Lindsey Forche

A poem I found on Literary Mama which goes a long way to getting into words a trapped feeling motherhood can give me. Of feeling restless and frustrated at being stuck at home with two small kids, but then wanting to make the choice for that again and again.


I mother.
I shoulder
deep hurts and things longed for.
I anger
at anything, broad or thorned,
and when I yell it is not at you
or your small upturned beggar’s face.

It is for me,
begging, still, at thirty.
I want to make you cocoa and cuddle against
your acquiescence and your little Gap wool sweater
and tell you that you will be better
than all these many years of wasted worry,
but it doesn’t work like that.

You’ll mother.
You’ll shoulder
little sharp arrows of blame.
You’ll anger
at everything, wide and near,
and when you’ll yell it will not be at your children
or even at me, whose body held yours the closest.

It will be for you,
for the wide open wonder of the world
and your inability to throw off all the grabbing hands
to explore it.
For not wanting to.
For kissing each finger, for pressing each palm in paint
and smacking it against cardstock and dating the corner.
For another year,
another, another,
each a portion of tunnel connecting to the last,
so long you’ll forget your way back to the
new gasped air of the
beginning and all the undiscovered places
you’ll read about
while we sleep.



Nuala Ní Chonchúir

This describes something of how I felt in pregnancy, especially the first one, where pregnancy was a delicious anticipation of who I was becoming, where my life was going, and the baby to come. At the early stage of pregnancy Nuala describes, my pregnant status was likely secret, the anticipation all the more delicious because of that, my feelings of being different to and somehow more special than before (or other non-pregnant people), tangible. A secret, special knowledge, between just me and my baby.

Die Schwangere
~ pregnant in Karlsruhe ~

The other poets drink damson schnapps
from thistle-head glasses,

My baby flicker-kicks
with all five ounces of her weight,
with all four inches of her length.

I dream her hand
pipping from the egg of my belly
like a wing through shell,
I hold her embryonic fingers,
thrilling at her light touch.

Delighting in my blooming belly,
I feel my nestled passenger,
she flicks and settles, settles and kicks;
her cells gather, graceful as an origami swan
in perfect folds and re-folds.

In perfect folds and re-folds
her cells gather, graceful as an origami swan
she flicks and settles, settles and kicks;
I feel my nestled passenger
delighting in my blooming belly.

Thrilling at her light touch
I hold her embryonic fingers,
like a wing through shell,
pipping from the egg of my belly,
I dream her hand.

With all four inches of her length.
with all five ounces of her weight,
my baby flicker-kicks.
From thistle-head glasses
the other poets drink damson schnapps.

Mary Oliver

Something I love about this poem is how it could be understood in so many ways, could speak to so many experiences and phases and individual circumstances of life. To me, at this stage, it talks to the rite of passage motherhood continues to be (don’t quite feel I’ve made it to the other side yet), the sometimes dormant feeling, and messy-ness of my life right now. And how to be ok about feeling this way, to be gentle with myself, to listen out for the call of the wild geese that will bring fluidity to my mind, and a thrill for life in my heart once more.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Margaret Atwood

How did I get so dutiful? Was I always that way?
Going around as a child with a small broom and dustpan,
sweeping up dirt I didn’t make,
or out into the yard with a stunted rake,
weeding the gardens of others
–the dirt blew back, the weeds flourished, despite my efforts–
and all the while with a frown of disapproval
for other people’s fecklessness, and my own slavery.
I didn’t perform these duties willingly.
I wanted to be on the river, or dancing,
but something had me by the back of the neck.
That’s me too, years later, a purple-eyed wreck,
because whatever had to be finished wasn’t, and I stayed late,
grumpy as a snake, on too much coffee,
and further on still, those groups composed of mutterings
and scoldings, and the set-piece exhortation:
Somebody ought to do something!
That was my hand shooting up.
But I’ve resigned. I’ve ditched the grip of my echo.
I’ve decided to wear sunglasses, and a necklace
adorned with the gold word no,
and eat flowers I didn’t grow.
Still, why do I feel so responsible
for the wailing from shattered houses,
for birth defects and unjust wars,
and the soft, unbearable sadness
filtering down from distant stars?

Evans and Allen-Collinson

A snippet from an interesting journal article about the scrutiny of their mothering women feel in public and how they try to manage their children’s bodies.

The regulation and management of children’s bodies was a considerable focus for participants, whose attention shifted away from techniques of the self and management of their own bodies, toward surveillance and management of their children’s bodies through techniques of discipline. Such techniques were related to participants’ perceptions of required etiquette, and the physical/environmental risks inherent in spaces in and around the pool, together with the demands of the mother/carer role.

Similar disciplining techniques of surveillance were described vis-à-vis pool etiquette. Participants were at pains to avoid the disdain of other pool-users by ensuring that the tacit etiquette of the pool was maintained by their children. Problem behaviours, including splashing other pool-users and running and diving, were anxiety-provoking in terms of potentially invading the space of others. For example, Alison, who had two young boys, described how she felt she had to manage her children’s behaviour: ‘You’re never quite sure what the etiquette is either, are you? – Because my kids always want
to jump in and I’m always really like – “no you shouldn’t”. It doesn’t say that you can’t jump and things like that but you do find yourself thinking: don’t splash and don’t make a noise…’

Constant management of their children’s bodies through disciplining techniques meant that participants’ intentionality shifted away from themselves towards their children. Rather than feeling judged according to their physique, swimming ability or demeanour, participants now felt judged according to their ability to fulfil the role of carer and protector, ensuring their children’s bodies remained safe, disciplined and docile, conforming to the normative practices of the swimming pool.

Evans, A. B., and Allen-Collinson, J. (2016). From ‘just a swimmer’ to a ‘swimming mother’: Women’s embodied experiences of recreational aquatic activity with pre-school children. Leisure Studies 35(2); 141-156

Kate Clanchy

Not Art

This is close work, this baby-stuff,
the intricate wiping and wrapping, the slow
unpicking of miniature fists;
village-work, a hand-craft, all bodges
and spit, the gains inchingly small
as the knotting of carpets, raw wool
rasping in the teeth of the comb.

The strewing and stooping, the prising
of muck from the grain of the floor –
I think of gleaners, ash-sifters, of tents
sewn with shoe soles, wedding veils, plaits,
how patchwork is stitched-up detritus,
how it circles on quilts like a house split
to bits when the typhoon has passed.

And the ache in the neck, in the back,
in the foot, are the knocks of wood looms,
narrow as cradles, borne from pasture
to valley to camp. I am learning
the art of mistakes, to accept
that the marks of each day are woven in
by evening too far back to pick out.

This is the work women draw from the river,
wet to the waist, singing in time,
the work we swing from our shoulders,
lay on the ground and let the crowd
hold and finger and value – the young girls
wondering, the laughing old women,
the bent, the milk-eyed, the blind.