A mother’s instinct

When my baby was a few months old, I vividly recall standing in a queue at Target waiting to pay for my shopping. The girl on the register was ill-equipped for her position and everything she did was at a snail’s pace. Normally I am a patient and gracious person.  Normally it would not have bothered me greatly.

Today, however, my small baby was hungry and crying. Rarely did I let it get to this point, and now I was cursing myself. I was tempted to run outside and leave my items behind. I just couldn’t get through that register fast enough. I had not known such instinct before. Such a fierce bubbling of something primal and furious. I needed to feed my baby, come hell or high water.

That day in the queue was one of the greatest revelations of my life. Suddenly I understood a great many things. I took my place amongst the world’s mothers.

One of the first things I did as a result was to find an agency that supported women and children across the globe, and send some of my maternity leave payment. This was a little risky in itself as I was earning less, and having to make ends meet creatively. However, if I had experienced such an instinct and need to feed my child in a Target queue, then I could only imagine the true extent of the need of the woman who clutches her truly hungry child, with no means of feeding her. It is soul destroying to wonder, to truly to imagine, what it would be like to watch your child die of hunger.

A few months ago in a tabloid paper, there was a supposed representation of people who offered their thoughts regarding the retrieval of the bodies of drowned refugees in Australian waters. The dearth of empathy was damning. God help us.

Much, if not all of the representation were women, and that struck me. Since becoming a mother, I cannot watch the news without fear, contemplating the losses of other mothers. Motherhood has ripped me apart. Undone me, as my closest friend says. But in the best of ways. However, apparently this undoing, this surge of overwhelming compassion – whether by nature, hormones, or some other less tangible thing – is not universal. For there is a whole number of women out there who would leave the wretched bodies of these poor human beings unclaimed in the water.

In the queue that day in Target, I realised something else. I thought of mothers and babies fleeing war-torn and troubled countries. I had entertained the idea of queue jumping in Target. I knew in that minute, understood, how a mother might just consider taking a boat, despite the risks, to a place where her child might be safe. It’s called desperation. And hope.

I am both saddened and ashamed to belong to a nation of recent arrivals who would literally turn their backs on the most vulnerable people in the world, the mother, and her baby.

Perhaps my baby’s hunger was superficial and irrelevant in the great scheme of things, and perhaps it is irreverent for me to compare her hunger with the magnitude of the worlds’ poverty and hunger, but surely this is what compassion is about? Surely compassion is about using your own experiences and attachments, and using your imagination to begin to understand what the experience of another might be like.

Perhaps the most difficult thing about compassion is allowing your mind to go there. For the imagining in itself is terrifying.

I would like to raise my voice above this din of disregard to say that I am not amongst that cold representation. I am an Australian that welcomes those in their time of need.

“…The moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.” – Last speech of Hubert H Humphrey.

Meaghan Paul
Senior School College Chaplain
Methodist Ladies’ College

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