Almost eight years ago I became a mother and my life changed completely. Before my son was conceived I lived in New York, I had a press card, membership of Actors' Equity, an array of fabulous shoes and the whole town at my feet to admire them. But, then I had a hideous pregnancy, suffering from acute Hyperemesis (severe and constant vomiting) and had to swap the Big Apple for the small rural town where my own Mammy lives.
y glory days were behind me - I could still pursue a career as a writer and journalist but working as an actor or stand-up comic was now firmly consigned to my past. I didn't mind, I had a beautiful baby who was, and is, the love of my life.
What I did mind though, was the massive competition I had unwittingly entered. These days, the second you conceive you are in a battle with every other pregnant woman and mother on the planet - to be a 'Good Mother'. This fairy-tale paragon of maternal virtue didn't exist for my own mother's generation, and while the 'Bad Mother' did, a woman had to be the personification of evil (or let her children out in dirty undies) to get that label.
Despite the fact that I am not the personification of evil and I make sure my child changes his undies every day I am a 'Bad Mother'. I tried. God knows I tried. I got off to a bad start - I didn't have a natural birth (although I'm still waiting for someone to explain what an 'unnatural birth' is - Rosemary's Baby perhaps?). I didn't exclusively breastfeed.
The sign of the beast was practically tattooed on my head at this point so I went to baby groups, toddler time, special gym classes for pre-schoolers and all of those places that the 'Good Mother' takes her small child. At times I was bored to sobs.
As I quite patently wasn't a 'Good Mother' or even 'Good Mother' material, I opted out of the competition and felt a great deal of guilt about my obvious inability to parent properly (despite the drawers stuffed with clean, ironed, undies). I felt guilty that sometimes I found my child annoying. Guilt because I wasn't always riveted at school assemblies (what kind of monster am I?). Guilt because I could not be like the other mothers who baked, crafted, got actively involved with organisations and generally not only lived for their kids but appeared to enjoy it immensely.
Ironically, it was 60s sex symbol Raquel Welsh who empowered me. "I was not a classic mother," Welsh once said. "So, I didn't bake cookies. You can buy cookies, but you can't buy love." Those few words changed my life. I looked at my son - he was happy, healthy, secure, and if I died unexpectedly he had enough clean underwear to last him a month. There was actually nothing wrong with my mothering except I had bought into a big fat lie - the latest lie being fed to women and successfully keeping them 'in their place'. The 'Good Mother' doesn't exist and women are exhausting themselves competing with each other to be the 'Perfect Parent'.
Late last summer I read a post by my Facebook friend, author and journalist, Claire Allen - it was a very honest rant about parenting to which she added #MammyMonologue. I had a Damascene moment. All mothers should be allowed to tell the truth without fear or derision and thus The Mammy Monologues was born. Since then Claire and I have been collecting stories about all aspects of motherhood from women in Ireland and the UK. From the start we decided to include women who are child- free as they are often ignored when maternity is discussed. These stories will form the basis of a book and a play, (both scheduled to come out in approximately 12 months).
At our official launch as part of the Women of the World Festival (WoW) in Derry last weekend, three actors performed some of the existing monologues to several rounds of enthusiastic applause. One of those actors was me - proving that while having a child does change your life, it doesn't have to stop you living it.
The Mammy Monologues is actively looking for contributions from mothers of every age. You can get in touch via any of the following:
- MammyMonologues.com; email@example.com;
- Facebook/The Mammy Monologues, Twitter @MammyMonologues.