Why my girlfriends are the most inspiring mothers I know
Women’s friendships are a precious taonga that should not be underestimated, writes Philippa Wintle.
I sat in the back seat of the car, the window wound down to counteract any possibility of last night’s wine rising from my belly. I remember one of my closest friends opening up about her recent embryo transfer procedure. She balanced her hopes for a successful implantation against the reality that it might not happen. She was, and always is, exceptionally poised and rational in her analysis of her experiences, qualities that serve her well now as a career high-flyer and pro mum of two beautiful little girls, the eldest of which was right then burrowing into her uterus all those years ago. I sat there and balanced my adoration for my friend with one hell of a hangover.
I stared at the back of the head of another of my dearest. The one who gets carsick and has to sit shotgun. Rationality, pragmatism and grace are the defining qualities of this girl, qualities that served her through multiple pregnancies that didn’t implant. This woman’s brave and noble career, dedicated to the most vulnerable in society, came second to the care of her own children, something I admire. When my son was five months old I began to itch to get back to work. I respect greatly my friend’s dedication to her children by being at home all day, all days. Resilience and a dogmatic determination is required, I imagine, in staying at home with children, regardless of their charm (or lack of it).
These two women, the best of friends over the past 30 years, have a shared experience of losing their own mothers; mothers who were also determined and graceful and passed on the best of themselves to their daughters and, unknowingly, to their grandchildren. My friends role-model motherhood to me, their lessons and kooky catch-phrases borrowed and shared generously from their mothers. My friends will experience endless joys with their children, but knowing those experiences can’t be shared with their mothers will cut deep. The everyday bravery of these two women, another quality passed on from their mothers, astounds me. Every day.
We’re winding along one of New Zealand’s most vomit-inducing roads. I’m still holding on. Next to me is another brave woman who has made brave decisions about her body and brave decisions about the body of her first baby (also the most hilarious child I know). This precious baby, with one hearing ear, is perfectly imperfect. I have learned that parents can experience grief upon realising that their baby is d/Deaf or hard-of-hearing, and this immense challenge was experienced by my friend privately, true to her composed disposition. This elegant mother with the hilarious hard-of-hearing baby has an unrelenting strength I will never truly or deeply feel myself, but it is a strength that has served me well in the darkest moments of the early days of motherhood. She effortlessly comforted and supported, her reserves always at the ready even after dark moments of her own.
I take a glimpse to my far right at another warrior mother. Perpetually optimistic in a crisis, her relentless positivity crucial in the dark hours she spends navigating the complex jealousy of her eldest son, which in itself was relentless and perpetuating. In those midnight hours she would feed her new baby, an activity that, for a time, her eldest found too confronting. Those nights went on with each child taking turns at being comforted by their mother, her love and care for them divided down the middle, a love so taxing. I think it’s a reasonable assumption to make that you don’t know the damage of fatigue until you have children. An excruciating fatigue, that, for my friend, was a symbol of equally intense affection for her darling boys.
I was the last of my friends to have a baby, an extremely privileged position to be in. The practical and philosophical wisdom of these women has literally scraped me off the floor. Women’s friendships should never be underestimated. We are strong in our experiences, shared and private, and through our friendships we build knowledge of the best parenting for our children. Through them I have a powerful body of knowledge to draw from in the everyday decisions I make about how I care for my son. He will embody, as all our children will, our shared and constructed knowledge and that of our mothers and their friends. An unspoken taonga, passed down and refined through our ages.
Philippa Wintle is an Auckland mother of one.