On mothering and loss


Sometimes I regard the mother-aspect of myself as a separate, stunted, crippled, neglected entity.  This is how I view her:

She is thirsty for mothering.  Her mother died during her pregnancy, a pregnancy she rushed into as a way to connect with her mother.  She lost her mother before she could become a mother, before she could establish that bond, the bond that seemed still uncertain, incomplete, not cemented.  Their  relationship had always been fractured, difficult, perhaps because her mother could not care for her when she was a baby.  Her mother and father both worked long hours, and she went to babysitters.  And then in her adolescence and college years, she rejected her mother.  She became an ardent feminist and went around saying stupid things like, “I’d kill myself if I was nothing more than a housewife and mother.”  She felt she had failed her mother by denying her all those years.  And now she wanted to reclaim her, validate her choices, demonstrate her gratitude by learning from her, becoming her daughter all over again by becoming a mother.  Her mother saw the ultrasounds, but never saw Brendan, never knew him, never held him.  This loss—this was the loss that she could not bear.  She had set her heart on seeing her mother cradling her own child, the child who looked exactly like her, and loving that child as she had never loved her.

I thought the only way I could truly appreciate and connect to my mother was by sharing the experience of mothering with her.  But I lost my mother before I became a mother.  That loss hurt as much as the loss, only temporary, of my child during those crucial years when he lived with his father.  I had taken a job, the only job offered to me, far away, 16 hours by car.  I could only dream of bathing, reading to, and cuddling my 6 year-old son.  I thought I was a terrible mother for having left him, and used to collapse on the kitchen floor in a flood of pain and grief.

I am still grieving the loss of my mother. I am no longer grieving the years I lost with my son.

I never abandoned him.  I had to take the job that I had worked so hard to get. I found another teaching gig closer to him at the University of Pittsburgh as quickly as I could.  I stayed in touch with him as best I could.  I visited, I came back again and again and again even though the greeting was gruff and the time short.  I would drive four or five hours down to see him for 30 minutes.  After dropping him off at his father’s house I would often have to pull to the side of the road to weep.  I did the best I could.  I never gave up.  And I know now that I am a good mother.