13 May 2018

BY: Caroline Cairns Clery


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We are supposed to be happy on our birthdays, to celebrate, and as Marie Antoinette allegedly put it about the starving, to even eat cake! But she was a little girl at the time so perhaps she wasn’t being sarcastic and unfeeling at all. Who knows? My point is that what we say and how we say it always has to be understood in context. Thinking back to my birthday, the anniversary of my ‘time capsule’ landing on Earth, or to be less science fictional-sounding and more prosaically precise about it, I landed on a sterile, rubberised sheet on a hospital bed. I arrived through my mother’s ‘womb door’, as some religions poetically if bloodlessly refer to what mid-wives, who know all about the blood, call the ‘birth canal’.

Whether we use the language of health care professionals, or the language of religionists, or the language of science fiction writers, we can often all be talking about the same thing from our different contexts. And that’s before even considering the wider linguistic context of the country we come from! The context I come from tends to be emotionally biased and what I want to say with feeling in this blog is that our mothers deserve congratulation on our birthdays just as much, if not more so, than we do! They were our first ‘context’ without whom we would not exist even as we bathed in the amniotic bath they kindly grew us in. I am stating the blinking obvious again, it is true. But bear with me please.

It is usually understood by many cultures including our own, and deriving from a time before reliable, (fairly) easily available contraception began, that virginity is ‘lost’ or ‘taken’ on the first occasion of our experiencing fully penetrative sexual intercourse. But how many of us know, or have known, sexually active young people who notionally, but only notionally, understand the financial, social, educational, psychological and medical contexts that their urges are potentially putting them at risk of subsequently having to deal with? Perhaps we were one of them ourselves once! They may have had sex but, in general, they cannot really understand and/or grasp the reality of the implications of their actions until or unless they become pregnant or find themselves struggling with a treatment-resistant sexually acquired illness. And perhaps not even then. Unless we happen to be gay or transgendered or otherwise a member of a sexual minority, in which case awareness from an early age of societal bigotry and prejudice perhaps prompts a rapid development into a more mature sense of what the world is like than that of our peers; and unless, too, we are not able to have children, or don’t want any, virginity generally rolls back into history, in my opinion, when our first child is born. I am generalising, as I always do. But generally speaking, it is becoming parents that effects a step-change in our progress towards developmental maturity as adults.

In so far as our babies, especially while they are still babies, directly reflect ourselves and the care we give them, it is an absolute joy to celebrate their developmental milestones. And of course birthdays are pre-eminent among those. But I feel we should also, and just as much and at the same time, celebrate our mums and the labour they put into carrying and delivering us. It really helps to remember that, with their first child at least, they are actually new born themselves. New born mothers!

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre