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Here at Máthair we have been very quiet, we have been consciously listening, reflecting and educating ourselves. We started this blog as a safe inclusive space for mothers/pregnant people to share and tell stories. The power of storytelling is something we feel very passionate about, especially in current days. We believe stories create magic and a sense of wonder at the world. Stories teach us about life, about ourselves and about others. Storytelling is a unique way for children to develop an understanding, respect and appreciation for other cultures, and can promote a positive attitude towards people from different lands and religions. We have decided to share some short stories about incredible women from all over the world in the hope to educate and inform, not only other people but ourselves too. First up is my daughters new favourite dancer, Katherine Dunham - Choreographer and Anthropologist. 

We hope you enjoy, much love Cheryl and Lyndsey




Katherine Dunham

(1909 – 2006)

CHOREOGRAPHER, ANTHROPOLOGIST

Despite a strict upbringing, Katherine was a creative and enterprising child. At the age of twelve she published a short story in W. E. B. Du Bois’s monthly magazine, and at fourteen she produced, directed and starred in a performance to raise money for her church. Dancing, though, was her true love, and she studied modern dance and ballet in her childhood. Everything changed for her after she attended a lecture on black culture at the University of Chicago. She learned that much of the black culture in America – the music, folklore and dances – had all begun somewhere in Africa.


Katherine wanted to find out how the roots of African culture had spread around the world, so she began studying anthropology, focusing on dances from the African diaspora. Throughout her career she found a way to balance studying dance, teaching it and actually performing it. In the early 1930s she formed the Ballet Nègre, one of the first black ballet companies in the United States, and the Negro Dance Group, a school to teach young black dancers about their heritage.


In 1935 she received a grant from the Rosenwald Fund and prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship to conduct an ethnographic study of dance in the Caribbean. She travelled to Jamaica, Martinique and Trinidad but truly connected with the culture in Haiti.

After Katherine returned to the United States, she founded the Dunham School of Dance and Theatre. The dancers toured and performed and taught movement to artists, dancers and actors. Her classes were extremely popular due to her unique methods. She combined traditional African and Caribbean movements with ballet and modern dance in an innovative way that was soon canonised as the Dunham Technique. It's still taught in dance classes today, and she is referred to as the Matriarch of Black Dance.


She was also a social activist and continued to fight against racism and injustice all around the world throughout her life. She once refused to hold a show after finding out that the city's black residents had not been allowed to buy tickets for the performance. She was a ground breaking visionary and her legacy of spirited dance, cultural acceptance, and social justice lives on.

Words by Cheryl Gault

  • Máthair




I can still remember the excitement I felt watching the positive result appear on the pound shop home pregnancy test, pregnant! The excitement I felt nobody can describe, not only are you physically pregnant but also metaphorically pregnant with all of the hopes and dreams that you already have in place for your little bubble. Apart from horrific morning sickness, it was a relatively easy pregnancy, and my son completely turned our world upside down in good and unexpected ways.


So, let’s fast forward 11 weeks postnatal. While we are out Christmas shopping, I’m walking across a car park, get a whiff of a certain fried chicken chain and my stomach gives a lurch.  In the forefront of my mind I’m thinking, I still can’t stand the smell of that from my pregnancy, but in the back of my mind a giant alarm sounds with a flashing red beacon!!


Test 1; positive, test 2; inconclusive, test 3; positive, tests 4,5,6,7 and 8; all positive, all in all I spent around £80 on pregnancy tests compared to the one pregnancy test from the pound shop that I used to confirm my first pregnancy.  I kept the news to myself for ten days as I didn’t have the guts to say to my husband, “you know how one baby turned us into sleep deprived zombies? Well guess what??....” so I waited until a Friday night, got him a few beers and broke the news gently, as gentle as you can inform someone that you will be parents of Irish twins, another term for babies born within 12 months of each other.


So once I got my head around the fact that I was going to have a set of “Irish Twins" I began furiously searching online for articles that included “How to survive Irish twins" and “How hard is it to raise Irish twins" another search was “The pros and cons of having Irish twins" but nothing but the usual sunshine and rainbows pinged up, articles about how you should have children close in age as you can get them into the same routine easier, how they will be great friends and keep each other company, how your first child will be so young they won't be jealous. All of this is just placating you and telling you what you want to hear when the truth is, it is hard. Going through your pregnancy when you have a small baby is by far the most difficult experience of my life, the battle against morning sickness when changing numerous nappy explosions was not nice. Rather than just changing him, he got a bath and showered down while I had to take breaks with my head down the loo!!

 

Trying to look after my 11-month-old son in the days following my daughter’s birth was such a juggling act because there is no way around the guilt. You need to bond with your new baby but your other baby still needs his routine and if anything, baby number one requires more attention to reassure him that his new sibling isn’t a threat. Another thing those articles don't mention is how your precious bundles will tag team you, spectacularly!! I remember one day in particular my toddler was acting up so I sat down to play with him and then the baby needed her nappy changed, so as I changed her, my toddler pottered about nice and quietly, or so I thought. I went to put the dirty nappy into the bin and found he had emptied an entire bag of porridge oats upside down alongside a box of cereal he had stomped into the ground. He pulled all of this off in under a minute and then as I tidied that up, off he ran into his younger sister and took her toy off her which kicked off another tantrum.

