I have a confession to make. Our crowdfunding campaign requires me to champion mother-artists loud and clear, to trumpet, broadcast, sing out, enthuse, eulogize about this mothering/ making cause to as many people as possible, to those I know and those I don’t, to the rich and the famous, the good and the great, and still there are more I should be contacting. Yet all this while there is a secret part of me that is against it. That does not want to place a pledge. That feels not pride of the cause but shame.
I believe there are two sources of this, two ‘inner critics’ I am carrying. The first is male, the second female.
The man, first. We live in a culture in which motherhood is not sexy. It is the awkward consequence after the sex is over. It is undeniably personal and the personal, as opposed to the professional, is gendered female and is somewhat embarrassing. Motherhood is leaky: blood, meconium, pee, poo, puke, milk and tears. I feel it when I breastfeed in public, which at present I do daily. I am bold about it, but I am not immune to the awkwardness in the air during the fraction of a second when the man in the bike shop glances down. I went in to pick up our son’s scooter. My baby is nursing in the sling – the top of my breast is visible. The bike shop owner is a nice man. He does not mean any harm, but it is not easy. This is a man’s world of bike tyres, Alan keys and other cool tools. Grease, not milk, is its product. This world extends well beyond the bike shop, out across the land. So it is hard, despite my politics, to stand there in the midst of motherhood and feel no hint of shame.
My second secret source of shame is not to do with men, or it is, but not directly. It feels even harder to name. Another awkward moment: I am with a woman, a performer with whom I once did a show. She tells me about her latest tour, I tell about how my son has just lost his first milk tooth. The difference between us feels difficult. I happen to know that there was a time when this woman wanted a child. I know no more than that.
I feel a sense of guilt, confusion, betrayal even, in relation to the women who, for whatever reason, have not had children. I think this comes from the huge taboos there are around many child-bearing issues: miscarriage, infertility, abortion, and also from the depth of the pain and loss potentially involved. This is on the one hand. On the other, there is the fact that whilst motherhood may not be sexy it is nonetheless expected, so it is assumed that there is a sad story involved in the plight of the childless woman – maybe, but maybe not. How to celebrate those incredible women who do not become mothers? Such a tangle of important, fraught, delicate issues and questions. So, whilst I champion the mothers, I want to take care of all women, everywhere, and I do not know how.
Confession over. It is 7am and the alarm has gone off – time to get the children up and go to school. Time to get back to being proud and loud about mothering and making, which is not in fact to deny the shame or the difficulty underneath, but rather to provide a space in which it can safely be named. If anything is going to change we need those spaces. Go here to support me to make more of them: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mothers-who-make