I was nine when my mum died of breast, and then lung cancer, and she was 41. I was terrified when she died. I felt like I was going to die myself. I had no idea how I would survive. I didn’t feel that I knew my dad that well by comparison to the relationship I had with my mum and I remember feeling really scared that I had been left to be looked after by him, I didn’t know how he, or we, would manage. My mum was my entire world, the best, most comforting, most lovable, safe person alive. She was loving, and I absolutely knew that she loved and adored me. She was very encouraging, she wouldn’t let anything get in my way, and she wanted me to be free to be whoever and whatever I wanted to be. She was also a gentle, kind, generous and giving kind of person.
My mum and dad had, I suppose, quite traditional roles. My mum looked after us full time, as well as working for my dad, and my dad owned several small businesses which he worked incredibly hard at. We were a family unit and we did lots of stuff together, but my mum was definitely the care giver and my dad was very busy working. Being a girl, I think I spent more time in my mums company naturally, as we liked the same things, and while we spent a lot of time with both my mum and dads families, we spent a lot more time with my mum’s, as they all lived locally.
When my mum died I made the decision to grow up as fast as I could, and be as independent as I could as quickly as I could, and that’s what I did. I worked very hard, and I always had loads of friends and a boyfriend as a teenager. I spent as much time as I could with other people, and I was always busy. It wasn’t until my twenties, when I was independent, that I really properly grieved for my mum. When I finally did, it was a huge relief. I stopped running and I have been able to be a lot more still since then. In turn this has bought me much closer to my mum.
I’m a psychologist, so when I become pregnant with my first child I was well aware of the potential impact on me of being a motherless mum. I had wanted to be a mother since I was about two years old so I had a lot of time to think about how I wanted to do it! I was very aware that suffering the huge loss of my own mum could have a profound effect on the way that it would feel for me to become a mum and I really wanted to have this experience without becoming depressed, or so full of grief for my own loss that I wasn’t really able to be fully present for my child. This motivated me to spend the time, money and enormous amount of energy seeking the right help to do my grieving before I had a child to look after. I think this really shaped the experience for me, of course, I will never know, but it made me feel very different. I’m not saying that there is no sadness there at all, but I think that overall, because I had explored the sadness that I felt, and cried a lot of the tears that I needed to cry, I was able to embrace the experience more, instead of pushing it away to avoid the painful bits. The joy behind that is that it brought me closer to my mum.
Becoming a mum has been like becoming my mum in some ways, and because I have dealt with a lot of the loss, that feels like a positive experience. I hear myself say the things to my little girl that she said to me. I sing the same songs. I also think that I feel similar to how she did about being a mum and about mothering, I really enjoy it, to me it is the most fulfilling thing. Looking back now I can see that she was absolutely dedicated to motherhood too, she obviously loved it. She came from a big, bustling, loving family, and I think she loved having her own family to look after and care for. My mum and I have more in common now than we ever have and therefore it has brought me closer to her, and that feels really nice. I’m very proud of how she nurtured me, and hugely grateful, and I hope that I am passing that on to my little girl, and to my newborn son.
Of course, the loss of her is still there, and I feel it for Penny especially now. I think my mum would have been a hands on grandparent, and I imagine Penny and Jesse would have had really close relationships with her. For me, I missed her at all the significant points throughout my pregnancies and births. I would have loved to ask her all about her pregnancies and her birth experiences. I REALLY struggled with breastfeeding, and I would have loved her to help me with that. At times, I have felt lonely without that person to talk to about my experiences, but most of all I miss that person who you don’t even need to tell when you’re feeling awful, because they just know, and you don’t need to tell them how to help you, because they just know. A kind of emergency backup for when the shit hits the fan, as it so often does with parenting!
My husband and I don’t have anywhere near as much help as other people do, and because I lost my mum so young I’m terrible at asking for help from people anyway as I am very independent. As a consequence, I spend pretty much all my time with Penny and Jesse. Luckily as I enjoy it, it works really well. I think because me and my brother both lost our mum as children, we have stuck together in life. We try the best we can to act as a bit of a buffer for each other, and perhaps fulfil some of that role that my mum would have taken for us both. We live round the corner from each other, and as much as we can, we help each other out with each others children. I do sometimes feel resentful towards, and even envious, of people who have a lot of help though, it can definitely feel really unfair.
I really miss the emotional back up though. When everything is going rather wrong I want my mum to tell me that it is fine. For some reason I think I would believe her more than anyone, and I think she would know how to help me without me even asking her to. My dad is a super star dad, and probably one of the best in the world, but when I was having a terrible time the other day and he said to me, “How do you want me to help you more?” I said that I didn’t want to have to tell him how to help me, I wanted someone who just knew how to help me. That’s what I miss. To me, that’s a mum.
Sadness aside think I genuinely feel OK about being a motherless mum most of the time, plus I’m absolutely hell bent on enjoying my life as a mum. None of us know how long we will be here, but I know that being a parent is the happiest and most fulfilled I have ever been, and I want to make the absolute most of it. I try to be really grateful for the things that I do have and I believe I am one of the luckiest people in the world; I live in peace, in a great city, surrounded by amazing friends and community, and I have a happy marriage, and two healthy children. This is what life is all about.