For those that don’t yet know, this smiling face belongs to the lovely Karen McMillan, a.k.a. @mothertruths
Karen is a straight-talking poet who not only draws generally from the experience of motherhood, but she also vocalises the often unheard and heavily stigmatised views of the mother who a) chooses to be ‘at home’ and/or b) prefers not to sleep train.
Which, rightly or wrongly, is not a perspective that we hear much from. Mostly due to the drowning-out by the back-to-work and sleep-training narratives that society likes to regurgitate as gospel child-rearing options.
We were lucky to grab a few minutes of this: ‘busy’, ‘creative’, ‘stay-at-home’, mother’s time, to pick her brain:
Karen, thanks for being here.
We have to say that your poetry is so raw and direct, we just love it so much!!!
We were going to ask you about individual poems, but it’s too hard to single them out. So, instead, we ask you:
What is your favourite poem on @mother_truths ?
The poem that is closest to my heart is called “Two” and is all about the ways in which it’s not as terrible as they say. It’s my favourite because it’s a snapshot in time of my son at a fun age. An antidote to “That First Year” which was all about how hard I have found motherhood.
We are all for mothers doing what they have to, and doing their best.
But we do think that the sphere of the ‘at-home-mother’ is a particularly cliched arena, in terms of narrative, and this seems to be something that you like to reflect in your poetry?
Yes. I like to talk about it because it’s an aspect of motherhood in which I’ve felt quite alone. All of my friends have returned to work. I would love to write a poem for them and the struggles and juggles they face but I can only write from my own experience. It feels like there’s a lot of stereotypes around SAHMs. That we are kept women, that we are wasting our brains. I have felt inadequate at times because there is such an emphasis these days on doing it all, being it all. Motherhood doesn’t have to be your only job, but equally it should be ok to be “just a mum”.
What would you say was your reality as a creative and ‘at-home-and-working’ mother?
Oh bless you. I don’t really see myself as a creative or as working. Probably because it hasn’t bought in any money yet! But I have my poetry book written and am hoping a publisher will take an interest soon. If not, self-publishing may be on the cards.
What has the response been like from the Instagram community to the posts that touch on this?
Actually really positive from SAHMs and working mums alike. Many have said they can relate.
What other issues get you fired up?
The pressure to sleep train. I was graced with a sleep thief who woke two hourly for over two years. We are now seeing four hour stints which is heaven. Everything I read in the mainstream and conversations with healthcare professionals seemed to assume that I would sleep train after a certain age. Sleep training is not for me. I don’t begrude parents who do, but I would love for the option to not sleep train to be as shouted about and as readily available to new mums as the information around sleep training is. There is a growing undercurrent of parents who are starting to talk about the alternatives which is great. I have written a poem called “They Said” as my contribution to this. I was scared to write it because it’s such an emotive subject but one that I feel passionate about…the option not to.
I’m also passionate about women being free to breastfeed for as long as they like and have written about this in my poems “Weaners” and “Have a Word”.
How long have you been composing poetry?
It’s a very recent thing. I turned to poetry about a year and a half ago just before Casey turned one. I think the sleep deprivation gave me sudden rhyming powers!
How do you juggle your creativity and motherhood?
It’s been quite easy because it’s something I enjoy. It doesn’t feel like work. Plus inspiration seems to hit me in the middle of the night when Casey is asleep so it doesn’t interfere that much. I will edit and research publishers etc when he naps or eats.
As with most of our features, your work openly explores all of the joys alongside the challenges of motherhood. So, how do you look after your wellbeing?
Oh gosh I’m not good at that at all, hence my poem “Martyr Mother”. Things that make me feel good are music, a bath, a hot flannel on my face. I try and go on a walk each day. I miss exfoliating.
If you had any advice for new mothers struggling to get back in touch with their creative outlet, what would it be?
Don’t assume that you have nothing to say, that you are just another mummy blogger. If you feel something deeply chances are someone else will have felt it or is feeling it right now and will take comfort from your words. Start by just writing one thing. One true sentence.
To read Karen’s poems and to find out more about her, head over to her Insta: @mother_truths