I was born in the Congo in 1955, in a place that has now been reclaimed by the jungle. My mother was an incredible mother. She was just very good at it, she was always very happy; she loved being there in the jungle with us. There must have been so many difficulties though, but it was a very happy life, very carefree and fascinating.
As I was growing up in the 60s, teenage culture was quite alien to my mum. I would never ask my mother’s advice about clothes, or anything to do with boys. My mother’s opinion was that you had nothing to do with boys until you were married. You couldn’t ask her about anything sexual; her advice to me was don’t ever kiss a boy because when you kiss someone, you open the floodgates. Because of that, I found my first kiss very disappointing! There were no floodgates at all.
My mum didn’t understand, and she wouldn’t have approved of, the life I lived. I had to live quite a secret life; if I went out drinking I had to disguise my breath! Even if I talk to my mum about it now, she says, “no, no, you didn’t drink!”; she’s in complete denial. I tried to tell her I took drugs, too, she just doesn’t want to know.
My parents were both pioneer missionaries and very independent. My mum’s role has always been to support my father’s ministry, but I think if she had been brought up when I was she would’ve been a minister herself. She’s always seen that as a mission, a calling in life. Women didn’t have the freedom to do that kind of thing back then.
We’ve talked about that quite a lot. She has a very simple faith, she’s not a simple person, but her faith is very uncomplicated, I used to argue with her a lot about it. We argued about feminism, I thought she far too easily took on the servant role. She tried to train my brothers to get on with housework, but she gave up with them quite easily.
I’m surprised my mum’s faith influenced me in the positive way that it has. When I turned thirteen, I completely rebelled and I didn’t want anything to do with religion. I know sometimes I upset her, that was the worst thing, because I was argumentative, and I rejected church. It was fine when it was discussed on a philosophical level, but it was more difficult when it became personal.
In some ways it is surprising to me that I turned back to my faith when I was twenty-one. I went to train for the Ministry when I was 26, so I was at theological college until I was 30. I was the only female full-time ministerial candidate at my college; it was really hard, in the 80s, to be a woman in the Baptist church. To have stopped and had a baby is probably what they were all hoping would happen, so I had to wait to have my children later.
Now that I have daughters, I have tried to give them the freedom to live their own lives. My mother taught me how to be a mother - I'm not as good at it as she was, but I do want my children to feel free about what and how they believe.
What does motherhood mean to you? These tales and portraits were collected by two Faith Fellows working with Proshanti, a charity set up in response to the need for health facilities for mothers and families in Bangladesh.
Originally exhibited at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London as a pop-up 'Museum of Motherhood' (no link to the wonderful M.O.M. in New York) we're delighted to be sharing these diverse stories as part of our travelling exhibition: Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves.
To find out more about Proshanti's work or donate, visit www.Proshanti.org.