Mom Octopus Tragedy Analogy

I have viewed My Octopus Teacher, Netflix’s latest documentary, twice. Note that’s double the amount of times an Octopus has sex.

I watched it on my own and then again with the kids. Not only was it filmed in South Africa by South Africans and that the kelp Forest was not far from our favourite secret beach we visited when we lived in Cape Town, but it was a beautiful, breathtaking documentary underpinned by a unique and (spoiler alert) ultimately tragic love story.

But there is another layer that intrigued me. The reason I shed tears at the end, like so many of you.
I am sure there are many dramatic examples of nature reflecting the female-mother struggles we humans face, but for me this story has got to be the most heartbreaking.

There is this utterly amazing, shape-shifting, magical, mythical, intelligent, independent, quick-witted, strong creature who is also emotional, craving companionship, gentle, playful and yes, also vulnerable.
She can change colour, change texture, change form, mimic her predators’ predators, swim fast, fit in tiny crevices. Hell, she can regenerate limbs for crying out loud. Yet with all of her super powers, ultimately her sole purpose is to reproduce and in doing so, she literally gives her life. Sound familiar?

For the female Octopus, the act of mating and hatching her clutch of eggs takes every inch of strength from her. It literally kills her. Whist her life cycle is, as Craig Foster puts it, live fast and die young, ours is a lot longer and less literal. We don’t die after birthing our young, but it sometimes feels like a part of us does. And if we are not careful, we can find ourselves, just like her, becoming weaker and wasting away, giving too much of ourselves. I touch on this aspect of us moms losing ourselves in motherhood in one of my previous blogs, Mom-Me.

Why would a creature with such superpowers succumb to a fate like that? Perhaps you have to be “out of this world” to hatch up to half a million eggs”? A quick google search offers this up as a plausible explanation.

Octopuses are what scientists call “semelparous” animals, meaning they reproduce just once and then die. … Octopuses frequently engage in cannibalistic behavior, so this biologically programmed death may be nature’s way of preventing mothers from eating their young.


Octopus Parallels

Women change to become what society, culture, parents and partners want us to be. We flex and morph from strong independence to hapless fragility depending on what type of partner we want, life circumstances and our own characteristics and behaviours. We change from daughter to partner to mother. We care for children. We carve careers. We are meant to be home. We are meant to be at work. We are strong. Then soft. We are naughty. Then nice. We are perfect. Then prickly. 

Mark Manson’s account of Simone de Beauvoir articulates this octopus analogy  best. 

In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex. The book starts out tame enough—the first seventy pages explain, in scientific detail, the biological differences between men and women. But upon arriving at Part II, the book quickly takes a revolutionary turn. Beauvoir announces boldly that, “One is not born but rather becomes a woman,” and the reevaluation of gender norms and the social definitions of sex began. The Second Sex makes a simple observation: there are two definitions of “woman”—the biological definition and the social definition. The biological definition is solid and physical, and (mostly) fixed. But the social definition is fluid. It evolves and changes shape based on the time and location of the culture. This social definition of womanhood is not a moral truth but rather a reflection of the economic and social realities of each society. Beauvoir then argues convincingly that the reality of most women’s lives in the western world did not live up to the values espoused by the Enlightenment. And because the definition of “woman” is flexible and can be molded, she aimed to recast the definition in a way that precipitated positive change.

Caption from Mark Manson’s article – Why we all need Philosophy.

My Teacher Octopus was a touching, yet tragic account that left me pondering the purpose of her life, and mine for days and weeks. When I find myself lost in the why’s of life’s lessons , I try to reframe. I am always wishing I had more superpowers; that I could have more arms when I am carrying all the kids stuff from place to place or picking up their stuff from room to room, that I could morph into different forms. It would make motherhood so much easier if I could be the best chef, coach, psychiatrist, teacher, doctor, dentist, music producer and throw a Mary Poppins in there too. Hell, this is all theoretical, so add in that I could shape shift into Hedi Klum as well. There are plenty more though – take a look at this article on 5 superpowers moms would want to have. See I am not alone in this thinking.

Buy here’s the thing, maybe if we could do all of that, if we did have all those superpowers, then perhaps that would mean we only get to live for one year, without being able to being a part of raising our rugrats.
Perhaps the best superpower we human Moms have is being able to care for our children for the rest of our hopefully very long and fruitful lives. Ultimately, we are needed.

And let’s not forget the other tragedy here… sex only once in your life?  

I’d say us human females have the best superpowers of all.

P.S Don’t take my word for it, there are lists;

5 Powers we acquire as mothers
11 Incredible super powers only moms have
21 Mom superpowers

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