All the notions of equality held by women of my generation are completely undermined when they become mothers. You realise that actually, very old concepts of sexism are absolutely still there. It was after I’d had my son that I began thinking about this, and coming to terms with the fact who I thought I was, wasn’t who I was.
I was working full time, I quite enjoyed my work, and I felt like I was in a partnership of equals. I was just really alarmed at how quickly that was eroded at having a child. My husband’s a feminist and is very involved in caring for the children, but I feel like there are so many forces at work that it cant be as equal as we’d like it to be. Things like the father getting two weeks paternity leave, and the mother gets up to a year maternity leave. Right from the beginning there’s this state-sponsored sexism, laying down the roles.
Women just find themselves taking up that role. They make friends with other mothers in the local area. They get used to taking the kids swimming, arranging doctor’s appointments, buying them new shoes. And fathers get used to being lumbered as the wage slaves, playing second fiddle in the home. Men are charged with bringing the money in, that’s the deal. Or being drafted in to help with a particularly tricky nappy change!
Women don’t challenge this enough. Men don’t challenge it either. Men and women will often answer surveys saying they wish things were different, but actually don’t seem to do anything about it. We can't just sit there waiting for the right policy to come along; we need to change our own behaviours too.
Somebody described motherhood to me as much better than you could have imagined, and also much worse. It’s both. There are days where I just want to shut the door and leave, and there are days where you’re just overwhelmed by infatuation for your children.
Since giving birth to my daughter, I’ve seen a new side to my son develop. I wasn’t sure what way it would go. But when we brought our baby daughter home from the hospital, her brother was immediately sweet and kind to her, and he has been ever since. They’ve become two little allies; she knows that they are partners, and that we are different, adult creatures. To see that understanding between them is incredible.
The most difficult part of motherhood is the overnight loss of autonomy. It takes five hours to make yourself a sandwich, because you’re running around after them. When they’re very young they don’t even like being put down, everything has to be done with one hand. But that way in which your patience is stretched and stretched, makes you find resources that you never believed you would have; that’s one of the most amazing things about it.
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.