Building Cathedrals – our invisible work

I was forwarded this story and it made me weep – as I too feel that my real work goes unappreciated and I constantly feel guilty for not achieving the heights of super-mum. I share it, hoping that it will encourage and inspire you as it did me. Otherwise find another story that suits you better.

Invisible Mother…..
It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, ‘Can’t you see I’m on the phone?’
Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this?! ; Can you open this??

Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, ‘What time is it?’ I’m a satellite guide to answer, ‘What number is the Disney Channel?’ I’m a car to order, ‘Right around 5:30, please.’

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude – but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, she’s gone!?

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England . Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well.
It wasn’t; hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, ‘I brought you this.’ It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given i t to me until I read her inscription:

‘To Charlotte , with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.’

In the days ahead I would read – no, devour – the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work: No one can say who built the great cathedrals – we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

The passion of their building was fuelled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.
A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam . He was puzzled and asked the man, ‘Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof, No one will ever see it.. And the workman replied, ‘Because God sees.’

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, ‘I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness . It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, ‘My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.’ That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, ‘You’re gonna love it there.’

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

The Acorn has sprouted

Well my charismatic customers would have described this evening as ‘awesome’. I am not sure if I can say why – too close to the evening to have integrated all that was said.

Tonight was Choices night. Let me introduce Choices. Six years ago as NCT Homebirth co-ordinator I set up a homebirth group and after some scouting around found not an NHS midwife to facilitate the meeting – but a breed of midwfe I had never met before – the ‘independent midwife’. It was not long before people not wanting a homebirth asked if they could come along, and anyway, we did not just talk about place of birth but birth support, the third stage of labour, Vitamin K, to suture or not to suture and much more. And so we decided to call our group something else – a Choices in Childbirth Group’ – or Choices as it is known.

And so for six years month by month we have been meeting – sometimes there is one woman, or one couple, sometimes there are 15 of us – and in a simple informal way we talk around the issues that concern those present.

And tonight was such a night. There was a single Mum, who brought along her young partner, slightly embarrassed, but good for him he was there. Last month she told us that she had been told that she could not have a homebirth. She had been surprised to find someone else there who had been given a similar statement for similar reasons but had decided to have a homebirth as it was the place she would feel most safe and relaxed and therefore most likely to be safe and without complications. This month she told us she had negotiated a homebirth with her midwives. But she now had lots of other questions about pregnancy and birth she needed answering.

Another second time Mum needed to talk about her previous birth and the care which she had received which to say the least had not been always good. These things need to be said and acknowledged. Looking forward to this new baby, she wanted things to be different.

Another woman was moving on from a difficult early pregnancy and looking at possibilities, and looking for better care than she had received in those first 4 months.

And we had the Head of Midwifery at our group. And she was so good, she listened, and it must have been hard to listen and not butt in, but she listened and said some things. And I wanted her to tell the group about the changes planned and the things they wanted to do to improve things. But the people here tonight needed and wanted to talk and every attempt I made was quoshed as they continued to discuss the things that mattered to them. And the Head of Midwifery demonstrated her midwfery skills of reassuring presence, so women talked and were reassured by her presence.

I am on the learner slopes when it comes to these things so I sat with my crochet and watched and listened with awe to the discussions around me, interjecting sometimes with a question or comment or occasionally my passion got the better of me and I said more!

And afterwards I was stunned by the hugs and the thanks. What had I done? I had made this happen, set up the group, publicised, kept battering at the gates of the NHS Trust until they openned a little and then jammed my foot in the gap to make sure it did not shut again! Oh! I had not realised i had done that – I was too busy to notice, and too exhausted to be really honest.

And of course I could not do it without the people who had said thanks – Catriona who had hosted it and invited her firends, her house mate who made the tea and openned the door for everyone, for Kajsa who supports the La Leche League in Bradford and breastfeeding stuff now I do so little of that, and so many others passing on the messages of empowerment and hope to other women. And of course IM Michelle Whittle faithfully turning up to share in 2 hours her knowledge and passion for good birthing month after month, year after year. And tonight, to Julie Walker for coming to our group and respecting us and listening to us, and not trying to defend the service but accepting the criticism and seeking ways to take things forward.

From such little acorns do mighty oaks grow. Maybe this little group is yeast in the dough helping to transform dough to bread. Maybe it is not. But tonight, some of us caught the amazing potential of our births to change not just our own lives but those of our community and city. I hope so.

Choices matter because, to make a choice people need to know they have one in the first place, and they need the resource to access that choice. As far as we are able we try to do that by providing information and offering support. And then using these women’s stories to ask/demand better maternity services.

Already we have grown – from 1 group to three or four, with an emailing list of 250. Yes Choices is now an online monthly newsletter as well. So you can sign up and get information on events, latest research, websites, petitions and campaigns, and anything else that maybe relevant. You can sign up at . We also have links with groups in Manchester, Sheffield, York and Liverpool.

Tonight was awesome not because it was an earth shattering event – but because tonight I could look back and see how far we had come from where we were six years ago – and be reminded by women there of the importance of this groups in their journey to birth. That was awesome. The acorn has sprouted.