I waited a long time to become a mother, and thankfully, by the time I was ‘mentally’ ready, my time ‘physically’ hadn’t run out.
Why did it take me so long to realise I did want to become a mother?
The truth is I was scared, terrified in fact of becoming my own mother. I was always haunted by the fact that I was an abused child and as such would follow by example and do the same to my child. That it was inherited through the genes.
Even when I was pregnant I would worry about the impending parenthood, I never worried about the pregnancy or the birth – only what would I do with a child once I took it home!
I didn’t trust myself. My own mother had given me the building blocks of childhood like acceptance, love, stability, confidence, security and then seemed to take great pleasure in smashing them out from under me.
Unfortunately my memories, my past, reared its ugly head up after the birth of my first child. I had thought that I had control of my monster – my past, until I sat holding my daughter in my arms. The trigger was a badly bruised right arm from five attempts to insert a canullar (I had difficulty in delivering the placenta and narrowly missed going to surgery). My wrist to my elbow looked like I had been beaten.
Not only did I have difficulty in delivering the placenta, but it had not been delivering to my daughter in the last month of her life inside me. She was born below the third percentile at 2.6 kilos full term. She had baggy saggy skin and you could tell just by looking at her that she had lost a substantial amount of weight – an estimated half a kilo.
Being so small meant she had a tiny tummy and needed feeding frequently. I had long hours of breast feeding and I would look down at my bruised arm and I would cry and think achingly for the baby, toddler, child I once had been. Thoughts such as ‘how could she have done those things to me?’ reverberated around my brain.
Holding my beautiful, innocent child in my arms made me realise I would never be my mother; I am my own type of mother. I might never be whole, but I know one thing for sure, I am a much better mother than the one I had.
What haunts me is not that ‘she must be sick’, but that I must have been unlovable. I don’t believe I could have been that naughty to warrant such swift violence. My mother’s moods swings were instantaneous eruptions. I feel lucky in that I don’t remember the pain of any of the physical violence. What I remember is the feeling of ‘unfairness’.
I am still plagued with huge self-image issues. I was never encouraged to dream, to excel, to strive for a goal; it was always ‘who do you think you are?’ As if I was and never would or could be anyone special.
Just before I was married, I remembered being molested by at least three people, when I confided it to her (she was busy doing needlework), she didn’t even look up at me or lose count, she just sat there and said casually, “I thought that was happening.” You wouldn’t think that five words could have the power to inflict so much pain, let along their implied meaning.
As I write this, I am thinking that I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I have cornered the market on that for myself in the past. Writing is empowering, writing is cathartic, writing is a way to release!
All of this and more would echo around in my mind every time I would hold my child and feed her. I was fortunate the midwife who attended me at home noticed the early warning signs of depression (I had flirted with it a few years before and it had been noted on my antenatal card). With regular counselling sessions, I have been able to ‘manage’ and come to terms with parts of my past. Even after the birth of my second daughter I still have regular sessions – now I have issues with ‘I feel like a bad mother because I am not juggling a successful career, earning money, looking svelte and gorgeous and running the home – in short a Super Mum’.
I now know in my heart I could never physically or emotionally inflict the kind of pain that I have suffered on my own little girls. They are my hope, my greatest challenge, they are little treasure chests full of surprises!
I think the hardest thing to bear about my experience is that to this day, my mother maintains the belief that she has been a ‘great mum’, always doing the best things for her kids. Sadly she hasn’t changed, hasn’t learnt any lessons. Last year at Christmas she didn’t give her only granddaughter a gift, let alone her only daughter.
I let her think what she wants, for now I know the truth of my heart – I may be her daughter, and though she will never be the mother I have always longed for her to be – I am and can be that mother to my own beautiful girls.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem