Yes, Mother’s Day, and a happy one, with best wishes, for traditional mothers everywhere.
There is another tribe of mothers, though …
… probably several … that go unseen and unsung in our culture. It’s this tribe — my tribe — that I’m rippling “seeing and song,” homage and appreciation to today.
My Motherhood tribe is one segment of a larger tribe made up of about 20-25 percent of women who don’t have children for various reasons and causes (sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less, depending on the country and culture), so no small group of people.
Just less visible, or actually invisible, and often the subject and target of a whole lot of (often very incorrect) assumptions and projections.
So, what’s the Tribe of Invisible Mothers?
The Tribe of Invisible Mothers — my own tribe, where motherhood is concerned — are those whose children died prematurely, whether through too-premature birth (like my own) or stillborn birth or miscarriage.
Those of us who left hospitals with a still-swollen belly but empty arms, a certain numbness, a strange and persistent sense of guilt and confusion (including, for me, an NDE that would, in combination with losing a child, take years to assimilate), and the start of what can and often may become an unraveling of life as we knew (and expected) it and Dark Night / Underworld Journey.
Many women also feel a swirl of confusing emotions, loss, grief, shame, and isolation with these feelings after terminating a pregnancy — and there are a host of reasons women may make that choice, many of them invisible to those who would judge and project psychic vomit onto them.
These women, too, I include in the Tribe of Invisible Mothers. There are others, too (read on).
Many of us experience what for many turns out to be long-running, deep-stirring invisible grief, in a family and children oriented culture that has some murky baggage and psychic vomit when it comes to “women who don’t have children.”
While it’s not the same as ambiguous grief — grief that comes from losses that aren’t clear-cut — I’ve found a lot of similarities between ambiguous and invisible grief.
It’s a deep, deep, deep well of initiation. And yet it’s a deep well and initiation from which a uniquely nourishing Wisdom Water can be drawn.
Jody Day, founder of the Gateway Women’s blog and author of Living the Life Unexpected — as well as her TED Talk on the topic — includes women of my experience, as well as women who did want to give birth to children but were unable to do so for various reasons: health-related issues, infertility and I.F. treatments that just didn’t work, among other things.
As with many kinds of tribes, the Tribe of Invisible Mothers — or what Jody calls the Tribe of Childless Women (and others … about 10% of this tribe … call intentionally ‘Childfree‘) — there is a diversity of women and a diversity of perspectives united by the common experience of being an Invisible Mother for the reasons I’ve shared above.
It’s a unique experience in the way that the experiences of those not among the vast-majority experience tend to be.
Jody does a great job of giving a snapshot of this experience via her TED Talk and various articles and interviews she’s given.
The sometimes shocking things people say (and people can say the strangest and most clueless, inconsiderate things!) — like “Well then, who’s going to take care of you when you get old?” — like that’s a good reason to have children!
Plus the looks people give, the undercurrents of dominant cultural messages when one lives in some way out of bounds from the cultural norm, and so on, and so on.
Those of us who are inclined as writers could definitely write a book just about that!
Jody Day also does a great job of sharing at least some of the perspectives in a spirit of both connecting tribe members and helping others to understand, to be more aware and thus considerate, sensitive, which most people would want to be.
Experiencing Some Vital Part of You as Invisible … and reclaiming it.
People feel invisible in our culture for a lot of reasons, so extending seeing and genuine, non-patronizing acknowledgement to some of them, in whichever way we do, is a beautiful gift.
Women often feel invisible, as marginalized or under-appreciated or devalued or preyed-upon people do, no matter how strong, feisty, capable, or non-victimy they (we) may be.
(And the recent light-shining-on-the-underbelly of ingrained cultural misogyny via #metoo gives even more of a clue; but if that’s not enough, look at the comment threads following various feminine-oriented articles or blog posts — including Jody’s TED Talk video on youtube — and you’ll get a clear picture of the toxic vein running through internalized cultural norms).
Aging and elder women often feel extremely invisible in our culture, though may that, like some of these other areas, begin to heal and change so that we see the richness, the humanity, the wealth and abundance of gifts that can be shared by a culture that needs it, desperately.
And women without children are invisible in many ways, wittingly or unwittingly ostracized or shunned (and ‘fringed’ by our own occasional and understandable choice sometimes as well).
Yet, like some other tribes, the deep, deep wellspring of Invisible Grief that rests at the center of the Tribe of Invisible Mothers, offers rich waters as well.
Jody Day suggests — and I definitely agree from my own experiences and observations — that the grief itself, and the qualities and awareness and compassion gained from the initiation of the childless women and the tribe of invisible mothers, is an immense gift that is much-needed by our culture at large, our organizations, our communities and friends.
And truly, there is so much unhealed, unrecognized, un-honored grief in our culture!
Those who are initiated in these ways, who make it through the initiations, who find a stronger gravitas, rootedness, and resilience; an unexpected dharma or purpose; a new depth of emotional philanthropy, compassion, and kindness — and different kind of home — have long been the community’s Wise Women, seers, guides.
Like the ancient wise Mother goddess Hecate, guide for Walkers Between the Worlds, lantern-holder for those like Persephone emerging, freshly initiated, from the Underworld.
No children of her own, but many, many who flourished and benefited from her generosity of wisdom and spirit.
Women who have, and who in a whole spectrum of ways share, an abundance of wisdom, loving, nurturing, nourishment that gets shared out into home and community and world, depending on the unique purpose and gift set of each woman.
Love and appreciation to you, my Persephone-Hecate sisters, fellow tribe members of the Tribe of Invisible Mothers.
I see you. I honor you. I’m one of you, and I’m with you.
** I’m brewing a couple of spin-off posts on this topic — the things people say, plus giving some love to a few of the Not Invisible to Me women who had a positive influence on me when I was younger, and since.
Featured Image Credit: Madonna Between the Veils, by Meneghello di Giovanni de Canali (1383-1427). PD-US.
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