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.