Tag Archives: The Breastfeeding Festival

The Pram in the Hall#2

chains

 

At the breastfeeding festival, where I recently read some of my poems to an appreciative audience, I heard a talk from Chrissy Chittendon, author of Attachment Feminism. She covered some points I had never thought of before.

One of the things she said which struck me was that no-one celebrates a woman’s post-natal body and society’s emphasis is to ‘get back to normal’. But a woman’s post-natal body IS normal.

When you have carried a child in your womb, the body is changed forever. It enters a new phase of existence. The womb never goes back to its pre-used state, like a balloon that has been blown up cannot return to its former tightness. The evidence of child-bearing is written on the body forever.

I wish someone had told me my breasts might leak or be engorged. The lustrous hair of the last months of pregnancy lost its volume. My belly was almost as large as when pregnant, but soft and empty. I continued wearing pregnancy clothing as at first, nothing else fitted. However, none of this bothered me. My body was a soft cushion for my gorgeous daughter. My cuddliness comforted her. It is a bodily state we ought to celebrate. And it is temporary. In the scale of things, it’s fleeting. Could it be nature’s design that the first few months after birth give us these baby-friendly bodies?

Between babies, my body did return to normal, without my doing anything in particular to help it do so, though admittedly I was a stone heavier than before my first. I was in my young mother body, one equipped for the job I was doing: a comfortable knee to climb on, a soft place to rest a child’s head.

I knew my body so well by then, I was able to tell very quickly when I was expecting a second child. I could smell it and feel it. I was in tune with it. My older child was told every stage of ‘our’ baby, so much so that when she came into hospital to meet the new baby, she demanded to know, aged three years four months, whether I had seen the placenta and whether my milk had come in yet.

My new self-knowledge opened up new places in my writing. Self-acceptance is very important, whatever the media pushes at women to have ‘perfect’ bodies. In reality, the perfection is about function, not aesthetics. I believe our bodies, like our faces, are all the better for being lived in.

I confess I was one of the lucky ones. I have no stretch marks on my belly, no scars from sections. But I do have stretch marks on my legs. I wrote this poem in celebration of stretch marks. They are normal and beautiful.

Silver Chains

The stripes are silvered on my skin,
not for common view; my secret signs,
whispering I love you  in tracery,
scripted onto my belly and thighs;
intricate as silver chains, glistening tracks
of snails on morning rugs, when they have
crept into the house, tasting the night silences.
Insignia of motherhood, cuneiform,
canticles of breathing space, mother-marks,
I will wear them all my life.

Angela Topping

(First published in Letting Go, Mother’s Milk Books 2014)

 

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The Pram in the Hall #1

girls on hill

girls on hill

I’ve been thinking about the notion of the ‘pram in the hall’ since I read at The Breastfeeding Festival in Manchester on 25 June. Perhaps in the past, this notion was true. The idea behind it is that women had to choose between motherhood and writing; doing both was impossible. Now, that might have been the case before effective contraception, but I believe motherhood can unlock writing, particularly poetry.

When I was 26, I had been writing poetry seriously for 12 years, but working in an office had not been conducive to that pursuit. Had I mentioned to anyone there that I wrote poetry, I’d have been ridiculed. So I kept quiet. I’d lost both my parents during those years too, and I’d become pregnant with my first child, just after my mother’s death. Being pregnant with a longed-for child and mourning a mum I’d been very close to, was a strange time.

I booked myself onto an Arvon course, at Lumb Bank. One of the tutors was Liz Lochhead. I showed her my scared little poems in our tutorial, and she did something very powerful. She gave me permission. What she actually said was ‘Angela, you are a born poet and you HAVE to do this’. She could have had no idea of the importance of those words. They cancelled out everything which had knocked me back. They drove me forward, they made me take myself seriously.

We had saved up so I could be a stay-at-home mum. I’d never really fitted into the office job, and had never been career-minded. All I ever wanted to be was a writer. I’d been told over and over again I couldn’t be one. The careers woman at school suggested I should be a secretary if I wanted to write. I walked out of that interview. But being a mum gave me headspace. It freed me up. When you are a baby-wearing, breastfeeding, attachment parenting mother, like I was, you are rooted, emotionally intelligent and very much in touch with all things tactile and playful.

I’d imagined I’d write about being a mum, but in fact, my little girls took me back to my own childhood, and I began to be able to explore the treasured memories I had of growing up as the baby in a family of four, growing closer to my parents as each of my siblings left home. My poems then were often a way of speaking to the beloved people I wished I still had round me. I wanted my children to have known them.

Eventually, I was able to write about my own experiences of motherhood. But I think I had to work through my grief first. I learned the art of parenting from my mum, unconsciously, and being in tune with my babies showed me how she must have responded to me, and how her mother had responded to her. Now I have just become a grandmother myself, I expect I will have to write even more about my own daughters before I write about the new family member, a granddaughter. At least she will know her grandparents. I never did, not on my mum’s side at least.

I wrote this poem about my mum’s mum, and how the stories about her I was always told made her real to me. This poem is included in Letting Go (Mother’s Milk Books).

Granny Coyne

My granny’s a whispering woman,

her stories follow me down the hall;

hang, half-told, in the corners of the kitchen

above a tut-tut of metal knitting pins.

 

My granny’s a soothing woman,

smoother of brows with a cool palm;

polisher of brasses; igniter of fires;

she picks up babies before they cry.

 

My granny’s a loving woman,

shoes clucking on tiles when I call.

her eyes laugh at me in photographs.

“She’d have loved you” my mother says.

 

Angela Topping

 

 

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