Matrescence

by Angeliska on May 14, 2017

For as long as I can remember, I had always wanted to be a mother. I remember cradling my rosy plastic baby dolls lovingly, wiping their hard molded little faces, inhaling the powdery synthetic perfume of them, and feeling as sad when that special smell finally faded as a grown mother might when her baby no longer smells like milk. I have always loved children, and always instinctually knew how to nurture them – even as a very young child myself. Little kids have always been drawn to me. In supermarket lines, at the next table over in crowded cafes, the bright gaze of a baby or toddler will always seem to alight on me, staring until they catch my eye and I make the kinds of faces that reliably elicit squeals of delight. This gazing, the mirroring of facial expressions, the hours and hours that a mother can spend just making silly faces with their baby – I’m not totally sure that I got much of that when I was an infant. Maybe a part of me still needs it, and knows that some other children do, too.

I am so honored to serve as one of many amazing fairy godparents to this magical little elf child, who turned 1 yesterday! I look forward to seeing her grow, and having conversations and adventures with her throughout her life. She's a wonder.
I am honored to serve as one of many amazing fairy godparents to this magical little elf child, Thea Beija. I look forward to seeing her grow, and having conversations and adventures with her throughout her life. She’s a wonder.

I acquired my first job, at age eleven – working with kids at a daycare. I was chief cat-herder, baby-wrangler, nose-wiper, shoe-tier, story-reader, make-believer, nonsense-babbler, peace-maker and tantrum-soother. I learned so much about patience, tolerance and multi-tasking during my years in child-care. Adults would ask me when I was younger if I thought I’d ever want children, but when I emphatically said yes, they would try and talk me out of it – saying I had no idea how hard it was, how thankless, how much work. I figured that after several summers of keeping a wild gaggle of little ones ranging from infancy to six years old happy and safe, I might have at least some idea of what it could be like, but then – I always got to give them back to their parents at the end of the day.

I used to throw big Easter parties, and invite all the children of my friends and relatives. I would always end up feeling like Mother Goose, with a train of little kids swarming around my skirts, tugging on my sleeve, coming to me for a game, a story, a band-aid and a kiss for their boo-boos. At parties and weddings, kids will cling on to me, wanting to stay with me, have me carry them around and dance, clamber on my lap and whisper in my ear, “I wish YOU were my mommy.” Many times, I’ve caught a child studying me thoughtfully for a long time before informing me that they couldn’t wait until I had children of my own, and telling me that I would be such a good mama. I guess you can’t ask for a better endorsement than that, right? Children know. I always say that if I am well regarded by children and dogs, then I can know that I’m doing all right as a human. I tend to care about their opinions more than anyone else’s.

Big baby little mama
Big baby little mama

After my mother died and we moved here, my dad had to find someone who would take care of me in the long summers when school was out and he was working. He found a nice lady who took in little strays like me at a daycare she ran out of her house – the same one where I would eventually work, when I got too old to be babysat. The daycare lady had a baby girl with big brown eyes that crinkled up in the corners like her mother’s. I have a photograph of myself at seven or eight years old, eyes big and scared behind thick glasses, a little owl holding that huge baby on my skinny knees. I only realized this recently but – instead of clinging to the nice lady, the mommy – I clutched and clung to her baby. It was always this way: I knew how to nurture, but not how to be nurtured. That sort of thing felt alien, uncomfortable, wrong somehow. My aversion grew out of my fear, and this unfamiliarity. My own mama, before she died, I think maybe didn’t really know what to do with me. She was overwhelmed by motherhood, by this tiny yowling creature that intimidated and frustrated her. I needed so much. I’m only just now beginning to really acknowledge the layers of loss that are mine to work through, and truly understand where it all began: with a little thorny seed nestled in my heart, a spiky thistle that sprouted up from that dark place in me, a yearning maw that ached with this knowledge: that no mama could ever have enough love, enough patience, enough care to heal in me what I had lost, what I only ever halfway had. Whenever other kids’ well-meaning mamas would see wee bitty me, a pitiful creature so obviously hungry for love, they would instinctively attempt to press me to their bosoms. It was all I could do not to hiss and run away, prickly little hedgehog that I was. They might try to embrace me, or say they wanted to try – but I was sure that eventually they would grow tired of trying to feed a baby whose belly was a bottomless bucket. I would get pushed off the lap at some point, surely. And that would be far, far worse than continuing to go it on my own. I knew without knowing something about that bonding that I never got with my mother. I thought I knew nothing about devotion. I was wrong. My dad married an amazing woman a few years after my mom died, who wanted a little girl passionately. I didn’t know or understand it at the time, but we both could have filled each other’s empty spaces, if only I hadn’t been so afraid. I had no idea how to receive mother love. My wonderful step-mother persisted in trying to love on me and fill me up nonetheless, despite how difficult I could be. She has put up with and softened my rough edges over the years, and taught me much about unconditional love and generosity, now that I am ready to understand it – and I am eternally grateful to her, and to my dad both for seeing me through a very rocky adolescence (and beyond.) I have no idea who I would be without them, and I shudder to imagine.

