So I’m excited that I am going to be speaking next month at an online series of seminars on motherhood. The online event is titled “Maternal Forums” and it is part of a larger project on “Performance and the Maternal.” Sign up here. Our event is on Tuesday 13 October on the topic of ‘Storytelling and Mothers.’ We’ll be answering questions about what maternal narratives might we want or need to tell and hear in these times, and about how we might represent the diversity of maternal experiences.
My own mother, Jude Brigley, and I will be speaking, and we will be showing a poetry film that we are making together, titled Blue Milk. We seek to discuss what knowledge can be gleaned across generations of mothers. Showing extracts of the film for the first time, we will highlight stories that women are not told about motherhood, which would offer greater sustenance and nourishment. How can mothers and childbearing people come to terms with the messiness of motherhood?
The other speakers will be Laura Godfrey Isaacs, Tracy Breathnach-Evans, Roiyah Saltus, Christine Watkins, and Alison Perry.
I have been writing about motherhood for a while. I started writing poems from a unique angle initially, because I was writing to process the experience of failing to have children. I now have two kids, but I have had four miscarriages, two in my second trimester, which has meant realizing that sometimes motherhood includes loss, even death. In my recent collection Hand & Skull, I wrote a lot of poems about how miscarriage affects your relationship with the children that do survive, in that you realize how precarious life is.
I have also written quite a bit about reproductive rights, and the need for women and childbearing people to control what happens to their bodies. Many of the essays in Notes from a Swing State, my nonfiction essays touch on this theme, and in one in particular I talk about how having the miscarriages (and my experiences in hospital in the aftermath of that) has only cemented my view that women should have the right to choose what happens to them.
One thing that I think we could about is the experience of trauma related to motherhood which is often minimized. I know women who like me have had many miscarriages. I know women who again like me have had terribly traumatic births. I know women who have gone through post-natal depression. What if we were taught more about these experiences before motherhood? What if we were supported better when we become mothers?
The other day I was in hospital having a routine procedure, and I had an illuminating conversation with my nurse. We hit it off, and we were having a laugh about various things, when she noticed on my chart that I’d had miscarriages, and she shared a story of something traumatic that had happened to her. The conversation took a strange turn though when she told me that one of the things that made her most angry in lockdown was that though everything else was closed, abortion clinics were still up and running. I was pretty shocked that she would mention this. Her assumption was that because I have had miscarriages I would be anti-abortion which is simply not the case. If anything, my miscarriages have deepened my compassion for other mothers, as well as for women who don’t want to have kids, because the ultimate connection between all these scenarios is having control of a body that is so often hijacked in our culture.
Now I don’t know this woman, but it seemed to me that she really traumatized by her experience of losing a baby, and that she associated that with abortion. I can’t help wondering whether if women were supported better in dealing with these experiences, we might be able to have a real, genuine conversation about reproductive rights without it being tinged by terrible memories of things that are really hard for any mother to face.
I’m really looking forward to thinking about issues like this at the Motherhood forums. Meanwhile, you can find my prose essays on motherhood and loss at Wales Arts Review and in anthologies like Writing Motherhood, and you can see some maternal poems I have written in Mothers Always Write, Junction Box, and Permafrost. There’s an interview about my experiences of motherhood here.
You can also see some blog entries I’ve written on motherhood and reproductive rights below.