Our Mothers Ourselves – Six women from across the world tell their mothers’ stories

Cathy Hull, Rupal Shah, Kumi Konno, Caryn Solomon, Veena Siddharth, Vayu Naidu 

We are a group of six women who came together during the COVID-19 pandemic, from different parts of the world  – Japan, Costa Rica and Britain -with the intent of exploring our mothers’ stories and writing together. Meeting one another virtually during that strange, isolated time, we shared our professional experience as writers, editors, teachers and readers and created a supportive space within which to critique and develop our writing and to start to uncover our mothers’ stories.

Our book tells the stories of, ‘ordinary women’, who each in her own way was extraordinary and heroic, who taught their daughters how to live. Their stories span four continents and were shaped by some of the major events of the twentieth century, including World War, Colonialism and Apartheid in South Africa.

Sharing our own stories of growing up, we realized that although we thought we understood our mothers’ lives, we didn’t know enough. We wanted to hear what our mothers had never told us and to explore what they handed down.

Reflecting the different time, place, class, social context and cultures in which our mothers lived out their lives, these stories speak of western, individualistic ideas of mothering as well as eastern, mythological understandings of the ‘universal mother’ embodied in us all.

Despite their differences, the women described in this anthology share an ‘essence’ – they all dared to be different. Cathy’s mother escaped her restricted family background in northern England, to forge a new life for herself in the South. Kumi’s mother moved to the southernmost part of the mainland to live with adoptive parents and later went to Tokyo to study at university. Vayu’s mother was among the first generation of Indian women to have access to higher education, subsequently mobilising the supply of milk to soldiers and refugee wives and children. Caryn’s mother’s involvement in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa put her own life at risk as well as the lives of her family. Through colonial ties between India and the UK, Rupal’s mother took the unprecedented step of migrating to London to marry a man she hadn’t seen for five years. Veena’s mother left India as a single woman, hoping that her medical qualifications would allow her to live an independent life in America.

Four of our mothers were still alive during the creation of the book and were involved in the writing, providing private photographs, letters and diaries, as well as giving lengthy interviews. Two of our mothers were already dead when we started to write and in the case of one, for over fifty years. She left behind just a handful of photographs.

Among common themes that emerged, the theme of migration stands out – our mothers’ migrations through countries and cultures, our personal migrations to deeper understandings of our mothers, our collective migration as writers towards a greater awareness of what binds us to each other and to our mothers.

We believe these stories are not ours or our mothers’ alone. They are stories of all women in the world, stories of yearning for more, of courage to embrace but not to forget, of holding on, of letting go and of going back, of weathering the distance and of passing it all on.

Inspired by our mothers, we will commit all profits of this book to Women for Refugee Women, which empowers refugee and asylum seeking women in the UK to tell their own stories and make their voices heard.

Find out more about the book here.