Mothering without a mother

This time last year, my daughter started to arrive. It was another three and a half days until she finally emerged (I know, not fair, right? I was pooped.) So I’m sure all mamas will empathise when I say I’m in a reflective mood. If not downright tearful (Thanks BBC for showing ‘Up’ last night “We’re on an adventure too, aren’t we?” *snivels and sobs*) Becoming a mother is the bomb. It’s the best, most life-changing, topsy-turvy maddening kind of wonderstuff that ever did kick me up the backside. Naturellement,  thoughts turn to my own parents, and to my experience of becoming a mother, without my Mum to show me the ropes.


In a nutshell, it’s blimmin’ hard. My Mum died in 1995 when I was just 16. My partners Mum, with whom we were both extremely close, died two years ago. Having lost mine such a long time ago, and truly, walked a really long path to acceptance, I thought that I was used to dealing with life’s events without her by now. But this year, I have missed her more than I have in a long time. Of course I think about her every single day, but there are times, when I just need her to be here. I feel sad for my daughter, that she will never know the two most marvellous women that any child could hope to call Grandma, and I feel heartbroken for the Grandma’s that they never got the chance to be. Especially the Yorkshire Grandma, for she never had a daughter of her own, and while she treated me and my sister in-law like daughters, this would have been so very special for her. I think there would have been a very unique bond there.

The days and weeks following the birth were exceptionally difficult for both of us. I needed a woman (either of the mum’s would have sufficed), and Mister felt the grief for his mother more acutely, and more charged by the bittersweet joy of our beautiful little daughter. I have since read that one of the factors in the incidence of post-natal depression is the absence of a female support in the days and weeks immediately post birth. Somebody to support both new parents, somebody to nurture and pass on wisdom about caring for they new life, and offer reassurance. I didn’t want to admit that it was a factor for us, mainly I didn’t want to seem like I was letting it defeat me. But as any new parent knows, no amount of reading, or being around other new parents can prepare you for the enormity of becoming a new parent yourself, not least doing it in the absence of a mother.

And there are the practical things. Mum’s (women?) don’t ask what need doing- they just come in and get on with it. In short, women like to interfere, and this is one time, that we could have really done with some intefering mothers!

I wish I could ask the Mums what it was like for them. How do you schedule everything that needs doing and still find time not to go mad. How did you cope with the change in role, from working woman to mother and housewife? What did you feed us? What was the birth like? How did you feel about your body after the birth? Shall I let her cry or go to her? What was I like at this age? What songs did you sing for us? What games did we play? Who looked after us when you went out? Some of these questions are directly related to my parenting quandaries of the moment, others are simply a sharing of a story. When I was in my mid-teens and our relationship was strained, she told me she ‘lost’ her mother from being a teenager, and only ‘found’ her again when she became a mother herself.  So those stories deepen the bond between mother and daughter and may also be the lifeline and the building blocks that save it. (Strangely, even though it was over ten years after she died, I felt I’d found my Mum again several years ago, when I was in my late twenties, so I don’t feel I’ve missed out on any reconciliation. I wrote about it here)

I sometimes feel a bit like I stick out like a sore thumb around other new Mums and the things that they have absorbed from their mothers, are missing from my consciousness. Now I think about it, that’s probably another reason why I feel so out of place in the baby-baby groups that I’ve avoided for so long. When we first brought our daughter home, we didn’t know what to dress her in – it sounds silly, but we took her to an appointment at the hospital, just a few days old, and the midwife said “Has she not got a fleecy suit or some blankets?! She’ll catch her death!” We had under dressed her for the cold weather – we just hadn’t thought of it. We explained to several midwives over those first few weeks “there are no Grandma’s, we don’t know what we’re doing.” Half apologising, half appealing for help. All were sympathetic, but ultimately unhelpful in the game of parenthood we found ourselves in. I cringed to hear the words coming out of our mouths, because surely we are not the first nor will we be the last to be in this situation, and after all, we have so much to be thankful for compared to some new parents.

This feeling of absence will endure, that much I have come to know over the years. There will always be questions unanswered. A part of my brain that had always been reserved for those stories, will remain blank. Fear not, though. My heart fills up every day, more than I ever thought possible, with this new mother daughter relationship I find myself in.

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