Giving Birth: Learning How To Mother Myself
For the last 6 years, I have thought about birth almost every single day. It started with a letter I wrote to my future children. The most important part of that letter was telling these future beings that I was working alchemy on myself to be golden enough to receive them. It was at that moment that something in me shifted, and I realized that to give birth in an intentional way, I must do it for myself first.
I have definitely been through my baby-craze phase, where I wanted more than anything to become pregnant. I suppose a big part of that was hormones, women around me having babies and a desire to be a mother. Reflecting on that time, I wanted to skip over the part of being my own woman and jump into motherhood as the only viable identity after college. Becoming a doula in 2010 put the brakes on that desire. The responsibility and reality of becoming a parent was real to me. I decided that I could wait longer to become a mother.
In the midst of this, I dealt with my own strife with my mother. I began to realize that having children in her early twenties ended my mother’s self-determination and the future she may have dreamed of. She had to do a lot of growing up all on her own because of the disconnection between her and my grandmother due to migration. I learned about what my mother wanted to do with her life – become a nurse – before she fell in love. I heard about the trials, tribulations and joys my mother endured raising 3 children close in age in the Bronx. The idea that her life was over in a certain respect filled me with dread. Suddenly, I didn’t want to be a mother anymore. Not at 20-something years old.
I began to realize somewhere in this process that I didn’t know what it meant to be a mother or be mothered. My mother was an exceptional mother, and cared for her children dearly. She sacrificed a lot for us, stayed home with us in our young age and for these things I am forever grateful. Emotionally, she was unavailable. I have come to understand that she couldn’t be because she wasn’t emotionally available for herself. I know I felt it when I experienced trauma at 6 years old, and shortly afterwards when she asked me if I wanted to be her friend. I felt like I lost my mother at that moment. I was reluctant to say yes but felt like I would hurt her feelings. From then on, I saw myself more like a second mother in the house than a daughter. That became a burden as I got older and became an adult; she began to share things about her life with me that, in retrospect, a mother shouldn’t tell her daughter. I wanted to be there for her though, knowing that the information was traumatizing me. I ended up taking care of my mother emotionally and ignoring myself. She has struggled with being bi-polar, which makes you unbalanced and at times, self-absorbed and self-deprecating. As life became more mentally and emotionally complex for me, I felt the distance between us grow. I became aware that the respect I had for my mother was rooted in fear of making her angry. I never shared anything personal with her because I thought I’d be in trouble or that she couldn’t handle it. I’ve had a secret world for years that I never felt I could tell her about.
A year ago, I began to realize that I needed to be my own mother. My relationships with women through the years was affected by this need that I never knew how to ask of my mother. I wanted to be her daughter, not her friend. Consequently, I didn’t know how to balance this. Mothering myself was a struggle when I first began. I realized there was a child inside me who needed a responsible adult to take over. That a 6 year old had been running the show in my life, and my inner wise woman had to step up. It was hard. I wanted to stay a child. Being responsible meant giving up childish things, like being aloof, flaky, unfocused and distracted. Mothering myself demanded that I take care of myself instead of wanting to be taken care of. It was a hard pill to swallow, but the bitterness of this medicine healed me.
The first step to mothering myself was admitting that I was not okay. Taking responsibility of my wounded self was painful but opened the door to rebirth. I had to hold and cradle myself, still slipping up along the way but holding myself accountable. I began to see that mothering myself brought about similar anxieties as those I have seen with pregnant women – of worrying if I was doing everything right, the fear of something happening to me under my care and ultimately, facing death and birth in the same breath. I learned that mothering myself meant I needed to be emotionally available for myself. That taking care of others before doing so for myself was harmful to my mental health. To be a mother to myself meant that my former self had to be put to rest. A chapter of my life had to end for a mother-woman to emerge. Birth has made me develop a close relationship to death, and death has made birth all the more glorious.
I look forward to becoming a mother to another being in the future. I know it will come with fears, struggles and anxieties. I know that nothing I do will make me completely ready to face that initiation. Yet, giving myself the time to birth the woman I am becoming has shifted my desire to give birth to a child from an escape to an intention. When I stopped escaping from myself, I became intentional with what I did with my life. I thank my mother for everything she taught me. For the stories and things she shared with me. For her bravery in the face of all the pain she carries. Most of all, I thank her for birthing me. Because she had to face her own death. Now I understand the opportunity she was robbed of by a society that teaches women that motherhood is our only way to have status in the world. I am not just my mother’s daughter anymore, and this is the journey in reconciling the bridge between little girl to a self-actualized woman.