“There is an emptiness inside of me — a void that will never be filled. No one in your life will ever love you as your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again.” – Hope Edelman –
As Mother’s Day in the UK comes to an end for another year, I sit on my sofa listening to the unrelenting hum of the cars passing in the street below and think about how truly challenging yet rewarding this journey of motherhood without a mum of my own has been. I have been a mother for nine years and motherless for close to eighteen, and if I am honest sometimes being a motherless mum has been one of the loneliest most isolating roles on earth.
My son was born in the early hours of a still and humid morning at the height of summer some ten years ago. I’d woken up at 3am feeling tight and uncomfortable all over as though I was about to explode at any moment. Getting up to use the toilet I realised with horror that the time to give birth and relieve myself of my heavy and quite often painful bump was nearly upon me since my mucus plug was sitting at the bottom of the toilet bowl.
Phoning my midwife to seek advice, she explained that I simply could not be in labour as I was able to speak coherently and was not screaming down the phone in terrible pain. Despite her advice and convinced that I was indeed in labour I pleaded for my partner to phone an ambulance anyway and when the first-response paramedic arrived, to my frustration he agreed with the midwife – there would be no baby that day, though by this point my waters had broken and I was contracting minutes apart. I felt defeated and annoyed that the medics were ignoring me just because I was not experiencing the traditional symptoms or reacting to my contractions in the expected typical way. I demanded that I be taken to hospital in any case and stormed off to the kitchen to wash the dishes whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
When the second set of paramedics appeared they agreed to take me to hospital since by then I was in tears and distressed; irritated that no one seemed to be listening. They advised my partner to collect some of my belongings and meet us at the hospital since I would probably not be having the baby until the following day anyway. All alone on the way to the hospital, strapped to a gurney and in no mood to talk to the paramedic who attempted to make polite conversation with me I held my stomach and sobbed for my mum. We arrived at the hospital in less than ten minutes and we had not been there for longer than five when the urge to push overcame me and to everyone’s surprise, after three pushes my son was born; just over an hour since my first call to the midwife.
My labour was quick, uncomplicated and without pain relief, and as I pushed my son into the world surrounded by the paramedics and hospital staff, I could think of nothing else but the overwhelming need to have my mother there with me.
As the years have gone by, that need has presented itself on many occasions especially during times of great difficulty when I had no choice but to navigate through life’s challenges alone. The ending of my relationship, problems at work, managing finances, running a home, questions about my own childhood – the list of instances I have needed my mum have been plenty, yet for myself and many other motherless mums, it was in these moments that I had no choice but to learn how to mother myself.
My life without a mum has been lonely. On shit days there is simply no one to turn to, no one to talk to and no one to understand me in a way only a mother can. For the most part I have worked out motherhood and life on my own, and often people will ask me who taught me how to cook, or clean or something as trivial as braiding hair and I laugh at the innocent expectation that everyone has someone to teach them these things. To the contrary, in the absence of a mother everything I know I have quite literally taught myself.
When my son was born, I taught myself how to rock him to sleep within minutes by patting his bum as I swayed him gently in my arms. I taught myself how to get up and work through exhaustion, functioning on barely any sleep and very little energy, even when I am sick. I taught myself how to paint, and hang wallpaper, fit shelves, build furniture, upcycle and anything necessary to make our house a home. These days I have been teaching myself patience and perseverance when I constantly remind my near ten year old to hang up his school uniform after school or put his toys back in their rightful homes. I have negotiated motherhood alone, often selflessly and exhaustively, and with many mistakes along the way.
Generally life keeps me so busy that I have little time to focus on the absence of my mum, however when life slows down in the evenings and my son is fed, bathed and snoring softly in bed, it will be in those moments that the loneliness strikes and I long to phone my mum just to talk about, well anything and nothing at all.
I grieve a confidant, a guide, a nurturer and a protector and I am eternally sad that she missed out on her life and my son. I yearn for her advice, her support, her wisdom and her voice.. And I guess just someone to tell me that I am doing ok.
“I miss her when I can’t remember what works best on insect bites, and when nobody else cares how rude the receptionist at the doctor’s office was to me. Whether she actually would have flown in to act as baby nurse or mailed me cotton balls and calamine lotion if she were alive isn’t really the issue. It’s the fact that I can’t ask her for these things that makes me miss her all over again.”
– Hope Elderman –
One of the most difficult aspects of mothering without a mum is juggling childcare and work in this modern day world. As it stands if I need help, there are only a couple of people I can call and with lives and responsibilities of their own, their support will understandably forever be limited and conditional. Childcare has always been a problem, and in the early days when I first split from my childs father scheduling childcare so we were both able to remain at work was the cause of great tension and stress since he pretty much took a backseat and has been less than willing to step in and help since. Sick days, inset days, hospital appointments, balancing childcare around my shifts and any other juggling of childcare arrangements are always my responsibility and without a mum or any real support system, this can be tough.
As is my social life (away from family-focused events) which has always been pretty much non existent, though fortunately I have a great group of long term friends who understand that for me motherhood is and will always be the priority.
I guess, in many ways being motherless has made me overprotective of my son because he really is all I’ve got, plus my care experience exposed me to just how manipulative and self-serving adults can be and I am super careful and selective about who I allow into his life as a result. I will not just leave him with anyone, and with exclusion of my great aunt and my cousin (and in the early days my siblings though they are all busy with their own lives now) no one is or has ever been allowed to look after my son. No one, friends or family alike.
In that respect, I think it’s fair to say that my mother’s early death has shaped not only my life but also the way that I mother as I am acutely aware that the ground can be pulled out from under your feet without a moments notice and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.
As I approach my sons tenth birthday, this fear has become very real as he will soon be older than I was when my mother died and I am irrationally fearful of the future and the possibility of leaving him behind if like my mother I am destined to die young. I hope we break the curse and life does not deal us those cards.
The journey of motherhood without a mum has been tough, but if there is one thing that I am thankful for it is my motivation to succeed. Growing up motherless (and parentless) taught me resilience I don’t think I ever would have discovered or developed otherwise. I am independent, strong and a survivor both by nature and self nurture. I am aware of my capabilities and I know that no matter what challenges life will bring I can and will survive. There is no one in the world that I can fall back on (at least not unconditionally) and that circumstance alone has unquestionably governed both my experience of motherhood, my life and my unrelenting will to push through.
Being a motherless mother has been a lesson. A lesson in love, in perserverance, a lesson in trying, failing and trying again and a lesson in taking ownership of my life.
It has never been easy and I don’t expect it will ever get easier, however it is a journey that has taught me patience, courage, self-love, kindness, forgiveness and strength and for that I am forever thankful.