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Becoming a Mom When Estranged from My Own

Updated: May 14, 2023

The last time I saw my mother was nearly a decade ago. We had one final argument, and I never looked back. The moment I let go of her, I felt passive and without regret. I think I had spent so many years figuring out why she wanted to hurt me that the moment I set boundaries, I felt like every emotion locked up inside me had vanished.

Ours was always a tumultuous relationship. On the good days, I was her everything in this world, deserving of her uninterrupted attention. But in more moments than a child is prepared for, I was made to feel inferior because of my imperfections. As a little girl, I blamed myself excessively for my insufficiencies, and there were days when I wished I could disappear if only it would make her life easier. I knew she loved me, and we had our joyful moments, but I was always waiting for the next moment she would tell me that I was not enough.

My mother sometimes felt like a black hole – I never knew what to expect with her moods. Whenever she took her anger out on me, I would bite my tongue or pick at my fingers. I would gradually learn to pretend I was in a different place – a playground, a cloud in the sky, or just somewhere 100 million miles away. Sometimes, I can still imagine her shadow standing behind me, telling me to be smarter, skinnier, brighter, and better. She created this standard of perfection that I could never attain. The pressure as a young child was overwhelming, and in moments, I was never more afraid of any other person than her.

When I discovered I would be a mother, a mix of emotions rushed through me – excitement, hope, and fear. I had worried about motherhood for years, and I never knew if I would be ready. I knew I always wanted to be a mother if possible. But I was afraid about what kind of mother I would become because of my childhood.

I sometimes pictured myself lashing out at a baby just like her, especially when my father expressed concern that my anger sometimes reminded him of her. I envisioned myself being why my child would hide in a closet as I did, hoping the anger would stop. I thought about the day I could leave my children behind as she did without an apology. I spent many years with a psychiatrist working out how I would be different and recognize and change that course of pain.

Others often interjected with the idea that she was family, or, in my father's case, an avoidance of the idea that it was possible to give up on the immigrant woman who sacrificed endlessly for her child. He often asked me to forgive her because she is my mother, and so, for years, I struggled with setting boundaries. Despite a complicated relationship, I was always going to be her child. But I couldn’t let what everyone thought a mother and child should be and the fear of judgment take hold of me.

My mother was serially unhappy, a construct of her own childhood, life choices and missed opportunities, which translated to us as her children. She never directly said she wished for a different life, but the day she picked up and left, I could immediately sense her relief. It was finally her chance to start over.

Our whole family – my father and my siblings - drove her to the airport as if she was going on a vacation. It was a weird, surreal nightmare. Just like that, she was starting her life over in a new place. Not even me keeling over in tears, whispering, “Don’t go”, could stop her. We didn't know how to process her leaving, so my father decided to drive us to Niagara Falls - weirdest fucking day ever.

That wasn’t the day I let her go. I sat at home for years, pining for her to return for good, waiting for her replies and the days I would see her once or twice a year when she decided to visit. I missed her. I even missed her anger.

The day I learned to let go was when I asked her when she would ever come home for good – for us and her grandchild, my niece, who was about to enter this world. There was no life for her here anymore, she would say. That was the day I finally internalized the abandonment. My newborn niece was not good enough for her to return. And for me, that was enough.

That was my triggering point.

My mom knew through my father that I openly experienced years of suicidal ideations. I waited all those years for her to say something meaningful, but she never did. She only asked why I stopped talking to her and why I was so angry, as if the abuse and abandonment had never occurred, as if nothing was ever wrong. I knew she would never fully listen -- she never listened. Equally, she would never open up about why she was the way she was -- perhaps trauma on one end or narcissism on the other -- second triggering point. So, I learned to let go of her.

But she never left my mind. She stayed in ways that I didn’t know how to deal with. I would cry over our relationship endlessly, lose myself in medication, think of her in the most intense of moments, and talk about her obsessively to my psychiatrist at length. I went through my journeys, where I picked up and started over. At moments, I mirrored her. I walked in her shoes and left good people and places behind without looking back, but still, I couldn’t forgive her -- perhaps, because she shattered me so badly that I didn't know how to hold on to anything good. At times, I never thought I would heal enough mentally to have my own child.

I was lucky enough to be oblivious that I was even pregnant. I thought I had just gained weight. Because of years of medication, I was constantly experiencing hormonal imbalances. There were times when I would not have my period for months. So, I didn’t pick up on anything unusual. But five months in, I realized I had a child inside me. I discovered with my partner that it was our little baby girl. And I couldn’t be luckier enough to have someone who said that all he wanted to do “is love her forever and do everything with her.” I, too, wanted to love her.

I wanted my daughter to know that she could come home safely with me despite all my flaws and that she could do nothing to make me want to walk away from her. Our bond one day could hit road bumps as all relationships do, but I would try in all my power to protect her, to make her realize that she is one of the most incredible things to ever happen to me.

I waited all my life for my mother's honest, steadfast love – a real “I will never turn away from you” love, but I know it doesn’t exist. I’m not sure I’ll ever understand or properly confront estrangement. It’s complicated – trauma and loss all wrapped up in one, but I know I’m not alone.

As I grew up, I found solace in others who wanted so much to be enough by their parents. I found peace in others who, too, had walked away from hurt and learned to start over. I found peace in others who found self-acceptance. I found peace in others who found gratitude in what they went through. I found a glimpse of light.

It isn’t lost on me that I couldn’t let go of my mother until I felt I had to protect those around me – first, my niece, and now, my partner and daughter. I don't want her to know the person who allowed me to believe that all that happened was okay. The abuse and abandonment were never okay, no matter the circumstances. And this doesn't have to be the case for my daughter. She doesn't have to endure my trauma if I don't allow it.

In the days leading up to her birth, as I put my hand over my stomach and felt her kicks, all I wanted her to know was that I would be there. Now, as I stare into her eyes, holding her in my arms, trying to process every new, ever-changing moment of motherhood, I want her to know that she is wanted in this world and her home with me will always be safe.

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