Motherhood and the possibility of becoming pregnant is a major difference between women and men and yet, or perhaps therefore, it is also a concept that every Tom, Dick and Harry judges women by. We hear the accusations so often we are numb to them. Comments like; you aren’t “mom enough” if you don’t breastfeed your child until so and so age. But you are also an irresponsible mom if you do breastfeed them until so and so age. Or if you don’t breastfeed at all. Some (male) doctor has come up with a new fancy term, “Attachment Parenting”. Be warned, woman. Progressive mothers should sign up for this one!
And oh-my-god, like, you HAVE to give birth sans epidural and later feed your baby organic home grown mashed carrot mousse and wash its poo-drenched hand-knitted diapers every morning before doing your Asanas. That’s mom-cred right there. However, don’t start working too soon after childbirth. Mind you, too soon could be anything from a month to the rest of your life depending on who is doing the judging. Shame on you, if you don’t do everything the way your mother-in-law did. Now your child will grow up to be dysfunctional. And if god forbid, something happens to your child, it is your fault okay? EVERYTHING is your fault. Bad, Bad Mom.
I wish two things. Firstly, that men would stop creating images and archetypes on appropriate motherhood. No more Freudian/virgin Mary-type fantasies, or denial of having such. Secondly I wish that women (mothers or not) would think twice about judging other women’s mothering. Have your opinion on parenting by all means but unless a woman is abusing her child, stop, or at least be very careful about how you determine what is appropriate mother-behaviour. This judgemental attitude is damaging for women as a whole and it has been part of our social history for an unnecessarily long period.
The Motherhood instinct
And for christ’s sake don’t buy into this idea of mommy wars. Blackwomen, this is especially important. We can’t afford to be at no damn war with each other about mothering from home or going to work. In many African communities, a woman is made to feel worthless if she can’t have children. Let’s not contribute to this alienation either. I am not a mother, but I am not separate from motherhood. I menstruate once a month meaning there is a mechanism embedded within my normally human female body that symbolizes motherhood. I may have not felt the overwhelming urge to become a mother, nor do I think of having a baby as some intoxicatingly rosy bliss that would be the zenith of my life. But my reproductive system is not meaningless to me. Its cyclical activities and quotidian functions are a part of my woman experience. Motherhood is more than delivering babies, it is an instinct.
Of course the motherhood instinct becomes something more real when you have a child, but even women who remain childless until old age know what it means to be a mother. To love. To protect. To defend. To sacrifice. To be afraid. To be angry. To be vulnerable. To not be afforded the luxury of ambivalence towards the obstacles being put in the way of future daughters and sons.
Motherhood is a reciprocal act too. Sometimes I feel strongly how my mother and I are the same entity. Sometimes I am her mother. Sometimes I hear in her words a plea for me to protect her, to love her unconditionally. To do what a mother would do.
My mother, if you read this (and you will, because I will send it to you), I want you to know that just as you are, you are the most wonderful person that I know. The strongest. The most loving. The funniest. My closest friend. You are the woman with the big heart who enabled me to become free, to find my voice. And then learn how to speak it. I’m still learning. I will never stop. Learning. Yet as the Yoruba saying goes, “this is not my voice, it is my mother’s VOICE”.
And in a similar way, aiti kultainen, mommy dearest, it is your mother’s voice and all our mothers’ voices. It is the suppressed voice of womanhood.
Mother, I am inspired by your wisdom and your balance. By how you have found your harmony despite the injustices that mothers suffer in this world. I am inspired by how, through me, you aimed to prove that love can transcend the world’s divisions. By how you did all you could to remove as many obstacles from my process to self-realization as you possibly could. By how you gave up so much for me. By how you empowered me. I am so moved and grateful.
As a little girl I was old for my age, you and dad say. A child-parent. I laugh it off but it’s true. I was not an unhappy child, quite the opposite, but childhood was a waste of time. That’s how I felt then, not now. I was restless. Philosophical. I felt different. Now I am where I wanted to be then. I’m at a social, spiritual and psychological pinnacle where the voice and the listener are finding each other. And it is the voice of you, of your mother, my father’s mother, and her grandmother, of all our mothers—it’s the voice that feels obliged.
Thank you, mother. Although this voice makes life a challenge, I am nothing without it. If I stifled it I would be silencing you and all our mutual mothers who made us. I don’t think I’ll ever surrender to that, I need the guidance. I’m miles away from you, but this voice is wanting to wish you a more than well-deserved Mother’s Day.
Hi! I’m Minna Salami. I’m a writer, blogger, columnist, lecturer and speaker and the founder of the feminist blog, MsAfropolitan, which connects feminism to contemporary culture from an Africa-centred perspective. I’ve been listed alongside Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie as one of “twelve women changing the world” by ELLE and my work has been used as a resource and case study at universities around the world. Like what you just read? Sign up above to receive new posts directly in your inbox.