Can you imagine what a two year old girl who weighs only five kilograms must look like? My six month old baby weighs more; he’s about seven and a half kilos. And I have a two year old, a chubby, happy, healthy girl who has never heard the word starvation.
I was watching the reports on the ABC News about the floods in Pakistan and that is where I saw the skeletal girl, tucked in her mother’s arms. She has a four year old sister, as does my two year old, and neither of those girls are expected to survive to see the flood waters recede.
Of course that is just two children amongst the millions who now, because of the floods, have no access to clean water, food or shelter, three things I don’t even have to think about when I wake up in the morning. My children turn on a tap when they are thirsty, open a cupboard when they are hungry and can move from inside to out whenever it suits them.
This was in my mind when I was reading Mia Freedman’s latest post on Jacinta Tynan’s article about motherhood, The Big Easy. You can imagine the debate that has circled around an article with that headline. To summarise – but check out Mia’s blog for the full story and some of the debate – Jacinta wrote an article about how easy she has found motherhood. Some mothers agreed with her, but many mothers found her article to be dismissive of those who’ve found motherhood difficult.
Initially when I read the article I struggled to articulate what I felt. Yes, she has a point that sometimes we do dwell too much on the hard bits about being a mum. And, I recall the number of times I’ve said, over the past few months, that being a mum to three is in some ways easier than being a mum to one because I am more confident and relaxed about it now – I think I know what I’m doing. But there have been many, many times when I’ve found motherhood to be the hardest and most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
Amongst the many things that women took exception to in Jacinta’s article was the fact that mothers of babies with health problems would clearly not think that motherhood was ‘The Big Easy’. My second daughter was born with Hip Dysplasia, a condition where the hip socket and head of the femur are not developed properly. It was supposed to be fixed with eight weeks in a brace. It wasn’t.
Her leg dislocated and she ended up in a chest to toe cast for three months, a series of braces for 12 months, and several operations; it is still ongoing. When she was in her cast I definitely did not find it easy; she weighed about 12kg in plaster, she stank like a public toilet and she was the crossest baby I had ever encountered – understandably.
But it was just her hips. I expect that mothers of babies who’ve had life threatening conditions are probably reading this and thinking I have no idea how hard motherhood can be. Because it is all relative to your own circumstances, your own babies, your own expectations. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be able to talk about our different experiences, happy or not so. But perhaps we need to talk about them in a way that is sensitive to the fact that others may not feel the same, that others may be struggling, that we don’t want them to struggle more because we make light of what they find difficult.
I may have found having a child in a cast difficult. I may have sometimes found the crying and the terrible twos and the lack of sleep difficult. But I don’t find providing my children with the basic necessities of food, water and shelter difficult and for that I am lucky. Lucky that my two year old and four year old were born here and not in Pakistan.
So, for me, if Jacinta Tynan’s article did anything, it was because of its juxtaposition in time with the Pakistan floods. Mia Freedman’s original post about the article attracted 1,099 comments. I hope the two year old Pakistani girl who weighs five kilos attracts many more times that amount of attention but I don’t know if she will. She has no birth certificate. Her birth was never registered. If she dies, she will not be included in the official death tally from the flood because there is no record that she ever existed. Just the record in her mother’s heart.
Here’s a link to World Vision Australia’s fundraising appeal for Pakistan. Click on it. Donate. Please.