It was always a mystery to me why the churches of Ireland were filled with women, and empty of men. I looked up at the crucifix and thought it was a bizarre thing for women to worship a man in a church run by men. As far as I was concerned being a Catholic was silly, and being a Jew meant so much more washing-up. What all religions do, however, is what most political systems fail to do — they prize and praise the figure of the mother.
She is the machine, the hidden power. She is the ideal, the revered one, the truly loved. Which makes up, in a way, for being skipped in shop queues and looking like a heap.
And more. On the third night of my child’s life I looked into her eyes and realised that nothing I believed could explain this. It was an embarrassing moment. I think I saw her soul. I suffered from the conviction that a part of her was ancient; and that part chose to be there with me at the beginning of something new. I had a wise child.
Carrying her out of the hospital and into the noise of the traffic; driving her home in second gear; feeding her in the middle of the night, and at the beginning of the night, and at dawn — so precious — I found myself shrinking in the face of her vast and unknowable future. How would she turn out? What would she do? When would she die? Not for many, many years, I hoped; not for the longest time. The mechanisms of fate, the grinding of her days that would lead to one end or another, became urgently opaque to me. There were a thousand things that could hurt this child, or even estrange her from me. What could I do? Nothing. My best.
These are all feelings that religion understands.
I had, I thought, become human in a different and perhaps more radical way. I had let something slip into the stream of time. What else can you do, but trust the river — put it all into the hands of a higher power?
Oh, all right.
And who else, but the suffering Christ, could know the suffering that motherhood brings?
Actually, I will resist the tug of it, if you don’t mind. Still, I will resist.
Anne Enright, ‘God’ in Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 111-12.
Children are actually a form of brainwashing. They are a cult, a perfectly legal cult. Think about it. When you join a cult you are undernourished, you are denied sleep, you are forced to do repetitive and pointless tasks at random hours of the day and night, then you stare deep into your despotic leader’s eyes, repeating meaningless phrases, or mantras, like Ooh da gorgeous. Yes, you are! Cult members, like parents, are overwhelmed by spiritual feelings and often burst into tears. Cult members, like parents, spout nonsense with a happy, blank look in their eyes. They know they’re sort of mad, but they can’t help it. They call it love.
From ‘Baby-Talk’ in Anne Enright, Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood, London: Vintage, 2005, 138.
Pourquoi ne trouve-t-on que des femmes et jamais d’hommes sur les bancs des églises irlandaises? Cela a toujours été un mystère pour moi. Tout en levant les yeux vers le crucifix, je pensais à quel point il était étrange que des femmes vénèrent un homme dans une église dirigée par des hommes. En ce qui me concerne, être catholique était stupide et être juive signifiait encore plus de vaisselle à faire.
Cependant, il y a une chose que toutes les religions font et qui pourtant échappe à la plupart des systèmes politiques : chérir et admirer la figure maternelle.
Elle est la machine, la puissance cachée. Elle incarne la perfection, celle que l’on respecte, l’amour véritable. Ce qui, dans un sens, compense toutes les fois où elle se laisse dépasser dans la file et où elle ne ressemble à rien.
Et plus encore. Une nuit, alors que ma fille n’avait que trois jours, je l’ai regardée dans les yeux et je me suis rendu compte qu’aucune de mes croyances ne pouvait expliquer cette sensation.
C’était un moment intimidant: je crois avoir vu son âme. J’étais persuadée qu’une partie de ma fille était ancestrale et que c’était cette partie-là qui avait choisi d’être ici, avec moi, au commencement de quelque chose de nouveau. Mon enfant était un sage.
En l’emmenant de l’hôpital vers le bruit du trafic; pendant le trajet jusqu’à la maison en deuxième vitesse; en la nourrissant au milieu de la nuit, ainsi que le soir et à l’aube — quel petit trésor — je me trouvais de plus en plus désarmée face à son vaste et imprévisible futur. Que deviendrait-elle? Que ferait-elle? Quand mourrait-elle? Pas avant de très, très nombreuses années, je l’espérais; pas avant la fin des temps. Les rouages du destin et leur grincement lorsque chacun de ses jours s’écoulait, la menant vers une issue ou vers une autre: subitement, tout cela me parut extrêmement obscur. Un millier de choses pouvaient blesser cet enfant, voire l’éloigner de moi. Que pouvais-je y faire? Rien du tout, si ce n’est mon possible.
C’est ce torrent d’émotions que la religion parvient à comprendre.
Je pensais avoir redécouvert mon humanité d’une manière différente et peut-être même plus radicale. J’avais laissé quelque chose s’intercaler dans le cours du temps. Que peut-on faire d’autre, si ce n’est faire confiance au courant — remettre le tout dans les mains d’une puissance supérieure?
Ah bon, d’accord.
