Flora Cruft: There was no poetry about parenting twins, so I decided to write my own
There was no poetry about parenting twins, so I decided to write my own: how the collection I am a Spider Mother was born
By Flora Cruft
I can vividly recall the day I started to write poetry about mothering multiples. It was around 7pm on a July evening when my twin girls ’ colic was at its peak, my partner was away for work, and you could hear the babies’ crying for miles around, as I jiggled one baby in my arms while rhythmically pushing a rocking cradle with my foot to soothe the other. They were crying, I was crying, this endless shrieking in the evenings had been going on for weeks, and it was too much to take. So I did the only thing that seemed to work in those days – I sang to them, and as I did so the strangest thing happened. First one, then the other baby started to sing along, turning their waaahs into gooooahhhhs as they tried to copy my sound. Within five minutes I was losing my voice (intensive sleep deprivation can do that) but they were smiling at me, one sucking the tip of my finger, the other waving her chubby paw like she was conducting an orchestra. Wow, I thought, I want to remember moments like this - so once they were asleep I jotted down the beginnings of a poem onto my phone.
As the months went by I continued to write, just occasionally when a vivid feeling or image would strike me. I’d written poetry for years, and had gained some success with competitions and performing at events, but had never felt the urge to do so with any regularity. Now the drive was intense, a sudden desire to make sense of my experience and to have it known by others.
My journey through twin motherhood has been lonely at times, and though I’ve taken solace in poetry by the likes of Sylvia Plath, Liz Berry and Hollie McNish, I’ve never much recognised the maternal worlds of their poems. A tender scene between a mother and child looks quite different when you add a second child, screaming and pushing at her sibling to take pride of place in her mother’s lap. A description of how a mother stopped her baby from eating stones had me muttering “you try stopping two!” There’ve been times when I’ve felt desperate to read about the challenges particular to twin parents: of being torn in half, of never having enough of myself to go around, of trying to expand my capabilities to meet the needs of several little people at the same time.
It was Hollie McNish, when she chose to include my poem in the Mum Poem Press zine Why Mums Are Amazing, who reminded me of what I already knew: that there’s been very little poetry written about twin motherhood. Perhaps because parents of twins, triplets and more are too busy raising their multiples to find the time or energy to write? It certainly took me many years before I developed any coherent ways to unpack my experience, yet the scribblings I put down in my babies’ early days allowed me to gain some insight and relief as I struggled to come to terms with how much my life had changed.
The poems in I am a Spider Mother arose from my reflections on what it means to be a twin mum, and how it has transformed my sense of self and deepened my relationship with my own mother in the process. The book tracks my journey from daughterhood to motherhood, with my mother taking on different roles and significance to me as I move through my life. Spiders are referred to literally and metaphorically, as symbols of maternal patience and resilience. The Spider Mother is protective, fearsome and fearful all at the same time. She both adores her children and is driven to distraction by them. She acknowledges her ambivalence, because it is real, it is true, and it forms a part of her love for them. She is a person changed beyond her own recognition, stretched so far that she discovers within herself new capabilities, new vulnerabilities and a fresh sense of purpose.
I wrote this book as a love letter to my mother and my daughters. I offer it as a deep dive into what multiple motherhood feels like, and as a tribute to the maternal love between the generations. Let’s rejoice in those moments when we can weave our tangled webs together.
I am a Spider Mother by Flora Cruft will be published by the Mum Poem Press in Spring 2021.