Last Sunday was Mother’s Day. The day that we all say thanks to the wonderful women in our lives, and give them a well-earned day of being spoiled. Your friends all share gorgeous photos on social media, of themselves with their Mothers. Gushy messages are written above these photos, and tech-savvy Mums everywhere are tagged into these love doughnut posts.
Then we have the friends whose lovely Mothers have been cruelly snatched away from them. Cancer,heart disease and other awful illnesses singled out these happy families and literally blew them apart, like some sadistic soap opera scriptwriter. On Mother’s Day, these friends write openly about their grief and share tear-extracting poems on loss.
But what about the people out there, whose Mothers are estranged from their lives? The ones whose Mothers have either walked away, or behaved in such a way that makes any kind of contact an impossibility. The fundamentally flawed freaks, who have faces even their Mothers couldn’t love. The rejects. The unlovables. What about us?
Last Chance Saloon
The last time I saw my Mother, was 12 years ago. I’d invited her to my house, to see her Grandson. What did I expect? To be honest, I don’t know. But I expected a bit more than what I got.
I’d recently read an article in a magazine, which was written from the perspective of a woman who’d been a terrible Mother. Her children were brought up by their Father and she had flitted in and out of their lives, for many years. When her children were in their mid-teens, she sauntered out of their lives and didn’t go back.
At the time of the article’s publication, the woman had been granted a second chance by her daughter. Her daughter had recently given birth to her first child and extended an olive branch to her absentee Mother. The woman grabbed the olive branch, and didn’t let go. In her words, she wasn’t a good Mother to her own children, but vowed to be a good Grandmother. She was working hard to try and heal the fractured bonds, and prove herself worthy of being in her Grandchild’s life.
Carried on the romantic waves of this magazine article, I extended an olive branch to my own Mother. She accepted my invitation. She arrived on my doorstep the following Saturday. There was no tearful reunion, no hugs, nothing. Just a cold, emotionless expression on her face and a “let’s get this over with” energy emanating from her. I lifted my then 4-month old baby boy from his bouncing chair, and carefully placed him on her lap. If anyone could melt a frozen heart, it was my beautiful little chunky bum. (Don’t tell him I called him that. He’s now nearly 13 and seems to think he was born a teenager.)
Nothing. She didn’t even look at him. She looked like the shy kid at a Birthday party, awkwardly holding a Pass-The-Parcel, desperately waiting for the music to resume. A mixture of anger and pain seared through my veins. I shrugged it off and convinced myself that I’d overwhelmed her. I’d jumped the gun. I relieved her of the burden I’d so obviously forced on her and served up some coffee and cake.
It was then that she regailed me with stories of how unhappy she was and how she was disappointed in me, for making the “terrible mistake” of becoming a Mother at such a young age. Stay calm, Caroline. She doesn’t mean it. She berated me for my poor life choices and I let my anger get the better of me. “Well, I might be a young Mother, but I won’t make the same mistakes you made.” I seared the surface of her skin, with my biting remark. She recoiled in shock, and we sat in complete silence.
After a while, I broke the deafening silence.”Look. What’s happened between you and me is gone. We can’t change it. But I’m giving you a chance to be in my son’s life.” Then I dropped the bomb from the magazine article. “You weren’t a good Mother to me, but you could be a good Grandmother.” She gave me an icy glare. “What do you want from me? Money? I can give you money.” She began rifling in her handbag. I don’t fucking believe this! I thought.
“Put your purse away, Mum. I don’t want your money.” I said in a low, authoritative tone. My very recent experience with Post- Natal Depression, lent me a new perspective on the possible cause of my Mother’s total rejection of me. I asked her outright if she’d seen the same, everlasting darkness I had. Her response was “no. I just didn’t love you.” Now it was my turn to recoil. “You don’t mean that.” I measured her facial expressions. She meant it, alright. But why?
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “I just didn’t.” Her tone was dismissive, and slightly irritated. Did she love me, when I had to go and stay with her in my teens? No, she didn’t. I’d been dumped on her and she didn’t need a “messed up, suicidal teenager” in her life. But I wasn’t just any old messed up,suicidal teenager. I was her messed up, suicidal teenager. My words didn’t make any difference.
I think she could sense that I had some brutal home truths to deliver to her, so she did what she does best. She got her things, and left. She didn’t even turn her head, to take a look at what she was walking away from. That said, even if she did; would the sight of her daughter and grandson have stopped her from walking out of the door? Probably not.
The Last Goodbye
My Mother called me, a few days after her visit. Our conversation was civil – more like a conversation between two acquaintances, than Mother and Daughter. She asked how my “little one” was. She couldn’t even bring herself to refer to her own Grandson by his name. That was the finish, as far as I was concerned.
“Don’t call me again. I won’t intrude on your life again.” Were the last words I spoke to her. I didn’t wait for her response. I replaced the phone’s receiver, and quietly moved on with my life. My Mother never called me again.
Most days, I don’t notice the Mother shaped hole in my life. It’s just a fact about me, that I’ve learned to accept. It isn’t until something significant occurs in my life, that the enormity of being Motherless hits me.
During the traumatic birth of my first son, one of the midwives asked if I wanted her to contact my Mother. Between contractions, I explained to her that my Mother and I weren’t in contact. Then she pulled The Face.
The Face is the expression that forms on peoples’ faces, when I tell them that I’m estranged from my Mother. The expression is a mixture of confusion, and pity. Poor,poor,Motherless lamb, it says. Something about The Face, makes the muscles on one side of the owner’s neck weak; the result being, that their head tilts to the side, as if the weight of their head is too much for their neck to cope with.I used to find The Face irritating, but I’ve since learned to forgive people their involuntary micro expressions.
