Friday, 14 August 2009

Can Any Mother Help Me?

I've been on holiday. To the Peak District. A longish drive away from the south of England where I live. Well, about five hours. I know that isn't going to impress anyone who lives in a 'big' country but it is a long way to us here on our small island.

Whilst I was on holiday I bought a book called 'Can Any Mother Help Me?' by Jenna Bailey. I remember hearing about this book at some point in the past, before Jessica and Georgina were born, before I had ever heard of blogging.

Back when I thought that there was something slightly odd or even sinister about communicating via the internet. I couldn't imagine why people would prefer to 'talk' to one another this way rather than face to face. Was it because they couldn't find friends or lovers in real life? It didn't seem like anything that I would ever be interested in. This was back in the days when I used my internet connection solely for online shopping, banking and the occasional e-mail. And the ubiquitous naturally.

Anyhow, back to my book. In 1935, a young woman wrote a letter to a magazine asking the question that became the title of the book, 'can any mother help me?' As a result of her letter a group of women formed. They called themselves the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC). They created a private magazine in order to 'alleviate the boredom and limitations of their lives as wives or mothers.' They wrote articles about a variety of things that interested them - children, work, love, politics - and commented on each other's work. The magazine was circulated via the post. Although the women knew each other's real names and addresses due to the need for mailing, they often wrote under pseudonyms. A Priori, Country Mouse, Rusticana, Accidia, Ubique, Elektra.

I'm sure this parallel has already been drawn but their magazine from all that time ago reminded me of blogging. I thought about how I would have anticipated the arrival of that magazine if I had been one of the 'mothers' of this circle.

As it is I anticipate opening my reader, that flutter of interest, my little treat or moment to myself, usually at the end of the day. I want to find out how 'everyone' is, what you have been thinking about, what you are feeling. Those words that help me find strength, or bring tears, or make me smile.

I am so grateful that all of you are here, beyond words.

Whilst I was on holiday, I was also thinking a lot about motherhood. In my own inept little way. What type of mother I am. What has informed my parenting of my surviving baby and the baby that I lost. Who has inspired me. Who informs me. Who I want to emulate.

When I say motherhood here, I mean it in the broadest possible sense. I'm including fatherhood too. I hate the word parenthood and writing mother/father hood is going to drive me wild so from this point forward, please do read motherhood as a word encompassing fathers as well. There probably is a perfectly good word but I am either too illiterate to know it or too tired to dredge it up out of my addled old brain tonight.

I've been thinking about all the mothers whose words I read. Without wishing to sound creepy, I do think of you all a great deal. When there is no company to distract me, when Jessica is sleeping, when my husband is busy and doesn't want to chat. My thoughts return to you all here, in this little corner of blogland.

Whilst I was away on holiday, I was thinking about all of you. You have all taught me so much. About being a mother.

I was thinking about Monique, Norm and Samuel Marc. When I saw something beautiful on my potterings about, I thought of sweet Sam. I know that so many of us here were thinking of him. I imagine it almost like tiny flares of thought, of love, going up around the world. Sam, Sam, Sam.

I was thinking about, and praying for, Michele, Peter, Bobby and Maya. I was wondering if everything was alright with them. As Michele goes further on in her pregnancy than I was able to. I was hoping, praying and wishing that this precious family would be arriving safely at the threshold of the third trimester by the time I got back.

I was thinking of Sally, Simon and Hope as they approach these difficult days in mid-August. No more difficult than the rest of the year I'm sure but somehow I find that the date has made it harder, more inescapable.

I was so very, very lonely after the girls were born. So frightened. That my life had taken this completely unexpected, horrible, horrible turn. I didn't know what to do or who I could talk to about all these thoughts that just spun around and around in my poor, frazzled little brain.

I remember one of the unexpected things that terrified me after Georgina died was a deep seated belief that 'no one will ever understand me again, I will have to pretend. Always. Not even my own mother or sister can understand me now. Not my friends. Not anyone.'

Sadly, I have since discovered that so many people understand.
I wish you didn't. I wish that I had been alone in this.
But some secret, selfish part of me is glad that I am not.

In this place, I can tell you that I bought two first birthday cards at the supermarket yesterday. I wouldn't want anyone else to know that. They might find it incomprehensible. But I think you will know why I bought two. I think you will know why I almost wanted the lady at the checkout to ask WHY I was buying two. So I could lie. And tell her they were for my twin's first birthday party. Two little girls, you see. Just about to turn one.

I thought of all the mothers I have met here, in this strange and beautiful place.
Such a hateful place yet shot through with so much love. Like the crystalline parts of granite.

Those who have no living children in their arms. Mothers.

Those who have living children but still mourn for those other children. The ones who have slipped away from them. Mothers.

Those who parent children who are not their biological children but who are still very much their children. Mothers.

Those who lost their first born child. Those who lost their only child. Mothers.

Those whose children were born breathing. Mothers.