Them that raised me. My father and my step-mother on their wedding day.
Them that raised me. My father and my step-mother on their wedding day.

Them that made me. My father and my mother.
Them that made me. My father and my mother.

In the majority of the photographs from my childhood, my father is the one holding me, tying my shoes, feeding me, bathing me, changing my diaper, making silly faces at me. I have at least two or three out of all of those photos where my mother is the one holding me. Definitely two. You can say, well – maybe she was the one taking all the photos? Maybe so. But I think my grandmother was responsible for taking most of them, from what I can tell – that was always her gig. My dad has told me that he was the one who provided most of my emotional caretaking. He was then, and is now, an extremely devoted, patient, playful and loving father. But he was also saddled with being the provider for a family struggling with debt during the recession in the 1980′s. Both my parents had long commutes and worked crappy jobs for little pay. I know they were both stressed and exhausted most of the time. I know that they both did their very best to parent me and raise me right, and in a multitude of ways, they really did an fantastic job. Maybe if my mom hadn’t gotten sick so soon, so fast and so hard, maybe we could have gotten through it, and connected the way we both really wanted to. But that’s not what happened. For most of my life, I thought the worst wound I had to carry was my mother’s death. It’s taken me a long time to realize that everything that happened before that contributed in so many ways to a lot of the deep patterns of anxious attachment I’ve been learning to work through in my relationships. It’s fascinating, how much what we experience before our memories even really form shapes us fundamentally.

My papa singing to me when...

My birth was a hard one, and it hurt my mother – it hurt us both in lots of ways. I think that blissful bonding, that skin-to-skin exchange of raw oxytocin love-drugs was something we never got to experience. My mother said she felt a sharp kick right before her water broke. It happened in the middle of the night, or very early morning. My father said that he went from the deep dead sleep to wide awake in the fraction of a second. He said they rushed her to the hospital always prevent infection and her labor was immediately induced with pitocin. She was given an epidural and episiotomy. I was transverse, flipped the wrong way, facing the wrong direction. The doctor reached in and turned me around to face properly to be born. Emerging from the mother water. My birth journey, interrupted. The newest I ever was. I came into this world drugged and afraid, because my mother was drugged and afraid. I reckon that they swooped me up and swabbed me down, snipped my cord and stifled my squalling. I was cleaned and weighed and measured and eventually, eventually brought back where I belonged with my mom but she was distraught, disoriented and confused. She thought that she had done something wrong. I think my mother was afraid of me. I was jaundiced, a yellow little thing, so I was whisked away to soak in an artificial sun from a bright lamp. Was this where I got lost? Perhaps this was the point at which my soul disassociated, fragmented, went floating off in space like a balloon. I didn’t feel safe, or loved, or wanted. I did not feel welcomed, or that I belonged here on this earth, in this body. I think that’s how we missed each other, like ships in the night – in that frantic moment of interfering protocols. It’s as if we were two acrobats on the flying trapeze who missed our moment to grasp each other’s hands, to connect and be bonded for life. Instead, the moment sent us rushing past each other, and both our hearts went sprawling. Me, a little baby up there on the trapeze, swinging wild and alone. Her, crashing down to earth, to this new reality she was completely unprepared for. This is where it all began for me, that sense of being unloved, unworthy, unwelcome. My dad says that he believes he bonded with me in a way that she couldn’t. I know he did. In one the pictures my mother meticulously glued into my baby book, she seems truly blissed out, holding a naked little me on her lap angled towards her breast. I have pored over this photograph over and over, trying to feel a fragment of that lost bliss. I know from her letters that something went wrong during her labor, with the episiotomy, or maybe when they turned me. The doctor had done some damage, and for weeks after my birth, she was in horrible pain, and no one would listen to her, no one would believe her and treat the issue. I know that her physical pain, as well as most likely postpartum depression had something to do with what went awry with us, with her ability to be available and open to me, this terrifying tiny creature.

Out of the very few photographs I have of my mother holding me (maybe only 2 or 3) this one is probably my favorite. Taken in front of the stone cottage in Lone Grove built for my great grandmother. My grandparents lived there too, and now my aunt and unc

I was in the wilderness of Colombia a couple years back, staying at the remote maloka of an indigenous shaman, or taita. I was with my Uncle Don, who I am not related to, but who has known me all my life. He and my mother had been friends since they were toddlers, he was one of the first people besides my parents to see me after I was born, and he was at my mother’s bedside when she breathed her last. We were preparing to drink yage, or ayahuasca – a powerful plant medicine used by the tribal people of the Amazon for deep healing. I was sitting in a colorful hammock, feeling nervous about the ceremony to come when Don decided it was a good time to say, “Well, I made a promise that I’d never tell you this, but the truth is, your mom wasn’t too sure about the whole motherhood thing. It’s not that she didn’t love you – I believe she did, in her way… But she just hadn’t really realized what she was getting into. And she just wasn’t into it.” I was rocked by his honesty, harsh and unexpected in that moment, but somehow necessary. It was a hard thing to hear, especially given where I was and what I was about to do. It was liberating to finally hear someone tell me the brutal truth, to confirm the deep dark secret I’d always instinctively suspected, but could never give voice to. What a terrible thing to admit, to say, to know. “I’m not sure my mother wanted me. Not really.” I used to think it was that she didn’t love me. I know now that she did, but I’m not sure that she knew how to. I don’t know if she really loved herself. Or knew how to. You can’t give what you don’t have. She was emotionally unavailable, or only intermittently available. She was preoccupied with her passions, and a little ambivalent about certain aspects of motherhood. I don’t fault her any of that, truthfully. It was the 1970′s and this was just what you were supposed to do – fulfill the fantasy of getting married and then pregnant, and then everything unfolding easily and seamlessly, just like it played out in the movies and storybooks. My family on my mother’s side were not the touchy-feely, demonstrative, cuddly, always saying “I love you” kind of folks. They were honest and warm and loving, but they had their own more reserved ways of showing it. Little ones need touch, skin to skin contact, eye contact, closeness – in order to grow, to feel safe, to thrive. I know I didn’t get enough of that, and that it’s affected the way that I give and receive love. So much of the healing on myself I came to this earth to do centers from that place, that lack, that lacuna.

