The Early Story
Back when my kids were small and I was occasionally overwhelmed by the busyness and responsibility of motherhood, my sister lent me a book where a woman vividly described her feelings around being a mum of small children. I found it so helpful, and felt so understood. It was as if this woman was voicing feelings I hadn’t had time to process myself, because I was simply too tired and too busy. I looked for other writers of similar experiences, but (back then) didn’t find much. I guess few women were writing about those early experiences, probably because they were simply too tired or too busy. (I briefly had a go at songwriting myself, and penned a few lines to describe it: “one minute you can’t breathe, then it’s like discovering a coral reef underwater, so beautiful”. These lines eventually made it into song 6, ‘Night feed’.)
Fast forward twenty years, when I began thinking about my impending empty nest status, I started remembering with nostalgia the journey of becoming a mum, through conception, pregnancy, raising the children, the fears, hopes, guilt, lack of sleep, the joys, and the extraordinary privilege of it all. The songs are not strictly autobiographical, but are in fact songs conceived for a musical theatre performance in which a mother processes her feelings about her daughter leaving and going to university (I only have sons). For me, the opportunity to revisit some of those motherhood experiences, especially the early ones, has been a large part of my journey as I process my feelings around my youngest child leaving home.
Aderyn and I began talking about a joint artistic venture about motherhood three years ago. I began singing along to music I’d already composed, using motherhood themes, and Aderyn began painting in her studio while listening to the demos I made. We considered art installations, and even tried a live collaboration of improvised music with abstract art painting.
Once the song demos and backing tracks were ready, I emailed them over to Nat. We’ve worked together for years on multiple church projects. I love her voice, and she is superb at hearing what I’m after in my (badly sung) version and sending back a sensational version, recorded in her own home studio. Probably my favourite part of the whole project has been inserting Nat’s voice into the mix, and hearing the songs come alive. Here’s Nat, talking about it. I asked her how it felt having to dig deep and find the emotions of what it might feel like letting her child go in eighteen years time, in order to record the songs, and before she had even given birth:
I asked Aderyn whether motherhood has had an effect on her work as an artist:
But it was in talking to other women that we came to realise that every woman’s experience of motherhood is powerfully unique and personal. A beautiful and rich story worth telling. I’m hoping that these songs and pieces of art, and the stories from the motherhood project, might be a starting point for other women to have opportunities to process their own feelings around motherhood.
Here on this website, the Empty Nest motherhood project engages with mothers from all stages of motherhood, to bring them together, give them a voice, and encourage them to share wisdom and experiences with each other.
We have been collecting a selection of thoughts and experiences from women at different stages of motherhood, and are sharing them here for others to read, watch and relate to.
I have been humbled by the generosity of these women, who have shared their motherhood experiences with honesty and courage, and I have often been blown away by how profound and moving people’s stories are. My heart goes out to them all with gratitude. Here are some of their stories.
Maybe you have motherhood experiences you would like to share, or have been inspired by some the of the music or stories you have heard? We would love to hear from you, and maybe include your stories on this site.
The Project is grateful to the Guides (1st Ruardean Senior Section), Forest Humbugs Bumps and Babies and the Forest Community Church for their collaboration, and to the Forest of Dean District Council for their support through the Engagement Community grant.