On 2nd November, 2004, I lost my second baby. I hadn’t been very far along in the pregnancy, and I wasn’t too thrilled about it to be honest. My eldest son wasn’t yet a year old, and I’d only just scrambled through the dark tunnel of Post- Natal Depression. Battle scarred, and still a bit wobbly in the emotions department, I wasn’t ready to go through it all again. But nonetheless, I was pregnant and the new life I’d helped to create deserved to be nurtured. The fateful day, was the day before my eldest son’s first birthday. I was busy milling around- decorating the house, buying party food, wrapping his presents and collecting his birthday cake from the bakery.
I’d had some period pain type cramps, for a couple of days and had dismissed them as “bedding in” pains. My uterus was just making sure the baby was in the right place, that’s all. But a part of me, buried deep in my busy schedule told me that something wasn’t quite right. Then the bleeding began. I rushed over to my Doctor’s surgery, and was examined. The Doctor confirmed my fears. I was having a miscarriage. I felt numb initially, then the irrational, hysterical guilt came. This is all my fault. I wasn’t happy about this pregnancy, so my body’s rejected the baby. This thought whirred round my head, like a fire alarm.
The Doctor was happy to let me go home, on the condition that if anything got worse, or even stopped happening; I was to go straight to the hospital. “Could you stay with your Mother for a while,until this has run its course?” he enquired. Oh no. I thought. Now I have to explain everything. I informed him of my unusual situation and to my surprise, he didn’t pull The Face. He looked down at his notes. “I see” came his response. I think I’d rather he’d pulled The Face.
Another horrible reminder of my Mother’s absence, came when I found a lump in my breast. I was in the shower, when I found it. It felt like I had a stone buried deep inside my breast, and it was attached to my sternum. It’s just a cyst I told myself. After all, people like me don’t get Breast Cancer – my breasts are too small for a start. I know, I know, I was being ridiculously naive. But I’m a head-in-the-sand type of person, when it comes to my health. I ignored it for a few days, before voicing my concerns to my husband. He had a feel around (any excuse), and I watched his facial expressions intently. Then he found it. The colour slowly drained from his face, and he looked up at me through terrified eyes. “You need to go to the Doctor.” He ordered.
The next day, I found myself stripped to the waist, having my breasts manhandled by the female Doctor at my surgery. After the examination, the Doctor asked me a few questions about my general health. Then the question came. “Is there any history of Breast Cancer on your Mother’s side?” Here we go. I explained my situation (I have a script down to a fine art now), and told the Doctor I have absolutely no idea of the medical history of that side of my family. She pulled The Face, before referring me for further tests.
To cut a long story short, the lump turned out to be a fibroid. But the point I’m trying to make is, when your Mother is absent from your life, you spend it having to face the things that she should be around to help you with, alone. And it’s during those times, that you feel the most alone.
Social Media Reminders
Aside from Mother’s Day, there are constant reminders that I’m an estranged child on social media. Whenever a friend has a new baby, I get a reminder. When a friend gets married, Bam! Another reminder.
Over the past couple of days, a meme has been shared around on Facebook. Great! Now we’re a meme. The wording on the meme, says something like “no matter what my kids say or do, I couldn’t ever disown them.” Now, I may be being a little bit too sensitive on this; but I feel that the wording is blaming the estranged child for their parent walking away from them.
I feel this way, because it seems that the meme is implying that we’ve done or said something so bad, that our parents have been forced to disown us. I’m sorry, but I’m rather annoyed at this. I haven’t behaved in a way that has warranted my Mother’s rejection of me. And I won’t have some callous “inspirational” quote tell me otherwise. Rant over.
I saw a statistic somewhere, that said that children who’ve been disowned by their Mothers, will go on to disown their own children. I’d just like to say, what a load of bullshit! If anything, the relationship I have with my own Mother (or lack,thereof) has made me more determined to have a strong relationship with my own children.
I feel that the statistics are biased, and the data has only been collected from the minority. I don’t remember ever being approached by a statistician, and asked if my Mother’s estrangement has tempted me to abandon my own children. And if I ever was, my response would be a fiercely resounding “no.” Stick that on your graphs.
The Motherless Mother
Because I have such a negative jumping off point, when it comes to all things maternal, I work extra hard to be everything to my children; that my Mother wasn’t to me. Sometimes this takes its toll on my already precarious mental health.
I think I put more pressure on myself, than other Mothers out there. Guilt is my nightly mood. When I get home from work, my children are already tucked up in their beds. The guilt at not being there to do the tucking in, gnaws away at my gut. But I have to counter the guilt with more positive thoughts. I can’t tuck my children into their beds at night, not because I chose to walk out the door and set up home with someone else; but because I’m working hard to provide for them.
When our days off come around, I don’t spend them sleeping off a hangover on the sofa; while my children are out, doing God-knows-what, with God-knows-who; like my Mother did. You can find me and my children at the local park, kicking a football around, paddling in the stream and eating ice creams. If you can’t find us there, we’ll be at a museum, bowling alley, cinema; or at home, baking cakes and biscuits or completing school projects.
When the difficult times come along: my children have had a fall-out with their best friends, they’re feeling overwhelmed with their school work, or a bereavement has occurred; you will find me, not miles away, living a new life; but at home, locked in a tight embrace with my children.
And when my children become parents themselves, you will find me. I won’t be found holding my new Grandchildren like the shy kid playing Pass-The-Parcel, and waiting for the music to resume. Instead, you will find me cradling my new additions and taking in every curve and contour of their perfect little faces. And I won’t need to wait for the music to resume, because it will never have stopped in the first place.
Photo by Ian Schneider, courtesy of Unsplash