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.