Invisible Mothers

Span has written a great post on those who are “invisible mothers” – those who are infertile, have had miscarriages or still births or have suffered the death of a child. She speaks of the need to be sensitive on occasions like Mother’s Day.

It’s a particularly pertinent reminder after Senator Heffernan’s recent inappropriate comments about Julia Gillard’s “deliberate barrenness”. How does he know? How dare he presume?

I’ve seen some terrible examples of insensitivity – eg, someone asking a girl who’d had a miscarriage whether the pitter-patter of tiny feet was approaching… I felt like hitting the person who made the comment. The questioner wasn’t to know, but I knew the question would be particularly painful, especially as my friend had fertility issues to begin with.

It’s an important reminder that (a) motherhood is a privilege, and (b) that things don’t always work out. People should always be sensitive to this possibility.

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7 Comments

Filed under feminism, motherhood

7 responses to “Invisible Mothers

  1. With regard to Heffernan’s thing about Julia Gillard he knew that she was ‘deliberately barren” because she has made several statements to the effect that she is not planning to have children because she chooses to pursue politics instead.
    This post moved me because before we had our daughter my wife miscarried after a long time trying to conceive; and we were utterly devastated. You are so right about how much it hurts when mothers (or fathers day) comes around for those who have lost a child or can’t do the trick that so many take for granted.
    For those who know no explanation is necessary; for those who do not know no explanation is possible.
    Thanks for another insightful post.

  2. I agree LE, a very thoughtful post.

    Regarding the “deliberately barren” comment, we only know the public “spin” version of Gillard’s choice, we don’t know how she really feels – so we shouldn’t presume.

    And I personally, as someone who has not had children yet, take offence to the suggestion (which the comment implies) that childless women are of lesser worth and don’t have as much to offer society.

  3. pete m

    Okay, before I speak to anyone, I will ask, have you, or any relative or close friend, ever suffered from:

    1. a miscarriage
    2. cancer
    3. serious motor vehicle accident
    4. sexual harassment
    5. domestic violence
    6. job loss
    7. divorce
    8. a religion
    etcetc

    My wife and I lost a little foetus last year (and went thru some hell over self-blame due to a home reno work performed by my wife in fairly high heat – until the doctor said don’t be stupid – lol) but this year happily welcomed a daughter. I understand your point, but it is not practical. And I say this after being on the receiving end of countless family and friends asking me how we were going with our endeavours during the time of trying and losing, which was painful, but not their fault.

    I am really careful not to make the whole world all PC about everyone’s sensibilities. Pretty soon we will all be saying “Happy holidays” instead of merry christmas ….

    ps mother’s day this year was extra special given the troubles of last year.

  4. Pete,

    I think I’d distinguish between the concerned queries of family and friends and the assumptions sometimes made by strangers and acquaintances.

    So in the circumstances which you faced, I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with a concerned friend, colleague or family member asking me how I was faring and whether I had been able to conceive again, although as you note, it is painful. But I would be upset by an unsolicited comment from a stranger or acquaintance, although I’d realise that they wouldn’t have meant to hurt me.

    I think it is important to celebrate Mother’s Day. I’m not suggesting that it should be abolished because it might be painful to some! But it is important also to remember that things don’t always work out and that people shouldn’t make thoughtless assumptions about motherhood. It’s not so much about being “PC” as about being thoughtful. (I don’t like the concept of PC either.)

    I am so glad that you and your wife were able to conceive again and had a little daughter. Certainly a cause for you and your wife to enjoy and celebrate Mother’s Day . 😀

    LE

  5. Jenny

    Yes, always a difficult one. Sometimes people mean well but put their foot (or feet!) in it.

    Don’t forget the other “invisible mothers”, women who would like to have children but have not (and often for no particularly identifiable reason, cannot) meet a partner. Sometimes the potentially fertile years pass by without a partner and father for those imaginary children, and that’s the end of that.
    There was a disgraceful letter in The Fin a few weeks ago when Heffernan made his comments. A female letter writer opined that one couldn’t really empathise with others unless and until one had children. Yeah, I find all my childless friends to be heartless &*^&*, and all the parents to be superspecial human beings beyond compare. And if I’m no good at empathy, I’ll have my taxes back, thanks. It made my single childless friends and I furious!

    enjoy the blog, keep up the good work

  6. Absolutely, Jenny – I have a number of friends in the “childless but would love to have children” category – whether because they haven’t met the right person or are not in a stable financial position yet.

    I hate that idea that you are somehow a lesser person if you haven’t had children. There are all kinds of ways to contributing to society – having children is one way only.

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