Triggers

We all have triggers. Some people’s are deep, some are shallow. Some are devastating, some are just irritating. As a motherless mama, my particular trigger happens to be when I see or hear of a young mom with a supportive and involved mother, in the role of a grandmother. Still now, almost five years since my mom’s death and almost two years since my daughter’s birth, I can’t quite deal with it with the grace and acceptance I long for.

One of my recent goals was to spend more “me” time – guilt-free and just for me. Today I had a couple of hours to spare because a work meeting fell through. I thought I would treat myself to a manicure/ pedicure with a gift card I had sitting around in my wallet for months.

It was a beautiful little day spa in my neighborhood. I was soon in my zen place. Feet up, toes all pretty, relaxing spa music and dimmed lights. As the lady finished up my pedicure, we were chatting away about all sorts of things. She was a talkative woman in her late 60’s, with kind eyes and a warm smile. She told me about her now-grown three kids, her neighborhood, and her elderly mom. She asked about my family and I told her I was a mama to a beautiful toddler girl. She asked about my background and I told her my parents and I had immigrated to Canada when I was a little girl. She asked if my parents missed home. Here we go, another awkward exchange coming up. I told her my mom had passed four years ago and she did a quick “ohh,” averted her eyes and changed the subject. Same old awkward reaction, I am used to it.

She asked where my daughter was and I told her she’s with my mother-in-law, who looks after her every Tuesday while I usually work at the office. She smiled and said, “oh okay, she’s with her grandma.” Sting number one. It hurt, but not as bad as sting number two. “You know, when my first granddaughter was born,” she said with a smile, “I used to take her overnight just so my daughter can get some sleep. Otherwise, you burn out, you know.”

Oh, I know. My zen place was suddenly gone and I was back in my reality place. I know it’s an irrational response, but right there and then, I wondered how someone can say something so cruel. It wasn’t cruel to her, I know. It wasn’t cruel to someone who hasn’t lost their mom, I know that too.  She didn’t understand. Not many people do. I scrunched up my face to stop the wall of hot tears that had formed at the edge of my eyelids.

I guess that’s the thing about triggers. You can’t avoid them, you can’t prepare for them, and you definitely can’t stop them.

On my drive home, I started thinking about other people’s triggers – the mall full of moms pushing strollers to a woman who can’t conceive, the restaurant full of couples to a lady who just lost her husband. There’s so much pain in this world. I really miss the days when I was one of the lucky ignorant few who have never been affected by loss.

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Do we ever stop needing to be mothered?

Today I picked up my Motherless Mothers book that my husband had gotten me two Christmases ago. I love Hope Edelman’s honesty and the way she uses so many women’s experiences, women from all backgrounds and circumstances, to shed light on the experience of “motherless mothering.”

Having been a brand new mom at the time, I had asked for this book and really looked forward to the insight it would offer. Life got busy, mommy life took over, and my book lay half-read on my nightstand for months. In picking it up again today and starting where I left off, it was interesting to notice the change in my perspective, from a brand new mom to now, one year later.

Hope talks a lot about the idea of needing to be mothered. She emphasizes that the first few weeks after your child is born is the time in which this need is greatest for women and the loss feels new again in the experience of motherless mothers.

This got me thinking – do we ever lose the need to be mothered? I hear the way my 82-year old grandma talks about her own mother, who died only ten years ago. Having her mother into her seventies, my grandma still mourns her loss so tenderly. She misses her and her presence in her life so genuinely. It makes me think that a “mother” is not only a person, but a feeling.

Having lost my mom almost five years ago, I can say that unfortunately for me, my need to be mothered has not lessened since she passed, but increased. Having a child of my own has made me miss my own mom more than I was ever prepared to. The initial few weeks at home with the new baby were really tough as expected, for countless reasons. Hormones, lack of sleep, lack of experience, nervousness…the list goes on and on. In her book, Hope talks about mothers’ mothers usually being the ones that support the daughter most greatly in those first few weeks after bringing home the new baby. For motherless daughters, usually mothers-in-law, sisters, or aunts fill this role. While I did have physical support in those early weeks, from my sweet husband, his mother, my dad, etc., I still felt very much alone. It’s sad to admit, but the joy of my new daughter’s arrival was overshadowed by this feeling of a void.

