My mother died when I was 20 after a 4-year battle with cervical cancer. She was first diagnosed when I was in my last year of high school and was sick at a pivotal time in my life as I made the transition from teenager to adult.
To say I didn’t cope well with her death may be an understatement. I was in denial that she was even sick and when she passed, I basically ran away – taking a job as a mudlogger on oil rigs where I travelled and was away from home and the memories for long periods of time.
I fell in love not long after and ran away again to start my new life without much thought of the past. For 8 years, I cried every time I spoke about my mother – 8 years! – and not once did I really allow myself to stop and think about the impact of her death on my life.
In those brief moments where I did think back to my childhood and life with my mom, I felt resentment. She has always sheltered me from sad, hard or challenging events in my life to the extent that she even hid the fact she was ill from me for an entire year so as not to impact my last year of high school. Therefore, I felt it was her fault that I couldn’t cope with her death. How was I supposed to deal with it when she sheltered me from the truth? There was a lot of resentment and hurt.
I became a mother at 36. My husband and I had had 13 years of life and adventure under our belts at this point. We had traveled and lived all over the world and our twin girls were born in Dubai.
Before giving birth, I didn’t give much thought to being a parent. I was confident it would all fall into place and I felt that I knew exactly what I would and wouldn’t do based on my own experience of childhood.
When the babies came, I soon realized I was lost – totally and utterly. I didn’t know who to turn to. I talked to my husband, friends, my dad, my mother-in-law. I took their advice, I read books, I Googled endlessly! But nothing felt right. I lacked so much self-confidence and I just couldn’t figure out why. I felt awful about myself and as my new role as a mother. I was anxious all the time and very rarely allowed myself to find any joy in early motherhood. My world felt dark, isolated and oppressive.
I hit rock-bottom when the girls were 18 months old. I could keep going as I was and I was lucky to find the strength to talk to my husband and seek help. I was diagnosed with depression and with the help of medication and psychotherapy I began to claw myself back up into the light.
My girls are now 4 and I run my own business as a parenting educator and speaker. When I began my training, I was seeking answers and strategies about how to raise my girls but soon, through sharing my story and listening to others, I began to discover the immense impact that our life experiences have on own parenting. I started to reflect on my own path up until this point and connect how hard it is to be a motherless mother to my own struggles.
In all my seeking, searching and asking others about parenting, I was never satisfied – there was always something missing. It was connection – that true, deep, soulful connection that only exists between a mother and her child. Only a mother knows her child uniquely through biology, intuition and instinct. And this is what I craved most when I became a new mother – someone who truly knew me at a deep level. Someone I didn’t have to explain myself to or pretend to be someone I wasn’t. I was desperate to find the security to let my guard down, be vulnerable and have someone care for me without judgment or pity. I wanted to be mothered as I began my own journey into motherhood.
Although I know that I may have an idealized view of what that mother-child relationship may be, just to think about the possibility of having those moments, that connection with my mother, however small and insignificant they may be, fills me with such sadness as I know I will never get to experience them.
Instead, I have learned to fill my life with people – all of whom serve some small part in filling the void left my mother’s death. I’ve recreated a village around me to support me through this journey called parenting and I encourage parents whom I work with to do the same. But for me, and other motherless mothers, there will always be an irreplaceable vacancy in the village – the place where a mother should be.