Enter Mothers Uncovered. This group came along through a little oasis of morale-boosting that I had found in the form of the Brighton Breastfeed Drop-In. I walked for nearly an hour and pushed a buggy up a ridiculously steep hill to be at the BBDI every week, so I could drink tea with other breastfeeding mothers who were as sleep-deprived as I was, and connect with some adult company. While I delighted in my baby boy, I remember those early months as being very lonely and exhausting, with more feeds a day than I could count. I lived on the outskirts of Brighton and lacked the money for bus fare most days; I did a lot of walking.
I met Maggie, the creator of Mothers Uncovered, who was a second-time mother at the drop-in, and it was no question that I would come along to her 'mum and baby group with a difference'. I had tried a few of the usual church hall mom-and-baby groups but didn't go back to any of them, because I didn't feel I could be myself there, and didn't seem to get the sustenance I was after.
I now realise this is because the emphasis in those groups was on the baby rather than the mother. There was no space for stimulating discussions about what it is we were doing and who we were becoming – let alone what we had left behind, to become mothers - just conversations about feeding routines and sleep training. BBDI provided me with more 'like-minded' mothers to form friendships with, but it was also a scattered experience, and I longed for something a bit 'deeper', contained, and more meaningful to help me process my experiences as a new mother.
I attended the first Mothers Uncovered course at Tarner Children's Centre when my son was ten months old. By then I was already more comfortable with my role, and had by and large made peace with the lack of sleep and the kind of baby I had. I had good days and bad days, but I was more used to it all. So hearing from mothers who had younger babies, in the group, helped me to integrate some of the experiences I'd had in the early months but not been able to share fully about. It was enormously validating: I wasn't the only one who'd felt judged by other mothers sometimes, or by others in our society, for the way I parented; I wasn't the only one who felt angry with my partner and wanted more support from him; I wasn't alone in my fears about being a good enough mother; this mothership after all!
As well as getting a lot out of the facilitated discussions, I felt nurtured and inspired by the more 'right-brain' activities such as journalling and taking photo's, and felt that my mothering journey was being valued and truly seen. Attending the first Mothers Uncovered exhibition was an incredibly moving experience, witnessing mothers share through song, acting and other forms, and feeling for the first time an enormous and positive pride at being a mother. Singing 'We rock the pants of motherhood' with the mother band Yu Mama Me Mama is one of the definitive moments I'll never forget.
I took some of what I experienced at Mothers Uncovered and put it into my own work, working with and supporting mothers. Mothers Uncovered helped me to find the passion for this work: I trained as a breastfeeding peer supporter and then a breastfeeding counsellor with the National Childbirth Trust, and ran mothers' writing groups and workshops, helping mothers to process their experiences through the written word. A few years later, Maggie invited me to teach yoga and writing at Mothers Uncovered 'Big Sunday' events and it was exciting and rewarding to be part of this venture to nurture the nurturers. My book, currently in its second draft, 'Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Creative and Spirit Fires Burning' explores themes related to motherhood and the 'forbidden topics' – the subjects we were given free reign to talk about at M.U., such as guilt, anger, resentment, and loss. My book examines motherhood as a multi-faceted experience rather than some kind of idealised perfectionist image of the ever-giving sacrificial mother.
I feel strongly about helping to give mothers permission to express the whole range of their feelings about motherhood, and to help create more awareness of this in our society, so that mothers feel met, supported and understood. The Mothers Uncovered course and my ongoing involvement in the organisation – now through facilitating M.U. groups myself - has helped give me the confidence, self-belief and motivation to go inwards and then out there and do this work. Recently when co-facilitating an M.U. course session, I was touched by the stories of the mothers there, and connected with the universality of the themes they talked about, even though my son is now six. It feels like a privilege to be working with women at this incredible stage of their lives, and to be able to provide a space of non-judgmental listening just as was provided for me.
by Morgan Nichols, guest blogger