I wrote this while pregnant….
I woke myself up in the middle of the night calling for my mother last week. There I was, the middle of the night, big belly making my escape from my bedsheets nearly impossible, tears in my eyes, calling for the one and only person that I cannot have right now. I spoke to her anyway, spoke out loud to the darkness, but I found myself alone.
My midwives tell me that women without mothers experience the pain of that absence all over again during pregnancy. In becoming a mother, it only makes sense that you would look back to your own. For me, that's a complicated thing to do. I've lost two mothers in my lifetime. The first was lost to addiction and mental illness. She is not deceased, but was swallowed up by her afflictions so much so that I do not know the real woman beneath them….I do not know who I lost, but have always carried that absence with me on a profound level.
My second experience of losing a mother was quite different, though. There was a woman who was first my stepmother, who relentlessly tried to peel through the layers of pain and fear and protection that surrounded me as a child, a woman who eventually found the little girl underneath, picked her up, dropped the "step" and became my mother. Ultimately, my time with her was short, but without her presence in my life, without her love and affection, without her belief that I was truly her daughter, I know my path would have veered in a dark, troubling direction. But, I lost this mother too. She passed away suddenly at the young age of 48, a few days after my 23rd birthday.
I will always carry these losses with me, the absence will always be in tow. So much of who we are, how we feel about the world and how we feel in that world, comes from our mother. There is a space within us that only she can fill, and if we lose her that space remains empty….at times our memories may float through, filling it momentarily if we focus hard enough to bring her back to life….and then she is gone again. That space is sacred and cannot be filled by anyone else.
So, then what happens when you begin the enormous transition that accompanies pregnancy from the moment you conceive, when you sort through what it means to be a mother and become one yourself? I've found the process overwhelming and the memories, both painful and happy, inescapable.
And now I am a mother….
So far, mothering without a mother hasn't been always easy. The first month of Emmie's life I found myself crying several times, wishing a fruitless wish. "If only my mother was here…." I'd often think or say out loud. No one else can provide the kind of comfort, guidance and support that your mother can when you are in the early days of motherhood yourself. But, I get by. Because I am a mother. And that's what mothers do. They soldier on, they push through what's ailing themselves in order to give to their children, they don't let their past pain tarnish their children's futures—at least that is the kind of mother I aspire to be.
When I was in labor, my progress stalled. There was a moment when I was full of fear and I so badly wanted my mother. My midwife was about to massage my cervix for the second time, and I could not bear the thought of experiencing the pain of this again. I found myself reliving a lot of "old pain," pain from decades ago, long forgotten, but called up in that moment. It was natural for me to then reach for my mother as she is a symbol of protection to me.
Now I am the protector. I pulled myself through labor for my little girl, and I live each day showing her that she can trust me….that I am here, always. I can tell by the way she melts into my arms, the way she looks to me to hold her when she is inconsolable, the way she gazes up at me when she's at my breast, that I am doing my job.
I am not sure that I will ever stop reliving the loss of my mother(s) or stop experiencing the pain of her absence, at least to some degree. I am too often reminded of her, because I am now doing her job. I sometimes find myself slipping into daydreams. It will be a hard day, the baby will be cranky and I will be exhausted, and then my mom will walk in the door. She will take the crying baby from my arms and soothe her with ease, she will tell me to crawl into bed to take a nap, she will cook me dinner and ask if I want her to spend the night to help out. Then there are moments, like the other day when I saw a red Audi on the highway, the same car my mom drove, and I honest to god forgot that she was no longer alive. I quickly thought "hey, I wonder if that's her!" And then I was shocked to realize that I had actually forgotten for a moment. That hasn't happened since the first year after her death. As sad as those daydreams or moments of forgetfulness are, they are also somewhat comforting, because my mother is alive in them.
I'm not sure I'm anywhere near some sort of conclusion about mothering without a mother, as my journey has just begun. I suppose that is why this post feels jumbled and vague. But, I know that trying to put it into words is helpful in sorting it out. The beautiful lesson is that I have part of my mother with me. She was there for me during labor, when I called out to her. She is here for me now as I stumble around and blossom into the mother I am sure she knew I'd become. I feel her pride in how I've handled motherhood thus far, and I feel her confidence in the kind of life I will give my child. My cheerleader is still there, whispering in my ear and watching over my baby.