Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
10! My daughter turns 10 today! As I’m trying to wrap my head around the fact that we now have a teenager in the house, I’m also, as with every birthday, pulled back to the day she was born, the day this journey into motherhood started for me.
And I’m also gently inclined to question the stories I’ve made up about motherhood, both my own and that of other women. I’ve held so many convictions over the years, about what it means to be a mother, about what it means to be a ‘good’ mother.
My choice to become a mother was very deliberate. For years before, I could think of a million reasons why it was absolutely irresponsible to bring a child into this world: there are so many people already, the environmental impact is huge, what kind of world am I bringing a child into, people without children are happier than those with children (yes, I did the research!). If I wasn’t trying to be happier, then why would I want to have a child at all? And if I was, wasn’t that a very selfish reason to have children? And is it really fair to the child that is born that its intended purpose is to make you happier?
I still don’t really know how I circumvented all of the above. I do remember thinking that I didn’t necessarily want a happy life as much as I wanted a full life, in which there was a multitude of experiences, and the experience of motherhood was one that I didn’t want to miss. The fact that my choice was a selfish one, prodded me to do lots of research on how to be the best possible parent I could be. If my child hadn’t asked to come into this world, it was my responsibility to make sure she suffered as little as possible.
Thus, motherhood became a very idealised state even before our first child was born. After the birth, I became very much enthralled with the experience and completely merged with my role as a mother. It was an instinctive thing, but it was also a relief in many ways. Finally, it became very clear what my role was, and how I could be of value. My nurturing nature and keen intuition became my superpowers. First, my body, then my breasts, became a source of life for a whole human being. It was amazing, exhausting, incredibly gratifying and at the same time terrifying.
As much as my mothering instinct was awakened by physically becoming a mother, I soon noticed that it wasn’t limited to my own children. The same caring and protective energy was extended to other children, to my students, to my partner at times, and to others who needed me. I could feel maternal towards many other people and in many different situations.
There are many, many ways to be a mother. I’ve seen many maternal women who never gave birth to a child of their own, and I’ve seen men who nurture and protect with a similar energy, too (though there is such a thing as paternal energy as well which differs from maternal energy). I’ve also seen women who have given birth and who find motherhood a challenge and not something that comes easily or naturally. There have been plenty of times when motherhood was less self-evident for me as well, not in the least during my recent depressive episode.
And so motherhood becomes a flexible thing, with on and off moments. This also frees me up to be more than ‘just a mom’, even if being a mother in itself is already incredible and wondrous. It allows me to cultivate parts of myself that might even contradict the mother in me: selfish aspects, my instinct to explore and travel, the power hidden in my aggression, my role as a lover, a wise woman, a free spirit or even a playful girl.
Becoming a mother has had, without a doubt, the most significant impact on who I am as a person today, at least on a conscious level. It has brought me joy, wonder, unbearable fear, uncontrollable anger and a love so intense and instinctive that it scares me.
It has also brought me two amazing people that I get the honour of watching grow up. I could never be grateful enough.