Not having children of my own has been both my heaviest burden and my greatest gift. We don’t often think about what “mothering” means until the opportunity to be one is lost. We don’t consider that it is possible to be a mother without bearing children of our own. But it is. Mothering is deeply rooted in the essence of our being. We are born to nurture.
Not once, as hundreds of babies were born into my hands, did I imagine that I would never be the one to reach down to bring my baby towards my breast. How I loved the hundreds of women who trusted me enough to let their babies slide into my hands. How much their strength, their power, their vulnerability taught me about mothering.
What a privilege to be invited into the sacred space of their birth. What an honour to gently guide them over the threshold into motherhood. What a blessing to be so intimately involved in the birth of a family. Every birth I attended fuelled this deep sense of what it means to be a mother, to mother, be mothered.
I felt my own mother, also a midwife, with me at every birth, whispering insight in my ear, and opening my heart. I felt like I was gathering the wisdom of thousands of generations of women. I heard my calling to share this wisdom, never let it die.
But as the years slid into each other, the dream slipped slowly through the same hands that birthed and loved so many mothers and their babies. I watched the window of opportunity closing and society watched me, waiting and wondering. My calling to be with woman waned, as daily I was asked how many children I had, and daily I stumbled upon the words, unable to explain the irony of being a childless midwife.
Until one day after a particularly beautiful birth, in the moment that I handed her newborn to her, slippery and screaming, our eyes met. The new mother’s eyes shining with pure love and ecstasy and mine, wet with joy and sadness. I knew in that moment that this joy would never be mine.
I knew too that if I was to carry on doing the work I felt so called to do, I would have to face it, unpack it, examine it and repackage it. I understood on some deep level that within this sadness lay my gift.
All the wisdom, the many lessons and insights need to be shared. Because it is not just about childbirth, it is about mothering. Birth is more than a moment in time. It is a journey and an opportunity for deep personal growth and transformation, the birth of a mother.
I will be 50 next year and I know without a doubt that I will not be a mother to my own children in this lifetime, and it’s OK. I was blessed with absolute unconditional love from my mother and I am resilient because of her love. I am strong because of her love. I understand what it is to be a mother because of her love.
I was mothered, I mother and I am mother.
By Karen Wilmot
Karen Wilmot runs an online multimedia platform and thriving online community providing holistic tools and techniques to prepare for birth. She also hosts annual retreats for women who have lost babies through miscarriage or stillbirth or who, like her, never had children through choice or circumstance. Find out more: The Virtual Midwife,Caring and Loving Myself.
Illustration by Lara Friedrich
Lara has been a freelance illustrator for Mothering Matters since early 2013. She is in her third year of university (majoring in psychology) where she’s currently working as an assistant in a research project in pedagogy. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, and also works as a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop.