Nine paintings about being a mother
It has been years since I looked at these. I painted them a couple of months after I found out I was pregnant, because my husband and I were travelling to New York and I wanted to try an interest a gallery there in my work. I didn’t succeed, of course, and the paintings came back with me, and they’ve been gathering dust in a cupboard ever since.
There are nine of them, one for each month of pregnancy. The first starts with the big bang. The second depicts a black dog and my fear of post-partum depression. The third features the head of a bull, because my daughter was due to be born in late April, making her a Taurus. There’s a butterfly – the one that flapped its wings and caused a hurricane – and a minotaur, a biblical apple and a mother and child. The images aren’t great – the paintings are covered by protective plastic, which reflects too much light for me to show you what they look like.
There is a confusion of hope and fear in these works that expressed the mess of feelings at the prospect of my becoming a mother, and which has turned out to be a fairly accurate prediction of the experience of being a mother, too. “I want to love you but what if I don’t?” ask the words scrawled into one painting. (Luckily, it turned out that this was never a problem.)
Motherhood is messy. It’s hard. There is so much love, so much frustration, so much joy and so much anger too. My daughter teaches me something new every day, even as I try to persuade her to practice her letters and she tells me it takes too long and I must do it for her. She’s taken to calling me “Sarah” again instead of “Mom”, and it’s a reminder that I am still me, that though she and I are linked inexorably together by biology, we are separate people, and we belong to ourselves.
Of course, if I’d have known what would happen, that I’d develop life-threatening pre-eclampsia and my daughter would be born by emergency C-section ten weeks ahead of schedule, I’d have drawn a fish instead of a bull.
I am not entirely sure what to do with these works. They are going back into storage; I can’t afford to have them framed, and even if I could, I don’t have the space to hang them. Perhaps I will take them out and show them to my daughter years from now, when she is better able to understand what they mean, and what she means to me. Maybe she’ll choose to keep them; maybe she won’t. Nine months of waiting, a lifetime of wonder.
I think of the words I wrote into the second last image (though there is no defined order, apart from the first and the last painting). “This is every question in life made flesh.” Four and a half years later, that is still very true.