The little formal instruction I’ve received on writing, mostly through the sage advice of practised hands, urges me to write what I know best. The best kind of writing, after all, is borne of a lucidity of thought and feeling, often the inexplicable magic of a few moments, suspended in the space of our being. It is an irrevocable assertion of self in the fluidity of language. So, when I’m writing, I’m putting forward pieces of myself for all the world to see, but I’m also confronting myself. I’m confronting those murky places in me I usually don’t want to see, thank you very much.
I am however now forced to offer some reflection here on motherhood, and explain perhaps why we’ve chosen to dwell on this particular aspect of humanity in our annual celebration of women.
Offering a clear opinion on motherhood here, when I’m not a mother and not exactly that way inclined right now, compels me to ask myself where I’m going, where I’ve been, and where I want to go. It does prod me to question if I really am happy to know that my fertility is waning.
Reflecting on motherhood here gives me pause, because I am almost afraid to see how mothers will react to see me issuing a rejection, tentative though it may be, of motherhood. But it is exactly those ties with my own mother, with my own idea of how she sees me — and more importantly, how I see her — that reveals a whole history of me, my mother, and her mother.
Because motherhood, and the intricate balances of our being children to women while sometimes being women ourselves is fraught with the complexities of gender, representation, culture, race, religion and when all that is exhausted, bullshit. But the state of being a mother, and what that means to live in this world, is not just a women’s issue. Yes of course it is the biological imperative of women. But when we reduce motherhood to just a women’s issue, we fail to perceive that it is fundamentally a human issue: how well, or not, women can choose to be mothers, how well, or not, women can fulfil themselves while being mothers, how well or not, women can be citizens of this world while being mothers, is not the sole purview of women. It is the essence of our being, and the bedrock of a just, equitable society.
This is for our mothers, and their mothers. It is for us, the children of mothers.
Khadija Patel is editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian