Amanda Craig has come in for some fire on the comments for this piece in the Telegraph. I admire her for putting it up on her facebook page and asking for comments from fb friends, which she has had, from quite a few people, both against and for. And I’m really saddened by the article.
Saddened because I don’t think Craig is alone at all. I constantly encounter the attitude that there is so much I cannot understand because I am not a mother. I am reminded of this prevalent attitude every time someone assumes another’s grief (or joy) when they say “As a mother”* – as if being a mother gives one a special knowledge, a special understanding of humanity, of love, of caring. And every time I hear this I think “Really? Did you not empathise with another’s love or sorrow BEFORE you were a parent? Really??”
In the specific terms of this article though, I do believe it is as possible for another person to understand and write about (my own experience of) chemo-induced infertility, as it is for me, as a writer/theatre-maker, to imagine my way into another’s pain or joy. If we can make work about dying or flying or living 500 years ago or 500 years from now, surely we can trust each other to make work of value whether or not we have or haven’t been through one of the most common life experiences for most people? (And, at least in the matter of having children, everyone of us has been a child, most of us have some experience of family, whether we are parents or not.)
What I really would love is for us women to get past a place where we judge our achievements on our child-full or child-less/free lives, and to a place where we acknowledge that ALL of our experiences count. I truly don’t see my men friends rating each others’ work by the standard of whether or not they are also fathers. I’m sure having children takes up time and energy that might be better (?!) devoted to writing. So does a year of cancer treatment and three years of infertility treatment, and the ensuing grief, made especially difficult in a world that continually treats non-mothers as not-quite-fully-women. And yet we all keep making work ANYWAY, despite the drains on our time, emotions and energies. And that is something to be proud of.
So PLEASE my fellow women, let’s stop with the “I understand/feel/empathise more than you do because of the childfull/childfree/childless state of my uterus.”
ALL of our experiences make and shape us, whether mothers or not, none with more depth than any other.
*and of course, this phrase is as absurd as it is patronising (matronising?). Given people usually say “as a mother” when they’re talking about loss or grief, it’s a very self-serving phrase, colonising another’s grief. Not one of us can ever understand another’s pain, not truly, not without experiencing their exact life, their exact pain. When I watched my mother live through my sister’s death, when I watched another of my sisters survive her son’s death, I saw how it broke both women, and how they slowly rebuilt their lives, not to the same life, but one with a core of deep and utter grief within. And STILL it was life, and a life worth living. Every time I hear someone say “as a parent, I understand how they must be feeling” I want to say, as my mother did, you can’t, and I pray you never will.