Those whose children never took a single breath. Who were born into silence. Mothers.

Those whose children were lost in the first trimester, in the second trimester, in the third trimester. Mothers.

Those who fall pregnant after a loss. Mothers.

Those whose children survived against the odds.
Those whose children did not survive against odds impossibly stacked against them.
Those whose children died in spite of the odds that should have been in their favour.

Those who long for children. Even when that longing is so cruelly unfulfilled. Mothers.

Those who mourn for children who have never existed on this earth and never will. Those who parent children who are dreams. But who are none the less real for all that. Mothers.

To try and tie this rather random post together, I'm going back to the book I mentioned at the beginning. At an early point in the CCC's history a member was proposed who had no children. She was rejected on the basis that she was not a mother. She was 30, she had been married for four years.
I found myself thinking. But was she a mother?
A thought that would have never occurred to me a couple of years ago.
Back then, it was a binary function. You are a mother, defined by having children. Living children. Or you aren't.
But it isn't that simple. Nothing is ever, ever that simple.
They said that she wasn't a mother.
Was she one of 'my mothers'? Was she a mother like me?

I wouldn't have missed any of you mothers, or fathers, for the world.
I wouldn't have missed hearing what you have said. I want to hear what you will say.
I am so sorry to find you here. In this place.
Where I find so much comfort and friendship.
But also a place I wish that nobody ever had need of.
Thank you to all the mothers and fathers who share of themselves so generously.
Thank you for your help in a dark, dark time.


  1. Such beautiful words here. I am so glad I found your blog. I have always wanted to learn more about you. Now I feel I can.
    So much love,

  2. Sorry, no words just lots of love. xx

  3. Thank you. For reminding us that we are all mothers. Even when we only have dead children. xxx

  4. I know I felt very loved on Sam's anniversary and I feel it was because of all of you, thinking of me and Sam. I'm holding you in my heart too, I know August is a hard month for you too. Sending so much love & welcome back!

  5. This is so beautiful Catherine. I too often think of all the mothers and fathers that I have "met" via the internet.

    I absolutely HATE that we are all here. But, at the same time, I am glad. I have learned so much from you and all of the other parents out there that have gone through this hell.

    Sending love...

  6. I think it is wonderful that you bought 2 cards. I buy a card on their birthdays. I set them out with their cakes. We open them and read them outloud. And, when their birthdays are over, I carefully put them in the envelope with the candle I bought and take it to their special box. It's about time for a new box...

    I feel closer to most of my blog friends than I do to most of my IRL ones... I know the intimate details of their lives, their daily struggles, joys, and sorrows... I dont know that for a lot of my IRL friends. I talk to my blog friends daily (or as daily as we post). I dont always do that with IRL, save 2-3 close friends. But, I think even more, we share so much on such a deep level that can only be shared by a unique knowing. I dont really know too many IRL that I can share that connection with. So, I dont think you are creepy at all. :)

    Thank you for the prayers and thoughts for our family. We are here and doing well (save a little breakdown I had this morning.) :)

    Big hugs...

  7. That's beautiful.

    I don't know where I'd be without "my mothers" either.


  8. as always, a beautiful post. thank you so much for acknowledging ALL the mothers, me included. i have such a hard time identifying myself as a mother, i have no living children, and that's all that most people see.
    i think of all the families here often, too, i don't think it's creepy at all. sometimes i think this is all i've got going for me now, goodness knows nobody irl gets it.
    i'm glad you are back from holiday, i missed you and all of your beautiful words!

  9. Such a lovely post Catherine. I too find so much comfort from all of the blogs I read. I never thought I would be one to communicate with people I have never met, but here I am doing it and feel so fortunate to have found you and all the others.

  10. I cried reading your beautiful definitions of motherhood. Thank you Catherine.

  11. This just kept on getting more beautiful. And on these difficult days of August for me, it was exactly what I needed to read.
    We have a lot in common, Catherine.
    Thank you.

  12. Catherine,
    You always say the nicest things on my blog and that really is uplifting for me. I thank you for being there for me. I too would have never imagined living my life online, more so than IRL (I didn't even know what that meant until recently). I am honored to be in the same circle of friends as you, my dear.


  13. What a beautiful post, Catherine. Thank you for your comments on mine.
    I'm looking forward to reading your blog, sad you're here but glad you're here, if you know what I mean.
    The CCC sounds interesting - it'd be neat to see what they wrote about.

  14. I love our own little CCC. Lots of love xx

  15. I can't see through the tears.

    Quite possibly the most beautiful post I've read.

    Thank you.

  16. Thank you so much for reminding me that I'm a mother, even if my arms are empty and everything is packed away. You are a beautiful writer.

  17. You are such a lovely person and this is truly a beautiful post.

    I have long since stopped thinking there is anything creepy about people helping to hold each other up - by whatever method. The internet will work just fine.

    So glad you write and hope you will keep on, with love,

    Cathy in Missouri