In 2005, I fell in love, and bought a house with a man I could really see spending the rest of my life with. He was gentle, kind and loving, and I felt that he would make an excellent father. We set about working on the house and garden, and building up our lives around a shared dream – until it all fell apart. We were engaged, planning our wedding, when the cracks began to show in our foundation. I found myself at 33, alone in the house I’d imagined by that time would be filled with children and laughter, the relationship over. I was so, so sure of how it was all going to work out: marriage, motherhood, a beautiful home – the whole sha-boom. When that ship sank, I was completely bereft. I absolutely could not imagine being happy without a partner and a child in my life – and yet somewhere in me, I knew that as long as my happiness was dependent on this dream being fulfilled, that I’d probably never have that, or be truly worthy of it. I knew I’d have to travel to the other side of that looming black mountain – where I could find happiness and fulfillment without a ring on my finger or a baby in my belly. Because I finally realized that those relationships can’t be about fulfilling some empty place in me – that’s not what love or parenthood is really about, at least not the healthier versions.

Parenthood is not about wanting a baby. Babies grow into people, and you have no idea who the hell they’re going to turn out to be. Probably not at all what you expected, or planned for. Because they are their own people. Parenthood is about wanting a baby, even a screaming, red-faced colicky baby, or a special needs baby, and it’s about actually really wanting an insufferable two year old you’re always having to chase around, and absolutely wanting to make a weird Halloween costume for that four year old person who will only tolerate wearing it for an hour, if that. It’s about wanting to sit at the table after eating spaghetti doing math homework. It’s about telling stories and explaining things and singing songs and helping someone go poop. Over and over and over, for many many years. Plus, later – having a bratty teenager who slams doors and breaks your heart and runs away and is embarrassed to be seen with you. It’s about giving everything you have and more to someone who will most likely throw it all back in your face one day and tell you they wish they were never born, or that they wish someone else was their mom. It’s about loving someone more than you ever thought possible and having to live constantly with the fear that something terrible might happen to them. I remember a friend telling me that having a child is like suddenly having your heart live outside of your body. This wild little person running around like a maniac, jumping off things and later probably sneaking out of the house at night and driving too fast. Imagine loving a child more than your own life – and knowing that their body might betray them, their friends, their protectors, their society, their own hearts might betray them, might even kill them. I hear that it’s a full time job and the biggest responsibility anyone with ever have and that’s it’s completely exhausting and totally rewarding and ego-annihilating, life changing and heart-exploding. That’s what the parents I know tell me. I thought for a long time that I wanted all of those things. Some days I still do. Some days, not. And my time to experience that terrifying wonder grows shorter.

I have to ask myself honestly now: do I really, really still want to be a parent? The unpleasant reality is that I hardly ever visit my friends with children. I neglect the god-children I have, and never spend enough time with my nieces and nephews. My dogs definitely don’t get all the walks and attention they deserve (though they do have pretty wonderfully spoiled lives). It hit me one night as I sat hunched over my laptop, furiously writing something, (or trying to) with my dog Moon repeatedly putting her toys on my lap for me to throw, and looking at me expectantly, eagerly – like a little kid who craves interaction. “Mama? Mama? Play with me? Mama?” I realized that she was me, trying to distract my mom away from her art, her paintings – she was so driven to create, and had so much talent. My needs didn’t really fit comfortably into her need to make art. I understand that now. It’s really fucking hard to do, and I respect all parents, especially mothers, that find a way to balance child-rearing with creating, or fulfilling dreams and ambitions. Or even just making a living and scraping by. That shit is a lot to juggle, and anyone who manages it deserves, well – a lot more than a gold medal. I think that as much as I hate to admit it, that I would probably neglect my child, in much the same way that I was neglected. Moon is staring at me intently with big bright eyes right this very moment, a moist and raggedy toy in her mouth. I have to take a moment to pause from my furious typing to throw it over my shoulder, hoping this will keep her busy until I can finish writing this piece and finally take her outside to play. This absolutely would not fly with a human child. I can say this from my own experience.

Mother's Milk - from the Tantric Dakini Oracle. May we all be divinely nourished - today and always.
Mother’s Milk – from the Tantric Dakini Oracle. May we all be divinely nourished – today and always.

