When I was a young child, Mother’s Day was pretty simple. A home made card, a fight with my brother over who was making what for the breakfast of lukewarm coffee, burnt toast and wrinkly apple carefully balanced on a tray and wobbled upstairs to our mum waiting patiently in bed. Mum was always, predictably, smiling and grateful for her tray of debatable treats from her two children. In later years, there would be flowers, presents as I got paid employment, but always at least a phone call. A day to tell my mum how special she was to me. I remember, too, the teenage strop I had when we went for a family walk on Mother’s Day which I did not want to go on, those teenage hormones and strident opinions as forceful as ever. I remember mum’s upset that I had spoilt the day, and now that I am a mother myself I know how much she would have looked forward to just spending time with her family. Kids eh!
As I get older, I know that Mother’s Day is much more complicated than this simple image of maternal gratitude. I know that some people have difficult relationships with their mothers, some don’t have lovely memories like I have of a loving mum, always a superwoman in my eyes. Some women aren’t mothers despite wanting to be. The older I get, the more of my friends and acquaintances say their final goodbyes to their mum, making Mother’s Day an unbearable day for so many. It often feels like a day of the haves against the have nots, the flurry of Facebook thank you’s and media focus on making our mums feel loved an unwelcome reminder for so many of something they either never had, or have lost.
And, of course, I am now a mother myself. I know that mothers are not infallible, we make mistakes, we fight with our children, we have times when all we want in the world is to have time on our own, away from our children, with a hot cuppa and a nice book. Some of us have paid a very heavy price for our children, our bodies and minds bruised, battered and broken beyond measure. I remember my first Mother’s Day, a day of conflicting emotions and feelings. It was a day which brought home to me that I had joined the special club of women who had become mums, but one that at the time I didn’t feel part of at all. I was still physically broken, my fistula infected and sore, my perineum still so painful I was unable to sit down without slanting slightly to find a more comfortable spot. I was in the midst of medical retirement from my job as a police officer, form filling and difficult, emotionally draining conversations an almost daily occurrence. My legal case was continuing, with more tests, examinations and painful investigations. I was unsure at that point whether my stoma would ever be reversed for sure, or when my fistula would be repaired. My stoma was becoming slightly more manageable, but I had not found the right bags for me, so leaking was a distinct possibility, an anxious thought always in the back of my mind. My baby was 5 months old so sleepless nights were still the norm, I was exhausted, my body a battle field in which my brain was a lost soul, too many things to juggle to be able to think properly at all about anything. I was far from the mother I had hoped to be, one who sailed through maternity leave with a happy baby balanced on her hip, glugging coffee with friends and laughing with other mums about our shared experiences. I was alone and it was so very painful.
That first Mother’s Day I also felt gratitude for my child, who was healthy and happy, and who was surging through his milestones with a greedy appetite for life. I was still in the grip of post-natal depression, so my love came coloured with a distant, strange haze, almost as one looking through a mist at the sun rising over the distant hills. I appreciated the sun and knew it’s beauty, but I couldn’t quite see all of it through the haze over the fields. It made me feel separate once more from the other mums, who I imagined standing next to me crying in joy at the spectacle of the enormous bright sun blazing down on their faces with an unmistakable warmth. I was one of them, just not quite. I would see that full sun a couple of months later when the PND began to loosen it’s grip. But that too, overshadowed my first Mothers Day. So many mothers will be feeling this way today, and my heart goes out to you all. It’s so very tough, thankfully unimaginably so for many mothers, but I understand.
Subsequent Mothers Days came and went, including the first one after I lost my second baby at 11 weeks. It was another painful reminder that we are not in control of our bodies, and that life has a plan for us all of its own. All we can do is keep raising our sail and carry on through the winds. Mothers are incredible, resilient, powerful people. We continue sailing even when our sails have holes in them, when the wind rips through and makes our boats plunge in the waves. We right ourselves and carry on, buffeted by emotions, guilt, sadness, joy and all other emotions in between. We carry on.
Mother’s Day for me is not just about celebrating my own mother, or my luck for being a mother myself, but for highlighting just how important mothers are to our society. We are important. We are vital. We hold families together. We need to be protected. We need to be cherished. We deserve it.