Thoughts on Mom from Terry Tempest Williams

On this day, set aside to celebrate mothers, I wanted to write something special about Mother and Home. But as much as I tried, I couldn’t do it. I can write and talk about Mom at length on any other day, but on this day, I don’t know what to say. I have had too many losses and, in this, I know I am not alone. Many are grieving the absence of mothering. And, at the same time, are deeply aware of it in unusual ways.

So, today I give you the words of Terry Tempest Williams from two of her books that have deeply touched me: Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place and When Women Were Birds. In both, she explores her relationship to her mother and to the long lineage of women who have shaped who she is.

May we celebrate mothering in every form and shape, in everyone who has mothered us – and continues to – in spirit and in love. Giving birth is not the only way to be a Mom. Mothering is not confined to gender or biology. And yet, we were each born out of a woman.  

Today may we celebrate our births. May we, like birds, sing through everything.

“What is it about the relationship of a mother that can heal or hurt us? Her womb is the first landscape we inhabit. In here we learn to respond—to move, to listen, to be nourished and grow. In her body we grow to be human as our tails disappear and our gills turn to lungs. Our maternal environment is perfectly safe—dark, warm, and wet. It is a residency inside the Feminine.

      When we outgrow our mother’s body, our cramps become her own. We move. She labors. Our body turns upside down in hers as we journey through the birth canal. She pushes in pain. We emerge, a head. She pushes one more time, and we side out like a fish. Slapped on the back by the doctor, we breathe. The umbilical cord is cut—not at our request. Separation is immediate. A mother reclaims her body, for her own life. Not ours. Minutes old, our first death is our own birth.”[1]           

“I will say it is so: The first voice I heard belonged to my mother. It was her voice I listened to from the womb; from the moment my head emerged into this world; from the moment I was pushed out, then placed on her belly before the umbilicus was cut; from the moment when she cradled me in her arms. My mother spoke to me: “Hello, little one. You are here, I am here.

      “I will say it is so: My mother’s voice is a lullaby in my cells. When I am still, my body feels her breathing.”[2]

“I am slowly, painfully discovering that my refuge is not found in my mother, my grandmother, or even the birds of Bear River. My refuge exists in my capacity to love. If I can learn to love death then I can begin to find refuge in change.”[3]

      “Once upon a time, when women were birds, there was the simple understanding that to sing at dawn and to sing at dusk was to heal the world through joy. The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”[4]


[1] Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams, 2001, p50

[2] When Women Were Birds, p17

[3] Refuge, p178

[4] When Women Were Birds, p235

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