Being a mother was always what I wanted most in life. When Aaron and I started dating in our late teens, I spoke incessantly about marriage and family. I told him that I wanted to be a hippy mama and raise a troup of earthy kids on a farm somewhere in western Massachusetts. The image of myself and these children traipsing through the fields, laughing and dancing and holding tight to our precious moments together, fed me emotionally for most of my life. But at 18, he was not overly receptive to this type of dialogue and told me to put this particular dream on hold for a time. I never realized then just how long this dream would be placed on the sidelines of my life.
When I learned that I could be a carrier of Huntington's Disease, I was determined not to have a child. I did not want a child to lose a mother the way that I had. No amount of reassurance from Aaron convinced me that leaving a child behind would be such a completely different situation than the one in which I was raised. Of course my child would have him as a father, but she would still experience the early and dramatic loss of her mother.
I could not bear to think of my child haunted by memories of my suffering and ultimate death, and so I released my fantasy family. At the age of 27, I was told that I did not have the defective gene and would not only live a life free of the disease, but that I could never pass it onto a child. The legacy of the disease was dead. Why I did not immediately discontinue birth control pills the moment I received this news is something that I struggle with nearly every day.
The reasons I have given myself such as needing to wait until Aaron completed medical school, or his training, or suddenly accepting that I had a long life ahead of me, and could further develop myself as a writer and editor and holistic therapist do not speak to the truth of this issue for me. The truth is I feared that, having inconsistent or more precisely non-existent mothering, I was not fit to be a mother.
I armed myself with a graduate degree in Education and Psychology, spent time with children professionally and personally, studied parents and children, looked into the core of myself and saw only compassion and my strong desire for motherhood, no tendencies toward abuse, and still it took me years to shake the fear of the mother demons that might be lurking inside me either by nature or nurture.
When the stars finally aligned for me emotionally and in our life circumstances, and we were both ready to embrace a family, motherhood eluded me. Years passed and I had to wonder if the universe saw something in me that deemed me not worthy. Was there a cosmic reason to keep me from motherhood?I wasn't sure. I knew only that I was more committed than ever to having my children and harnessed my mind and body to this end. After four miscarriages, I finally became and remained pregnant.
I didn't expect my pregnancy with my son to spark my reunion with my mother. But I can see why it would. I knew that she did not have the type of meditative experience that marked my son's gestation but pregnancy was something we had both experienced and I found myself contemplating her more and more. And I found that I welcomed her presence in my life, this daily reminder of the connection between myself and her and her grandchild.
As my due date loomed, the old fears started again despite my certainty that I wanted nothing more than to be a mother to this child. I could not shake my anxiety that I would not know how to be a mother. I told my friends that I lacked the practical skills, that I needed a role model to teach me the basics, that I wanted a second set of womanly hands, that I wanted a mother by my side. While all of this is true, I hired Janet to help me in those early weeks because I wanted to make sure I am the woman I believe myself to be.
There is no escaping the loss of my mother. No matter how much I define myself as a mother, which I do, or believe that motherhood has rebirthed me, which it has, I am still a motherless woman and what I understand about being a mother is as much about who I am now and what I've learned and been shown as it is by the life I led as child and a young woman growing and developing without a bond to a mother.
And now that I am a mother, my own mother is missed that much more for what she could have added to my life under different circumstances and also she is present that much more because we have motherhood in common. It might not look anything the same and yet is something we share. I am grateful that it is motherhood we share and not the disease that took her life. Learning about her life reminds me of my life's abundance. In this way, she is teaching me many lessons.
Mourning my mother now is an intense experience but it is moving me to an authentic and powerful place. I feel necessary. Through writing about her life, I am bringing her into my life as my mother. I am bringing her into my life by my mothering my child. I am healing the motherless child that I was by giving the love to my own child. Suddenly there is all of this mothering in my life. And learning about my mother is giving me a new understanding of myself.
Even though my mother and I did not know each other in the way I will know my son, this knowing and remembering is essential. And so I will continue to explore her and myself as her child as part of this mother quest.