Motherhood Without My Mother
It hit me like a ton of bricks today. It is always there. That is grief right, but sometimes it sneaks up on me and just whacks me cold in the chest. Christmas is by far the worst time of year and today was no exception.
My mother is very much alive. She just has not really been in my life since I left home at 18 and not been in the boys lives despite my best efforts. She was asked if she wanted to host or just attend my baby shower when I was pregnant with Arjun (my first son) but did not want to do either. She was invited to the hospital when in labour, but never came. She has been asked how she would like to be involved with the boys but says she is only ‘interested’. She did not even know I had given birth to Sahan (second son) until he was eight weeks old as she never called or asked or came to visit. She lives less than 20mins drive away but has never looked after them, never spent more than an hour at a prearranged visit with them – the amount of times I could count on one hand.
I have never spoken about this before. I am not sure why. Maybe because I have just been in total survival mode – having small children while completing a doctoral thesis (and subsequent books) will do that. Maybe it is because now the boys are a fraction older I can process a lot of this. Maybe it is because I still had a little bit of hope that things will change. Maybe it is because I have just had enough – enough of wondering what did I do wrong, enough of wondering what I could have done better, enough of pretending, enough of hoping, enough of grieving in silence. I suspect now I write these words it is all of the above.
This was not how I planned out life. Long after I left home at 18 I thought my mother and I still had a chance. I thought that when I got married and got pregnant that we would put our differences aside and come together. It has not been without effort. I have done every self development course under the sun, I have laid my soul bare to her, apologised even for things that did not need apologising for in an effort to have her in my life and more importantly the boys lives.
As the years have slipped by I have grieved the lost chances. The time that will never come back. The relationship that never was. All the while trying to figure out this motherhood journey on my own. Never having a mother to call on. Feeling alone and afraid with a screaming baby in the middle of the night and having to dig into my deepest reserves and pull myself out. Being sick and having to look after a baby while desperately wishing I had someone to take care of me too or even just to help. Fighting to pay for childcare with NEVER having the option of having her involved let alone providing any other form of help. Christmases and birthdays done without her and now with a five year old the realisation that they never will.
It has taken a lot of time for me to accept this. To grieve as you would someone lost….but not being able to really say anything to anyone because in fact she is still here. Why did it hit today? Today was not a great day. Feeling the fatigue of the end of the year, a lot of stress with people putting pressure on especially for invoices, things going wrong and feeling just that lack of support more than usual. And then there is the ‘perfect mother and daughters’ everywhere syndrome. I had three today. I went to get a coffee in the morning, my one sanity moment of the day, and there was a mum out with her baby and her own mother going to coffee together. Went to pick up something for a recipe video from a shop – outside the shop there was a grandmother holding a newborn baby sleeping in her arms and she looked so happy, so proud waiting for her daughter to come out. Actually this nearly had me, I physically felt pain – Arjun would have been the same age 5 years ago. Five years of no loving grandmother looking adoringly at my children.
The third time was basically the last straw. At the end of the day I was feeling whipped and desperate to clear my head space. I thought that once I got the boys down to bed I would treat myself to getting my toes done as it was late night at the mall – it is a new thing of mine, certainly something growing up at home I would have been made to feel guilty about. Finally sitting in the chair I take a deep breath and then in walks another mother and daughter pushing a pram and paying for her daughters pedicure while she looks after the baby. I wanted to scream. Why today of all days.
The truth is - it is always there. I get grandparent envy regularly. I wonder what it must be like to just go to your mums house for dinner with your children in tow. Or to be indeed taken out for a coffee or even just to call your mum for help or to cry or to not feel alone with a screaming baby. Don’t even get me started about when I hear of others who LEAVE their children with their mother OVERNIGHT. They may as well be talking about flying to mars and back for me. None of this I have experienced and never will.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am extremely happy for all these mothers and daughters. It is they way it should be. If I do have a daughter of my own she will be the most spoilt daughter on the planet just as my boys are. It does not mean it is not hard or it does not hurt. I have had to be ok with this. Worked hard to find a level of acceptance. Harbouring hatred and anger does not serve me. I tried that in my early 20s and it didn’t work out too well. Having my own little family has helped beyond measure BUT it does not stop the grief, the jealously, the sadness or the wishing things were different. It does help me to be grateful and that is what I focus on and sometimes by force. It does help me to be strong in decisions I make for my family many of which I have been critisted for such as leaving Sahan in daycare as a 6 week old and more recently, getting an Au Pair. Because I know what it has been like to experience the transition into motherhood completely and utterly on my own. If it means I seek outside help, including help that is paid for – let them judge for all I care as they do not know what I have been through.
I am sharing this now because behind the scenes a lot of people hurt at this time of year. A lot grieve those they have lost, things that have happened, life which just has not turned out quite as planned. I wish this time of year did not trip me up but it does. Every. Single. Christmas. Maybe there is another mum out there like me, hurting badly, desperately wanting the world to know that things are not perfect on the outside but yet constantly putting on a brave face because how could you possibly even start to explain what is going on. Saying ‘I am fine’ because that’s the easiest answer. Desperately longing the loss of something that you can’t really grieve for in the ‘proper way’.
We are going away this Christmas. Last year when I was writing my book my husband and I made a pact that it would be our last Christmas here in NZ. The grief is too much at this time. Changing our space helps to reduce that. Gives us an out and means what is normally a pretty average time is exciting - especially for our boys. So we are getting on a jet plane and flying to Melbourne...literally on Christmas Day. Things are always tight financially at this time of year but Vijay has some cousins over there so we are going to stay with them. Let the boys experience Christmas and family and get me as far away from long lost memories as possible.
And for those who are reading this and are feeling this time of year just know that there is another person out there feeling it too. That it is ok to not ‘do Christmas’ in any particular way – actually let us include 'do motherhood’ in that too.
Often I know just how to end my blogs…but in this case I have struggled….I guess because there is no end. Is there any end to grief? I know the common thread of thought is that one day it will be different but part of my process of acceptance is coming to a place where acknowledging in fact it won’t be. For me this has actually helped. I do know that little by little it gets easier. Little by little I find ways to keep working through my grief. Little by little the motherhood journey enables me to create a new life and new family traditions.
And who knows maybe one day I will be that Grandparent snuggling a new born grandchild taking my daughter or daughter-in-law out for coffee and a pedicure too.
Xxxx Dr Julie Bhosale