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Criticism on Glorification of Motherhood in Cyntha Hariadi’s Poems

Story / Review

By Ros Aruna,
Aug 14, 2018

“Probably there is nothing in human nature more resonant with charges than the flow of energy between two biologically alike bodies, one of which has lain in amniotic bliss inside the other, one of which has labored to give birth to the other. The materials are here for the deepest mutuality and the most painful estrangement.”

Of Woman Born by Adrienne Rich (1929-2012)

The excerpt above opens Cyntha Hariadi‘s book of poetry Ibu Mendulang Anak Berlari (or Feeding Running Child), published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama, April 2016. Adrienne Rich is an American poet. He is also a feminist. Died at the age of 83, Adrienne had three sons.

That opening quote is the perfect entrée to Cyntha’s poems that describe her opinion on motherhood. In this book she describes the relationship of mother and child. Began with the process of “Birth” as the second poem. Then proceed with the poem “Kiss Her Forehead!” which describes the first meeting of mother and child. This two processes depict the estrange relationship between mom and child and how the seeds of dependence begin to emerge.

“Kiss Her Forehead!”

The first time I saw you
your eyes were on me for a second, “Oh, her.”
Not interested, you’re looking for your mother
on the roof of the wall and to every corner of the room,
your mouth pursed looking for nipples
your hands were squeezed, your legs are wrapped up,
your head was turned around above dense neck.
On my arm you lie down,
I can’t hold you close.

That‘s how we meet for the first time
although we have been together for nine months
never face to face.
Then there was a command, “Kiss her forehead!”
I bow my head and breathed
the smell of life on your forehead, thin, soft and sour
the crater in the middle of your head is boiling, bubbling, mighty
ready to entertain when I ducked.
Dry lips
I gobbled.

But your eyes are still wandering,
when will you see me?
Green towels that wrap you up,
Was it warmer than my body?

The doctor is still sewing
blood splashed on his glasses
I want to sleep.

The poem above truly illustrates the birth process from a mother’s eyes. Subjects who immediately felt how emotions and feelings raged in the process. How wouldn’t you feel strange because, “That’s how we meet for the first time although we have been together for nine months.” That estranged will make kissing the child not as a spontaneous act. There must be someone who ordered, even though later on the mother will be voracious to give a kiss.

When reading this poem imagine the command to kiss came because the birth process was captured camera. When the moment the mother kissed the head of the child for the first time appeared in the form of a photo, who imagined that behind a smile full of gratitude of a mother, there was a “director” who told to kiss? Don’t we always suspect that the moment is a spontaneous process that illustrates the magnitude of the love of his new mother whose child has just born into the world?

There is no glorification of sacrifice and struggle there, the process of childbirth and the emotions that were present in the mother (and also the child) appear as they are. Without using a lot of adjectives, Cyntha showed that struggle and sacrifice with two simple sentences, “The doctor is still sewing, blood is splashing on his glasses. I want to sleep.”

Mother Not a Superwoman

The way Cyntha describes the relationship between mother and child seems to be an attempt to break the habits of our society which imposes women to become superhuman figures when acting as parents. Mother is described as a perfect person who can do everything. This habit increasingly distorts the role of fathers in the family and adds a double burden on the shoulders of women.

If we look at the poems “Shower”, “Milk”, and “Cleaning”, it seems Cyntha displays an imperfect mother figure, there is carelessness, excessive guilt, chaos, and how things become natural. The relationship between mother and child seems like a process, forming each other, remind each other, need each other. Mother not only keeps on giving, and the child doesn’t always ask.


I take off one by one
skirt, shirt, bra, panties

pull the bathtub curtain
enter slowly like wearing glass slippers

turn on the tap wholeheartedly
turn off my eyes don’t want to open it again

I rinsed
I praise god

Behind the curtain, on top of piled shirt
sat a virgin crying for her fate

like a river of tears and snot
flowing into the mouth looking for mother, mother, mother
did not stop until the face choked blue

I’m awake

no matter how much the tap water swallows the mother, mother, mother
the faint flight really rebuked the heart
more dirty a little

I sin because of bathing.

Bathing, simple activities, daily routines that will feel special when a woman has just given birth to her child. In the first months of caring for a child, time went very fast, nights turn into days and night, days turn into nights. It was unimaginable beforehand how a creature as small as a human baby could take so much time. As Cyntha wrote in her poem, bathing feels like a sin because the child must be left on a pile of clothes, crying for mother, choke herself and turn her face blue.

There is regret in the choice of the word sin. But, it also feels like the mother’s unacceptability, why is showering so simple that it brings guilt so great? These kinds of things can only be caught when writing about a motherhood is done by a writer who has experience as a mother. Not enough, she must also be able to write it honestly, in a deep reflective process.

Similar regrets are described in the shorter “Milk” poem. In the meantime, in the poem “Cleaning” which emphasized spatial elements, Cyntha describes the chaotic atmosphere of the house and how the chaos can only be resolved when the child is sleeping. This is a picture of how life in a family is often and naturally occurring, but seldom missed the portrayal when placing mothers as objects, not subject.

Motherhood Glorification

Cyntha’s criticism of motherhood glorification that usually put women as an object, continues to be found in this book. Her poetry compiled based on chronology of birth, life and death. And it closed with two interesting poems. Of the 62 poems, in the 60th and 61st poems entitled “Heaven” and “Death,” we can capture Chynta’s criticism of the tendency of people on positioning women who have children.


My daughter
hear Mother
there is no heaven on my feet
also on your feet
heaven doesn’t live on anyone’s feet
let alone humans
I forbid you
kiss anyone’s feet
never worship me
especially prostrating kissing my feet
but hand out your hand
hold my hand
even though my eyes are blurry
and my feet sank
in your grasp
I know what you saved and never revealed
as long as you are a child.

In the poem “Heaven,” Cyntha want to convey, that glorifying motherhood makes the relationship between mother and child become unbalanced, distant. In fact, only by holding hands, a mother can only feel things that her child does not convey.

Glorification motherhood continues to the death stage. Described that heaven is in the soles of the mother’s feet. Women who have children, are placed in a great position and must be worshiped, because heaven is on the soles of his feet. Cyntha’s criticism want to tickle us by asking a question: Are women want this noble position? Or maybe it will just made us restricted to move. The more noble and sacred, the more boundaries that are going to be attached to women’s body, right?

* * *


Read the original in Indonesian, Kritik Atas Sosok Ibu dalam Puisi-puisi Cyntha Hariadi, previously published in her personal blog on September 27, 2017.

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