Mothering Without My Mother

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My mom passed away from an 8-year-long battle with cancer on October 8, 2016. I was 27 weeks pregnant with our baby boy.

She was a stable, predictable, loving figure in my life. I never realized how secure she had made me feel my entire life until I lost her. My mom was very transparent. It took a lot for her to get upset at my brother and I while we were growing up, but when she was, we knew it. She would have little bursts of anger that would quickly fizzle out, and then she would ask what we wanted to eat for dinner. She had her faults, but she was human and unapologetic about her humanity. Most important of all, I knew she loved me. She could never tell a lie but was slow to show disapproval. I could always tell she disapproved of a choice I made when she stayed silent. That’s how she loved on us - she tried the best she knew how to let us live our best lives. She was predictable and stable and I knew how to read her. She made me feel secure about myself and who I was.

My father, he is the opposite of my mother, completely unpredictable, volatile, irrational and unstable. Growing up, I never knew if I would get positive or negative responses because it all depended on his mood that day. I feared him because I could never read him. I learned to expect negative feedback from him so that I would be pleasantly surprised if I received the opposite. I was never sure if he even cared about me beyond the fact I was his flesh and blood. His love for me is based on merit and obedience and he is quick to disown me. Flesh and blood means nothing to him if I am a disappointment. He was my greatest insecurity while growing up.

A baby is also unpredictable and unstable. Their responses are dependent on their mood and negative feedback is often out of your control. You can’t communicate with a little irrational human that cries often for any number of reasons - for being too tired, hungry, uncomfortable in a wet diaper... It’s all a guessing game and sometimes you’re left with a babe that’s still crying even after all needs are met because his wants are not met. And worse still, he does not know what he wants, upset because he knows something is lacking, frustrated because he doesn’t have the cognitive ability to know what that is. Crying is the only way to communicate need, want, or to relieve the frustration of not being able to pinpoint or communicate the said need/want.

Not being able to please our babe and being unsure that he even loved me back was a trigger for me. My mom had often shielded me from my dad’s wrath while growing up; without her, I felt so insecure about being a new mom.

If I couldn’t keep my baby content, I convinced myself I must be failing as a mom. To keep him from crying, I picked him up if his face even winced or looked like he might start to cry. I held him as I sat on the toilet and I avoided drinking too much water so I wouldn’t have to pee; I rocked him until he fell asleep; I skipped meals so my full attention went to him at all times and sometimes forgot to eat altogether; I went days without showering; I danced around like a crazy person with him strapped to me; I gave him my breasts to pacify. Each time I gave in to his cries, I felt a deep shame and insecurity.

They say you can’t spoil a baby, that you can never hold them too much, but instead I couldn’t help but think that just maybe I was ruining him for life by catering to all of his cries. Looking back on it now, there is a twinge of regret for not having held him more, even though I can’t remember not having held him even when I was physically and emotionally spent. The insecurity bubbled up inside of me no matter what anyone said or how they reassured and encouraged.

No one can replace my mom.

Honestly, though, I know if she were still alive, she would have told me to suck it up, that babies cry because they’re babies, what did I expect?, and tie it up in a messy bow by saying that I’m doing a good job. This probably wouldn’t actually have been comforting and I most likely would have been so annoyed at her for saying something so unhelpful.

Sharing this with others without her here is not about being irreverent towards my late mother. I just can’t help but chuckle to myself about her humanity. Though at times it was the most irritating to me when she was alive, it is now the most precious part of her she has left behind for me.

As a mom now myself, I miss her so much and I think about her daily. I will never get to tell her thank you for raising me, that I can now empathize with how hard it must have been. I wish I could ask her if she remembers me doing something our now-toddler did the other day. I wish she could tell me that he is doing that thing that annoys me because I used to do that exact thing, too. But she can’t. And I won’t ever get to hear anecdotes about myself like the ones my mother-in-law tells about my husband.

I wish my mom were here to encourage me, to reassure me that I’m a good mom. Because I know she would have in her way. It probably would have annoyed me tremendously, but she would have meant it and I would have been comforted, too. I miss her more and more the further I get along into motherhood.

But there is joy in the fact that though our son will never get to meet her, he will experience a part of her through my mothering of him. Hopefully, that means he will grow up feeling secure with me and when he is grown, he won’t be insecure or unsure or feel guilty about being the best version of himself.

Her unapologetically human soul will live on with me.