I think I must have some kind of invisible magnet in my body at the moment, because in the last week or so, I have found myself inextricably drawn to a number of women – some I know well, and others who are strangers – but all of whom are travelling along this invisible continuum in their personal journeys of womanhood and motherhood.
Maya* and her partner were expecting their first child and they were devastated to learn that their baby had died in utero only three weeks before her due date. The couple had recently attended one of my Lamaze childbirth classes. She wrote to say that she wouldn’t be attending the class reunion…
Jayne is about seven weeks pregnant and desperately praying that she and her partner will see and hear that precious tiny heartbeat at their first ultrasound next week. She lost a baby a few months ago, and she’s been bleeding a little bit, so understandably, she’s a little on edge.
Belinda is a single mother with a toddler. She is six weeks pregnant, but does not want this child. It was an unplanned pregnancy and she knows that she could not possibly manage with two children and no partner to help support her. She has decided to have an abortion, which she will do with medication at home. She asks me if I can be with her.
Ashley is 24 years old and has suffered severe endometriosis since her early teens. She recently required surgery to treat it and as a result, had one of her ovaries removed. She desperately wants children at some point and is terrified that she will never be able to conceive.
Yasmine is due to give birth to her second child any day. She is an asylum seeker from Iran. Her first child, a little girl, was born while in detention. Yasmine and her husband have spent almost three years in three different detention centres across Australia. While they have been released into the community, their future is by no means secure as they anxiously wait to hear if they will be granted residency. Yasmine suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has severe anxiety and following the birth of her daughter, experienced severe postnatal depression that required hospitalisation. She is terrified about going through that experience again with her second child.
Laura is a mother to a lively four year old boy who was recently diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The other day, Laura took her son to the supermarket and while they were there, he had a spectacular tantrum. Laura has had a long hard day at work. She’s tired and she’s over it. Her son has had a long hard day at kinder. He is tired and he’s over it. It’s not a good combination. She tries really hard to calm her boy. To reason with him, settle him. The more she tries, the more worked up he becomes. She loses patience, she raises her voice and people stop and stare. Laura and her son have become free entertainment for strangers who have nothing better to do than make an emotionally-fraught and humiliated woman feel even worse. I want to hug Laura, tell her I understand; that all of us mums have been in her shoes before. I want to buy her a lovely bottle of wine and tell her to enjoy a well-deserved glass after she puts her son to bed tonight. But most of all, I want to tell Laura that SHE IS ENOUGH.
I want to tell Maya, Jayne, Belinda, Ashley and Yasmine that they too, ARE ENOUGH.
My heart breaks for the woman who had to give birth to an angel baby.
My heart breaks for the woman growing a new life, desperate for that tiny baby to grow healthily in her womb.
My heart breaks for the angel baby that will need to find a new mother and a new soul to inhabit in order to be born.
My heart breaks for the young woman who longs to be a mother one day.
My heart breaks for the woman who is paralysed by trauma and anxiety, preventing her from experiencing the joys of motherhood.
My heart breaks for the woman who wishes some days that she wasn’t a mother at all.
I want ALL women to know that they are ENOUGH.
No matter where we are on our journey as women and mothers, we need to know that we are ENOUGH.
I am the daughter of a loud and proud feminist. I was born in 1972, at the height of the sexual revolution, but to be honest, I am not so sure how truly emancipated we really are today. There are still billions of women around the world without access to contraception, safe and legal abortion, quality antenatal and postnatal care, paid maternity leave, secured employment after returning from maternity leave, and equal pay for equal work.
And I am not just talking about disadvantaged women from tiny third world countries. I am talking about highly industrialised first world nations.
The United States is now experiencing an increasing maternal death rate, meaning that an American woman is more likely to die in the period around childbirth today than she was 20 years ago. U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump wants to see women who have abortions punished. There is no government mandated paid maternity leave and the average full time female employee still earns 18% less than her male co-worker.
Because of the unrelenting pressure on women to succeed professionally, and the fear that their careers will take a nosedive if they take precious time-out to have children, more and more women are delaying becoming pregnant. The number of women choosing to freeze their eggs at fertility clinics in the U.S. grew more than sevenfold between 2009 and 2013.
Companies like Facebook and Apple are even subsidising the cost of egg freezing for their female employees. But is this really the ultimate expression of workplace gender equality? Why not just offer full maternity leave pay and flexible return-to-work options, so that women who do choose to have a family are guaranteed that their careers will not be adversely affected?
In Australia, women working full-time earn 17.3% less than their male counterparts.
In Ireland, abortion is still illegal and women wishing to have an abortion need to travel to Northern Ireland or England in order to do so.
Approximately 25% of the world’s population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, mostly in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
I love that I am a female. I love that I am a mother and I am beyond grateful that I was blessed enough to have two healthy pregnancies and two healthy babies. I am thankful that I live in a country with amazing nationalised medical care.
But does that mean I should just be grateful for what I have and shut up?
In 2016, being a woman is still hard. Being a mother on top of that can be overwhelming for many of us and the smallest thing can sometimes tip us right over, causing us to tumble into the abyss.
So, the next time you see your friend, your sister, your mother, your co-worker, your neighbour, or the stranger in the supermarket struggling to just get through the day, please tell her, “You are enough.”
*none of the names in this article are actual names.
Tanya Strusberg is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator (LCCE) and founder of birthwell birthright, an independent childbirth education practice based in Melbourne. In 2015, Tanya was inducted as an FACCE (Fellow of the Academy of Certified Childbirth Educators) in recognition of her significant contribution to childbirth education. Through her internationally-accredited Lamaze Educator Training program, she is very excited to be training a new generation of Australian Lamaze educators.
Last, but absolutely not least, she is also the mum of two beautiful children, her son Liev and daughter Amalia.