Helen Garner brings her thoughtful and considered insights to her coverage of Akon Guode’s trial for driving her children into a lake. Helen is able to show how even though motherhood means everything to Akon, it such a herculean task that sometimes good mothers do bad things. The enormity and impact on women of the task of that ‘ancient duty’ of motherhood as Garner describe it is in my opinion very much understated and underrated.
The following are excerpts from Garner’s piece, Why She Broke, which you can read here, which I keep thinking about.
‘Could it be that this woman, widowed, passed from hand to hand and abandoned, overwhelmed by her own fertility, estranged from her community and up to her neck in debt, was prepared to risk bleeding to death on a hospital gurney rather than consent to the surgical removal of the sole symbol of her worth, the site of her only dignity and power: her womb?’
‘I wanted to know if she shared my anxiety. I said, “She did a terrible, terrible thing. But she was very badly treated. She was betrayed. She was —”
The girl flushed and leaned forward. She put out both hands to me, palms up, and whispered, “But she was – a mother.”
I had no reply.
I was troubled, and I still am, by the finality of the word “mother”, this great thundering archetype with the power to stop the intellect in its tracks.
“The herculean task of being a mother,” said Marcus Dempsey in his final submission, “has now fallen to Akoi.”
In the shadow of this ancient duty, so implacable and profound, can mercy hold up its head?’
And a quote from Guode’s counsel was Marcus Dempsey:
“While men kill to control or punish their children or partner, women kill children because they cannot cope with the extreme difficulties that they encounter in trying to care for their children.”