This time last year I was struggling with the thought of returning to work after a year on maternity leave. I’d left my job full of excitement about my impending arrival and full of ideas about what I thought motherhood would be like. I was putting on hold that career driven, hardworking, fiercely ambitious side of me that had risen up and up in her job, through nothing but my own dedication. I was ruthless in achieving my goals and was absolutely determined to prove that I, a young woman, could rise high in any career I set my mind to.
Anyway, a few weeks after packing away my desk, my daughter arrived! But so did a completely new version of me, the mother. That determination that had been previously thrust into my career was immediately directed at ensuring that this wonderful, yet tiny, human being had the very best I could possibly give her. My views and opinions changed about so many things. Sleep, previously a favourite pastime, was now a willing sacrifice to provide my daughter with food and comfort through the night. My independence was no longer necessary in a world where I needed to fight for hers. I felt empathy with every parent in the world and cried for every baby who I felt was suffering.
This new person no longer cared one bit about whether a masters degree would be good enough to get to where she wanted to go. Or whether that high up person felt she was performing to her best. All of that could fuck off as far I was now concerned. But this left me stuck. In a kind of limbo as I was leading up to my return to work. How was this new me going to fit into this life that old me had created? How was I going to fit this softer, calmer and gentler version of me into a fast paced life?
In the midst of this mental turmoil, I read an article about how women were gathering across the world in “Red Tents”. It explained that the idea had sprung from Anita Diamant’s book “The Red Tent” and women were coming together to support each other and embrace their femininity. Anyway a quick Facebook search later and I have joined the Red Tent Norfolk group and had the date of the next gathering in my calendar.
I was nervous on the night of my first Red Tent. With no idea what to expect, I had asked on a Facebook group if other people had been and what it was like. I got thirty plus different answers. Not particularly helpful in calming my nerves. Anyway I showed up with a packet of chocolate biscuits and my favourite socks and was welcomed like a friend into a room full of strangers.
That evening we sang, played instruments, listened to storytelling, drank tea and feasted. However the most memorable part for me was during counsel sharing. We were asked as a collective to say what we needed from the space. I knew exactly what I needed. “I need a space to be me. To sit without guilt or pressure. I need to not be needed. And I need to cry.” And I did. No one asked me to be anyone. No one stopped me crying. No asked me to make dinner or put the kettle on. No one hugged me. But I was thanked. I was thanked for sharing with the group and for being honest with myself.
I was buzzing as I drove home that night. I vowed to go back the next month and I did. I cried again that time too, and the time after that. But as I did I felt that I was being truer to myself. I wasn’t trying to be the career-driven woman nor was I trying to be the perfect mother. I didn’t have to be a good wife, a good friend or anything at all. I just showed up, did what I wanted, took what I needed, offered what I was able and left.
As the year has gone on I have attended as many Red Tent evenings as possible. Each evening I have met new people, watched the seasons change, celebrated, reflected and been heard, but my experience is just that, it is mine! What I take from each session is personal and unique therefore describing it to someone would not do it justice. It needs to be experienced to be understood. However I can say with absolute certainty that my Red Tent is a space for me to acknowledge a whole me, where I lay myself bare and vulnerable, and in return feel empowered.