I once heard that motherhood is poetry in motion, and nowhere has that adage come to life more than through the words of British poet Hollie McNish.
In a video put out by Channel 4 News, McNish reads her poem “What’s my name again?” which perfectly captures the beauty, frustration, insecurity, and magic of motherhood — and her words will leave you mesmerized.
McNish first gained attention for her all-too-real poem about moms being forced to breastfeed in bathrooms, thanks to public shaming:
“Cause I’m getting tired of discretion and being polite, as my baby’s first sips are drowned, drenched in shite. I spent the first feeding months of her beautiful life feeling nervous and awkward and wanting everything right … It took me eight weeks to get the confidence to go into town. Now the comments around me cut like a knife. As I rush into toilet cubicles feeling nothing like nice.”
This time, her work is tackling another very big issue: how many women feel like they lose their identities when they become a mother.
“What’s my name again?” she questions in the poem’s opening. “I’m now known as so-and-so’s mum.”
But still, McNish acknowledges that being called someone’s parent is not always such a bad thing. We do label our friends and family who have children by their status as parents, but deep down, we know we are more than that.
In the next part of the video, McNish delves into the hard parts of who we are outside of parenthood.
It’s only when the sun goes down, “when the stars are out and everything is dark,” McNish says, that her own name “creeps out from under the table, and I am able to remember the person I am.”
Oof. Did those words get you as much as they got me?
I love my kids with everything that I am, but I feel so, so lost sometimes. In this stage, when they are so little and there seems to be so many of them, I feel like I’m having some kind of midlife crisis at 30. Who am I? Where did all these kids come from? Can I be a person outside of a mother?
I feel desperate for a breath of fresh air, desperate for the time and space to define who I am outside of the exhausted version of myself that I feel like I am around my kids.
And like the truth teller she is, McNish talks about the fact that a mother’s job is exhausting and never ending, contrasting how Cinderella’s clock sounds at midnight, while hers strikes at 9 — until, that is, her daughter “cries out for me or needs her next wee.”
And it’s in that constant shift from person to parent that McNish’s words strike the most personal cord, touching on how mothers change when their children need them — even at the 1 AM hour, when we sneak in to check on our sleeping angels tucked in their beds.
” … so that even in the middle of a mother’s own night, she’s not quite an individual in her own right,” McNish describes.
My favorite part of McNish’s poem comes near the end, when she challenges the belief that moms are unshakeable, and gives us a glimpse into the broken parts of parenthood that frankly, make us all the more strong for sharing.
“Someone once said that mums are the rocks that never crumble,” she says. “I don’t think that’s true. ‘Cause I do. I cry hidden in loos, I scream alone in my car, and when I’m woken once more and desperate to sleep, I weep watching the stars. We are parents, but we are people. We are snot-rags and we are dreamers, we are queens and we are cleaners … we are rocks crumbling sometimes in love that’s so heavy … “
McNish has been awarded the prestigious Ted Hughes poetry award for her brilliant words and perhaps more importantly, the knowledge that moms everywhere know exactly how she’s feeling.
And as for all the attention that she is receiving, McNish is taking it all in stride, noting that some of the media coverage about her work has been a bit misguided.
That being said, however, McNish did give a shout-out to the true reason she has become the person she is today and has been able to pursue the work she loves — her own mom.
“I am so grateful for both my mum and for this award xxxx,” she said.