Photo by: Ashley

Motherless Mothering

Photo by: Ashley

I sink down into the glider in my daughter’s nursery. She’s heavy in my arms, panting softly into my shoulder after a crying spell. I rock back and forth, rubbing her back and whispering comforting words into her ear. All around the room are old, black and white photographs of my mother and as I rock my Veronica I look at each one, taking it in before moving on to the next one.

My mother died when I was eighteen and now she’s been gone almost half my life. Before getting pregnant and having a baby I’d gotten pretty good at being a motherless daughter. I’d grown long used to having to mother myself, going through the motions of graduating college, moving across the country, meeting my husband and getting married, all without the comforting guidance of my mother. It makes for a certain kind of woman, I think. Being a motherless daughter creates a fierce sense of independence, a desire to show the world that you can do it all on your own… and most of the time you can.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was being a motherless mother. From the moment I found out that I was pregnant I found myself missing my mother more than I had in a decade. I suddenly wanted to know all about her experience of conceiving me. Was it easy or hard? Was she surprised or scared when she found out she was pregnant? What were those nine months like? Did her feet swell and did her water break? How long was her labor? What were the names she had chosen for me if I’d been a boy?

As I sat surrounded by women at the baby shower my mother-in-law threw for me, I couldn’t help but take a moment to look around the room, wondering what it would have been like to have my mother by my side. And in my final weeks of pregnancy as I sat alone in the empty nursery, my swelling belly protruding out before me, I closed my eyes and tried to imagine my mother there with me, patiently waiting out my due date.

What kind of mother would I be without my own mother there to guide me through it all? A reader recently inquired as to whether anyone else has recently lost their mother. She writes about how, even one year later, she is still mourning this loss.

Grief is a life-long process. It ebbs and flows and resurfaces with various life events. You can think you’ve moved on from a loss, only to view it from a completely new angle decades later. Those who touch our lives deeply never really go away. I read a study recently that showed that women who were cared for in a loving manner replicate the same methods of nurturing that their mother’s enacted with them. In essence, new mothers will hold their babies in the same way their mothers held them, an experience that creates deep sense memories for us. As I sit in the nursery, rocking back and forth and rubbing my daughter’s back, I am comforted by the idea that even if my mother isn’t here to show me how to do these things, in a way she already has.

Claire Bidwell Smith writes the award-winning blog Life in Chicago.

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49 Comments

This is really touching. I definitely see my parents and grandparents in my small children - in the way that they greet the world, and interact with people. It is interesting to consider that I care for my babies as my mother once did for me. Thanks for the post.

What a beautiful post! I hope you will continue to receive God's comfort when you grieve. I am sure that you have made your mother proud as you mother your own daughter.

I could have written this post verbatim, of course, I'm not nearly as eloquent. My mother died when I was 17, she's been gone nearly half my life. I moved across country and went to college, I got job, got married, and eventually got pregnant and had my first child.

For the last couple months of my pregnancy and the first 6 or 9 months of my daughter's life, I couldn't think about my mom. It hurt too badly and all the tools I'd used before to deal with it, just weren't working...

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Claire, thank you for sharing this. It really is a beautiful post. My mother died last year when I was 5 months pregnant with my first child. It was such an emotional time for me. My son was so easy and my pregnancy was one of the happiest times of my life. Yet it was occuring during the most difficult time of my life. Oh how I miss my mother...

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I know exactly what you are feeling. My mom passed when I was 20 just two weeks after the birth of my first son. I still miss her every day. With each of my children I have tried to make sure that I tell them stories about their grandma and how much that she loved her grandchildren. How she would have loved to have held them and smelled their hair and kissed their cheeks. Grieving this loss does get better with time...

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I too am a motherless daughter and a motherless mother. I lost my mother when I was 21 and she has been gone almost 12 years now. I also had to graduate from college, get my first job, meet my husband, get married and have children without my mother. And, I too have missed her so much more since I got pregnant and have had my 2 children. I wish I could talk to her everyday for encouragement and advice and just stories about when I was young...

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Hi Claire,
Very nice story. Your Mom would be very proud of you.
On the other side I grew up without a Father not by death but by divorce before I was born. he was never around when I grew up and didn't come to see me and my sister after he left. I never got into trouble and always worked hard as did my sister. We both got married and raised our children. Like you Claire I am strong and independent but there are always emotional scars from having one parent missing...

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I was touched by your post. My story is different but the aching heart of wishing my parents were still here to see my beautiful children is the same. My dad passed away 2 months before my son was born and then my mom passed away when my son was 3 years old. I long for them to be here on earth and see their grandkids and be able to spend time with them. I so feel that my kids have been cheated out of knowing their grandparents.

This post brought tears to my eyes. I have my Mom and I am blessed because she was there when I had my baby girl. She even retired early so that she could keep my daughter for me so that I would not have to send her to daycare as an infant. It's hard for me to think of my life without my Mom but I know it will happen inevitably and so I celebrate my Mom at every opportunity and make it a point to give her her flowers now...

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Beautiful! Haven't lost my mom, and can't imagine life without her. My heart goes to you for being the strong person you have become through the loss. The Lord builds us through our choices and most of the times through the tragedies we face in life. You need to hold on to your little girl and know that you are who the Lord intends you to be.....

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It always amazes me how much you can haved in common with with your neighbor, your children's bus driver, the complete stranger standing next to you in line at the market, people you chat with online. I too lost my Mom at 17,went to school, moved away, met my husband and had my first child at 27. I lost alot of contact with my mother's sisters through the yrs but recently reconnected with them...

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As I sit at my computer with tears streaming down my face, I, too am thinking of how different my life is because I lost my mother at age 21. I completely understand the feelings of loss at not having my mother with me when I graduated from college, got married and divorced and then found the love of my life and had 2 beautiful children, now 1 and 2 1/2. I wish I could have experienced pregnancy and motherhood along side my mother...

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I could have written this article also. My mother died when I was 18 and she was just 40. I am 40 now so I have now lived over half my life without my mom. The day after I graduated high school I moved 3 states away to live with my dad and step mom. I did meet my wonderful husband there and we married and have had four children of our own. Every big occasion in my life was difficult, graduation, marriage and all four babies...

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I love this!! I relate to it so much but on a different level. My mother and I don't have a healthy relationship, she's incapable of it so I've grieved much of my adulthood and motherless motherhood. The "tool box" she left me was useless. I've had relearn so many things as a mother. I love her dearly and miss her and wish for a real mother/daughter relationship so I promised myself and my girls I would stop the cycle of abuse with me.

I have a young woman in my life who is not my daughter, but I love her like a daughter. Both of her parents died by the time she was 19. We are blessed to have her in our lives. My husband walked her down the aisle when she was married, and I sat where her mother would have sat. Though it was a great honor for us, I kept thinking that it should have been HER parents there, not us! She is doing well, married to an absolutely wonderful man...

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