When Isaac was only a few months old I joined my first mothers group. I still remember the first meeting. Each of us warily trying to gauge where we sat in this group of other first-time mums. I was sure that they were all doing a better job than I was. My little man, born a month too early, seemed behind in all of his milestones compared to the other babies. In turn, each of them thought every other person in the room was confident – sailing breezily through motherhood. It took a few catch ups, but eventually one of us was honest enough to admit it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. A collective breath was let out and we all rejoiced in the universal mummy cry of “me too!”
For some reason, just knowing that you are not alone in what you are experiencing halves the anxiety. Just knowing that there is a sister out there feeling exactly as you do lessens the isolation. Comfort is drawn from the fact that the strange and terrifying things happening in your own life are nothing new. That mothers before have walked the same path and mothers will surely follow your footsteps in the future.
When Xavier died, I craved “me too.” People would say “I can’t imagine what you are going through.” They were being kind, respectful – acknowledging the magnitude of the pain. But part of me would think “Try – please try to imagine what I am going through – I am so very lonely.” Gradually, I met those that said “me too”. Those who had also lost their precious children. Our own little mother’s club brought together by a common pain and bound together by a common strength. So often we say to each other “me too”. Sometimes it takes bravery to articulate our current struggles. In a group of fractured hearts, no-one wants to inflict further pain. So we are cautious and tender with our words. Stories will start “I don’t want to offend anyone.” And yet whenever someone is brave enough to launch themselves off that particular cliff, the echoes come back. “Me too!” And there is another collective sigh of relief.
There are times, within our circles of mothers, that we might reveal something. Something that took bravery to share. And silence may greet our courage. It does not make that struggle unique. It just means that particular group hasn’t met that particular challenge yet. Isaac is about to start school and he is nervous about it. It took a little while before I found out that another friend’s little boy, similar in temperament to Isaac, was experiencing the same thing. I had talked to other friends, who were sympathetic, but it was not something they were going through. And it can feel like a mistake to be vulnerable when the “me too” you were hoping for becomes the chirping of crickets. Suddenly, you feel on the outer. The cosy camaraderie found with other mothers feels forced and faked. The very thing you were hoping for – validation of your motherhood, assurance that you are doing okay – veers into the opposite direction. But that vulnerability remains important. Because we the power of “Me Too” only works when someone is brave enough to be vulnerable first.
So, mothers, let us continue to be honest and bare and brave with our hearts. And if our hearts are not reflected back in the experience of our closest friends, let us not take that as failure but as diversity. If our friend reveals something we cannot relate to at that moment, let us be gentle and understanding. Support comes through collective experience, but it also comes through a kind word, an attentive ear and a non-judgemental heart.