If advertisers got their way, Mother’s Day would all be about clean kids, perfume and laughter but we all know it’s so much more than that.
If there was ever a time that the representations of motherhood didn’t fit my personal view, it’s Mother’s Day. The suggested gifts in nearly every catalogue completely miss my happiness index. I don’t want fluffy pink slippers or perfume. My children are rarely pristinely clean and smiling at one time.
But there’s something more important that I think these ads miss, and that’s what motherhood means today. We talk a lot about what motherhood is really like (disclaimer: I am one of those people who do this). The struggles, the challenges… the lack of sleep and the loss of control.
What we don’t talk about is the mothers that go unseen every second Sunday of May.
I’m talking about the mothers who have passed away, the mothers who have lost a child, or the women who have yearned for a child and never been able to conceive.
Motherhood, for me, is like a stone thrown in to the middle of a pond. The stone itself is motherhood - simple, straight forward. You have a child, you have a mother. But the ripples out from the stone are the nuances that surround that idea. Motherhood as an experience – past, present or hoped for - is a profound one, and I think most Mother’s Days celebrate only the “present”.
I’m old enough now that I have friends who have lost their mothers, lost children, or been unable to have their own. And I think that this day means something much more to them than what we see on the TV ads for Peter Alexander PJs.
When we have our own children, it’s a day for a bit of thanks. Some treats, like sleeping in or getting breakfast in bed. Every year I strongly hint I’d love a massage. Mums everywhere deserve a high-five, and I’m not taking away from that. But with the light, I’d like to acknowledge the dark. The sadness that comes along with the experience, and the notion of motherhood itself.
I remember as a young adult (you know, when you feel immortal) thinking when my Grandmother passed away that my Dad would have been okay. She was old, and he was an adult with grown children of his own.
Now I know that no matter how old you are, when your mum passes away it leaves a hole like no other. Mothers shape who we are, they leave a legacy from the small (like the product you use to clean the toilet, how you greet people, whether you eat breakfast or not) to the big – our very sense of self and our place in the world. Beyond that, they love you like no one else can love you, unconditionally and forever. How can that be replaced when they’re gone?
Then there are the mums who have gone through the unimaginable, losing a child. Mums who carried a baby, only to lose them at birth, or before. Those who saw them grow and then lost them before adulthood. Those who lost their kids when they were adults. Women who know in their hearts that they are mothers, but have no child to hold. I find it difficult to even write about it, so I won’t elaborate here. I can only imagine what a profound grief it would be to lose a child, at any point in life.
And finally, there are those who long for, but are unable to have children. The ones who go through multiple rounds of IVF, long after hope is gone. The ones who see their friends procreating and wonder what’s wrong with their bodies, why they’re not able to “make” a baby? An unfulfilled, physical yearning that leaves many women feeling broken, both physically and emotionally.
I get why advertisers don’t embrace these images of motherhood. We’d all be howling too much to buy their products. But since when has the media truly reflected what motherhood is all about?
So this Mother’s Day, I’m raising my glass to all the mums that are no longer with us. To the Mums who have lost their babies way too soon, and to those who have yearned to but never been able to have their own children.
May this Mother’s Day be one that celebrates and acknowledges what motherhood is in all its many forms. Past, present and hoped for.
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