OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s not often that academic research drives me to tears.  Actually, it’s not often that academic research drives me to anything, but there you are.  I have an excuse; I’m on a course.  Still, the last time I read anything in an academic journal it was about how views of femininity were expressed through medical texts about childbirth in the 16th Century.  I, a young woman, a baby, was reading about long dead women’s lives, and the connection stopped there.  It was four and a half centuries away after all.

But now, today, a fully fledged grown up woman, a mother to three children, I don’t feel the same distance.  Instead of the pleasure of interest and stimulation, a firing of the brain cells and a connection between a philosophical standpoint and evidence, I felt a sense of shock.  There, on the page, without me having contributed anything at all, were aspects of my life; my mothering life.

I don’t think of Sam as disabled.  To me, he is just Sam.  OK, so we have more appointments to attend than anyone else I know, but, to me, he’s on a journey towards adulthood the same as anyone else.  Since the day he was born and we were told that he had Trisomy 21 it’s been exactly the same.  I know that he has a learning disability – I mean I live with him and it’s pretty hard to escape, but still.  To me, he is just my boy.

But then, there is this thing about it being really difficult for me to work.  I was at home for ten years before I ventured back into the workplace.  R was stuck in a job he hated for seven of them.  Yes, we were busy creating our family, but it would be disingenuous of me to claim that Trisomy 21 had nothing to do with my long years out.  It did.  We only just managed to send him out to the office.

And now that I am back at work it’s difficult.  What am I supposed to do about blood tests, or eye checks, or orthotic appointments or hearing tests that fall on days when I am in the classroom?  How realistic is it for me to have career aspirations when I keep having to take days off to care, to be poorly myself because we have Down’s syndrome in the family?

In a way it’s easier.  I’m not so bored by the domestic duties of housewifery,  I’m no longer going slightly mad.  I’ve got something else to think about, other than obsess about my own children; I’m not so worried about money.  And strangely, I don’t feel so voiceless.

There is a funny thing that happens to you when you become a mother, especially when you become the sort of mother who stays at home.  You start off as a rational creature, your importance magnified, like your size, until that baby appears.  And then, slowly but surely, you find your voice weakens, less heard in direct proportion to your length of service.

It’s partly the increasing ability of your offspring to say ‘no’ to you that saps your confidence.  It’s partly living in a world dominated by relationships, a private existence, rather than a public one, and it’s partly what happens when other people get involved with your child.

For those of us with out of the ordinary children this happens straight away.  Did that baby really belong to me?  Was I really allowed to take him home?  If I was a good girl, and checked in regularly, maybe they’d let me keep him.  Once they’d got over the apologies for not spotting it, and the pressure to make sure it didn’t happen again, to find out who was responsible, genetically speaking, who was to blame, that is.

It starts off OK.  Your observations are welcome in the matter of health.  As a closely watching mother you can add plenty to the picture; you are an important decision maker, your word is final.  But as the years pass and you move into the realms of education there is a subtle shift.  You move from the foothills of acceptable anxiety, it’s new to you after all, to the mountain tops of pushy.  Unrealistic.  Hysterical, even.  It’s astonishing how quickly your word is dismissed.

Before you know where you are you have to insist, you who kept your own bank account for years, who kept your own name, that he takes the morning off work and comes with you to a meeting because you can’t seem to make yourself understood and you watch, amazed, as he, your softly spoken wingman, stuns a room to silence with a single word and you feel as if you have travelled back in time, back to the days when women’s voices didn’t matter.

That education you had, those years you spent in the classroom, that professional and personal knowledge you garnered, becomes as nothing because you, as well as your son, carry a value laden label.  Mother.

I thought it would be different.  I thought we had moved on.

10 thoughts on “Mother

  1. Yes Nancy, its as if these professionals think that on becoming a mother you have suddenly become an emotional train wreck and your brain has been thrown away with the placenta. Is it because we are our children’s advocates and we challenge people to see things through our children’s eyes? Are we threatening to them because we aren’t willing to go quietly if we think what they are saying or doing is wrong? Just because we are listening with our hearts doesn’t mean that we are not using our brains.

  2. Found your post on twitter and really had to reply as much of it resonates. Two of my children have autistic spectrum disorders and I have become their parent-carer and advocate. I used to have good job before children but when my children’s disabilities became more demanding I had to give up work to stay at home (though I now do a few hours of support work a week).

