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In Our Hands – York

In York I met with 3 brilliant women and we had a lovely session, really mainly focussed on sharing our birth stories. Two of them, amazingly, are also making a piano and motherhood-related piece…! I was really struck yet again by the sadness I felt when the first lady tells us that the midwife told her to lie on her side during contractions. I just really don’t get the mentality of the midwife in this situation. Why can’t the birthing mother be how she wants to be? Why is there no trust of the mother? And what’s also incredible is how this lady says that she had two great birth experiences: in other words, this kind of thing is expected, a slight annoyance and ultimately not really a problem. Which is how I might have felt too about my own birth experience, if it hadn’t been that Stan got rushed off to hospital and we had a fairly hideous first 24 hours of being parents. Surely if there was less of this low-level, bizarre control, then there might also be bigger things being allowed to happen: people trying for home births, people trying for natural breech births, etc etc?

What was also brilliant was that these women were incredible supporters of my whole week in York, also coming to the family workshop, the day after the show. I ended up feeling like we’d made really quite deep bonds and was really grateful for the trust they themselves placed in me. Hopefully we’ll meet again!


On another note, I’ve just been watching this film from 3 years ago, about – from what I can gather – New York-based visual artists being mums, and the tensions therein. What strikes me more than anything, is the totally normality of the stuff they’re saying. Mums the world over must surely experience exactly the same emotional and logistical shift in their lives – in fact it might be that it’s less ‘art-mothers’ who have everything in common, than people who either a) decided to have their children earlier in life (maybe around mid-20s-30s) and those who left it later (around 40). It’s certainly interesting to me, that within the first few minutes someone references their ‘ticking clock’, which is what my new installation, ‘Body Clock’, was inspired by: a pretty funny article by a single 37-year-old woman, saying that the problem was, each time a man approached her they just seemed quite put off by this very loud ticking emanating from her! (That is, the need to get on and have the kids now, before it’s too late!). In recent days I’ve been mulling how to talk about that feeling to a variety of people (e.g. young men, journalists, etc) and I did wonder whether referencing Tick-Tock, the crocodile from Peter Pan, might be helpful….

But, coming back to this normality: in a way, this seems to me the thing about motherhood. That is isn’t artistic. That it is entirely universal. We must feed them & keep them alive, then we must get used to exhaustion and weirdly abrupt routines, to the physical actions of carrying them around and so on, then a sort of development through insanity of toddler years (and no doubt mirrored in teenage years, from my memory of my own!!) then who knows what – I’m not there yet. (I am looking forward to my son starting school though, the excitement of them understanding the world more appeals to me.) But for me, one of the overriding experiences has been that, where I would have liked to think of myself as an artist and therefore somehow different, perhaps special or unusual, in fact for me, just like for millions of others, in becoming a mother, certain things become weirdly fine, normal or appealing: bribery of your child; staying in and not making the effort to go out, as it avoids trauma; Little Chef as a stop-off point on the motorway (I was a bit depressed when I realised this one); simply having only kids in common as a starting point for a conversation with really anyone. It’s a total leveller, (though of course we may not be having to deal with it on the same level: I feel extremely privileged, in that I have a massively supportive husband, good job and generally secure situation in a nice, easy-going town).

Anyway, these are just thoughts of mine! (And is it slightly fun that I’ve ended up talking about women in York and New York on the same page?!).