Motherhood: The Death of Me
We exist in this world of paradox, of light and dark, highs and lows, salt and sweet, the struggles and the joys. These may appear separate but they are part of the whole; we must experience one in order to fully embrace the other, including birth and death.
Recently, I have been feeling this overwhelming pressure in my relationships. In the same week I experienced a rupture between my mother and my husband. Both of them voiced their experience of loss within our relationship. They missed the relationship that we had before I was a mother, before I juggled the demands of raising children. My husband said he didn’t just want the mother of his children, he wants his wife too. Of course he does!
This sparked a thread for me, of the paradox of birthing children into life. What feels alive for me right now is that people in my life are grieving the loss of who I once was. But I am grieving this loss too. Initially when I heard my mother and husband, it was difficult to bear. I found myself internally reactive, already feeling stretched to the max. I could visualise myself with arms and legs outstretched, pulled so far in all directions that my skin is translucent.
Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing. All I was interpreting was, “You are not good enough!” Part of me thought it was damn right rude, after all, I am the mother juggling full-time mothering, co-sleeping, breastfeeding, running my own business, pursuing my dreams and being what I can to be a good wife, daughter, sister, auntie, friend, human. I mean, if anyone was ‘throwing their dummy out the pram,’ I really thought it should be me.
I paused and gathered my awareness to my initial reaction before bringing in a more compassionate perspective. See, I know a lot about grief. My mother and my husband (and others) are grieving the loss of a woman they loved. That is hard! What they didn’t know is that I have been with the impact of this death too and perhaps what they gave voice to, allows me to face into the death of myself more fully. Now, I feel grateful for the rupture.
When my children were born I was hasty and naïve in the death and dismantling process and parts of this feel like they have not been tended to and cared for with the tenderness and respect that they deserve. But that is the thing about birth, it is so focussed on the baby and the joy of birthing new life into the world that often we skip over the death of the mother. In fact, often we skip over the mother altogether.
Mothers deserve to be honoured in life and in the multiple deaths that they experience as they step into motherhood, as first-time mothers and every birth (or death) thereafter. If we begin to bring more light to this darkness, perhaps less relationships would be falling apart at the seams. The weight of expectancy is too heavy for one woman to carry, the expectancy that the woman is still who she was. The truth is, she is gone and that woman is never coming back!
When I began my journey into motherhood, focussing on parenting as a spiritual practice (as taught by my friend Miriam Mason Martineau) part of my ongoing question with my child was, ‘Who are you?’ Only recently have I discovered that I should have been holding this same question towards myself, with the same wholehearted tenderness.
It has taken me quite some time, space and solitude to recognise the process of birth evokes my own process of death. In each birth I have experienced the death of me. After each birth, I no longer knew who I was and I have to sit, uncomfortably and wait for this sense of self to emerge. There is no pushing. Just breathing myself back into existence. Gathering the ashes and letting the phoenix rise up.
Each transition into motherhood is colossal and it can be desperately isolating being a mother. I find myself left out of social events with people from my past. A friend of mine recently got married and I didn’t make the cut, evoking feelings of isolation, exclusion, and not belonging (with people I love). Brene Brown echoes in my ears though. In her movie ‘Call to Courage’ she said, “true belonging requires you to be who you are and that’s vulnerable.” I accept that I am no longer who they once knew, that version of me is well and truly dead. Why would they invite a stranger to the most intimate day of their life?
Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy. As humans we are wired for belonging, for connection, to be fully seen, heard, met …and supported. We are told that “it takes a village to raise a child” but where is the village? This African proverb has a second part that includes looking after the parent. It is often missed out, both in quotation and reality. In my experience, we now live in a village-less society where we put ridiculous pressure and demands on mothers to do it all, have it all and be it all. We are stretched beyond our skins and it is creating holes in our spirit.
Taking this a level further, we have become so disconnected from the natural rhythms of our bodies, of our land, of the cycles that drive life and death in the natural world, that we struggle to relate in these huge transitions because we no longer feel rooted, grounded or supported. We no longer honour death as part of the process of birth. Who asks the new mother how she is feeling about the death of her previous self after giving birth to a child? No-one asked me. People just keep asking if River is sleeping through the night. He is now 15 months old and no, he is not sleeping through the night. Since becoming a mother I have been completely dismembered; torn and shred until nothing was left of me and I have to build myself back up with careful and conscious consideration to what kind of art I am creating. Please understand that motherhood fills my soul. I am grateful, thankful and blessed for the everyday magic and abundance of love, joy and wonder that I have in my life. I am committed to mothering as a spiritual practice but this includes honouring the paradox of birth and death in relation to self.
Attached parenting means we have to show up and do our own deep inner work for the benefit of our children. What does this mean for my other relationships though? Of course it is different for each role and relationship, but with each child I birth into the world, my husband gets a new wife (whether he likes it or not and then) and there, we begin again. Each relationship essentially, begins again.
When people in our close circle die, the family system is never the same. We grieve the loss of this individual and carry this with us for the rest of our lives. Grief and love, another paradox alongside birth and death. In the whole, we would never expect life to be the same after someone died because it never will be, birth is no different. So I wholly encourage you to grieve the loss of the woman you once loved. She is dead. Let me join you in that grieving because I have lost her too. We can drink tea and laugh together as we keep her memory alive.
Once we have warmed this loss, why don’t you become curious, curious with the same tender, loving heart that you so willingly show to my children. Then I will introduce you to the vulnerable woman who is rising from the ashes. If you loved the embers of my soul-shine once before then you can help fan my flames and experience how each time my hearth is held in love, the fire of my soul enlivens and offers a life-giving sustenance needed to sustain this world. Mothering is the death of me and it is also the birth. Hold me as tenderly as you hold my child.
Heather Baillie is a wild-loving spiritual leader and mother-writer who is colouring the hearts of the world with love, light, magic and mystery! She weaves together her experience of mothering, spirituality and connection to the natural cycles of life and death in her poetic reflections, with threads of gratitude, love, joy and wonder weaving truth and grace through her words.
Find Heather over at https://www.facebook.com/beingheatherbaillie
You can read more of Heather's work at https://medium.com/@beingheatherbaillie