emptinessThe invisibility of motherhood

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 I got made redundant from my role at a woman’s organisation after government funding was withdrawn in the Spending Review of 2010.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.

About Kaye Heyes

In her practice Kaye Heyes promotes the power of words to transform mothers’ experience of post natal depression and traumatic births. She focuses on three areas: use of language when talking about lived experience, changing self-talk and creative writing as therapeutic practice. From November …Read more

3 Responses to “Invisibility and coming undone”

  1. Helen Sargeant

    Beautiful, insightful words, so clear, really connected with me. I totally identify with your experience Kaye, your words and poetry are really beautiful, fragile, brave and honest. You are so good at capturing the vulnerability that so many other mothers must feel.

    I think that people love babies as they don’t answer back, there coo’s and cries and beginnings of language can be interpreted in any which way that the admiring onlooker desires. I hate that feeling when you are out and about with children that you are being watched, observed and judged…that your sense of self and parenting has become completely public, and open to comments and advice wanted or unwanted.

    I also really sympathise with your position in regards to employment, and how difficult it is to find work once you have to juggle the demands of young children as well as job hunting in a highly competitive market.

    I was working a zero hours contract lecturing in visual arts when I was pregnant with Naoise. The University that I had been working for for the past seven years decided to reduce my hours from 16 to 3, prior to me taking my maternity leave, in effect I was made redundant.

    I loved my job and teaching and still miss it to this day, it was such an integral part of my identity and life. I never would have chosen to be a full time mother, as I liked the break that paid work provided, the social side of it and the financial independence that it gave me. The world can become very small and inward looking when you are strapped for cash and have to muddle through caring for demanding small children, with very little support, and uncertainties about the future.

    At times I have felt really depressed and seen mothering as totally unending, like building castles in the sand. On a good day I have felt really lucky that I have had this time to devote to my two children.

    I counted down the days to the fifteen hours free childcare at the local sure start nursery, and as I expected, it did make a huge difference to my health and wellbeing. I was able to make work again in the studio, dream a little, sip a cup of tea without having my thoughts being constantly interrupted and jumbled up. I no longer felt constantly exhausted and the need to drink a whole teapot in the morning to wake me up.

    Access to good quality childcare has provided me with the time to reflect on the experiences of mothering, which has helped me to cope with the difficulties that I sometimes experience. Art provides me with a space to escape into, to make visible these sometimes overwhelming thoughts and emotions that I feel, to process and make sense of the complexities of mothering.

    At the moment I am busy trying to loose some weight and get fit, as I have eaten too much cake over the past four years. The cake was really delicious and enjoyed with dear friends and their children, but I ate too much of it as mothering full time just did not satisfy me, and the cake became my comfort.

  2. Kaye Heyes

    Thank you, Helen. I agree with so much of what you have said.
    I’m interested in the fact that you are working towards losing weight at the moment. I too put on a considerable amount of weight since having my second child (though interestingly, not my first) and recently started an exercise programme and healthy eating plan – which largely involves not eating the kids’ leftovers! When I read your comment, I started thinking about why we – and so many other mothers put on weight and why it can be hard to shift it.
    I read Susie Orbach’s ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ (1979) at university although not since. I do know that for me, stuffing myself with food after a hard day is my way of stuffing down my emotions – especially anger – instead of dealing with them. It was the first time that I had come across the idea that weight, eating and bodies are social issues and was amazed at Orbach’s insistence that we confront the politics that underpin these issues.
    One final interesting theory from the book (as I remember it at least) that links back to my original post: Orbach says that women become fat to protect themselves from sexuality; to provide a buffer between their bodies and society. With this theory, maybe on a subconscious level I had actually wanted to become invisible in society after becoming a mother. And now – with my free childcare fast approaching! – I am moving towards becoming more visible in society.so can at long last start to shift my weight.
    I’m certainly going to re-visit the book and reflect if there is any truth in that for me.

  3. sally barker

    sorry for being 2 or 3 months late in commenting here- so hugely interesting and confirming , but also expanding, much of what goes on in my head. I think the idea of women putting on weight as a buffer to society is a really interesting and intriguing one- for me, putting on weight makes me much more self conscious and that’s something I dont need to increase. Putting on weight makes me feel weaker, physically and mentally, but especially physically , I move slower , pick things up with more difficulty, lift less, am less agile, less smooth. It feels like i dont fit, that there’s literally too much of the wrong parts of me and that it really doesn’t help my brain to function properly.
    This will probably start to prickle and irk some people reading this but this is what the site is for, to air our opinions safely, with support and empathy. So loosing or gaining weight , it’s all about being right for you, being comfortable, being great, keeping or becoming stronger so that we can face and be a part of our world with everyone wrapped around us. So I’m off for a bike ride sisters- join me!!”


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