I’ve been thinking lately in various contexts of the insecurities we may betray regarding our relationships with or feelings towards our own mothers (or ourselves as mothers, come to think of it), when we express our ideas on motherhood and on reproductive freedom, and all that stuff.

I know this is true of me. How I feel about motherhood – about my role as a mother, about my own mother, and about mothering in general – are all highly coloured by one another, interconnected.

When I honour mothering in other women, it is not just an act of sisterhood. It is about honouring myself as a mother; and it is about honouring my own mother. It is about celebrating what mothers do.

When I recognise and confront the darker, painful aspects of motherhood, it is not just an act of confession or truth-speaking. It is about sisterhood with all mothers, including my own, about acknowledging what it is like, how hard it is, and the sheer bloody strength of mind and will and body that it takes to keep soldiering on.

And when someone obliterates the mother, erases her importance or her experience, silences her voice – it is as though it is myself that is obliterated, erased and silenced.

Someone advances the argument against abortion that “Hey, your mother might have aborted you! Then where would you be?

Someone else shames a mother for speaking out about the unpleasant realities of modern motherhood – the drudgery, the guilt, the self-doubt, the loss of self, the poverty, the loss of status, all that – with the refrain “Hey, I pity your kids! Having a mother like you must be terrible! I hope they never find out how little you enjoy / cherish / love them!”

Won’t somebody please think of the children!
Save them from the selfishness of Woman!

It is pretty clear that these people find it easier to empathise with the child – even one unborn – than with the mother. Some of the people I am talking about are mothers themselves, and yet still they identify more with the child than the mother. (One wonders what has happened to their sense of self. Oh, yeah. Motherhood happened.)

So what is it all about? Why this difficulty with identifying with the mother as human, when it is so easy to identify even a zygote as human? Why this assumption that some unrelated third party cares more about the child in question than its own mother? Why this assumption that someone else knows what is best? This unwillingness to trust the woman/mother to do what is right?

I think it is fear. Not in all cases, obviously. But if you do sense your mother’s unspoken resentment or regret or disappointment or anger, her sadness or shame or grief – if you sense these things and are afraid of their power, then there are only two possible reactions.

The easy path

To deny all knowledge and to ask no questions.
To pretend that such things cannot be.
To silence all doubts and silence all doubters.

To ridicule the very idea that a child might bring sadness rather than joy –
To deny the possibility of joy and sadness co-existing,
of pleasure and love sharing a home with anger and resentment.

To never face the question – what if?

What if my mother resents me?
What if she always did?
What if she wishes I had never been born?
What if she wishes me out of existence?
What if she had aborted me before I was born?
Does she wish she had?

What if,
when all is said and done,
when all is weighed in the balance,
when everything is counted,
what if my very existence is found wanting?

What if I was not good enough,
did not bring enough joy,
did not bring enough light –
does that negate my value?

What if
she never loved me
at all?

Am I worth what I cost her?

Better to avoid these questions.
To pretend that none of these questions need to be asked
because they are academic.
To pretend that the premise never arises,

because a child is always worth it.
Whatever it costs.
Whatever the price for the mother,
it is a price always worth paying,
right?

Is it making sense now? Anyone who ponders even the questions, anyone who muses about the price, is threatening precisely because they are asking – how much? how much does it cost? is it a price worth paying? They are questioning the value of a child, weighing up the value of a child and asking – is it worth this?

And this is sacrilege, of a very personal kind. It is about us. It is about each and every one of us. It is about how much we are worth.

So yes, avoiding those questions is the easy path.

But still hang on to that sneaky little doubt, because that sneaky little doubt – that lack of trust in mother – could be all that saves you from death at her hands.

Never question.
But never trust.

The hard path

Ask the questions. Know that whatever the answers may be, we are still here, which is worth something because it is all we have.

Accept one’s mother as human, and troubled.
Love her anyway.

That’s the hard part: Love her anyway.

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