Sometimes my birthday falls on Mother’s Day. My 28th birthday is one of those years. Last year, I wrote about how Mother’s Day hurts like hell for some, myself included. I wrote that this holiday is “like having a wound reopened on an annual basis, even if the grieving process looks a bit different each year.”
That’s the thing about this particular grief- I have come to accept that I’ll never get over the reality that I am estranged from a living woman who birthed me. I decided this year, my grieving would include reflection through writing, like many years, and I chose to look through my one plastic tub of photographs from my childhood with the intention to celebrate and mourn my existence simultaneously while also seeking a photo of just me and my mom together to pair with my writing. I found just one, and I think it captures both my mom and me at our best, so I really treasure it.
Anytime someone meets their mom for coffee or whenever someone comments on how much or little their mom is helping or not helping with wedding plans or grandchildren, or anytime I scroll through my phone contacts because I need to talk to someone but there are no contacts called Mom in my phone, I store the pain away.
I have an imaginary jar up in my brain where heartache caused by triggers can stay so that I can function as a grown adult. I invite these pains to stay for a little bit and as you can imagine, like any container, sometimes it gets a bit full.
I know I’ll never stop being sad about the fact that I don’t have a mom. And who could ask me to, really? I wouldn’t ask that of anyone. I have come to accept that my sadness has a place in my life, and that when my jar gets full, and my pace of living starts to slow down because of the heavy jar in my brain, I have learned to set aside time to actually sit with my sadness. When life gets heavy, I let myself cry. Usually alone. Sometimes with Ben. I grieve the loss of the relationship, the missed memories, and the depressing reality of the cold hard facts. I don’t force myself to think about my accomplishments or things I can be grateful for despite this hardship. I just grieve. I grieve until the jar is mostly empty again.
I understand now that this is a process that will follow me throughout my life, not just annually for Mother’s Day, but however often it needs to happen. Some seasons will require more reflection than others.
When I started thinking about what I wanted to say, I thought about how many years that I have been a mother now. It has been five years, if I start counting from when I found out I was pregnant with Zadie. But that just doesn’t feel right to me at all.
If I could travel to my past and visit myself on all of those spring May birthdays, externally celebrating the joy of turning another year older and internally torn up over my sadness to be separated from my mom, I would give myself a big hug. I would let that little girl know that Mother’s Day will always be a little bit sad for her, but that it was a holiday she could start celebrating then. She didn’t have to wait until her future when or if she might have children of her own.
I have finally accepted my disappointment to some extent that I don’t have a mother that looks like the kinds of mothers other people have. I am my own mother. God is my mother. Friends are mothers to me. And when I look for the comfort a mother is supposed to provide, I let myself experience the wound of being let down by how society says I am supposed to be loved and I let myself experience the vulnerability of seeking nurture in other relationships and finding what I need.
The qualities I most desire in a woman I could call Mom would be: my biggest cheerleader, available for me whenever I need her, appropriate amount of challenging me to be my best self while simultaneously accepting and loving me for who I am, someone I could hug every time I see her without it being weird, someone I could hug for a long time and let my tears flow into her shoulder without apology, someone who surprises me with little gifts and encouragement, someone who tells me what a great job I am doing as a mother, spouse, teacher, and human being.
What I’m coming to realize is that I can have those needs met even if the source I look to is not the woman who birthed or raised me. Because these desires are so rooted inside of me, I think I am shaping myself into becoming that woman I long for. I can be those qualities for myself and for other people in my community because it feels really good to be loved like that.
When I published my blog about postpartum depression, I was reminded that life isn’t meant to be lived alone and that there are kind people who want to nurture and support me. I want to give a couple of shout-outs here: to my neighbor Emily who drove me home from work at 10 am one day because I didn’t have the strength to pretend I could teach, to my sister Lizzy who surprised me with a puzzle in the mail, to my friend Lauren and her mom Becky who disregarded the awkwardness of us not knowing each other super well and came over to babysit so Ben and I could have a night off, to Cossette, Sandy, and Rachel who actually laid hands on me and prayed for the depression to lift, to Mariah who venmoed me $5 to buy myself a coffee, to Alicia who sent a card, to Liz and Hank who asked to watch our kids so we could do whatever we wanted, to my neighbor Jen who surprised me with treats, to Chris, Shawna, Lindsey, Claire, Kari, Kara, and Steve who have checked in on me at work, and to all of the people who told me they read my blog and shared something about how my writing has impacted them.
All of these gestures came from people who aren’t my mom, yet I believe all of these people mothered me. And I’m so grateful.
And so, this Mother’s Day which is also my 28th birthday, I ask you to reflect on what it is about mothers you yearn for. Think about what it is about mothers that will devastate you when it’s gone. Please offer those qualities with those of us who walk the world motherless, regardless of labels and roles.
Let’s mother each other.