I couldn’t shake the feeling. Yes, my fridge was full. Yes, my floors were vacuumed. Yes, I had someone to drive us to our first doctor’s appointment. No, I didn’t feel supported. I remember there were days where I barely ate one piece of food in my haze of changing diapers, nursing every two hours day and night, and everything else that comes with a newborn. And nobody noticed. Everyone’s attention was on my daughter and having her needs met, and rightly so. The thing is though, if my mother was here, her attention would also include making sure her child’s needs were being met.

Despite feeling more confident in my role as a mother and finding somewhat of a balance in this cycle of motherhood, career, friends, and family, I still yearn so much to be mothered. I don’t know why, but it feels embarrassing to admit. I try hard to be strong and don’t like to ask for help – just the way that Hope writes motherless daughters do. Lately I’ve been trying different things in order to find some relief from this feeling of being overwhelmed. I feel so guilty writing this because I know how lucky I am. I have my little blessing who I love more than life itself. I have an amazing, supportive, and loving husband who is an amazing dad to our daughter. I have an emotionally-disconnected, but helpful dad who means well. I have many people that love me. And yet, something is missing. Obviously, someone is missing.

Like I said, I’ve been trying different things in hopes that I find a little tiny piece of what I am missing. I hired a babysitter once a week to come to the house and hang out with my daughter while I attempt to get some work done, since I work from home. That felt weird and wrong and I spent the entire two hours she was here listening from the other room and feeling anxious. Then, I hired a cleaner to come help me out with housework every few weeks. Well, my house is cleaner, but I am still overwhelmed. Finally, last week, I put up a post on Facebook, which reading back now sounds sad and pathetic. I asked for recommendations for a mother’s helper to come once a week to come and read and play with my daughter in Bulgarian (my mother tongue) in the hopes that it will develop her language skills. I asked for a woman experienced with small children. I asked for someone warm, kind, and patient. It finally dawned on me – I was asking for my mother.

My brain knows she’s never coming back, but my heart somehow refuses to accept it. I keep searching for her in other people. Small parts of her, qualities she possessed. I watch from the sidelines as mothers nurture their own adult daughters and fantasize about what it would be like if those women were us. I feel like I can’t go through this whole lifetime without any parts of my mom’s presence in my life. It may not make sense, but it’s hard to put into words. Her total absence from my daughter’s life seems devastating to me, today and in the future. I just don’t know what to do about it. Do I hire a neutral third-party helper? To give me a breather once a week and know my baby is in safe, experienced hands? To have a friend or family member try to fill that role seems more painful. Hope writes: “It may be emotionally easier for motherless women to accept help from a compassionate stranger for hire…With a skilled professional, there will be no hurt feelings, no crushing disappointments, no family drama if the arrangement doesn’t work out. Most importantly, a baby nurse or doula is less likely to be perceived as a substitute for the mother…”.

 

Reflections on one year of motherhood.

Now that my daughter recently turned one, I notice that I’m feeling a little calmer, a little more settled in my role as her mama. My confidence is returning, one little bit at a time. The old me is peeking through the fog. But, it’s a better me, a me filled with the joy of a blessing so beautiful it’s hard to put into words.

The first year is hard. No one really tells you how hard. At least, no one told me. I was fortunate to feel supported in many ways, but there was one particular support that I missed and yearned for so painfully throughout the first year of my daughter’s life. It was my mother’s absence and the void of her unconditional, selfless love and support that made my own early experience with motherhood one where love, happiness, and sadness coexisted in an unbalanced harmony. 

One important thing the first year of motherhood taught me is that emotions are unpredictable and often out of our control. Who wants to feels sad and lonely bringing home their precious new baby? No one. But, in a life affected by grief, sadness and happiness can co-exist. Excitement and hopelessness can co-exist. Pain and love can co-exist.

The intense love you have for your child can and will co-exist with the sadness of loss. And that’s ok.

You hear about the sleepless nights and the endless diaper changes, but you never hear about all the other, quiet stuff. The endless winter days when it’s raining and gray and you’re stuck at home all day as the hours crawl by. The days when your baby is sick and so you are you, but you still have to be “on”. The days when you dream of a long, hot shower and addressing just one of your many long-forgotten needs. It’s hard. On your body, on your relationship, and sometimes on your soul.
But it’s also so, very happy. And humbling and pure. Bonding with and  caring for your baby is an experience that changes you forever. 

