For me, one of the hardest adjustments to motherhood has been the gradual dissolving of my boundaries and an underlying feeling of invisibility. I write this shortly after opening yet another job rejection email – at the end of a trying day and two previous nights of broken sleep. So I accept that I will naturally be less than 100% positive about the changes motherhood can bring.
This feeling of being invisible did not happen straight away of course. As a heavily pregnant woman – walking with crutches and/or an awkward side-to-side gait due to pelvic girdle pain – I felt hideously conspicuous and would have longed to be invisible as I shuffled in pain down the street.
As a proud new mother I loved the way strangers would melt and coo and stop to chat. I loved the way my baby was always the centre of attention – awake or asleep – and was even happy to listen with a fixed smile to any and all advice offered (and there’s a lot in the early days!) I was blissfully unaware that as my children increased in size, the amount of attention would proportionally decrease.
My children have now passed the ‘cute’ stage where strangers stop for a gaze and reminisce about their own or smile at you on the bus. At five and three they’re too often seen as a nuisance, a noise, something to put up with. These days I’m more used to old ladies tutting as they sidestep my daughter’s tantrums with fervent mutterings of ‘slap’ or ‘discipline’ or ‘in my day…’ or of course, being ignored altogether.
However, the biggest impact on my sense of visibility in society was losing my job. I got made redundant from my role at a woman’s organisation after government funding was withdrawn in the Spending Review of 2010. The competitiveness for jobs in my field has increased exponentially as my professional confidence, networks and visibility has shrunk. My daily life feels like a battle: with the many demands of motherhood and desperation for another role to play.
I know that I have a huge amount to give – both to my kids and to others. But sometimes when I look in the mirror, I don’t see anyone there.
The first part of a poem I wrote called ‘The Undoing of Me – and the Making of a Mother’ were my attempt to capture some of the moments of madness – and invisibility – in early motherhood:
Sometimes I am so tired
I actually start to hallucinate.
I forget how to speak my own name,
sometimes I doubt that I even exist.
By day I walk the streets.
I push the pram with my eyes closed.
I open them every fourth stride.
I count. It keeps me awake.
I am invisible. I see
no one else. I cannot speak or hear.
I am numb to the touch.
My very core is broken: my pelvis,
my spine, my abdomen are
a crumbling tower dissolving to dust.
My days pass in slow motion.
Eyes red and raw watch the second hand
tick-jerk-tock around the clock,
counting down hours, then minutes
then seconds, til I can escape these perpetual days.