My mum died of breast cancer when I was 10 years old. Losing a parent so young is the antithesis of the gift that keeps on giving. Every special occasion, every achievement, every milestone in my life is a reminder that she’s not here.
I felt this even more keenly when I was pregnant with my first child. Midwives and sonographers asked me, “Is your mum looking forward to the baby coming?”. Colleagues told me, “You’ll be glad of your mum after the baby is born.” Even the books I read talked about how the bond between a woman and her mother is often strengthened after the latter experiences childbirth.
Here I want to state that I have a father who has done the job of two parents for the past two decades, and a wonderful stepmother. But this is about the absence of my own mother.
She wasn’t there when I wanted to ask if her pregnancy was like mine, if she experienced sickness as badly as I did, if she had the same nerves about becoming a mother, and how she dealt with working while pregnant. I didn’t get to discuss birth choices with her, and she wasn’t waiting anxiously outside as my son arrived in the world (as the baby books assured me she would be).
Afterwards, when motherhood wasn’t quite what I expected, she wasn’t there to listen and empathise and tell me whether she felt the same when I was born. She couldn’t help me navigate my new identity as a mother, and reassure me that I’d come out the other side.
She didn’t see my children’s first steps, celebrate their first birthdays, or hear their first words; she wasn’t there when my eldest started school. She is absent at Christmas and birthdays, and more poignantly she isn’t there for me to cry to when mothering is more than I can bear.
My children will never know her (except through the stories I tell); *I* will never know her as a person and not just as a mother. I won’t tell her how much more I appreciate her influence on me now, or hear from her what I was like as a child. I can’t ask her whether I am doing a good job, or how she did all she did, or why it’s so bloody hard sometimes.
My mother has been dead for more than 20 years, but with every stage of my own mothering journey, I feel her absence more. Mothering without my mother is a difficult journey, but she gave me the roadmap through her mothering of me, and for that I will always be thankful.