Motherhood makes you appreciate other mothers, especially your own, like never before. And if you’re one of the lucky ones, you get to tell your mother that.

My Mama and I on my first birthday

(Motherless) Mom guilt and accepting your need for help

Sometimes I feel so alone in my situation. Realistically, I know there are tons of other women out there, doing their very best every single day to be great moms without the help of their own moms. But, in my day to day life, sometimes I feel like the only late-twenties, first time mom without a mom. Meaning no mom to come stay for a few weeks after baby was born. No mom to show me how to bathe my precious little bundle. 

No mom to take the screaming, teething baby girl from my arms and say “go sleep, I’ve got her.” You get the picture.

Now that my daughter is almost one, I will be starting to work again. I’m a real estate agent, so I’m grateful that a lot of my work will be done from home. I also have my mother in law living close by, to help out. I’ve been thinking lately about what would make my life easier during this tough transition. I feel like I need some neutral non-family help around the house. Someone to come over for a couple of hours every week and just hang out with my daughter so I can just do what I need to. Maybe work. Maybe take a long shower. The point is, I want to have someone kind and safe and loving, but not necessarily someone I have a personal relationship with.

Is that weird? My husband thinks it is. “Why don’t you just ask my mom to come over more?” he asks. Well, I just need a different kind of help. Any other mamas (motherless or non) feel this way?

A little reminder when I needed it most

I had a very strange and wonderful thing happen to me today. I was sitting at a coffee shop waiting for my friend. My baby girl was squirming on the leather armchair, me holding her by the waist as she went up and down, up and down. She’s at that stage where staying still just isn’t possible. I was doing my mom thing, holding her with one arm while I sipped on my coffee with the other. I noticed a pretty blonde girl directly across from us looking at us. She had a really warm smile and a peaceful energy about her.

We started chatting about my daughter and about babies. She told me she has a nine month old niece and was fascinated at how quickly they change at this age. She told me about her three year old nephew and how her sister has her hands full with a baby and a toddler. I nodded with a smile. That sounds so nice, I thought. They probably have a nice, big family. Lots of grandparents. Lots of love and support. Just at that moment, my friend came in. 

A few minutes later, my friend went up to the counter to order a coffee and I don’t know why, but I suddenly blurted out to this girl, “I like the idea of having two close in age. I would do it, but I’m scared. I don’t think I could manage. My mom died four years ago and it’s been really hard.” Why I would say this to a total stranger, I had no idea and I even surprised myself as it came out of my mouth. 

She got a weird look on her face. Like a half smile with sad eyes. Ok, I thought, I’ve shared too much and now she’s uncomfortable and doesn’t know what to say. What came out of her mouth next, I’ll never forget.

Our mom died four years ago too. My sister had a really hard time because she had her babies after we lost our mom. She didn’t think she could do it, but she did. You can do it too. Be happy, enjoy your family. You can do it.

And just like that, my friend came back. The girl’s husband came in to meet her. We parted with a smile and a “take care”. It may have been no more than a two minute chat, but it changed my day, if not my outlook. 

Whether I’ll ever have another child, I don’t know. We are not ready now and won’t be for a while. But I really needed the positive words today. I didn’t even realize how much I needed them. 

Life works in mysterious ways. Thank you, God, for the little reminder today. I sure needed it.

Grief and the jealous heart

I’ve really been struggling with something big lately. I don’t know why now or why with this intensity, but I’ve entered a unfamiliar and confusing chapter in my grief journey.

Two days ago marked four years since my mom’s death. Four years. Not exactly a big, dramatic number – without the intensity of one year or the quiet finality of five years. Regardless, it stings. I haven’t hugged her in four years. 

