It's a bit of a sad and personal post, so I promise there's a follow up uplifting heart swelling positive post following... link at the very bottom! :) :) :)
... I was supporting a wonderful couple this past Sunday, on Mother's Day. It was really a blessing to be with such a nice family as they were preparing to meet their first son. I knew I could redo Mother's Day with my family next weekend or whenever. What a gift to give birth to your first child on Mother's Day?
Her mother and sister stopped by, maybe a little uninvited, which was funny and sweet all at the same time. Mom rolled with it. Her mom just HAD to come check on her baby!
But eventually, I just sat quietly next to this soon to be new mom. She'd been in labor all weekend and was finally resting with the help of an epidural. She was enduring far more than she had expected. And little did we know that later that night she would endure even more than she thought she ever could when she'd push for 3+ hours until finally being able to hold her little one. Well, not that little - 9'1" and 21 inches! I sat and thought, gosh, this is it.
This is motherhood. Up and down, always unexpected, and you just have to roll with it.
This is why I believe labor and birth is such an important part of the journey towards motherhood. It prepares you... in the most honest, inescapable way! :) So I continued working on this blog (in my head) as I had been doing for weeks. Ok, more like months or years. An ongoing journal entry of sorts. I just keep getting more material to add, so it has... grown! Unsure I'd actually publish it or leave it sit just for me to reflect on how I feel this year, I wrote (thought) on... I knew I wouldn't have time to finish writing the blog post on Mother's Day, so I just posted my most pressing thoughts on my Facebook page on Sunday:
"Happy Mother's Day today to all the mothers out there (including the one I'm with as she's preparing to meet her first son!) 💗 Whether you're a wise mother to many, a new mother, mother to be, a struggling mother, a mother who has experienced loss, or a mother at heart. I'm thinking of all the mothers I've cared for and those whom have mothered me along my way. Today my heart swells as I'm cherishing my two boys and feeling so incredibly grateful for the opportunity to mother them. My oldest son is the age today that I was when my mom died. So thankful I get to see him continue to grow and learn. Thinking of my own sweet mother who didn't get the chance to mother me beyond 9. I know her love continues to guide me. Sending extra love to my fellow motherless mothers out there, this day is always so incredibly bittersweet. 😘😘😘 #happymothersday#motherlessmothers #feelinggrateful #remembering#mothersdayphotoshare"
And here goes...a bit of Lori's story.
My mom passed away when I was 9. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 37 and died at 41. I was an only child.
She stayed at home with me or brought me to work with her at a nursery school until I went to school full time. At 9, she still was my everything, my world.
Sometimes people say, "Do you remember your mom?"
Yes, I'll never forget her.
For that, I feel lucky. The intensity of the pain and memories have faded some over time, but I think a lot has stuck for me, as I hold on to the pieces of my mom I can still feel and reach. Many motherless daughters and mothers won't have any memories of their mother, some just stories from relatives as they were too young to recall. For some, it may be painful to read or hear others share their memories. I understand that too, as it's always hard for me to hear anyone recall memories of their mother beyond the age I was when I lost mine. So if that's too hard for anyone reading, I understand. Just skip the next paragraph...
