Amanda McLeod


What Does It Mean to be a Mother?


Motherhood is a fraught concept for many people. Some mothers struggle with their identity in the context of motherhood and sociocultural expectation; others with the concept of their own mothers and the complexity of that relationship. Undefining Motherhood suggests “The answer to “What is a mother?” is not “Someone who has birthed a child.” Period.”

In developing this project, I acknowledged quite early in my pondering that the act of childbirth alone does not make a mother. In the context of records and record keeping, I made some startling discoveries. If you bear nine children, and four die in infancy, are you a mother of nine, or a mother of five? If you are pregnant but things don’t progress, does society validate your emotional attachment to your motherhood? Or conversely, invalidate your experience with well-meaning but casually cruel comments? How are your children, and thus your motherhood, reflected in records? And what if those records are incomplete? I read stories of convict women giving birth on ships during transportation, children with death certificates but not birth certificates (and vice versa), and bereaved mothers being required to jump through bureaucratic hoops to have their motherhood recognised and not recognised simultaneously.

Conversely, defining human existence without reference to motherhood is equally tricky. When your family history is incomplete, how are records of your own existence created? Is living memory enough to fill the gaps in the record? (Of course not.) My search turned up many memento mori, but without accompanying information their purpose lies unfulfilled. I found many circumstances in which mothers were erased from history, through accident, carelessness and deliberate obfuscation. I saw evidence of people simply disappearing through a lack of connection, familial threads lost forever. I read of mothers trying, to no avail, to track children taken from them. I read of birth certificates altered. I wondered how it might feel to see the words ‘unknown’ written beside my own name.

So then, who decides what makes a mother? Who records motherhood, and how? And who chooses what records to keep – whose identities are valid – and whose should just fade away?



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Amanda McLeod
is a creative living in Australia. She is the Managing Editor of Animal Heart Press, the Art Editor at FERAL: A Journal of Poetry and Art, and the author of flash collection Animal Behaviour (Chaffinch Press, 2020). Amanda is currently intrigued by hybrid works of words and art, and how they can capture the human experience. You can explore more of her work at