Motherhood

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For my mother and two older sisters, moving into motherhood was like moving into a new neighborhood. They picked out houses they liked, ones that came with a husband and children, set up the furniture, and settled down to get to know the neighbors. All three of them moved into that neighborhood before they turned 20.

I thought that one day I would move in there, too. Whenever I wanted to. Every woman I knew did; and there seemed to be a house for everyone.

One month before I turned 30, I finally said, “I do.” For the first year of my married life, I used a form of birth control because I thought I was in control of having babies.

Yesterday I wrote about the shame I felt because I couldn’t get pregnant. I felt like a failure. My husband tried to talk me out of both of those emotions; so did a counselor. It didn’t make sense to be so overwrought. My mind grasped that, but my emotions had their own reasons; on the surface, they seemed illogical, but they weren’t.

Underneath the shame and sense of failure, I had a deeper wound. One I couldn’t talk about or explain because I didn’t have words for it. I rummaged around in my heart and found something I couldn’t identify. I didn’t have enough light to see properly and when I tried to drag it out. I couldn’t: it was too big and all the edges seemed too sharp for me to grasp.

In the third year of my struggles, my husband and I went to visit my oldest sister and her family in Georgia. Mother lived with them at the time. I have no recollection of what we did or said that first day. We were never close the way some mothers and daughters are. I found fault with almost everything she did and had little patience with her. She, on the other hand, was always kind and did her best to please me. I found that especially irritating. I knew nothing of her pain, nor cared to know, but that day I must have seen truth flicker for just a moment in her glance or in her words. It was just the amount of light I needed.

That second day I told my mother I wanted to talk to her alone. We went into her bedroom and sat on the bed. I didn’t know yet what I would say because I still couldn’t articulate what I felt. When I opened my mouth, these words came out, “You never wanted me, did you?”

She gasped for air and broke down crying. We held each other for several minutes before she could speak.

“You were such a hard baby,” she said. “I didn’t want to get pregnant again so quickly, but your father was thrilled that were going to have another child. Of all my children, you were the smallest, but I had the hardest time with you. It was like you didn’t want to be born. And then you cried all the time, and I never felt like I could comfort you. Even though I loved you, it seemed like you didn’t want me.”

I don’t remember how long we cried; somehow the words and tears washed away years of hurt. It sounds impossible, even to me, but it’s true. From that day, our relationship radically changed.

Our lives are full of mystery. My mother carried shame and grief for a child she had; I carried mine for the child I never had. She needed me to say the words that could not tell herself; I needed to say the words so I could heal myself. My hard words released both of us that day. Sometimes words can do that.

38 thoughts on “Motherhood

  1. This is an amazing example of how completely individual we all are – if I am to be honest I am always suspicious of ‘methods’ for attaining human relief and happiness even when they are widely successful and maybe that’s because I have been in situations so many times in my life that are just the tiniest bit different and therefore the fit is off and so the solution doesn’t work. I used to think that was because I am odd – and I am truly odd – now I think this is true of everyone and that my oddity (in this regard) lies in the fact that I can feel that the fit is wrong.
    This is a wonderful story – told – as always – with great feeling and no sentimentality (which I love). The only thing is that I’m thinking that the words you said were not the real power that created the change and the healing – your courage was the key to the prison door. I deeply admire it.

    • Wouldn’t it be grand if there really were 10 steps to happiness, 7 keys to mental health, and 3 ways to beat the blues and vacation in Rio de Janeiro without every leaving home? Life is messy and unpredictable; what works for you, may or may not work for me. I’ve seen that too.

      I see your point about the courage, though I didn’t feel particularly courageous. The words needed to be dragged out into the open before the healing could begin.

  2. My mother also didn’t want a another pregnancy so soon after her first, and my father never wanted any children. I was also my mother’s smallest birthweight baby and her most difficult labor (she had 8 children, eventually, after divorcing my father and remarrying). We never talked about it, but my grandmother told me how Mother cried and cried when she found out she was pregnant AND that my father had been unfaithful, all in the same week. Hers was a tough life – and mine had a rough beginning. I often wondered if she hated me because of him, but the question was never asked – when I became an adult and would have addressed these matters in a grown up way – she had terminal cancer and opportunities passed us by.

    I am glad you and your mother could speak what was in your hearts to heal the accumulated hurt. And I am so glad that you write these beautiful pieces. So poignant.

    • Our stories are similar, aren’t they? I’m sorry you were never able to talk about it with your mom. Maybe it isn’t necessary in every case.

      I’m glad you liked the piece.

