January 5, 2020

Why is there a conspiracy of silence around motherhood?

Beth Dunlop, 58

There is a conspiracy of silence around motherhood. As a new mother, desperately trying to make sense of the dislocating and wildly challenging experiences I was having, what I needed was the truth. I met silence. Mothers often explain the conspiracy with a variation on ‘they wouldn’t understand.’ ‘They wouldn’t understand’ leads to interesting thoughts about language, listening, dominance, oppression and minority. But the focus of this essay is a different reason mothers maintain the silence: shame. Mothers may feel ashamed because we are not living up to expectations. We may feel ashamed because we don’t enjoy motherhood. We may feel ashamed of complaining about motherhood when our sister/neighbour/friend is infertile. We may feel ashamed of being vulnerable. Any and all of these shames silence us. That we know others are also silent may provide some small comfort, but the silence of shame is rarely healthy. Shame makes us feel like we are bad people, as opposed to guilt, which is knowing we did something wrong. Guilt is useful. Shame is destructive. We perpetuate the conspiracy of silence because we feel ashamed, but breaking the silence teaches us crucial truths about motherhood, which heal the shame.

The Conspiracy of Silence Around Motherhood, 2019Writing