Last night I read a piece that contained approximately 1400 angry words by a woman who is absolutely sure that she can tell mothers not to moan because whoever they are and whatever they are suffering they haven’t suffered as much as she has.
I did have to double check the source piece I was reading as it had the one sided viewpoint of a Daily Mail piece, but as it reserved all of it’s venom for ‘moaning mothers’ it definitely wasn’t. I’m no fan of the Daily Mail but they famously champion mothers as long as they are the “right type”. I don’t think I’m one of them.
The piece in question can be found here, I’ve seen it described as fearless and brutally honest but to me it was as lacking in empathy and furiously convinced of it’s own righteousness as any from the pen of Melanie Philips or Jan Moir. Complete with unfair Mumsnet accusations.
The meat of the piece is the devastation and pain that Bibi feels on being unable to have children. Here she has my sympathy. It described her isolation and her exclusion here too she has my sympathy and my understanding. However Bibi sadly lost me after that because I’m about to be the thing she professes to find repellant.
I’m about to be a moaning mother.
To be honest I’ve been a publically moaning mother for about 4 years because although I don’t necessarily fit into BiBi’s world view of the typical moaning mother (or maybe I do she doesn’t specify) my children are disabled which means to the uninitiated they are the staple fodder from everything from Government policy to Frankie Boyle and his hatespeech fueled rantings, I mean jokes.
My children are about to be 15 and 18 and they have a range of disabilities and complex needs which render their lives challenging and the world harsh and unwelcoming.
I was lucky to become a mother, I know that but I wonder ,when I was picked up and thrown across a supermarket by my younger daughter which resulted in my coccyx breaking does my fertility render me obsolete from sympathy? I don’t know.
My children have encountered bullying at school and on the streets. When you have a disabled child the meeting following the first spate of bullying is probably the time in your life when you first encounter an impotent rage and all encompassing fury which stays with you forever as you try to explain to a head teacher why they should defend and protect the needs of “one” disabled child against the bullying gang of nine. Maths is usually the issue. Deal with two furious parents or eighteen? Denying the problem to two parents is much easier. The disabled child will continue to suffer of course but that’s someone else’s collateral damage.
School is shit for kids with a disability pure and simple. If they’re not being bullied by other children, teachers or their TA’s they are walking down the streets being laughed and jeered at. The education system already poorly funded and frankly lacking in adequate training beyond the installation of ramps and accessible toilets, ensures you spend many years simply fighting for your children’s rights to learn. You may like me also encounter social services as you spend nights with a child who won’t sleep, growing into an adolescent who won’t sleep and becoming an adult who won’t sleep.
When you have disabled children your marriage doesn’t always fit the sweet fantasy of mate and protector detailed in the piece. The pressures of raising a child with a disability mean that many, many relationships falter and fail. Dependence on alcohol or recreational drugs is common, exhaustion is a given, and social networks become impossible or extinct. Domestic violence also doesn’t make allowance for disability not does it exclude the children. Work becomes a fragile balance of little sleep, and regular time off through necessity. In these circumstances parents do turn to prosac and other anti-depressents which Bibi glibly and coldly in my opinion, details in the piece.
I too have remained silent as friends wax lyrical about the pressures they face. Not really a pressure not having enough money for a third holiday but I stay silent and understand the thing which Bibi’s piece lack’s in abundance. Compassion.
We are not all the same.
Also the key thing to remember is that the reality of being a parent doesn’t begin and end at the ability to carry a child. The reality of being a friend doesn’t begin and end at fertility or the birth of disabled children. I am acutely aware of how difficult other people find being around my children how scared and ignorant they are of disability, it’s infuriating and it’s wrong but it’s the way of the world.
We mustn’t live our lives no matter how difficult, surrounded by an impenetrable wall of assured pain which you cannot move through to understand the suffering of others. This compassion we are all born with can’t lie untapped just because we don’t understand the pain of others or flatly refuse to share in their joy because it’s isn’t ours or we are defined by our own suffering.
There are many reasons why women can’t have children. There are women who must suffer unimaginable pain at the unrealised ambition of motherhood. For reasons of infertility and disability, cancer, corrective rape and violation, domestic violence or the death of their much loved partner. Their pain is as valid as any and I sympathize with it equally.
When I’m not trying to campaign against hate crime against disabled people and dreading the next news piece about how a mother so broken by lack of help and support has killed herself and murdered her child, I’m also accused of just moaning. Of being humorless, right wing and a Mary Whitehouse.
If people don’t get what I do, that’s fine. If it’s just moaning to them they are lucky, lucky people. I’m accused of missing the point and oddly of not realizing there are people starving in Africa.
Not true of course but I don’t like to always try and disabuse people of their judgments of me unless they should know better, in which case I do. It doesn’t make what I do any less worthy, just part of a prescribed league table of importance which people are fond of telling me about.
I won’t insult anyone unable to have children with the glib response that they could consider adoption. I would recommend reading Dawn French’s beautiful letter to her adopted daughter Billie in her Book Dear Fatty as a template for a loving mother. Or read Emma Thompson’s account of the devastation she lived through in her attempts to have a second child. We all have different pain but it’s not rendered worthless just because it’s different.
I could always place my child in care. We have considered it because we’ve had to face the harshest of realities and we will continue to do so. I still know that a good day for me is one where I’m not punched in the face.
The hope for an independent life with a disabled child is the aspiration we should all work towards as parent carers with a finite lifespan. But the main thing we know is that moaning serves little purpose because we all have sorrows and woes. Again there isn’t an actual league table of one suffering which precludes any other, just a mythical one which the untroubled mind is fond of referencing.
Shit happens it’s all about how you deal with it. The trick I think is not to focus on what you don’t have but what you do. More importantly placing blame and approbation squarely at the feet of those who haven’t encountered your problems or justifiable heartbreak, is pointless. It’s no ones fault it’s just the way it is.
However our lives have been framed we have to continue to live and to endure, we have to extend our compassion empathy and love to others no matter how seemingly trivial their problems are compared to our own.
Because life lived as a list of checks and balances of our entitlement measured against others renders us all just moaners.