Joseph Campbell calls motherhood a heroic task. What do heroes do? They confront dragons, you say, and look like Hercules or Jason and the Argonauts. They travel afar, bring back treasure, or save the country from ruin. Mothers don't do any of that.... but:
“Giving birth is definitely a heroic deed, in that it is the giving over of oneself to the life of another. …It’s a journey – you have to move out of the known, conventional safety of your life to undertake this. You have to be transformed from a maiden to a mother…a big change, involving many dangers.” Joseph Campbell, Power of Myth.
He also adds that in the heroic journeys of mythology, there is a place everyone wishes to find - like Siddhartha on his journey - and that the ultimate place to find is within yourself. "There's a center of quietness within, which has to be known and held. If you lose that center, you are in tension and begin to fall apart." (The Power of Myth). Ultimately, the adventure of the hero is the adventure of being alive. We are all heroes in our own story.
How are mothers heroes specifically? I've been thinking about this for a while now. First there is the body cycle we have to deal with and learn about - monthly periods, hormonal ups and downs, PMS. Then trying to get pregnant is an adventure - not always easy. For myself, one ectopic, and two miscarriages later, I finally had two pregnancies that held strong. Having your body transform and look as if you have swallowed the moon, not to mention all the hormonal changes, loss/gain of appetite, strange alien movements inside your body, fears of losing your old 'self'....all lead up to the big moment of Birth.
The ultimate transformation - when one becomes two. Talk about transmutation of substances (bread and wine into body and blood....)! A human being struggles through labour, contractions, and a huge force stronger than herself pushes the baby out through an impossibly narrow birth canal. Voila! Delivered! Separation. A hero is born on her journey, whilst another sleeps, exhausted from the battle.
But that is just the beginning. The new mother will be called upon to give unstintingly her own body as food to the new one, on demand 24-7; she'll be called upon to respond unselfishly to its constant needs, and go beyond what is humanly possible - in spite of lack of sleep, long days of seeming drudgery (domestic tasks), which may be blissful or may appear boring, on the outside. To nurture a human life, totally dependent on your own for its care, to ensure its survival.
And where then, is the quiet space in the centre? From where all athletes and heroes move, when they find it? That is the source of her heroism - to find her own Self in spite of giving it away on one level, day after day.
I think mothering challenges a human being to find that quiet space or risk being torn apart by conflicting emotions. Old patterns are like dragons that attack us. It's hard to give what you didn't get - we feel assailed by modern books and experts' guidance, by our parents' patterns - how to find our own 'best' way? our own wisdom?
Right now, I'm in a bit of a mourning phase - my teens are growing independent, aware, alert to their own path, their own desires, and seem to need me less. There are no more long, leisurely hugs or reading sessions on my knee. There is less 'mothering' to do. Letting go is required, so they can fly on the strength of their own wings (and strong opinions!) while I watch and listen. My own mother went through this eight times! I was not always kind during my detaching years...
My mothering journey has brought me to a realization that I have more healing to do and more forgiveness of myself and my mother. Suffering my own sense of loss of closeness with my daughter, I remember what my mother said, how I switched from being her best friend to her enemy at age 13. How to heal the past, and therefore be wholly in the present... with compassionate love.
Wish me luck on my journey towards wholeness, as I wish you luck on yours.