to desperately want to carry a child in her body. Only a mother knows the untold joy of knowing there is a life growing inside her and the corresponding fear and burden of responsibility that comes with that. Only a mother knows what it’s like to labour and birth her baby into the world. Only a mother knows what it’s like to nourish a baby at the breast from her own body and watch her child grow and flourish before her eyes.
Only a mother knows what it’s like to discover that her body won’t let her carry the baby she desperately wants. Only a mother experiences the anguish and devastation of a pregnancy leaving her body too soon. Only a mother experiences the overwhelm of unexpected and taboo feelings during pregnancy like not feeling maternal, losing interest in her pregnancy and the longing for a daughter turning to the devastation of discovering that she’s carrying twin boys. Only a mother suffers through ante and post natal depression.
The other side of this coin is that only a father can one minute be the positive supporter and protector of his expectant partner and their unborn child to the next minute experiencing the life changing and scarring loss of not just the mother of his children but those children too and all of the feelings of helplessness and despair that accompany that. It is the father who is left behind and alone to cope with the consequences and to try to move forward with his life without the one person he usually turns to in his hour of need.
I would guess that there is not a heart in the land that has not been moved by the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old woman expecting her first baby who died of septicaemia following the three day miscarriage of her 17 week pregnancy.
I would also guess that it is impossible not to be moved by the heartbreaking death of Anna Byrne, a 35 year old mother of two boys who fell to her death during the 38th week of her third pregnancy while carrying twin boys.
My heart goes out to the husbands of both women who have been left behind and who are currently being tossed around by the media like playthings at this appalling, difficult time when they should be left alone to grief the loss of their wives and their children and to try and find some way to start walking down this new darker unchartered path that was not part of their happy plans for their future.
There are joys and sorrows that only a woman as a mother can feel. There are raptures and anguishes that only a man as a father can feel. This week fathers and mothers are holding each other and their children as they cry as a nation for these terrible, unnecessary losses that no family should have to bare.
I hope the media remembers this part as they clamour to sell newspapers and advertising space.