You and I know only too well just how difficult motherhood can be, but we’re often too ashamed to say the words out loud. This is why Hollie McNish’s poem, ‘What’s my name again?’, is striking such a powerful chord around the world.
The poet has just been presented with the Ted Hughes Award, and marked the honour with a reading of her incredible work, for Channel 4 News.
‘What’s my name again?’ principally deals with the change – or, as in some cases, the loss of – identity that occurs when we become mothers.
“I lost my name at toddler group. From Hollie, or Hols, or Hollie McNish. I’m now known as so-and-so’s mum,” begins Hollie, in a powerful statement that we can all relate to.
“And I can’t complain, ‘cause I’m just the same, I put this same label on everyone. I met Izzy’s dad for a drink at the park, we bumped into Molly’s gran, and Tiana’s, and Mark’s. And it’s only when the stars are out and everything’s dark that my own name creeps out from under the table, and I’m able to remember the person I am.”
We can all relate to Hollie’s experience of how ‘me time’ becomes a rarity, too, once children come along. Indeed, shopping and pamper days are swapped for that two-hour slot before midnight – until Hollie’s daughter ‘cries out for her’ or she ‘needs a wee’ or she ‘pleads for a fiftieth cuddle from her’, and she becomes ‘just mum’ again.
But what does ‘mum’ really mean? When you break it all down, it’s a pretty simple catch-all title for one who does so much.
As Hollie says: “One word cannot sum up the things we’ve all done, the ways that we love, the stories we tell. No bouquets of roses are thrown on our stages.
“Under-paid. Over-worked. Us feeders, us nappy-change divas, us breeders, us milk-makers, milk strainers; cracked-nipple, swell-painful, bottle-fed, guilt-ridden.”
Hollie’s words highlight what incredible creatures we really are, but there’s an even more important side of motherhood that we need to be aware of – sometimes, we really are teetering on the edge with all that we have to do for our children and our families.
“Someone said that mums are the rocks that never crumble. 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. And every parent I know says those moments are never so far,” she admits.
“We are parents but we are people, we are not snot-rags, and we are dreamers; we are queens and we are cleaners, we are kissed, and we are screamed at. We are sleep-deprived gardeners, cut hands hidden in gloves. We are rocks crumbling sometimes in love that’s so heavy.”
Need to take a breath? Yeah, us too.
Hollie’s poem has touched hearts and minds across the internet, being shared and praised tens of thousands of times.