My mom, Mary, liked to sing. She crocheted. We use her afghans still! She loved children. She cared about people. She visited our elderly neighbors. She was a Beatles fan. She made me grilled cheese and tomato soup and taught me how to make ants on a log. Did I mention her loving to sing? We would sing in the car all the time. Guess who sings in the car till this day? Me. And my boys. :) My mom taught me how to swim. I remember her liking to bring me out far in the ocean. I'd be scared and she'd smile and tell me she'd hold me. When we'd go out, I'd feel safe in her arms. She loved the water. She was comfortable there, she would float over the waves. She was so relaxed. I'm glad she always wanted to share that with me. Guess who else loves water? ;) I remember her letting me climb into bed with her when I was scared. And on hot summer nights, she'd set up my mattress on her and my dad's bedroom floor so I could sleep in the only air conditioned room, too. I remember her saying goodnight to all my stuffed animals just because they were important to me (As an only child, I think these were the closest thing to 'siblings'... for a time!). I remember her habit of leaving things on top of the car and pulling off. One time a freshly baked homemade peach pie she had spent the day making for a family potluck picnic. She got back in the car and cried. Guess who else has this same habit? The only good thing about that similarity is that when I do it, I smile because I realize that she is a part of me and I of her. I remember her snuggling me, reading books together, talking to me, and dancing with me. I read to my children every night since they were babies because my mom read to me and it meant that much to me. I remember her happy dancing to Twist and Shout. My heart would swell with happiness to see her so happy and wanting to share her moment with me. So I dance with my kids. I also remember her sad. I remember her feeling things I couldn't relate to as a child but I understand now. I remember her looking in the mirror and running her fingers over her scarred chest where her breast used to be. I remember the sadness in her face and wishing her eyes weren't so full of tears. But what I remember most is how she made me feel so special and loved. She spent time with me and enjoyed it. I treasure these memories and I enjoy every minute I relive them with my own children.
Mother's Day was a really sad day for me every year from 1990-2006. There was nothing to be happy about on Mothers Day. It seemed everyone had a mother except me. Sure, I went to see my grandmothers whom I loved and I would bring them flowers. But I missed my mom so much, I dreaded Mother's Day. It was a reminder that even the best times were shadowed with her not being a part of them. Every softball game that I made a big play in, every soccer game I scored a goal, every time I proudly made honor roll at school, every time my dad and I enjoyed a simple afternoon together, prom, learning to drive, graduating high school, going to college, getting married, becoming a teacher, you get it. I remembered her. I was able to track down the perfume that she wore all those years before and I put it on on my wedding day so I'd have her scent with me. But I cried uncontrollably on the way to my wedding because still... she was missing it.
I felt her absence the heaviest on the happiest day of my life...the day I had my own child. But after that, Mother's Day changed. It didn't have to be just sad anymore! I had something to celebrate finally! Me! Motherhood! I loved being a mom! My son became my everything and I was overwhelmed with joy at this little baby filling up so much of that emptiness I had felt for so many years after losing my mom. :) So, Mother's Day would always be a strange mix of emotions as I simultaneously think about the two experiences that have impacted my life more than anything. Losing my mom and becoming a mom.
I have climbed a fence on my mom's birthdays and many Mother's Days since becoming a mom. A real fence. This fence surrounds a playground for a nursery school where my mom used to teach. There is a wooden bench inside that fence with her name on it.
This year, 2016, marks 26 years that I have been missing my mom. 26 years that she, so unfairly, didn't get to live. I don't think I will ever make peace with that.
Sadly, last year would be the year I lost two more very special people to me. First, my grandma at age 92 whom I had a very special relationship with...my mom's mom. She lived a full life and I learned a lot from her. And though I wouldn't want her back the way she was, it's especially hard to accept her loss because not only have I lost my phone buddy, but I feel like the final piece of my mom is gone. She was in a sense, my memory keeper. I hope I retained enough of what she's shared with me.
A month after grandma passed away last year, my dear friend Shanna whom I've known most of my life and lived with in college for 4 years, lost her battle with breast cancer. At age 35, and a mother of 3. Her first birth story is on my site. I share it often because it's so inspiring! She gave birth to her 11'9" baby boy without any pain medication after just 5 hours of labor, most of which she spent walking. She continued to be a strong and amazing mother. I will miss my friend. We shared a lot of memories together. I hate that she had to go through what she did. I'm so thankful she is not stuck in her body like that anymore, though. I promised her she would live on in her children. While I know too well what a void will remain in her family's life and I don't have any grand answers to manage that pain, I also know that energy doesn't die, it just shifts. I believe you can find your loved ones in your daily life, in your being, in your interactions with others. Their energy (soul, spirit, light, goodness, whatever one prefers) does live on.