Her death anniversary wasn’t actually the agonizing day I was expecting it to be. It’s the last few weeks that have been really challenging. I’ve been having a difficult time with jealousy. In particular, jealousy of people with moms. Even more in particular, jealousy of moms with moms

Everywhere I go, there are women with their mothers. Every mall, every coffee shop, every brunch spot. Now that I have my daughter, I notice the other types of women with their mothers – the moms with moms. It’s like a recurring theme in my life right now. I’m obsessively spotting them everywhere – the happy shoppers, the grandma watching the baby while mom browses. The travellers – the mom juggling the luggage while grandma holds the little girl’s hand in the check-in line. They’re everywhere. Seeing them makes my heart hurt.
I realize now that the reason seeing this bothers me so much is because I had this in my life as a child. My mom, grandma and I were a fierce trio. We had so much fun together. It’s funny how you take things for granted when you accept them as your reality. It was just the way things were, I thought as a littl girl. Why would I ever not have it? I guess in a way I’m processing the idea that my own daughter will never experience this most magical relationship and connection. I’m devasted for her over what will never be. The what could have been is too sad for me to cope with right now…

I need some guidance, but I really don’t know where to turn. How can I stop being so jealous? I can accept the heartbroken me. The devasted me. The grieving me. The missing my best friend me. But, I just can’t accept jealous me. I don’t like her. She bothers me. 

When grief and jealousy intertwine, is there any lesson to be learned here? Are we meant to wait out this phase until it passes? Is it even a phase? I really want to see a mom-child-grandmother trio and be unaffected one day. How can I channel my sadness and jealousy and transform it into positive fuel to make me be the best mother for my baby girl I can be?

The alone generation & mothering motherless

I had a really rough day today. My baby cried and cried. It was hot and she was uncomfortable and her gums were hurting. She didn’t want to be held, but she didn’t want to be put down. She was exhausted, but didn’t want to sleep. I couldn’t help her. I was feeling so low and overwhelmed. I put me last. I wanted a glass of water for an hour before I could get myself one. I wanted my mother. I wanted her so badly today. 

I fantasized about her coming over and taking the baby from me without uttering one word. She’d know what to do. She’d give me the look that would tell me she’s got this. I would go have a cool shower. I would have time to brush my hair and moisturize. I would come out, refreshed, and there they would be – my mom cuddling my daughter in the big blue armchair, reading her a story in her warm and quiet voice. I would smile, grateful for the break to make me feel like a human being again. 

Thinking about all this, I had a realization. I don’t have any female family members or know of any in my husband’s family, that have raised a baby with as little help as I have. My grandma had her mother as live-in help. In fact, it was more than help. She cooked and cleaned for the family and took care of my mom all day while my grandma finished her graduate studies.

Then there was my mom. She didn’t have live-in support, but she had a solid group of close female relatives that helped with caring for me. She had two devoted aunts, one recently-retired mother, and one strong, able, and wise grandmother. All doting on me and carefully taking care of my mom in her new role of motherhood. 

And then, there’s me. I have my dad, but he works full-time and lives an hour away. Plus he’s a man. Sorry, it’s not the same. I have my brother, but he’s 16. Enough said. I have a mother in law who wants to help, but is very busy with her own 90-something year old mother. I have my wonderful husband. He works a lot, but when he’s home, he’s the best partner and support I could ever hope for. 

Is it normal to feel so alone as a mother? Is it normal to have these moments when all you want to do is hand your baby over to a trusted pair of hands and just walk away for a minute or two or sixty? 

You guys, I’m very much alone in this. I don’t feel alone, I am alone. It’s a fact. I haven’t known any other way of mothering. It’s what I am used to. I am used to falling asleep in front of the tv at 9 pm. I am used to rushing every shower during her morning nap because it’s the only chance I’ll get. I’m used to the exhaustion being so great that I am too tired to even talk to my husband before bed. 

I wonder if this is my generation. Even girls with mothers – will they have the same “it takes a village” experience when they raise their babies?

I love my daughter in ways I can’t even begin to explain in words. She’s my soul, my heart, and my most perfect love. I could cry right now, just thinking of what a blessing she is to me. But man, I am tired. I keep busy. I see friends, often ones with babies. Sometimes I just miss being me. The old me. I miss thinking about my own needs. That’s the biggest shock of motherhood to me; All of sudden, no one, not even I, cares about my needs. They don’t come second, they come last, maybe even become invisible.

I wonder, is this normal? Is it healthy? Do I need to accept the fact that I don’t have a “village” of family raising my child? Should I just create support for myself artificially? Should I hire someone to help me once in a while? Is there any shame in that? 

In my heart, I feel like there is. Mothers should do it all. They’re invincible after all. They wear invisible capes.