Oh, matrescence – the process of becoming a mother. I’ve mostly talked myself out of it, for the time being – and that sliver of a moment may be all I have left, really. If the right situation evolved, I’d reconsider. But that seems like such a long shot at this point. I don’t want to go it alone. I’d want help – and it wouldn’t even have to be the whole package, the love and the ring and all of that. It’s a lovely idea, but maybe not essential in the way I once deemed it to be. A few years ago, I had a very vivid dream about giving birth in a big red velvet draped bed under the full moon in a field attended by two milk white goats. When I awoke from the dream, I put the call out into the world and to the universe in general (publicly, via social media, because that’s how we do now) that I was looking for someone who was ready to be a father. Not just a sperm donor, or a baby daddy, but a real papa who would wake up in the night and change diapers and croon lullabies and cook breakfasts and help with all the things of raising a small person. It wasn’t a requirement for this person to be partnered with me, romantically, anymore. I was open to finding a financially secure and super loving gay dad or queer couple with major dad-longings. I was ready to find a man who longs to be a father, but was maybe not in a traditional position to easily become one. I wanted someone who would want to be present, every step of the journey, from conception to college – someone who wouldn’t want to miss a second of it! My vision of co-parenting didn’t necessarily have to involve a romantic connection, which is why I was open to collaborating on creating and raising a human with a gay man or couple. Of course, I’d have loved to have had an adoring partner who really wanted and felt ready for a kid, but I didn’t feel I had the luxury of holding out for the whole package any longer. I received quite a few inquiries about it, and even had a few serious conversations about moving forward, but nobody really clicked or quite fit the bill. As I moved forward with opening that possibility up to a different kind of partnership, and inviting in a potential co-parent, I was also working steadily on healing those heavy wounds I had carried for so long. I used to dream of having a baby all the time, for years and years. Often, the dreams took place in a sterile hospital where my baby was always taken away from me before we could bond. Everyone got to be with my baby except me. These dreams were very upsetting – but I had no idea at the time how closely they mirrored my own traumatic birth experience. Every time I dreamt of being pregnant or having a baby, I thought it was a message that I was meant to be a mother. Sometimes I’d struggle to take care of the baby (always a little girl, who resembled me.) I’d forget her somewhere, and discover her later guiltily, stashed in a drawer and forgotten. I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that the baby in the dreams was always me. The most recent baby dream I had was both mundane, and incredibly powerful. I was changing my baby’s diaper. Literally dealing with my own shit. Lovingly, patiently – no longer neglecting the baby within. When I started really doing this work of healing that lonely little infant, of deeply nurturing my own inner child, much of my intense hunger to be a mother faded away. I’ve been doing a lot of intensive self-mothering, which can look like a lot of things, from day to day – but mostly it’s doing trauma therapy with EMDR and Somatic Experiencing on my early childhood relational and attachment trauma with my mom. It’s also paying attention to myself, instead of ignoring my own needs to focus on others. Care and feeding, showing interest and delight, being as gentle and forgiving with myself as I would with a small child.

Woke up from an incredibly vivid dream about giving birth to my future daughter (under a full moon with two milk-white goats attending!) I gotta get on this, prontissimo. Know anybody who wants to be a papa? I'm serious. Good morning! (p.s. A financially
(I’m not sure who created this marvelous artwork, but if you know, please tell me!)

