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Mother of Milk by Brenda Clews

page three

I won’t say that I am not embarrassed talking about being a stay-at-home mother, or that I didn’t suffer the effacement, the feminine mystique, of those who— defined by the work they do, its lack of income and status— fall outside of the dominant mode of subjectivity in our culture. I feel especially awkward when I hear of the deep pain of women who struggled with the separation issues of combining mothering and work outside the home. One ponders, though, if one could take one’s babies and toddlers to work or to a daycare at work, if this was the norm, how different it could be for women who have children. Be that as it may, there are many sides to the mother story that each of us weaves out of our own experiences and which we have just begun in our many voices to tell. There should be room also for mine.

As I tell my story, I wonder what this intensive, embodied learning meant? The route, its rhythms, the way it’s continued its strange melodies, the places it took me, were unexpected. In the years since I have many times said that breastfeeding taught me how to meditate. If the male creator god arrogated the life-giving, reproductive powers of the female, and of the goddess behind her, then I would also posit a connection between breastfeeding and the art of meditation. Having since become a yoga teacher, and having spent many hours chanting mantras and meditating mainly with other women, I would say not only that I learnt to find the stillness within, but that the predominant metaphor for my particular form of spiritual expression, to turn to another side of this, is that of maternal love, of the milk of mother love. Mothering took me to the Adi Shakti of the yoga tradition I studied. She is an incarnation of the Divine Mother, who has become my particular tutelary spirit, who I turn to for unconditional acceptance, nourishment, comfort, who I ask to fill me with trust and strong love in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep, who I turn to for help when my children are throwing tantrums, or I am upset. Divine Mother has become my main goddess energy. While many goddesses come to mind, such as the Babylonian Ishtar, Greek Gaia and Hera, Christian Mary, Japanese Amaterasu, Chinese Kwan Yin, Nordic Freya, Indian Kali Ma, as well as present day Divine Mother incarnations in India, like the Gurus Karunamayi and Mother Meera, it is Isis, great goddess of ancient Egypt and of magic, of women in childbirth, of women suckling their young, of many groups of pagan, Wiccan women throughout the millennia, who I feel closest to. In my practice as a witch, a priestess, when I set up a sacred circle and light the votive candles and offer incantations and prayers to the forces that be, it is always Divine Mother whom I ultimately call upon, whose unconditional love and wisdom I ask to channel. What I am exploring through my life experience, the route I have chosen in a female incarnated form, in this inscribed and gendered body, is, then, inclusive of earth-based religions, which are important in their own right, but also moves towards an embodied spirituality.

It is in my mothering experiences that I have found unexpected gifts. These gifts were contained in what flowed through me, somehow the strength and forbearance gained from offering comfort. Perhaps it was the self-sacrifice of my dominant self for an underlying maternal consciousness that indicated an unconditional love and infinite compassion for the other are possible modes not only of consciousness, but of being— on good days at least. I know that there are many ways of coming to this knowledge, that this is only the particular path I took to interweave body, mind, and soul, to integrally combine multiple aspects of my/self in a multiple unity that, even in its discontinuous segments, has a wholeness that is satisfying, is inwardly nourishing. I think it’s about having the courage to be, in all your moments, in all the places and people you find yourself in and with, in all your activities, in all your giving to the world through whatever you do, and anyway you get to that is fine, is good. Let me close with an image of the ancient Egyptian goddess, Hathor, the ‘mother of light,’ whose milk, flowing from her abundant breasts, creates the stars of the Milky Way, among whom we are nestled on our creative, living planet of diversity... let the bright blue-green pearl of our home in the universe rest gently in your consciousness... in you, gently with sweet warmth and nourishment...

mmo : april 2004

This essay was originally presented at Mothering, Religion and Spirituality,
the 7th Annual Conference of the Association for Research on Mothering, Oct. 25, 2003, at York University, Toronto, Canada.

Brenda Clews is a writer, artist, dancer, performance poet, yoga instructor and mother of two teenagers in Vancouver, Canada. She has degrees in Fine Arts and English from York University.

“I wrote this piece to express the very real conflicts women experience when they have children. Even though I was preparing for an academic career in the 1980s, I opted to stay home because my options for childcare did not seem to offer a way to put my beliefs in equality into practice. They, instead, reinforced the divide of a male-dominated ‘important’ work of the workplace and the female-dominated low status work of the domestic sphere. Childcare was largely done by women, and there were ‘sub’ classes of women being created through the childcare system. Hiring another woman to look after my children, either as a nanny or a daycare worker, was not going to dent, in any significant way for me, the structure of the inequality between the sexes. The most radical thing that I could do, and this, paradoxically, was also the most conservative, was to approach motherhood as a viable topic for feminist study from the inside and see what I could gather from my own mothering experiences.”

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