Monica Bethelwood: The Invisible Mother

Sometimes I forget I’m a new mom.

I mean, it’s not like I’m an astronaut or a nuclear physicist or something. I don’t have a job that I walk around with and feel slightly more evolved than the person next to me. I don’t tell people I’m a new mom and they gasp and say “How do you do that??”.

Because moms are everywhere. It’s not a new thing.

But one thing I’ve noticed as a new mom, is that now I see all the moms. They are absolutely everywhere, and I suppose they always have been, but now it’s like I have mommy-vision.

Down every sidewalk, in every coffee shop and restaurant, behind counters and waiting tables, in executive offices and sending packages at the post office, mom’s are literally an all encompassing presence. And although it is one of the most common jobs on the planet, it is possibly the most tiring, stressful, emotionally draining, beautiful, psychedelic, deep, powerful, and love filled.

But us moms, we’re so common that we might as well be the blades of grass in a field, or the stars in the sky. Beautiful when you look real close, but so many that we can easily become the taken for granted, scenic background.

And because we are so often taken for granted, we tend to take ourselves for granted too. Not in a bitter way (okay, sometimes in a bitter way), but in the way that we ourselves can forget how important, how hard, and how absolutely essential our job is.

It’s a sad thing, when society forgets to see us and we forget to see ourselves.

We become the invisible mothers.

Yet, occasionally someone will break through that bubble we live in. The door gets held open when you’re wrestling your stroller into the coffeehouse, or maybe a friend drops by unannounced to watch the kids while you take a shower. These breakthrough moments show how thirsty our souls are to be quenched by acknowledgement, how much we crave to be witnessed in our motherhood.

I got a literal and metaphorical taste of this need when several months ago I was attending a festival in my city. After being there for several hours, I had parked my then three month old daughter and I underneath the shade of a tree, where I sat nursing her while chatting with some friends.

“Hey mama, do you want the rest of this portabella wrap?”

I turned towards the voice to see a woman sitting on the other side of the tree, and she was extending her plate to me.

Huh? What? Is this lady offering me food???

“Here, have it. Mama’s gotta eat!” She smiled broadly at my awe stricken face.

I accepted the plate gratefully, stomach rumbling, and with my one free hand started chowing down. When I was done, the woman took the plate from me and threw it in the trash.

“Have a great day, mama!”, she called as she walked away.

As simple as that, she had broken through my invisible shell. Instead of cooing at my adorable baby like most people, she engaged with me and witnessed my unspoken needs; me, the woman behind the baby, the mom. The woman who’d gone through 32 hours of labor and more pain than I had ever fathomed to bring a new human in the world.

She had reached out to help ease my physical hunger, and in so doing, also eased my hunger for connection- my need to be seen. And I would bet a million dollars she was also a mom.

It was a big deal, that day, to be noticed.

Fast forward to November 9th. I was sitting in the backseat of my car at the YMCA, sobbing as my daughter nursed at my breast. Donald Trump had just been elected president; a man, who among many other despicable things, has a lawsuit filed against him for raping a thirteen year old girl.

With my daughter clutched to my heaving chest and mascara stinging my eyes, I tried not to let an all encompassing sadness and hopelessness sink into my bones, but it was already there…that vague sense of impending doom, that quiet place inside my mother’s heart that would take the blame for this because I cannot protect her from all things; I cannot save the world my daughter lives in.

Later at home as my daughter napped, I sniffed and sniveled and wiped snot on my sweater sleeve and watched as Hillary Clinton, the woman I hoped my daughter could know as president, gave her concession speech. The woman I had hoped would be the first mother president, first grandmother.

I mourned that day like many mothers did.

Then, when my tears were spent, I began asking myself what was next.

And what I came back to was that day at the festival when a woman offered me her food, and how much my soul was nourished by that brief encounter with easy generosity.

In the face of an uncertain future, it is more important than ever for us to reach out to one another; to break through the walls of invisibility that all too often leave us feeling isolated and alone. It is essential that we build each other up with simple kindnesses, with acts of generosity, with brave eyes that are willing to see. Because we mothers, when we strengthen one another, we strengthen the fabric of the world.

pexels-photo-112640We are building the future generations with every moment of our mothering. We are lifting up the spirits that will carry our planet into its next chapters, and it is a job that requires all of us. It’s a job that is deeply personal, and often requires more than we knew we had to give and sometimes more than we are willing to give.

No matter what though, we give.

When I look out at the suffering of our dear earth, I see the sadness of the mothers, I see the sacred wounded feminine. Mama Earth, she suffers from invisibility too, as many of her children have forgotten to see her, forgotten to take care of her, forgotten to nourish her as she nourishes them. And so her life systems grow weak beneath the pressure of man’s footsteps, beneath the weight of his blindness.

But the healing process can begin with us, by healing the mothers in our lives. We heal by stepping forward and stepping up, through caring for and loving the mama’s that work tirelessly every day to be the light for the innocents, by recognizing them every day with small acts of kindness. Acts of seeing. Acts of respect.

What might seem like a small action of generosity or kindness will most likely stay with a mother the rest of the day or week, and some acts will stay with her the rest of her life. She will reflect on it when the baby is crying for three hours in the middle of the night or some stranger pushes by her rudely in the grocery store.

She will reflect on it when decisions are made for her future that she did not choose, and feels afraid and alone.

So please, smile at the woman whose children are screaming in the grocery store- don’t look away, embarrassed. Make soup for the mother who’s sick with a cold and looking after the baby while her husband’s at work all day. Call the single mother who’s eighteen year old daughter just went off to college, and is home alone for the first time in years. Invite her over for tea. Buy coffee for the woman behind you with bags under her eyes, and a three year old wrapped around her leg begging for a cookie. Write thank you notes to your mother, to your grandmother, for all of their strength and giving through the years. Show solidarity to the mother’s in your life.

Because the healing of our world starts with the invisible mother being invisible no more…

and it’s a job for everyone.

biopicMonica Bethelwood is a writer and mother. She lives with her husband in Asheville, NC with their sweet daughter and furry entourage of cats and dogs. She is also a part time rockstar, fine artist, herbalist and kitchen experimenter, retired hitchhiker, athletic wannabe, and secret modern dancer.
You can check out more of her writing at her website.