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…”.

 

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10 Things You’ll Experience as a Motherless Mother

This is my truth about my first year as a motherless mother:

  1. After the birth of your baby, your grief will return with a vengeance. The loss of your mother will sting the way it did when it first happened. You will miss her with the intensity you felt in those first few months and milestones after her death.
  2. You will fantasize about how things would be if she were alive. You’ll imagine her bringing over dinner, taking your crying baby from your arms, and telling you “go get some rest, I’ve got this”. In a strange way, this will bring you comfort.
  3. You’ll look for company and solidarity with other new moms, but will feel sad when they mention what a support their moms have been in those first few months.
  4. You won’t go out much for the first year. Your circle of trust is small and caring for your baby will take all of your time and energy.
  5. A simple trip to the mall will make you sad, as you see endless trios of grandmas, moms, and babies shopping and laughing.
  6. When others shower your baby with love and gifts, it will make you uncomfortable at first. You won’t know why at first.
  7. When your mother in law gushes about being a grandma, it will hurt. In fact, any reference to a grandma will hurt.
  8. You will be so desperate for your mom’s presence, you’ll notice yourself start putting up more old photos around the house. You will want to be reminded of your mother as often as possible.
  9. You will wonder why you didn’t ask her certain questions when she was alive. You will kick yourself for not asking her about the little, mundane, everyday details of her life with you. Did she have a hard time putting you down to nap? How long did she breastfeed you for?
  10. More than anything else, you will wish you could tell her you understand now. You understand the love, you understand the sacrifice of motherhood.

“Because I feel that, in the Heavens above / The angels, whispering to one another, / Can find, among their burning terms of love / None so devotional as that of ‘Mother’” – Edgar Allen Poe

 

 

 

Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay.

I have been re-reading Hope Edelman’s Motherless Daughters lately and this excerpt is still my favourite and affects me most powerfully:

“I am fooling only myself when I say that my mother exists now only in the photographs on my bulletin board or in the outline of my hand or in the armful of memories I still hold tight. She lives on beneath everything I do. Her presence influenced who I was and her absence influences who I am. Our lives are shaped as much by those who leave us as they are by those who stay. Loss is our legacy. Insight is our gift. Memory is our guide.”

These words capture so beautifully the notion that our mothers are and always will be part of us. They influence our lives in a profound way even when they are no longer physically with us. Losing a mother is not a singular event, which you can get over and move on from. No matter what people tell you, there is no expiration date to grief. It’s ok to be just as broken and devastated five years later as the day she died. 

It’s been three and a half years since my mama left this world. Without a doubt, she still influences all aspects of my life. From the small, mundane, and every day, such as styling my hair a certain way or choosing a greeting card for someone, to the big and monumental, such as parenting my daughter or making a career decision. She’s with me – her opinions, her thoughts, her unwavering and unconditional support

Although I know it’s impossible, I wish I could stop missing her so badly. I wish I could take comfort and acceptance in the fact that she’s always with me. I wish I could stop yearning for her physical presence and let go of the need to be mothered. But I can’t. No matter how old I get, I will always need my mama.