    My main job is parent carer which I am happy to do but it saddens me that ‘others’ find me and my role so difficult. My particular difficulties have been with the education service (mainly my children’s old primary school) who often treated me with contempt. They didn’t want to listen to my concerns about my children’s development and they often blamed my parenting or accused me of being over anxious. At times I felt bullied and hated; it was an awful experience which ended up with my children not being supported and consequently developing additional health problems as a result. And all because of an arrogant attitude from professionals that refused to accept that as a mother I knew my children best.

    Such has been my experience I now take my husband with me to meetings so that I have backup in case a professional rounds up on me. I find it sad that in the 21st century I’m having to do this.

    1. I am quite perturbed by how much our education system is propping up patriarchy in this kind of experience. It’s so horrible to be on the receiving end of it. I feel your pain.

  3. This is experience is so, so common. There are very few mums of kids with SEN I know that haven’t experienced it in some form or another: stay at home mums, mums with careers, makes little difference it seems.

    From the mums I talk to, some of the worst situations early on are inside the family – when the dad (or mother-in-law, grandma etc) doesn’t believe the diagnosis, particularly with the more hidden or masked forms of SEN. Sometimes the dad doesn’t believe its finality (“he’ll grow out of it”), or won’t grasp what it takes to adjust your lives to meet it.

    Sometimes the only thing that makes a difference here seems to be dragging the dad along to the appointments – where a ‘reasonable, objective professional’ can get through to him in a way that his own life partner can’t. Christ alone knows why, but it can happen this way.

    I was one of these dads once. In the end, it’s turned out to be me that’s been the primary carer to our two kids.

    I’ve managed the caring, the emotional support, the wiping green candles from nostrils, the “why am I different?” conversations well enough, I guess. But when it comes down to the difficult conversations with professionals, I haven’t been spared any of the conflict because I’m male – far from it. And there have definitely been times when having the boys’ mum along at meetings has made the difference.

    For obvious reasons, I haven’t had the full weight of the patriarchy deployed on me – but I certainly have had the head-tilting “he doesn’t really get it, does he?” from professionals who should know better. Professionals who assume that I don’t have what it takes to meet the kids’ full range of needs, because of my gender.

    One of the most common has been “don’t forget their emotional needs too!” – the implication being that as a man, I don’t have it in me to remember this or provide this. This one was usually deployed when I tried to get LA SEN officers to fund better educational provision – provision that, ultimately, does a better job of meeting their emotional needs by giving them a peer group and friendship circle.

    Probably the most searing experience was had was at SENDIST tribunal. The boys’ mum is the main bread-winner, so I took on the job of preparing us for the case, and doing most of the case presentation in the hearing. In retrospect, this was a big mistake.

    The tribunal panel was all-female, and assumed that the mum was the primary carer. When I argued our case, what they saw was a typical man in a suit – arguing emotionlessly, asking female professionals to verify and justify what they were saying. It was so, so easy for them to assume that I was the distant breadwinner acting as the man of the house, who probably never spent any time with his children, who didn’t understand their real needs.

    The panel listened much more closely and carefully to the boys’ mum – but there was only so much she could do, because she hadn’t had the opportunity to get into the case stuff in detail, and didn’t know the legal points the case turned on. But the only moment when the panel seemed to stop and genuinely think about the case came from her, not me – that “stuns the room to silence with a single word” you mentioned in your post.

    Anyway, we lost – and as a result, our eldest went to a genuinely terrible special school. We moved. He’s now at a genuinely wonderful special school. Life goes on, much for the better now.

    I guess this is a long way of saying that IME, it’s harder for mums to make their voices heard and count in these sort of situations. But gender bigotry can happen the other way, it just manifests itself in slightly different ways. If a professional is intent on denying your child something, then they will seize on whatever stereotype best fits – but this is something that’s harder to do when there’s two of you in the room and working together.

  4. Hmm….I think I accidentally posted this before I was finished…will try again.

    You’ve hit on something I experienced too. And yet I would not (and I suspect you wouldn’t either) take back that “mother” label for all the world, no matter what it seems to do to you.

    I just realized today that I had accidentally unfollowed you, and it must have been quite a while ago. I’m glad to have you back in my Reader! -Amy

    1. 🙂 nice to have you back – and no, I wouldn’t be without it, but I would quite like it to have ‘better press’, as it were 😉

  5. Absolutely LOVED this post! Best I’ve read in ages….I’m being ‘othered’ too. It’s a long process. Perhaps it’s just a journey to another area of, as yet uncharted existence in which women will liberate themselves from the need to be approved of before they take action they can see is necessary??

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