  3. Our sages tell us that deliverance comes suddenly, and that the righteous are invisible, so we don’t even know when we brush up against them, or step on their toes… but I’ve found that if you look for them you can recognize them… but you can never forecast lightening out of a blue sky, or sudden salvation… you just have to be ready for it, even if it seems like it’ll never come. You’re on of the most beautiful women I’ve ever met, and reading your words is such a pleasure. Fortunately, I’m ready. I poured myself a glass of sakei before I opened this post. Ah. The pleasures of this life are sweet… they make up somehow for the aching.

    • Your words mean a lot to me, ShimonZ. Thank you.

      Some of us perhaps are called to ache; we find our pleasures in small things, but if we practice gratitude, we find even the small things are enough.

  4. I am pleased for you that you had the opportunity to have that conversation with your mother. Some things are so seldom talked or written about; I am glad you wrote this post I found it useful. Useful sounds such an inadequate word to explain how I feel but as it’s the word that immediately sprang to mind I decided to use it.

  5. My first child was a “surprise” as we have told him. I good surprise, but nonetheless, we were married only 6 months before his birth. I honestly don’t think we would have married had we not been expecting him. Our third child, born just 21 months after the second, and at a time when money was very bad and jobs were nowhere in sight was again a “surprise”. I recall sitting with him, and softly apologizing to his infant self for not really wanting him. At least not then. As time went on, I realized that I loved him more for that. In some way, my feelings for him were strengthened by my disappointment. Husband and I will have been married 33 years this fall. All three of our children are grown and doing well. That third child is the one who has given us our three granddaughters. Life is so strange in so many ways.

    • Maybe by verbalizing that feeling so early helped you. You were wise to recognize it and admit it. It’s not always easy to do.

      What a gift that third child has given you – three granddaughters!

  6. How strange the transformative times and events in our lives, how unforeseeable and wild. How rare that you, whether you were able to do it fully intentionally or just fell sideways into it as we often do, were able in such a moment to capture the spark of healing needed to cauterize old and aching wounds you both carried. How very beautiful.

  7. millodello

    I like your blog and read it regularily. I like how you write and what you write. I like it best when you talk about your family relationships and this is where the “but” comes in. It is too painful for me. I have first hand knowledge of the child adoption process but from the other side of the gender fence. As a man my relationship calamity threshold is very low. I respect how you came to understand your place with your mother but I can’t empathize. In matters such as this I am a large fan of one Professor Higgins. His rant “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” kept coming in and out as I read this piece. My dad once gave me a jocular punch on the upper arm. We both uderstood what it meant and neither of us cried at all. Not a whit. This was good as good as it gets between a father and a son. We don’t do depth in any emotional dimension.

    Now on to the subject of depth. Thank you for having the courage to share that moment with your mom. I guess there may be some reasons for women not being more like men.

    Well done.

    • I had to smile about how you and your father were able to communicate so much through a jocular punch. I know men like to slap, hit, and wrestle one another to ground just to show how much they like each other. I think that kind of physical communication is a good thing, but it tickles me to imagine women doing that.

  8. Your post definitely touched a nerve with me. Two younger friends are currently pregnant, my daughter is getting married this summer, and I’ve been thinking about motherhood a lot lately. My own mother and I never understood each other, and I suspect I could ask her the same question and receive a similar answer. Coming to terms with that has not been easy, but finally understanding and accepting has brought some peace. Thank you for your honesty in sharing your story.

    • I think a lot of people struggle with a parent. We can misunderstand each other for years or even a lifetime. After my mom and I reconciled, we had a really good relationship. She could still drive me crazy sometimes, but in the way someone you loves drives you crazy. You endure the ride, knowing you’ll get home soon.

  9. I think you’re very blessed to have wrapped your mind around how you were feeling and turn the relationship with your Mom into something more special. I’m having a similar struggle as you, year three. Your posts are so well articulated that it is very relatable.

    As always, glad you shared.

  10. “I rummaged around in my heart and found something I couldn’t identify. I didn’t have enough light to see properly and when I tried to drag it out. I couldn’t: it was too big and all the edges seemed to sharp for me to grasp.” Amazing words.

  11. I’m joyful for you that you had the strength to have that incredibly difficult moment with your mother. You rewrote your eternity, past and future, in that instant. Thanks for sharing with your blog friends (I like to think I’m one of those).

  12. riatarded

    I love reading about your mother. I feel like I am there. Wonderful post!

    Is your mother present in the picture? 🙂

    x

    Also, I am back! wheee! haha (Sorry couldn’t resist saying that :p)

    • I’m so glad you are back, riatarded.

      My mom is not in that picture. The woman on the left is my grandmother (mother’s mother). That’s her first child, a son. On the right is one of my grandmother’s sister.

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