Giving Up the Ghost

by | 30 Mar 2014

Today is Mother’s Day (in the UK). It would be churlish not to mention it and if you fancy reading my take on the subject do have a look at my inaugural article on Huffington Post.

But for my regular Sunday blog instead of focusing on the card I didn’t get, I want to try and answer the question I posed last week – why is the pursuit of motherhood so important for so many women?

Last year, I read Hilary Mantel’s memoir Giving Up the Ghost in which she writes movingly about her own struggle with infertility. And because retweeting is the highest form of flattery, I want to share a bit with you here.

‘People romance about their children long before they are born – long before and long after. They name and rename them. They see them as their second chances ‘a chance to get it right this time’, as if they were able to give birth to themselves. They have children to compensate themselves for the things they didn’t do or didn’t get in their own early life. They conceive because they feel impelled to make up, to a non-existent person, for a loss they themselves have suffered. Children are born because their parents feel the defects in themselves, and want to mend them; or because they are bored; or because they feel in some mysterious way it is time to have children, and that if they don’t have them their lives will begin to leak meaning away. Some women have babies to give a present to their own mother, or prove themselves her equal. Motives are seldom simple and never pure.’

Hilary – I high five you. Our longing to have children is complex. We’re not animals or ticking clocks. It’s as much about our psychology as it is about our biology. It’s about us, not them.

So this week’s question – at the end of Mother’s Day 2014 – is what are we celebrating? Is it what our mothers have given us? Or what we have given them?


  1. Lou

    Thank you for raising awareness, especially today. I find Mothers Day very hard, I never know what mood I will be so it’s hard when we go for family Mother’s Day lunch. I’ve always felt selfish for feeling the way I do but then it’s such a taboo subject isn’t it. I’m so glad I’ve signed up to your blog & starting to read your book, at last someone (lovely you) is raising awareness when it must be very hard for you also. But I want to thank you because at last I’m starting to realise I’m not going crazy for feeling how I do.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Thank you for such a lovely lovely comment. You’ve made my Mother’s Day! It’s so sad that it’s still such a taboo subject but there really are so many of us living it and I do think if we reach out to each other and to the wider world, things will get easier. Thank you for signing up to my blog and for reading my book. It was such a big decision to do this for me – and thank you for recognising it must be hard because it is (well it definitely was) but everyday it gets a little easier and I hope it can for others too when we all realise we are definitely not crazy. Jessica x

  2. Emma-Lou

    Well…today I loved,I walked dog,i rode my triumph very very fast, fed my chickens (3eggs) walked dog again, drank wine and cooked listening to rock music loudly to drown out the noise, sort of made up for it… Xxx

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      What a great day. And you’ve got chickens. I’d love to have chickens (maybe almost as much as I’d love to have a baby!). Hurrah for us! Jessica x

  3. Dee Armstrong, Natural Fertility Coaching and IVF Support

    For me Mother’s Day is a prod to formally acknowledge all my mother has done for me (which can be helpful in undemonstrative families) but I have to say I feel manipulated by it and resentful that I’m being prodded into doing it on a certain day.

    Didn’t realise Mantel had written this – I will read in full now I know but this snippet shows how eloquent she is on the topic;thanks for the tip. The reasons for pursuing motherhood are indeed complex and I remember very well failing miserably to explain to my husband why I so greedily wanted another. So much of it is unknowable and unexplainable but it sounds Mantel has done a good job of articulating it.

    Your inaugral HP article is great – I have featured it on our facebook page and swapped the auto pic that popped up of a massive pregnant belly (?!) for a lovely one of you!

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      Thanks Dee! Yes, that was their choice of photo not mine!!! Mantel’s book is definitely worth a read. I found some bits dense (as Mantel can be) but others heartbreakingly beautiful. Jessica x

  4. mumswrite

    Great, thought-provoking quote. Although a mother and a wife, I dread the formulaic days–the moments worth waiting for happen when you least expect them, and never on cue!! Like the moment you suddenly realized that meaning hasn’t leaked away, but instead you’ve gone and crated it out of whole cloth in away you never imagined…
    Congrats in a great Huff Post inaugural!

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      I agree that life is definitely best when it’s not on cue. The last few months have taught me that, if you’d told me a year ago I’d be writing a weekly blog on the pursuit of motherhood I’d have choked on my Bloody Mary! And I’m pleased to say that my life is not leaking meaning either. It seems to have more than ever. Thanks for your congrats and a lovely comment. Jessica x

  5. Existential Crisis (@raiseyourhips)

    What a brilliant quote, thank you for sharing it. I’ve just downloaded Hilary’s memoirs to my kindle. Did you read Dawn French’s biog? I find reading about other women’s experiences comforting.

    • thepursuitofmotherhood

      I haven’t but I will now! I love other people’s stories too…