Et qui d’autre que le Christ sur la croix pourrait comprendre la souffrance qu’engendre la maternité? En fait, je crois que je vais résister à la tentation, si ça ne vous dérange pas. Oui, je résisterai.
- “It was always a mystery to me why the churches of Ireland were filled with women, and empty of men.”
I decided to split this sentence into two sentences to accentuate the fact that it is a real questioning to which the author has no response. I also chose to translate the “church filled with women, and empty of men”-contrast by a “church in which you only see women and never men”.
- “She is the ideal, the revered one, the truly loved.”
I decided to translate “the revered one” by “the one that you respect” because I could not find a suitable equivalent adjective in French used in this context.
- “On the third night of my child’s life I looked into her eyes and realised that nothing I believed could explain this.”
The literal translation of “on the third night of my child’s life” sounded unnatural in French, that is why I preferred to say “one night, when my daughter was only three-days old”. I also chose to explicit “this” by “this sensation” in order to make the meaning clearer.
- “It was an embarrassing moment.”
The translation I chose for “embarrassing” is equivalent to “intimidating”. In French, “gênant” (=“embarrassing”) is usually used to describe an uneasy feeling towards something that makes you want to flee from it. However, “intimidant” (=“intimidating”) supposes that while you are feeling uneasy towards something, you are still curious about what is that intimidates you. In this context, the mother is experiencing an uneasy feeling that she cannot really understand: she says “I think I saw her soul” and not “I saw her soul”, indicating that she is still unsure of what she felt. However, she still embraces that strangeness: by thinking her daughter has an ancient soul, she also thinks that she is wise and thus extraordinary, different than the other children (as most mothers do). That is why I think “gênant” is not appropriate while “intimidant” is a better choice.
- “I had a wise child.”
The literal translation would be “J’avais un enfant sage”. However, the common meaning of “un enfant sage” is “a child that behaves” and not “a child that is wise”. Because there is no adjective that is a real equivalent, I chose to say that the child was what would be called a “wise man”, which supposes that the child has wisdom.
- “— so precious —"
This remark of the author is so small yet so meaningful. It is a stop in the narration of all the moments the mother is taking care of her child. Those moments could be seen as a burden to other people, however we can feel that it is no burden to her since she loves her child: that is the meaning of this remark. It could have been translated in many different ways: I decided to say “quel petit trésor” (=“what a small treasure”), “trésor” being a common surname for your loved ones. The accentuating meaning of “so” is here translated by “quel” (=“what”).
- “I found myself shrinking in the face of her vast and unknowable future.”
Even though there exists a word in French with the meaning of “shrinking” (that is “rapetisser”), I decided to use the adjective “désarmé” (=“helpless”) instead. “Rapetisser” is not commonly used as a metaphor in French like it is the case in this text, that is why I preferred to use the equivalent of ‘helpless’: I think it best describes the feelings of a young mother realising that she cannot control everything that happens to her child.
- “The mechanisms of fate, the grinding of her days that would lead to one end or another, became urgently opaque to me.”
I preferred the longer sentence “subitement, tout cela me parut extrêmement obscur” (=“suddenly, all of this appeared extremely opaque to me”) because the use of ‘urgent’ as an adverb is not common in French (we mostly use it as an adjective in set expressions). That is why I used another adverb in combination with an adjective that could give the same meaning as “urgently”.
- “These are all feelings that religion understands.”
I chose to translate “all feelings” by “torrent of feelings” because I felt it reflected more the overwhelming sensation of the last paragraph.
Moreover, I preferred “[…] manages to understand” (= “[…] parvient à comprendre”) instead of “understands” alone because it puts more stress on the difficult aspect of understanding the complex emotions of a new mother.
- “I had, I thought, become human in a different and perhaps more radical way.”
The translation I chose for this sentence differs a bit from the original text. I preferred “I had rediscovered my humanity” because the literal translation didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I also think that while this mother is indeed discovering new human feelings regarding motherhood (like pain and concern about her child) which she can link to religion, in the end, whether she is more human or just feeling more human does not matter: she still chooses to reject religion.
- “And who else, but the suffering Christ, could know the suffering that motherhood brings?”
I preferred to say “Christ on the cross” because in French, the adjective “souffrant” (=“suffering”) means “who feels slightly ill”, which is different than physical or mental pain (which the author is writing about in this text). By referring to the crucifixion, it becomes clearer for the reader while making a link back to the statuette referred in the first paragraph.
Moreover, I decided to translate “bring” by “engendrer”(=“to cause”) because it has a double meaning in French: it also means “to give birth”, which is a pun regarding the theme of this text.
- “Actually, I will resist the tug of it, if you don’t mind. Still, I will resist.”
“Still, I will resist” was for me difficult to get because “still” can have different meanings. I eventually decided to translate this word by a simple “oui” (=“yes”), sign that the author is convinced of her beliefs and does not want to rely on religion to find solace.