 

But as I sit here writing this, I do have a massive grin on my face and think about the nights when both kids decide they want cuddles so all four of us snuggle up in the one bed. So, another thing those internet searches didn’t tell me was how compassionate baby number one can be, how when his younger sister cries this little 18-month-old human will run to her and hug her to cheer her up, how he will cover her in kisses and give her his bottle if she moans the slightest. How her face lights up with a huge smile when her brother comes into the room. All of this confirms that I feel that I have somewhat mastered the art of “Irish Twinning".


Images and words by Samantha Murphy








I want to tell you a story about a woman who had a beautiful baby...and when the baby was put into her arms her heart opened...


but as her heart opened so did the parts of her brain that stored her suppressed trauma.


My name is Samantha Porciello. This is my story, my heart, my brain and my baby.


From the very first day the midwife gave me my baby it felt like my brain and heart were playing tug of war.....my heart wanted to bask in the holy newness of my baby, but my brain shot neurotransmitters of fear, danger that felt like shocks through my body, I associated love with fear and my brain was in over drive.


As I left the hospital it felt like I was carrying my baby on a tightrope and if I took one wrong step I would drop him. So I held on tight, constantly held my breath and kept moving.


As a survivor of childhood trauma transitioning into parenthood flared my trauma like an old aching injury...I needed to rest, heal and consolidate. But as a mother I was constantly;

moving,

building,

counting,

planning,

Watching,

Wiping,

changing,

washing,

shopping,

hosting,

facilitating,

cleaning,

cooking,

working,

playing,

scheduling,

ruminating,

worrying,

running,

running,

running,

running away from the pain I needed to heal.



I was spiralling.



And when I interacted with other mothers I would search in their eyes for some sign that I wasn’t alone. In those spaces we would put on the facade that motherhood was one dimensional, a privilege, we were made to be mothers, there was no dark under layer, there was no longing.


I remember those women around me wore a uniform of stripped shirts, skinny jeans, went to baby yoga and effortlessly whipped up organic mush for perfect babies/toddlers.


It wasn’t their fault, they were simply living their lives and I believe there are many women who transition into motherhood gently and settle in. But that wasn’t my reality. Where are the spaces for mothers who were struggling? Even if you’re struggling with past trauma or not, the world for a mother can be hostile and lacks authentic stories, connection, depth and dimension...the masks mothers feel obligated to wear just further isolates and amplifies the long days and nights of perpetual labour.


I was cracking, pieces of me were floating into the ether and I surrendered to my fate, maybe this is what it feels like, maybe giving yourself fully to motherhood is the ultimate act of love. Maybe no one tells you about this secret code of motherhood, ‘Be grateful for your baby’ and swallow anything outside of this mantra. I was the ultimate martyr. My fear and isolation twisted tightly around me.


When you are in the midst of a crisis, (if you are reading this now and can see yourself in my story) the biggest warning sign isn't when you are crying, feeling deeply or expressing your pain. It’s when you go numb, can no longer feel and give up fighting, when the lights go out.



When my son turned 3, my light went out.



I couldn’t feel a thing, I couldn’t get out of bed. In those darkest moments behind my dim eyes and deep within my belly were screams and echoes of the woman who I was waiting to be. I wanted to fight for her and she wanted me to live.



Healing is different for everyone...I initially spent a lot of time in silence closing my eyes and breathing. Then the whispers came in, this deep inexplicable inner guidance that gently arrives when you stop running.


I had to trust the people around me to help take care of my son, I could no longer cover him like a shield, I had to believe that when I wasn’t there he would be ok. I wanted to love him without fear and part of that was letting go, trusting and getting to the root of the fear.


My mantra was ‘I’m doing best I can with resources I have’. This is still my mantra.


I didn’t want my son to grow up not seeing his mother in her full fiery force so I let my desire to connect with my life force again and love for my son propel me forward on the terrifying road of healing. I worked with a somatic healer, I cut off toxic draining friendships, I reached out for help to people who felt safe. I began to follow the breadcrumbs back to my soul...by doing things that made me come alive, I visited friends in Italy, sat under trees, rested, looked at the sky, and wrote stories that my 6 year old self needed to hear.


One of those stories was called ‘Dream a Little Dream’ about a little girl caught in a bad dream, the only way she can wake up and go home was to find something truly beautiful. In the end that truly beautiful thing is herself.


I later turned this story into a children’s theatre show and a children’s relaxation book that uses a child centred language to translate breath and emotional processing tools.

https://www.placetowonder.com/dream-a-little-dream-book


Over the past 7 years since my son was born there has been a movement and awakening for women. There are more conversations about how the unrealistic expectations put on mothers can impact mental health. The #metoo movement has empowered women to break out of stifling archetypes, undeniably things have evolved, but I still believe there is stigma in NI around women struggling with post natal depression and anxiety.


I would like to see more honest safe postpartum spaces for women.


I believe our children pick us...my son chose me for my poetry, my messiness, and my magic. Not because I’m an empty archetype of the perfect mother, that let's be honest, was perpetrated by a patriarchal system that hates women anyways.


Im still on my healing journey, and all I really know for sure is...that I need to keep steadfastly shining my light so my son knows how to go into the world and shine his own unique light.

When my little boy grows up he will have a road map to live a whole hearted beautiful life, because his mama showed him how.







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