What a marvel, to see in front of you a small being that you created in your own womb: eyelashes, a nose, the bones of a face that mirrors your own face. The miraculous melding of two strands of DNA that result in eventually being able to have conversations with a tiny stranger who is made partly of you. I used to stay up late at night and read accounts of women’s birth journeys in the blue glow from my phone, tears streaming down my cheeks at their stories of their labor, their fear and suffering, their gratitude and awe. I wanted all of that – so much. I wanted to be heavy bellied, waddling pregnant, heaving up to stand, sunk in my own biology. I wanted to breathe and pant and push and groan like an animal. I wanted to reach down to touch the crown of my child’s head emerging from my body. I wanted to bond with that baby and feed them from my breast and rock with them in the rocker and soothe and coo and sigh with them for a long, long time. I really did want all that, fervently, vehemently, desperately. But maybe I don’t need it like I thought I did. My life is full, and rich, and delicious. I have just enough solitude, and just enough time (more or less) for all the people I love in my life, and for all the things I want to do. The idea of living out my days without a life partner and a child shockingly just doesn’t seem like the hideous tragedy it once did. I’m happy as things are. I might be really, really happy if those people, that love and that child, joined me on the road up ahead. I bet they’d have things to teach me: hard and beautiful and unexpected lessons, I am sure. I don’t know what surprises my path might be holding for me beyond this next bend – but I know that in taking good care of myself, and making my life feel as solid and whole and strong as possible, that I am laying the groundwork for the kinds of relationships I want – with friends, family, for a lover, and maybe even a little one. I’m learning to fill up my own cup, so that I actually have something to give, if the opportunity ever arises. Because that kind of love was never meant to be about blind need, or filling a void in me, or giving someone else all the love that I didn’t get enough of. I know now that those are the wrong reasons. Being a parent and a partner isn’t really about me. It’s about showing up and being completely present and ready to discover who those mysterious loves are, and learn what they might come to share with me. I have stacks of children’s books I’ve long collected that I’d love to read out loud someday, but I’m pretty sure that even if I don’t make or adopt a kid of my own, I’ll find someone who wants to hear them, if I just go looking. In the meantime, I can read them to myself, share them with that part of myself that delights in the illustrations, in the stories, in my own attention. I know now how to offer some love to that inner child who felt lonely for so long, and who finally, finally, knows she is home. I know now completely that I am loved, wanted, and welcomed. I know that I belong here, and I intend to stay in this body, on this earth, for as long as I’m allowed. I’m working on nurturing myself, my family and friends, and my beloved animals. And I’m going to keep on trusting that all that can be enough, more than enough.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas, all the would-be mamas, the wishful ones, the heartbroken ones, to the women who have lost babies, or were never able to conceive, to the mamas I know whose children have died, or are estranged from them, for the children I know whose mamas have died, or are estranged from them – for all the love and all the loss and all the healing – to all of your hearts from mine.

Baby me. Wish I still had...

4 comments

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh….do you feel the relief that I feel in reading this? ‘Tis a beautiful essay, this one. It is lovely to hear your presence in your own life, your appreciation for YOU. To thine own self be true!!!! Love, P

by Patience Blythe on May 14, 2017 at 10:15 am. #

This is a lovely, poignant read.

The womb illustration is by Romanian illustrator, Aitch.

She’s been on my radar for awhile. Here’s some more of her work…

http://streetanatomy.com/2014/09/04/aitchs-rebellion-against-academic-anatomy/

by Rain Kernytsky on May 14, 2017 at 10:52 am. #

Beautiful, wise , and true- as always.

by Madeleine on May 15, 2017 at 12:22 pm. #

Angel, your words bring tears to my eyes. I now have two small children, and have never felt more joy and also sorrow. I can relate so deeply to the deep yerning to have a child, wishing to feel a baby grow inside me. I had the idea of the perfect Papa to be there and fully participate, and a community to watch as my children grew up, and support them as well. I can’t say it’s all turned out how I imagined. Honestly? It hasn’t been anything like I had hoped, but I battle with deep postpartum depression. I can relate so very deeply with what your mother may have been going through, and so many women go through what she did and often suffer in silence. You are strong and amazing for being aware of yourself so deeply, and for being truly honest within yourself. I love my children with every part of my soul, but it’s been no “walk in the park.” And with little support, I am often feeling very sad and defeated. I will continue to persist though, and always strive to do the hard work with a happy attitude. I just want to thank you for your words, they made me cry and they made me smile. Bless you beautiful woman.

by Sprite (Megan) on May 17, 2017 at 1:04 pm. #

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