I don't bother asking why anymore. Death is unfortunately a part of life we all will have to meet one day. I think I've had to say goodbye to too many people I loved, but I don't get to request otherwise. One book that was helpful two years ago after my pop pop passed away was Amy Glenn's Birth, Breath, and Death: Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula. My review of her book is here.
Another tough part of this year, for me, is that my oldest son is the age that I was when my mom died. I cannot believe that, first of all. I know people say it all the time, but I honestly do not know how it's possible that 9 years have gone by since I first held this little peanut.
But see, this is the year. 9.
I've always hoped I'd make it to see my sons beyond 9, beyond the time my mom got with me. And here I am, mothering longer than I was mothered.
I've also hoped to get here because I know he'll at least remember me! And yet, I've also really really feared this time for years now.
I have shared this freely with others, and always people ask, "why?" Well... in short, I don't know what mothering looks like beyond 9. I've felt the uncertainty creeping up more in recent months. I've pretty much had the best teacher ever up until this point - my mom. I hope I can continue to trust my instincts, draw upon my compassion, and be a 'good enough' mom without having her memories guiding me anymore. I have to believe that she will still guide me, as her love was the true guide. But, to be very honest...it is uneasy. I don't have memories of what its like to be mothered at 10, 11, 12, 13... I spent a lot of time on my own. My sons have a very different life. And I imagine, to some extent, many parents are parenting children that have a different life than they did. I try to find comfort in that.
Tonight, my son and I went on a date together, just him and I. And I'm such a sap, I caught myself tearing up at least 3 different times looking at him and just loving him so so much. He's such a sweet innocent boy, with such a good heart. He has his struggles and he experiences the ups and downs of life just like I do, just like my mom did, just like everyone does. But I could go on and on about all the things I noticed in him just tonight that made me proud. How lucky I am to be this boy's mother. I know that my son reaching this age is a big deal to a mother who has lost her mother as a child. I want to acknowledge these feelings but be able to see that I will get beyond. A book that has been enormously helpful to me is, "Motherless Mothers" by Hope Edelman, she talks about how mother loss shapes the parents we become and more. She surveyed more than one thousand women on their experience and shares the commonalities with readers in a way that is comforting and healing.
Losing my mom has been the single most defining experience that has shaped my being. It has caused a deep pain like most people can only imagine or fear. It was a loss of more than just my mother but also of a grandmother to my children, a mother in law to my husband, a wife to my father. All these years there has been and will continue to be a void. Yet, all that said, I believe my empathetic, compassionate, and grateful side comes from continuing to experience this painful loss.
So, yes...this is my 'doula' blog, and however personal this post may be for me, this topic is so relevant to my doula work. I've worked with countless women without mothers over the past 7 years now. I have supported more than 150 families as a doula. And I can tell you, ladies, it's been an amazing journey! One that I hope to continue for many years to come. :)
But, here I am...after all these years alone finally getting to meet, hug, and empathize with other women who are preparing to transition...many, like me, from being Motherless Daughters to Motherless Mothers!
My own doula was a Motherless Mother as well. Thanks to Jane for being an inspiration to me! Like she held that space for me, I lovingly hold that space for ALL other women, no matter how they are entering motherhood. I always wonder about the way the universe seems to sometimes choose time so carefully when placing certain people in each others' lives. <3
One important thing I've taken away from this last year or so, is that life is unpredictable...and so so short. We've got to LIVE while we're living. Allow yourself to be present. imperfect. vulnerable. forgiving. unafraid. LIVE every moment. It's hard for some of us not to get caught up in the sad of the past that still so much affects our present and future. But, today I say to all the other motherless mothers out there - I see you! We are holding each other up as we walk bravely into unchartered waters and embrace every day of motherhood that we are given.