Part two on the art, the being an artist, the ‘Who Make’ part of our title. Yesterday I wrote about the secret rule as to who is allowed to come to Mothers Who Make meetings: “If you ‘get it,’ if you understand why such a thing as Mothers Who Make might exist and you are keen to join it, then we need you in the room, in the network.” But what is this it? That sounds potentially as elusive as the most elite of cultural institutions. I would argue that the it is both prosaic and ineffable.
When I first became a mother I went along to the requisite number of mother and baby groups with my newborn boy. I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of the women I met there were on a fixed maternity leave of 6 months to 1 year and were then expecting to go back to a full or part time job. There was a much smaller group of women who had given up work and were in a position where they wanted and could afford to commit to being a full time mother for the foreseeable future. I did not feel I fitted into either group. Here is the prosaic part: being a freelance artist no one was going to give me any maternity leave except myself. Here is the more ineffable, harder to express: I was committed to being a full time mother but equally I felt I had the kind of work I could not give up – it was part of who I am.
Four years later, through Mothers Who Make, I know I am not alone. I have heard many other women share a similar experience. I am in the extremely privileged position of being supported financially by my husband, so in my case when I say I feel I had the kind of work I could not give up, this is not an economically driven statement. For many it is. But I have also heard women talk about how sustaining their creative work is a matter of survival and they have not meant it on the level of pounds and pence either.
Let me expand on this ineffable part a little more. Pre-motherhood I worked as a circus aerialist for ten years. When people asked me whether I felt afraid hanging upside down 10 metres in the air I replied, often to their surprise, that of course I did. I was terrified. But I was also terrified when I was the right way up, on ground level. I found being alive a terrifying experience and it was a relief to find a job – being an aerialist – in which my daily level of fear was appropriate. I gave up being an aerialist in part in order to become a mother. I wanted to stop running away up my rope and come down to earth to take up my place here. However I continued to find life intensely frightening, extraordinary and bewildering and I wanted a job in which these were appropriate, even useful, feelings: so far ‘artist’ is the only job I’ve found that fits. So I don’t feel I can give up my work just because I have become a mother – if anything motherhood has only made life more intensely wonder-full and frightening.
The conventional wisdom however is that mothers cannot do both – we have to drop our art or drop off our children with other carers. But this way everyone loses out – the mothers, the children, the art and also the world. What if we could create a shift – and this is heart of the revolution I want to stage - in which instead of dropping out due to motherhood, the experiences that women gain through this most everyday and yet momentous of roles could be picked up? Mothers could be carried, not dropped, as they in turn carry their children and their work, supported to continue their creative practice and allow their mothering to inform it, and so also influence the wider cultural landscape? To stage the revolution, if you get ‘it,’ go here to make it happen: