“When my son was first born I noticed that there were two main camps of other mothers; the majority were women on a fixed maternity leave, and there was a smaller group who were committing to being a full-time mum. I didn’t feel I fitted into either category.
I’ve always worked in the arts, and nobody’s going to give me maternity leave except myself. I needed support on that practical level, but also on a more emotional, holistic level, I felt that I had a job I can’t give up – it’s part of my identity and how I think and breathe! The language of creativity is borrowed from that of motherhood; we ‘conceive’ of an idea and ‘give birth’ to a project. Both my mothering and my work keep me up at night! We draw on many of the same skills and resources in terms of sensitivity, stamina, sometimes obstinacy, resilience and creativity, and questions about who we are. However, the cultural message I was receiving was that I had to compromise. It was, “Drop your child off or drop your art,”. That was reflected in spaces I was moving through; I was either in playgrounds and One-O’Clock clubs, with children literally in the centre of the space, and the adults on the edge, or I was in adult-centred spaces – rehearsals and meetings – and the children were not welcome. Except my child, because I was too stubborn to leave him!
What was missing was an adult-centred space, but where children were welcome, and that’s what all Mothers Who Make events attempt to model. I was inspired by Naomi Stadlen’s circle, Mothers Talking, which I attended. Naomi wrote What Mothers Do - Especially When it Looks Like Nothing. It was the only place I’d felt the complexities and the momentousness of what I was experiencing were recognised.
Mothers Who Make’s meetings are based on Naomi’s model; a very simple talking circle. They’re monthly peer support groups, facilitated by a mother and maker, and held in a supportive arts venue – part of the aim is to give women who are mothers and makers more visibility and status. Depending on the size of the group, we stay in one big circle. Often we’ll have a theme, but nothing is ever off the agenda. Each person speaks, and the group responds.
It started as a small group in London, but we now have five hubs around the country, and recently got funding to expand to 12 to 15 more. There is a networking aspect to it, but that emerges organically; it’s not an aim, but these things happen. Theatre companies have been born, art exhibitions have gestated, childcare and skill swaps and collaborations have taken place. But in a way, what I value most is when there isn’t a tangible product, just knowing that it’s a support to somebody. Even if all they’re managing to do is spend ten minutes a day scribbling in a notebook, if they’ve been supported to do that, that’s as valuable to me as if they’ve managed to found a theatre company.”
Photo: Lisa Whiting
WE ARE STRONGER - Support networks for parents
La Leche League A regular space to chat, share ideas, support and empower mothers to breastfeed. laleche.org.uk
TAMBA Life-saving meetings and playgroups for parents of twins, triplets and beyond. Each group is a mine of practical information and support for new parents of multiples. tamba.org.uk/clubs
Gingerbread Back-up, practical support and advice for single mums and dads. gingerbread.org.uk