I was born in Princelet Street, Spitalfields, in 1928. My mum was actually being treated for indigestion while she was, in fact, pregnant with me. So I came as quite a surprise. It’s very difficult to give an objective view of one’s own mother. I have nothing but good to say for my mother, she was a wonderful, completely honest, hardworking woman, as most mothers in our circle were at that time. “Good working class” was a positive thing, unlike today when it has negative connotations. My mother was certainly working class, but that was a good thing.
I was 21 when I had my first daughter. I wasn’t daunted, it was a natural thing. In those days, it wasn’t so public. You tried to hide it. I remember my mother-in-law saying, I was six months pregnant and I didn’t show. People were proud of hiding it; nowadays the minute they’re pregnant they’re wearing loose things... it’s very different. Like everything related to the human condition, there are pluses and minuses to that. There are many good things related to the feminist revolution, of which I like to think I was a pioneer, but there were also many bad things.
I think I was a nice mum, I was laid back, I remember once being in a discussion group of young mums. They were saying how terrible it was in the summer holidays, and they didn’t know what to do with the children. I said, have you thought of giving them a bucket of water and telling them to go into the garden and make a mess? Of course, nobody liked me after that.
That was the kind of mum I was. One child’s mother came to collect him from our house, and found him going down our stairs on a tea tray, as if he were on a ski slope. She said, “Stop! You can’t do that! What will Aunty Renee say?!” He replied: “Aunty Renee taught me how to do it!”.
I object very much to these self-help books that tell you how to bring up a child; you could do it with one child and it will work fine, but not with another child. Every mother is different, too. How you feel one year is not necessarily how you’ll feel the next year. I always object to those books, but if people make money out of them, good luck to them!
I don’t think there are good mothers or bad mothers. There are plenty of good mothers who are not loved by their children, and plenty of wicked mothers who are.
In the end, we have to die, in order to be spared the sight of our own children getting old. Now I see my own children looking at me growing old. Sadly, grief is the price we pay for love; if we didn’t love so much we wouldn’t grieve so much. But it’s worth it, it’s totally worth 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.