Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Mothers in the night

Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 2 – ‘The Mothers’ This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection). Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants. ***

Although I've been a mother for more than three years now, I still have a weird dissociation from it - say "mother" or "mum" to me, and I think of my own mum, or of the LLL Leaders and members I work with - they're all "real" mothers, and I'm still just a big fraud.
But there's a time I feel connected, a time when my identity fits with the name, and that's at night.

When bonzo was small, and waking all the time, and up more in the night than he was asleep, and when we weren't even managing lovely dozy cuddly feeds, but instead the sitting-up, wrestling, whimpering (from both of us), occasionally cursing (just me), desperate feeds, I reached a really low point. I suppose he was probably about 9 or 10 months - a famous killer time - and it was getting me down pretty badly. I'd started to let myself feel very hard done by, and would always always look at the clock and add a number to the mental tally - this is how many times you woke me, this is how long I was awake for, this is how little sleep I had, this is what a martyr I am and how miserable I am entitled to be.

Two things helped. First, a call to the LLL helpline, and I so wish that I now knew who it was I talked to that morning. I asked her for a pep talk, she gave me one; she gently urged me to hide the clock, to look at ways of sharing sleep, to haul myself back to meetings, and  things that have followed since have been life-changing.

But there was also (moving into some slight relevance to the subject) a visualisation that I developed, to run through in these horrible times where I felt so very sad and alone.
I would sit in the bed, with the baby, and imagine a golden web, a web connecting me to all the other nursing mothers.
In this picture, the first round of the web had my new mother friends, all those who were struggling with the same things right now - it was quite realistic to think that at least one of them would be awake too, at exactly that minute, nursing a child, drunk with tiredness.
Next, there were all the nursing mothers around the country and the world, those I didn't know, those for whom it wasn't even night, but still busy at the same activity, and connected to me through this bond.
After that, the women whose babies were all grown up - my own mother and grandmothers, the women I'd worked with, mothers of my friends - our links stretched back and forth in time, but still glittered and shone. Going back further in time, I'd think of all the women who had ever nursed their babies, going back to the beginning, doing what was natural and true.

Now the web was huge and complex, so many golden lines between us all, connecting us whether or not we were aware of it. Finally I'd add those who weren't mothers, and wished they were  - with lost babies, or never-arrived babies, and empty arms at night.

Part of me finds it a little embarrassing to describe this - I know that at one level it sounds, for want of a better word, naff, but when I really needed it, it gave me such strength. I wasn't Helen, alone, I was Woman, Mother, part of a body that grows and embraces us. I'd almost forgotten it, as the night feeds gradually trailed off, but it's been reawakened for me recently, with the challenges of intense toddler needs, and my imminent brand new child. I can plug back into this network-web without permission, and without putting my hand up - it's the biggest club I've ever been in, and by far the most fulfilling.


 Look At All The Women is now available to buy from: The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world! and as a paperback from
Book cover for Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop. If you’d like to get involved in the ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival please find more details about it here: Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:
‘Moments with Mothers and (Imaginary) Daughters’ — Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares more poetry from Look At All The Women — her own version of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’ and a poem inspired by her imaginary daughter.
 ‘The Cold Cup of Tea’Marija Smits shares some poetry that gives a glimpse into the everyday life of a mother.
 ‘Creative Mothers: You Need to Stop!’Georgie St Clair, shares an important reminder, that all mothers need to dedicate time and space to be creative.
 ‘The Mothers – Or Promises to My Future Child’: Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt from her own mother, and writes an open letter to her future child.
 ‘Bonobos are my Heroines’: Ana Salote at Colouring Outside the Lines puts the nature back into nurture.
 ‘Baby Body Shame: it's Time to Push Back’ — Stephanie from Beautiful Misbehaviour wants to challenge society’s treatment of the post-birth body.
 Helen at Young Middle Age talks about finding strength from thinking about all the other mothers, during hard times.


  1. What a wonderful post Helen! And I LOVE the picture you spun of your 'golden web' of mothers throughout time and history that helped you so much in those times when you were so in want of support.

    I remember nights like that, and it helped me a lot to think of all the other mothers who were awake with their children, just like me. I still have a strong memory of reading a Beatrix Potter book to my son in the middle of the night (it was probably around 3 a.m. but I couldn't be sure as I had already banished all clocks!) and picturing all the other mothers with their restless toddlers who were probably reading a children's book to them right now too! (I also couldn't help but wonder if Beatrix had any idea how popular her book 'Tom Kitten' would be with my son in the early hours of the morning on certain days of 2012 and 2013!

    And the funny thing is... as your eldest is about the same age as my youngest there's a very good chance that WE WERE thinking of each other in the middle of the night and gaining strength from the fact that others were sharing this challenging, and yet normal phase in their child's life.

    I wish you all the best for the next phase of your mothering journey... mothering two :-)

  2. Ah...I love the idea that we might have been thinking about each other before we even knew each other!
    (I trust you abridged the Beatrix Potter? I do find they go on a bit...)

  3. Oh yes! Well, we only read Tom Kitten and Peter Rabbit. Tom Kitten's mother isn't exactly the most reflective (or gentle!) parent in the world so I do a fair bit of editing ;-)

  4. Ahh lovely post. We have the real web now bringing us together thanks to Google, Facebook and al we can find those other mums and communicate with eachother, in the wee small hours! I wish someone had told me to banish the clocks though :)

  5. Oh that image brought tears to my eyes. It's so beautiful. I wish I had had something like that to hold onto when I was going through that difficult stage.

  6. Alison Bond McNally6 June 2014 at 12:38

    I'm still doing this. Trying not to resent the night, remembering to sniff her head, to really feel her hands on my skin. I think of the other mother's who have already done this, and I think of my baby when she will be a mother and hope that she will know this feeling. I love the image of a golden web linking us all. Maybe a can cling to that thread for a little bit longer.